Prewar Years . . .

Midgets, Magnas, and Magnettes - The Prewar Years

Compiled by Bill Tantau

Bespoke, that uniquely British word for custom made, may well be responsible for the MG cars we have known and loved for some sixty plus years. Even today enthusiasts who have fun and games on the track, at sprints, and trials with various of our marque, rely on a good deal of innovation and originality to achieve satisfaction and success where the rubber meets the road. So, imagine what it was like to be a gnat on the wall back in the early twenties when Cecil Kimber joined Morris Garages as GM. Not the typical corporate hack, CK was an innovator from the get-go.

Old Number One

Noticing that a good deal of effort in the service department was bent toward accessorizing, customizing, and tuning cars above and beyond "factory specs" for those who could afford it, "ah ha!” he exclaimed, "there must be a market out there"! Although the Morris efforts at that time were focused on producing larger touring cars for road, rally, and track, there was some early sporting car activity. Morris had a sports Cowley which offered such mods as aluminum pistons (imagine-!) and a special exhaust. No land rush was on for these sort-of-sporty vehicles, but you know the story CK saw the potential and began to whip a few together in a small mews garage on Edmonds Road in Oxford. (At GOF Central in Wisconsin in July - '97, we had the rare and distinct pleasure to natter a bit with Mr. John R. Browne who as a lad worked in that garage with "Kim", always after regular hours, toiling away at creating our future marque).  

Toward the end of 1924 they began work on the famous Olde.Numbere One and had it completed in time for CK to garner a gold in the 1925 Land's End Trial. Long story short here, but with that success the die was cast and soon the first MG works was constructed.

The 1928 London Motor Show provided the venue for the launching of the first true MG Midget. What was to be known as the M Type was on the stand, sans engine to see if it would spark any interest. It did and in short order customers were lining, up for sports transport on the cheap. But true to form, Kimber was not to be satisfied with less than full respect from the competition community. After all, success sells cars, and Austin and others were making waves Some M Types were modified slightly, entered in the 1930 Double Twelve race (12 hours of racing on two consecutive days) at Brooklands, and came away with the Team Prize.

Following the M Type showing, the works turned out the first true off-the-floor sports/racing model, the C Type, 44 in all, some with superchargers. The 1931 Brooklands 12/12 race found this bearer of the marque winning the first five places overall and the Team Prize! This with four cylinders 746cc blown or 847cc unblown. These successes propelled MG into the forefront of light car racing in the 30's. The men, women and cars were legendary and the accomplishments were legion. Through the 30's MG won more motoring competitions of all sorts than any other marque.

C Type Montlhery Midget

So, what was the secret? Who were these men: Kimber, Charles, Jackson, Enever, and drivers: Eyston, Gardner, Howe, Hall, Hamilton and… the "Dancing Daughters" team? What had they wrought, what were these machines? The men... the machines... the Magic, are all inexorably combined. And their feats well documented in books by Allison, Thornley, McComb, Wherry, Monk, Green and others. Here, I will not attempt to answer those questions nor tell the many tales... tasks well done by the afore mentioned experts, but will offer up a primer on the hardware and admonish those of you who have not had or taken the opportunity to see and feel a Triple M car up close, to get ye forth and DO SO!

Of the 11,500+ MMM cars produced between 1928 and 1936 there is one common thread: the strong, small displacement, single ohc engines that were the heart of these four cyl. Midgets, and six cyl. Magnas and Magnettes, engines that came down through Wolsley from a Hispano Suiza aircraft engine design. They are marked by a unique vertical dynamo driven by a crankshaft mounted bevel gear, and which in turn bevel-drives the single overhead cam. The engines ranged from 746cc four cyl. to six cyl. of 1271cc, and were born to be blown by the Centric, Powerplus, Zoller, and Marshall superchargers of the day.

From here there are two views: one is the 100+ cars that were purpose built by the Works for races, rallies, and trials, and the second is the rest of the alphabet soup of 4 and 6 cylinder models, many of which were raced then, and today as well. The first group are the four cylinder Midgets which include the C, J4, Q and R Types, plus the mighty six cylinder K3, and crafty NE Magnettes.

The remaining cars fall into the second group: the M, D, and P Type Midgets, the F. and L Type Magnas, and the K and N Type Magnettes. Many of this latter group were also fitted out for serious competition in rallies and trials, mostly in the hands of privateers with healthy MG Works support. There was the early M Type triumph in the Brooklands Double Twelve, a P Type team at Le Mans, Alpine and Monte Carlo Rally cars, the famous series of "Cream Cracker" and "Musketeers" trials cars, and many other private teams and independent competitors who squeezed as much performance from the marque as was humanly possible

Indeed the example was thoroughly set for the MG Vintage racers of today. There is a third group that might fit in to this classification as #1a: all the "EX" cars which were built, modified, and re-modified for speed records on venues from the track at Montlhery, the German Autobahn and the sands of Pendine, to Bonneville. Two standouts in this group would be EX120 which was the first 750cc car to exceed I 00 mph, and EX 135, originally a K3 which, with various engines and bodies set numerous records from the 1930's into the 50's.

 Q Type "Office", small wheel adjusts cable brakes

View of K3 most often seen by the competition

R Type Midget, George Easton up.


This is one hell of a heritage... so, take a break from thrashing around in your Ts, As, and Bs, and find the time to read the books. If you' re not into that, savor the glory of triumphs past by getting up close to a MMM car in your area, or with luck, at an MG event near you!!