MG (Morris Garages) Heritage

Send This Page To A Friend

Morris Cowley
With mechanicals by Morris and a body by "Carbodies" of Coventry, the Cowley began the MG marque...

MG 14/40
The 14/40 was the first production MG and used a standard Morris chassis frame...

MG 18/80
The 1928 18/80 may have used a Morris engine, but it was tuned up and fitted with twin SU carburetors; while "Rudge-Whitworth" centre-lock wire wheels were used for the first time...

MG M-Type Midget
The 1928 M-Type Midget would herald the beginning of large scale production at MG...

MG Midget
The Midget, in tuned form, was the first 760cc engined car to not only exceed 100mph (161kmh) but to also cover 100 miles in an hour...

The biggest criticism for the TD was reserved for the steel wheels, MG opting not to use the far prettier "wire wheels"...

The MGA would have to wait 3 years to make it into production with new owners BMC favouring the Austin-Healey 100...

Very little changed during the production life of the MGB, although many thought the "Rubber Nose" versions (required to meet US safety requirements) turned the pretty into pretty ugly...

MGB Rubber Nose
The 1977 lineup of MG's, the Midget, MGB and MGB GT (pictured centre)...

Even though it's a "Rubber-Nose", the GT is very collectable...

MG Midget
More an exercise in badge-engineering, some 226,526 Austin-Healey Sprite derived MG Midgets would be manufactured...

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, MG would release the "MGF" - a great car, but apparently not good enough to save the company...

Cecil Kimber And The Morris Cowley

The story of MG (short for Morris Garages) naturally begins at Morris Motors, and we need to go back to 1923 to find the visionary responsible. Cecil Kimber, then General Manager for Morris, is credited by most as pioneer of the MG brand after he instigated the manufacture of the Morris Cowley.

The Cowley used Morris mechanicals fitted to a close-coupled four-seater body manufactured by "Carbodies" of Coventry. The Cowley quickly became a Morris success story, and so the factory naturally began the manufacture of their own body very similar to the Cowley.

But Kimber was still keen to test the boundaries of design and innovation (and the publics acceptance of these type of vehicles), and he then turned to Raworth of Oxford to produce six two-seater tourers, followed by a small series of four-door saloons based on the Morris Oxford chassis.

When ready for sale, they were advertised in the March 1924 edition of the "Morris Owners Magazine" under the model designation "MG-V-Front Saloon" - the first recorded use of the initials "MG". Two months later the slow-selling Raworth two-seater was advertised as the "MG Super Sports Morris" - the "MG" brand was quickly becoming established.

The Morris Oxford As A Donor Car

During 1924 the Morris Oxford would again prove to be a valuable "donor car" when it would be used to form the basis of a small series of sporting four-seaters that featured mildly tuned engines, a lower chassis and aluminum Ace wheel disks covering the 'Artillery' style wheels of the standard car. Sanctioned by William Morris (owner of both Morris Motors and Morris Garages), Kimber's sporty new car would be dubbed the "MG Super Sports".

Soon every young Englishman wanted to drive Kimber's sporty derivative of the Morris, and so in 1926 MG moved to their own separate production facility in North Oxford - which is where the first production MG would be manufactured, the 14/40 (although it would still use a standard Morris chassis frame).

The 14/40 offered firmer suspension than its touring cousin, a special back axle, and a tuned-up side-valve 1.8 liter Morris engine. The maximum speed of the 14/40 was approximately 65mph, though the cars cruising speed was only 5 mph slower at 60mph. And because the car was lightweight (some 2200lb), the 14/40 was able to return the very good petrol consumption figures of 30mpg.

The Move To Abingdon

Once again MG grew out of its premises, so a move was made to Edmund Road, not far from the big Morris factory in Cowley, but even this facility did not last long, and in 1929 they moved again, to a disused leather factory at Abingdon, just a few miles south of Oxford itself. In the autumn of 1928, however, MG had introduced two new models.

The first was the 18/80 model, entirely different from anything that had gone before. Only the engine remained Morris, and even this was a 2468cc six-cylinder overhead-cam design produced at Hotchkiss with MG in mind! It was also intended for use in Morris Light Six, Six and Isis models of the late 1920's, but these cars all suffered from a poor chassis and roadholding and were perhaps not deserving of the new motor.

For use in MG's, the Morris engine was tuned up and fitted with twin SU carburetors; while "Rudge-Whitworth" centre-lock wire wheels were used for the first time on a MG. There would be a total of 736 Mk. 1 & 2's manufactured up until 1933. But 1928 is perhaps better remembered as the year MG released the car that would instigate large scale production and ultimately ensure the success of the marque - the all-new "M-Type" Midget.

Birth Of The Midget's

Once again a Morris chassis and running gear would be used, this time borrowed from the Morris Minor, however it would use the Wolseley designed 847cc 4 cylinder SOHC engine producing a meagre 20bhp. Nevertheless the Midget would prove a rather brisk drive, as the engine only had to propel an 1100lb car (combined of course with the driver and passengers weight).

Subsequent developments of the engine include the use of a 746cc engine for competition use in the 750cc class - its rival the Austin Seven, and for the "Montlhery" derivative this could be supplied in normal, or Powerplus supercharged form.

The blown cars produced up to 60bhp making it good for around 90mph flat out. Later cars of all types had different body styles, some with pointed tails, and light metal panelling. After a four year run, the "M-Type" (or 8/33 as it had also been dubbed) , was dropped in favour of the 1932 J2 Midget, which was the epitome of a style so typical of all British sports-cars of that era. The slim shell used cutaway doors, a slab fuel tank, and the spare wheel was mounted on the tail.

There was a rare J1 saloon version, and two special super-charged racing versions known as J3 and J4. However from early 1934 the J2 gave way to more sophisticated "P-Type" (later known as the PA) Midget, which had a more flowing style and added creature comforts. Like all other MG's of the period, it used a single overhead camshaft engine, rock hard leaf spring suspension, and a 'crash' (non-synchromesh) gearbox.

The last in this series of cars was the PB, introduced in 1935, which had an enlarged (939cc) engine producing 43bhp at 5500rpm. Once again the engine was sourced from Wolseley, although it would undergo specific "MG" modification - strangely something MG went to great lengths to disguise! Racing Midgets gained many competition successes, for Kimber was very keen on this activity as a way of publicizing and improving the breed.

In 1930, for instance, the MG team took the team prize in the JCC Double-twelve (hour) race at Brooklands, while in the same race in 1931 they took the first six places in their class and won the race outright on handicap.

A Midget also won the Irish Grand Prix, and the Tourist Trophy race in 1931, and in 1932 cars took the team prize and class victory, and outright victory for R T Horton's special-bodied car at 96.29mph.

The Midget, in tuned form, was also the first 760cc engined car to not only exceed 100mph but to also cover 100 miles in an hour. While the focus for MG may have been on the Midget, they were also busy building a small six-cylinder-engine range. In 1931 the F-Type Magna debuted, and featured a 37bhp version of the Wolseley Hornet engine (Morris had owned Wolseley since 1927).

This 1271cc engine featured overhead-camshaft valve gear, and was put to good use in the elegant four-seater sports body - although the Magna was only good for a top speed of around 70mph.

It would be superseded in 1933 by the L-Type Magna, which used a more specialized engine featuring a cross-flow cylinder head with the carburetors situated on the right.

The K-Type Magnette's

The K-Type Magnette series arrived in 1932, with the original K1 and later K2 cars being sold with open and closed body styles and using the original 1271cc engine. 1933 would see the release of the K3 sports car - which would quickly rise to glory in the racing world and would be powered instead by a short-stroke 1087cc engine.

The K1 and K2's would be phased out in 1934 in favour of the new N-Type Magnettes, their main advantage being a healthy upgrade in power, from 41 and 48bhp (K1 & K2 respectively) to a very healthy 57bhp. The K3's greatest claim to fame was in an outright victory in the 1933 Tourist Trophy race on the "Ards" circuit in Northern Ireland when driven by the great Tazio Nuvolari.

It had a powerful supercharged version of the 1087cc engine, and was fitted with a preselector transmission. In stripped out form a K3 was even competitive for single-seater racing car events - Whitney Straight winning the Coppa Acerbo Junior event of 1933, against single-seater Maseratis on their home ground.

Only 33 K3's were built, and these were followed by 10 single-seater R-Type models, which had a backbone chassis frame, all-independent suspension, and supercharged 746cc engines.

In 1935 there were corporate changes at Morris Motors, and in the wash up both Wolseley and MG were taken into direct control of Morris. The Abingdon design department was closed down, and so for mid-1936 it was up to the Cowley design department to produce the new TA Midget.

Many claim the TA was a "softer" car that its forebears, and even though the new MG tuned 1292cc engine (borrowed from the Wolseley 10/40) had greater power output, it did not rev freely and therefore removed a little of the sporting character so evident in the K series Magnettes.

But many would have forgiven the new MG its sins when, at last, the gearbox featured synchromesh on the upper ratios. In 1939 the TA became TB, with the aid of a new type of short-stroke 1250cc engine (basically that of the new Morris 10 'M'), and it is assumed that the new MG would have gone on to sell well - but alas the war would intervene.

Almost all TA's and TB's were traditionally-styled open two seaters, though there was also the option of a coach-built Tickford model, with wind-up door glass and a fold-down hood. In 1945 (and following the end of WWII), MG restarted production with the TC sports-car, it being a very lightly modified TB.

Making An MG That Appealed To Americans

And although the TC was produced only in right-hand-drive, it introduced MG to the important US market. Some 10,000 TC's were manufactured up to the end of 1949, with many finding their way into competition work.

So MG had the makings of a US success story on their hands with the TC, but feedback showed the American buyer expected more comfort than it currently offered, and certainly the looks appeared a little dated.

With that in mind, the design team came up the 1950 model TD featuring a new box-section chassis frame, with coil spring independent front suspension, rack and pinion steering, and a hypoid-bevel rear axle, plus a more spacious, but still traditionally-styled, body. Obviously left hand drive versions were manufactured, but MG would not supply the cars with wire-spoke wheels.

Nevertheless sales would boom, with 1952 being the best year for the TD and around 90 per cent of manufactured cars being exported, and a total of 29,664 being manufactured in four years. During the reign of the TD MG would become part of the Nuffield organization, which in turn would be swallowed up by British Motor Corporation.

Although a replacement for the TD was designed (this would become the MGA in later years), the heads of BMC favored the new Austin-Healey 100, and only allocated funding for a further freshen-up of the TD design.

The subsequent TF model was hurriedly produced for the autumn of 1953 but was somewhat of a disappointment, using the aging TD chassis and being only capable of around 80mph.

The following year the TF would be fitted with a larger 1466cc engine, but the MG still was found to be wanting when compared to the likes of the Triumph TR2. The TF would have its final curtain call in the spring of 1955.

The Release Of The MGA

And so 1955 saw the release of the car the TF should have been, the 1952 designed MGA - and it was an immediate success. Equipped with a very strong separate chassis and the TF's front suspension, it used a tuned BMC 1489cc pushrod overhead valve engine, all presented in a beautiful sleek and wind cheating all-enveloping body style - helping it to a top speed of nearly 100mph.

A comfortable bubble-top fixed head coupe was announced a year later, and a detachable hardtop was always available. Triumph fans always knew the MG's were still underpowered, particularly when compared to the 1991cc TR2 or the 2.6 liter Austin-Healey's. MG knew engine capacity needed to increase, and so in 1959 capacity jumped to 1588cc, and the Mk II of 1961 had size increase again to 1622cc.

Despite its power and performance disadvantage when compared to its rivals, the MGA was a very successful model and when production came to an end in 1962 over 100,000 had been manufactured. (Interestingly only 5815 would have a UK delivery address).

MG had planned an extensive racing program for the MGA, introducing the prototype at the 1955 Le Mans. Management soon shelved the idea following the horrific accident that year when, some three hours into the race, a Mercedes 300 SLR would collide with an Austin Healey, plunging the hapless Austin into the grandstands.

The crash and ensuing fire killed the Austin's driver and over 80 of the spectators. MG would not be the only manufacturer to retire from the circuit, with Mercedes-Benz immediately withdrawing the remainder of their team, even as Sterling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio in their SLR were leading the top Jaguar D-Type by more than two laps. (Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb, who were piloting the Jag would go on to a rather hollow victory).

More Power, Greater Reliability, The MGB

The MGA Twin-Cam was a limited production model (2111 built), with a specially developed twin-overhead camshaft engine developing 108bhp and featuring four-wheel disc brakes - however reliability problems would quickly tarnish its reputation. In 1962 arguably MG's most famous model would be released, the illustrious MGB. As the MGA's successor the MGB needed more comfort, power and even more modern styling - something the MGB had in spades.

Built on a unit-construction body/chassis design, the MGA's front suspension and basic engine/drive line were carried over, however the capacity was upped to 1798cc and was good for 95bhp and could travel comfortably over 100mph. At first only a two-seater open sports version was available, but the very elegant MGB GT hatchback derivative followed in 1965. An amazingly long-lived design, the "B" would remain in production until 1980 after a total of 512,880 were built.

It was unfortunate that the design was improved very little during that time, and the MGB was showing its age against the competition years before production would grind to a halt. Two limited-production models were developed from the MGB. The first was the MGC of 1967/69, which used a six-cylinder overhead valve 145bhp engine developed from the Austin 3 liter saloon. Unfortunately the torsion bar front suspension produced way too much understeer, and was dropped after only 8999 had been built.


The better of the two was the now highly prized MGB GT V8 of 1973/76, however its enemy was the cost, with only 2591 customers prepared to fork out the sticker price. Based on the GT hatchback body, it was equipped with the 137bhp version of the Rover (ex-GM) light-alloy V8 engine. Powerful, fast (good for over 125mph) and very refined, it was produced five years too late, for MG and Rover had been linked (in British Leyland) since 1968.

The four-cylinder MGB was a very successful long-distance racing sports-car, putting in three appearances at Le Mans, and winning its class in 1963 with an average 92mph - which was subsequently improved upon in 1965 when the average jumped to 98.26mph. Also worth mentioning is the irrepressible Midget, manufactured between 1961 and 1979. Although more an exercise in badge-engineering, some 226,526 Austin-Healey Sprite derived MG Midgets would be manufactured, and from late 1974, a Triumph Spitfire 1491cc/65bhp engine would be used.

While the latter upgrade was lamented by purists, it did give the mighty Midget a genuine top speed over 100mph. Under British Leyland management, MG would be persistently neglected in favour of Triumph, and so with no further development the existing MGB and Midget were destined to have an ignominious end.

That it would take so long for these models to eventually die off is testament to the cars looks, style, grace and performance. The MG badge would be resurrected with subsequent Metro, Maestro and Montego models, although the Abingdon spirit and allure of the Morris Garages emblem had been lost - it would seem - for ever. But then, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, MG would release the "MGF" - a great car, but seemingly not good enough to save the company.

Also see: The MG Story
Latest Classic Car Classifieds

Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource