BBL 80 lives just a hop, skip and a jump from me, but until recently I had not seen this historic TA ‘in the flesh’.
As the front cover caption indicates, BBL 80 competed as one of the four Works supported 1938 ‘Cream Cracker’ trials team cars. The four cars were:
Why ‘Cream Cracker’? – some background
Two of the ‘BBL’ drivers, Maurice Toulmin and J. E. S. Jones, competed in J2s in the December 1933 Exeter Trial and won Premier Awards.
Maurice Toulmin was later (March1934) to acquire one of the new P-type models with swept wings and was joined by ‘Mac’ Macdermid, who acquired his PA at the same time; both cars were blue in colour. Toulmin and Macdermid were joined by Jack Bastock, who bought his (green) PA the following September. These three drivers formed the basis of the 1934/35 ‘Cream Crackers’ team.
The cars were given comprehensive support by the Factory, with lightening (inter alia, cycle type aluminium wings and bonnet) and various mechanical mods. Indicative of this support was the fact that they went back to Abingdon to be prepared for both the December 1934 Exeter Trial and the Lands End Trial, held in April 1935. At this point it was decided to paint the cars cream and brown and they were nicknamed ‘Cream Crackers’, some say after a biscuit, but nobody knows for sure.
The decision to adopt this colour scheme was almost certainly for publicity purposes. The one hundred consecutive ascents of Beggars Roost by an M-type in May 1930 was celebrated in an advert by the Publicity Department of the M. G. Car Company, with much emphasis being placed on the fact that this was a “perfectly standard model”.
For the 1935/36 season the three PA Midgets were replaced by Marshall ‘blown’ PB Midgets with further lightening (more aluminium panels) and detail improvements from experience gained with the normally aspirated cars. The improved power to weight ratio, together with better damping (shock absorber) characteristics must have been welcomed by the drivers.
The overhead cam ‘Cream Crackers’ had been enormously successful, but what was to come?
The Arrival of the TA Midget
The introduction of the T-Series Midget in June 1936 must have raised doubts in the minds of some in the MG sporting fraternity as to whether the new model would (a) be competitive and (b) if it was, would it receive support from the Factory?
For a start, gone was the free-revving overhead camshaft engine which had powered M.G. to so many competition successes – to be replaced by a push-rod engine; and had not Leonard Lord closed down the Competition Department on his arrival at Abingdon?
The doubts over competitiveness were answered by the reliability and performance of the MPJG engine used in the 1937 Team cars and as far as support from the Factory was concerned, Leonard Lord had departed from the Nuffield Group by 1936, albeit the tight rein over which he had held Abingdon prevailed long after his departure.
Against this background support for the Trials teams was maintained, but from now on it was to be on altogether a more businesslike basis. For example, there was a formal agreement for the duration of the Trials season which entailed the driver purchasing the car at a special price (for the 1938 season the price was £210 with a buy in price at the end of the season of £170).The supply of the car and the beneficial terms within the agreement – e.g. certain expenses, tyre allowance (18 tyres and tubes inclusive of tyres and tubes issued with the car), and bonus payments for winning awards – was on the strict understanding that the number of trials to be entered should not be less than twelve but not more than eighteen so as to form a calendar of events to be approved by Abingdon.
The 1937 TA “Cream Cracker” team of Toulmin, Crawford and Jones, driving ABL 960 (chassis no. TA 0930), ABL 962 (chassis no. TA0932) and ABL 964 (chassis no. TA0934) respectively, competed in eighteen events, including all the major Motor Cycle Club (M.C.C.) trials and won the coveted 1937 M.C.C. Team Championship.
The cars were not without some teething troubles, but this was surely only to be expected of a new model.
For 1938 the team of four (cars and drivers are listed at the start of this article) used 1548 cc VA engines, which, by March of that year were bored out to 1708 cc with 73mm WA pistons being fitted. Once again the team won the M.C.C. Team Award.
Continuing on to the 1939 season the team was still going strong despite a bit of a rumpus over what tyres could be used which caused a distraction with ‘Mac’ Macdermid penning a critical letter aimed at officialdom in the December 1938 issue of ‘The Sports Car’; but this was to be academic with the onset of hostilities looming.
BBL 80 – History
Derek Pearce has owned BBL 80 since 1989; the previous owner was John Barnacott. John wrote about the car as part of an article on the TA ‘Cream Crackers’ in the January 1973 issue of Safety Fast magazine. There is a photograph of the rolling chassis, which might well have been the second rebuild as the caption to the photograph says BBL 80 as she was at the time of writing.
The first rebuild might have never been! We have Julian Ghosh, a past President of the Vintage Sports Car Club (VSCC) to thank for rescuing this Historic Trials TA. As part of my research in writing this article I telephoned Julian and he was most helpful in sketching in the background to the discovery of the car.
Julian was an apprentice at Jaguar Cars in the late 1960s/early 1970s and ran a TC for his daily travel to work. One day, one of the chaps in the Experimental Department told Julian about a friend of his who was selling some MG parts for which he wanted £5. Spares being difficult to come by in those days, Julian went along to have a look. He found a bit of a motley collection, but there was enough to warrant parting with a ‘fiver’ and the deal was done………..except that the vendor said “but hold on – you’ll have to take the rest of the car!” However, there was a bit of a snag as “the rest of the car” was in a lock-up garage and the vendor hadn’t paid the rent so it would be necessary to come and collect it after dark.
Buoyed up by his new found good fortune, Julian duly arranged to collect the car after dark on a trailer and take it from Coventry to his home in Sutton Coldfield. Later that week another of the chaps in work said “I’ve got the log book for that car” and added that he was looking for £5 before he would part with it. Julian steadfastly refused to pay anything for the log book and the ‘would be’ vendor finally relented.
Upon seeing EX155/4 in the log book Julian realised that he had acquired something special and started the restoration in earnest. Restoration was found to be more than a little problematical because our friend who rented the lock-up garage had started taking parts off the car and was quite handy with a hacksaw for parts he couldn’t easily remove.
So, incredible as it may seem, here is yet another MG, and an important historic one at that, which was saved just in the nick of time!
My thanks to Derek for providing me with much background information to help with the preparation of this article. The following were the principal articles/books/booklets consulted:
• MG T-Series – The Complete Story (Graham Robson)
• M.G. Trials Cars (Roger Thomas)
• Safety Fast article January 1973
• The 1995 Trials Car Reunion (Roger Thomas)