Thursday, 21 February 2013
Perfect proportions. Not many cars have them now. Too many regulations and safety stuff. Updating and revising our MG book, I have concluded that the MGA was one of the most flawlessly proportioned cars ever. Abingdon had no styling studio, employed no fancy Italian carozzeria, there was no clay model for focus groups or directors to mess up. This was pragmatism in car design and it was sleek, elegant, practical and simply beautiful. Ever under-rated because it wasn’t very fast; it didn’t even overjoy MG enthusiasts because it didn’t have an ash-framed body and stickout lights like an MG TF. MGAs could never keep up with Austin-Healeys or Triumph TRs, rough-and-ready sports cars both, and neither handled with such precision or poise. The MG was, by comparison, a thoroughbred.
In 1952 morale at Abingdon was suffering as a result of BMC’s reluctance to invest in new models. The TD was in decline and Syd Enever undertook a new chassis frame to deal with the problem shown up by UMG 400, a Le Mans project that hadn’t worked very well. Enever placed the side members well apart so that the occupants could be lower on each side of the transmission, and to ensure it was stiff built a strong framework round the scuttle. Two were made, with a body along the lines of UMG 400, which had been inspired by sports racing cars of the 1940s and 1950s, notably the 1939-1940 Mille Miglia BMW 328. The result was a prototype EX175, which was immediately put on ice because LP Lord had just signed up for the Austin-Healey 100.
It was 1955 before it reappeared as EX 182 for Le Mans, displayed, in its perimeter frame and maturity, the hallmarks of a production-ready car. They were prototypes in the spirit of regulations aimed at allowing manufacturers to try out new models in the full glare of publicity. There were four production lookalikes with aluminium bodies and Weslake-developed cylinder heads, harbingers of things to come, exquisitely proportioned and in every sense a sports car classic. The bodies had seats and doors, the passenger side covered with a fairing and it was a shame that such a brave initiative was overwhelmed by the disaster when a Mercedes-Benz 300SLR crashed into the crowd, killing its driver Pierre Levegh and over 80 spectators. One of the MGs crashed almost at the same time, badly injuring Dick Jacobs, a staunch MG supporter whose connections with Abingdon went back to 1937. However the team acquitted itself well, finishing 5th and 6th in the class behind Porsches. It fared little better in September at the Ulster TT, also blemished by fatal accidents. Two works MGs had twin overhead camshaft engines, one designed by Austin, the other by Morris Engines, which became the prototype for the MGA Twin Cam. Top: Facia of 1955 Le Mans car reconstructions, photographed at Goodwood. From above; My MGA in about 1960. MG historian the late Wilson McComb in red MGA publicity shot. Wilson would surely have been embarrassed by the white sidewall tyres.