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.
Ah 1967: The Summer of love. Sgt. Pepper. Twiggy. Bond.
But leaving popular culture aside, the mood music was more sombre. In the UK, land speed record holder, Donald Campbell died attempting to break the water record on Lake Coniston in his Bluebird K3 jetboat. While back on terra firma the advent of the Road Safety Act set a maximum permitted blood alcohol level, allowing breathalyser tests to be performed on drivers for the first time.