MG TC Instruments: Why Green is Green

3 Jul

There has been great discussion from all quarters for a long time regarding the colour of M.G. dials. As my company has had a considerable hand in the matter, I think it may be helpful to give some of the historical details which have resulted in the colour you have all seen for many years.

As you may know, my business started from a hobby back in the late sixties. At that time Thomas Richfield Ltd traded in Broadstone Place, London, and being part of the Smith Group of companies, quite a lot of repair work was sent from the Smith works in Oxgate Lane, Cricklewood, down to Richfields. Smiths repaired and built new gauges; for example, pressure and temperature for TC, albeit with “half” pointers, whilst Richfield concentrated on Speedometers and Revolution Counters, clock cables and so on. At that time no one company dealt with a ‘set’ of dashboard instruments, switches, lamps etc. This is where we started, and later christened our company ‘The Complete Dashboard Service’.

Historically, Lucas usually obtained the electrical work contract for many British motor car builders; Riley, Singer, Lea Francis and M.G. to name but a few. With this contract, for some reason, they also provided the ammeter, lamps, warning lamps and panels. So, all who search for British Jaeger original ammeters, will not find them! How difficult it must have been for Lucas to spray and print dials to match Smiths; unfortunately I have not been able to discover who did what and where!

One therefore had the choice of Smiths or Richfields for gauge and speedometer work with a number of gaps in between, like the ammeter, which is where we came in.

Now, regarding paint; the original Smiths equipment schedules 1937 to 1939 describe the TA/TB colour as Avon GREEN. The TC is described as Avon GREEN, Polychromatic enamel, all of which was in fact the early days of metallic paints, which as you know are notorious for pigment fading; this still applies today, as you can often tell a modern car has been partly resprayed by the mismatch of depth of colour.

Around 1969/70 Smiths were pad printing replacement dials in green metallic paint, which were produced by an Ault and Wiborg colour matching machine operated by a company nearby to the Oxgate Lane factory, for speedometers and revolution counters and 2” gauge dials…..but….no ammeters! At that time we started stamping out our own ammeter dial blanks, and with the co-operation of Smiths, obtained the same paint code and purchased the same cellulose paint from their supplier. We were very lucky to purchase the last remaining BM ammeter bezels, after which the tooling was broken up. We had about 800 at the time and finished up restoring batches of 25 with new bezels for Gerry Goguen of Abingdon Spares. Oh, to still have some left!

We understand from a colleague who spent many years at both Smiths and Richfields, that the Avon Green paint code was still current in most major manufacturers’ details in the late sixties. Due to rationalisation, and deterioration of old printing plates, some of the gauge codes were a later variant, but in order to obtain a complete set to the same colour it was necessary for us to follow what Smiths had chosen as their interpretation of the original Avon Green – not blue, bluey silver or anything else – but Green!

Gradually Smiths took less and less interest in manufacturing and restoration work, until they finally closed and stripped the factory in early 1984, destroying and sending off for scrap metal huge quantities of material, instruments complete, components and tooling, selling the shelving and machinery in a very sad sale which we attended. The roof was finally removed to comply with requirements to no longer pay council taxes and was very quickly followed by demolition and redevelopment of the site.

The instrument division producing more modern instruments was sold to Lucas, who located at a plant in Wales. About the same time Thomas Richfield Ltd was sold to Speedograph in Nottingham, who still trade as Speedograph Richfield Ltd. Richfield continued to trade in London for a few more years before locating in Nottingham.

So, in the early seventies Green was Green, and we began filling in the gaps and providing the complete service. If you ordered from Smiths, Richfield, Nisonger in New York, Abingdon, Moss, or us, an extra gauge, the chances were it would be a match to the set. This we believe worked extremely well. We saw no reason to do further research and create another colour. As time passed we built more tooling for dial blanks and purchased printing equipment to enable us to create our own sets of dials as it became increasingly difficult to obtain anything from Smiths, as they reduced this side of their work. We received a considerable amount of help, technical advice, drawings, and on the closure of the factory, many equipment schedules, and instruments ‘Standards’ from them, and were also allowed to purchase a printing machine that had been taken to Wales and not used, allowing us to continue the same printing procedures. The instruments ‘Standards’ books enable us to determine which vehicle they were used on, together with build and calibration detail.

In the early days of MG instrument restoration the lead was taken by Smiths and what followed was a continuation of their decisions based on their own experience and factory records. We have to the best of our ability followed these principles. In later years the British Jaeger trademark was not maintained and after thirty plus years of trading and respecting the quality of the marks we have been allowed to resurrect the Trade Mark in our name at the Patent Office. So I feel we have achieved something, even if the subject of the colour rumbles on!

I hope this will go some way to explaining the reasons why the present colour is as it is.

John E.Marks

Ed’s Note: As you may have gathered, John wrote this when Vintage Restorations was ‘in full swing’.


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