A quarter of a century? Memory and vanity were scrapping with undeniable black and white printed fact. Yes, it really is 25 years since the MG Car Club ceased bobbing about the nation and returned to its Abingdon birthplace. Its first permanent home since BL demigods kicked it out of the factory with all the ruthless ambivalence of a grotesque Dickens miscreant.
Welcoming the attending guests, Club President, John Day said, “It is a special year for us because we haven’t only been in this building for 25 years, but the MGCC is 85-years-old this year. It was started by John Thornley and a group of MG M-type Midget owners in 1930, supported by MG founder Cecil Kimber and later run by Wilson McComb, who started the club magazine Safety Fast.”
Although the move was before the time of Charlesworth MG ownership, I have owned my MG Midget now for over 20 years, and can well remember when much of the original MG factory site was still standing. Contrast it with today where the old admin block (defaced by a developer and turned into flats), and the old Comps building are the only noteworthy survivors – amid a giant cop shop, ticky-tacky little houses and a McDonald’s. Gone is the main assembly A Block and the adjoining Pavlova Leather works, which when still standing, allowed you to wander about the place – lost in thoughts – amid poignant hushed dereliction.
To celebrate Kimber House’s silver anniversary, the MGCC has lined up an assortment of post-War MGs and invited various scribblers and personages along to drive them. To pop their octagonal cherries, get reacquainted with old mechanical acquaintances or as Day ventured “perhaps change your perception of MG”. Certainly for me, it was the middle one but given my recent adulterous relationship with a temptress from Milan, the day would provide me with a chance to rediscover my MG spark.
Having recently driven an MG Maestro 1600 (albeit R-series rather than S-series – but still more fun than you’d think), it was with a healthy dose of luck that I found the keys to the MG ZT260 going begging. I certainly remember the reviews of this retro-engineered RWD V8 MG Rover creation being of the ‘rushed, under-developed and underpowered’ variety. So was rather taken aback by Simon Bennett’s – albeit fettled – low mileage example. It was a peach. Yes, the lack of space for an inactive clutch foot did give some credence to its period reviews, but the rest did not. That sonorous 265bhp 4.6-litre Mustang V8 instantly placed a silly grin on my face which, when aimed through bends and esses, only got broader. Its ride comfort and subtle damping over quick ruthlessly corrugated roads failed to reveal any shortcomings. Dynamically it was hard to fault and I can understand why chum of Dep-O Matt Robinson, asked if Simon would part with it. Almost as much as why Simon politely palmed away Matt’s interest. The MG badge seldom works on big-engined cars, but here was a glorious growlsome exception. Little wonder its registration plate bore the letters ‘OMG’.
Next up, was a go in a GAN-5 Midget. Not just because I needed my Midget fancy indulging but because Jonathan Bennett’s car was fettled to include cylinder-head wizardry, a close-ratio gearbox and a very desirable period Shorrock supercharger. It really was a marked improvement over my GAN-4’s OE-spec 1275 A-series – it was more willing to rev, packed more mid-range muscle and the gear ratios were also far better spread for Fast Road use. I was hooked and I can see me spending quite some time lurking with intent on Ebay…
Another blast in a 1¼ -litre Y-type – this time the MGCC’s own 1953 YB with all of 47bhp – also proved that you don’t need Tarmac-spanking horsepower to have a great time behind the wheel (although an opening windscreen and sunshine roof do help). No ball of fire in a straight line, MG’s first Post-War production car with independent front suspension, underlined the marque’s tradition for having a good responsive front-end and oodles of steering feel. Doubtless, all those years of Midgeteering, is why I still find these characteristics among a car’s most important talents.
A quick bit of hoping betwixt an MGF and MG TF, and a quick spin in a ‘Leylandised’ MGB GT – all three being consistently underrated cars – was then followed by a blast in Frontline’s new MG Abingdon Edition (think MGB roadster based LE50). This was Number One of a planned 25-car run, packing an increase in power from the LE50’s 215bhp to 304bhp from its 2.5-litre Mazda engine. Straining memories from my last drive in 2012, its dynamics, power delivery and traction are still hugely impressive. Although, over the fast, bumpy, corrugated Abingdon test route, this did have a noticeably harsher ride than the LE50, less subtlety (thanks to that air-intake and an engine note which didn’t sound as MGB-ish at idle) and a price-tag which is even steeper. All of which leaves you pontificating on how such ‘resto-mod’ cars will be regarded and valued in the future. Will they be treasured and much prized or will they be regarded similarly to former big power Sierra RS Cosworths? Most of which have now been returned to their original OE spec to satisfy classic market demand. Only time will tell.
Come home time at 4 o’clock with crazy hair and a degree of windburn, two thoughts were left pacing around my grey matter. The first being what I’ve been missing, how much I’ve neglected the Midget and how I really must return the Little Red Bugger back to the road – and the second?
If it wasn’t for the efforts of the MGCC’s past and present staff and members, would Abingdon have retained any trace of its MG heritage? Going on Britain’s terrible track record in respect of preserving industrial heritage, that was a question which answered itself.