Editor’s note: Owing to a mix-up on the chronology of the Car magazine article, the text has been altered to reflect the correct date.
It is hardly an unusual occurrence for a design concept to begin life as one thing before emerging some time later as something else — such after all is the speculative nature of freelance car design. This was certainly the case at the height of the design-consultancy era, when proposals would often undergo significant change to accommodate altered realities.
In 1974, the Italian house of Coggiola displayed a pretty concept coupé proposal at the Paris motor show. Dubbed Sylvia, the car was shown by Opel — intended it is said as a proposed replacement for the existing 1900 GT — it made a couple of appearances (also at Turin, later that year) before disappearing, like most such concepts into obscurity.
Although ostensibly a Coggiola design, the concept was in fact designed by British stylist, Trevor Fiore, who had by then made a name for himself with work for, amongst others, Fissore, Bond, TVR and Trident. A tidy, well composed shape, while the Sylvia might appear a little on the anodyne side to modern eyes, it was by contemporary standards, rather modish. Russelsheim clearly didn’t Continue reading “Plan B”
In May 1974, the little sports car we all still called the Spridget reached its sixteenth birthday. Its presents were belated by a few months, not arriving until October, and were of the sort that a polite mid-teenager might outwardly welcome with smiling gratitude, while being internally aghast.
Its in-house rival – perhaps, in teenage-speak, its frenemy – gifted a new engine. Newness was a relative term in this case. The Triumph SC engine originated with the 1953 Standard 8, Standard-Triumph’s deservedly successful response to the Austin A30 and Morris Minor. Like the completely unrelated Austin A series, it had started out with a mere 803cc, but had the space to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 7: Molestam Senectutem”
The most prolific period for Spridget engine transplants was the 1970s. By then there was a good supply of second-hand Midgets and Sprites cheap enough for experimentation, and a far broader range of suitable engines. Fiat twin-cams were a popular choice, available cheaply from rotten or written-off 124s and 125s, and often with the added attraction of a five speed gearbox. In the USA and Australia, some Japanese engines found favour, including the twin rotor Mazda 12A. In Britain, the Ford Kent variants were the default choice, plentiful and easily fitted, with far more power than could be cheaply and reliably extracted from an A-series.
The Spridget turned out to be a difficult product to replace. We look at a diverse selection of proposals developed through the 1960s.
Far from perfect, and never very advanced in its design or engineering, replacing the Spridget became one of several long-running displacement activities within BMC and pre-Edwardes BLMC, although in a far lower league than The New Mini, and ‘The Little Engine That Could’ (replace the A Series). All turned out to be as pointless and unproductive as parlour games, with the participants’ abundant creativity never rewarded with a tangible prize.
When Leonard Lord and Donald Healey first imagined the low-budget car which would become the Austin-Healey Sprite, they probably envisaged a production life of possibly 3-4 years before technology and fashion left it behind. Within MG a ‘New Midget based on Sputnik FWD’, was registered in the experimental department register as EX 220, four months before Sputnik (better known as the ADO15 Mini) went on sale in August 1959. The project was given a proper Longbridge code, ADO34, despite the strong disproval of Alec Issigonis[a], and progressed for some time with competing design teams from Abingdon and Longbridge. Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 4: The Sisyphus Game”
In the summer of 1979, the UK airwaves were dominated by the synthesized sound of Gary Newman and Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric’. A single inspired by a novel which dealt with the subject of artificial intelligence was hardly your usual chart-topping fare, but as the decade moved towards its conclusion, it was becoming apparent that more than just music was moving in an increasingly technologically-driven direction.
In the wake of BLMC’s 1968 marriage of convenience, Donald Stokes and his management team began piecing together a product strategy for the multifarious (and in some cases) overlapping marques that constituted the increasingly unwieldy British car giant. Amid this new order, the fate of MG would be subordinated to that of Triumph. And while some speculative MG designs were proposed, the reality was that Abingdon came virtually last in the BLMC Chairman’s priority list – the MGB remained a successful, profitable model line – a cheap nip and tuck and it was good for another couple of years.
The 31st staging of the Le Mans 24 Hour endurance race took place at the circuit de la Sarthe over the 15th and 16th of June 1963. It would be won by the Scuderia Ferrari entrant, a 250P, driven by an all-Italian pairing of Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini, marking not only the first time a mid-engined race machine had won the event, but also the largest winning margin in 36 years.
Le Mans was to prove something of a Ferrari benefit that year, with Maranello taking the first six places of a field, which through a combination of attrition, misfortune and tragedy was whittled down to 12 finishers. This final classified car was an MGB, a solo privateer entry, discretely backed by the works. But in this case, finishing at the rear of the field would be marked as a victory (in Abingdon at least).
The MG marque iconography was forged to a very large extent upon competition, and although by the early 1960s, BMC’s racing activities were primarily focussed upon the Mini Cooper, their well organised competition department was centred at MG’s Abingdon facility. Not that BMC did everything themselves; the Cooper Car Company, Broadspeed and Equipe Arden handling the Mini’s UK and overseas track career, while the Healey Motor Company prepared heavily modified Sprites in the International Sports Car classes.
The MGC was born under a bad sign, or to further the musical analogy, a bum note. On paper it ought to have been a winning combination. Take a proven, popular car and improve performance and desirability with a larger, more powerful engine. Yet largely due to BMC’s parsimony, MG was saddled with a car which was met by derision. Whether the car’s short production life and paltry production numbers was a direct consequence of apathy from buyer or manufacturer remains a matter of debate, but what is evident is that the MGC was considered something of an orphan, even before going on sale.
During the pre-war era, the MG marque enjoyed something of a performance image, being offered with large-capacity six cylinder engines and in certain cases, supercharging. However, post-1945, MGs had been confined to whatever small-capacity power units that could be wheedled from their Nuffield and latterly, BMC masters. Following the 1952 merger, which brought the British Motor Corporation into being, MG would end up playing second fiddle to Austin Healey, Leonard Lord’s favoured sports car marque.
National Treasure is a term which gets bandied about rather a lot in the media nowadays, particularly amid the world of showbusiness. Normally bestowed on the basis of merit, but in some cases it is as much a matter of longevity, dogged persistence even. But regardless of rationale, most recipients tend to exhibit a common sense of virtue. It is therefore perhaps fair to suggest that all of the above traits have contributed to the MGB’s beatification in afterlife, a seemingly impregnable status close to the pinnacle of historic car national treasure-hood. For in the UK at least, a classic car event without at least one MGB in attendance really cannot authentically call itself a classic car event at all.
We mark the passing of a much respected British engineer.
Don Hayter, was born in Oxfordshire on 24th January 1926. His father, a retired policeman, took up a job delivering MG TF Midgets from Abingdon to the docks for export. Meanwhile his son had shown not only aptitude but a flair for technical drawing. Upon leaving Abingdon school, he took an apprenticeship with the Pressed Steel Company at Cowley working on aircraft such as the AVRO Lancaster during the war, progressing to bodywork panels for Jaguar’s XK120 and the ZA Magnette.
Don had taken up an offer from then Feltham-based Aston Martin Lagonda as a draftsman in the early fifties with a return to Oxfordshire when AML upped sticks to Continue reading “Old Red Wine”