by Henry Stone
The following article has been reproduced from The Sacred Octagon. TSO is the bimonthly magazine of the New England MG ‘T’ Register (NEMGTR). It appeared in the September/October 1986 issue of TS0 following the OOTTT (Ocean to Ocean T Tourist Trophy) event, organised by the Register to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the T Series. It entailed driving from the US east coast to west coast and return.
Henry Stone, who spent a lifetime working at Abingdon was over in the US for the event and accompanied Frank Churchill, Co-Founder (with Dick Knudson) of the NEMGTR, in Frank’s TD.
The aforementioned three gentlemen are sadly no longer with us.
I am most grateful to David Lawley, TSO editor for permission to reproduce this article, which gives us an insight into how the workforce, through the recollection of Henry, witnessed the passing of the overhead camshaft models to be replaced by what was viewed at the time as the rather inauspicious arrival of the TA. Of course, it was later to be realised that “Billy Morris” knew what he was doing and Abingdon was to go from strength to strength…read on….
“From 1932 up until 1935, when the M.G. workforce suffered the unexpected blow of what amounted to a take-over by Morris Motors, we at the factory were justified in our pride concerning the Midget sports car with its neat Wolseley-built engine that powered the ‘J’ series models up to the J4. Then came the improved ‘P’ series cars with the three bearing crankshaft which, in the ‘Q’ and ‘R’ types produced quite staggering brake horse power and performance. Even the much-maligned vertical drive through the dynamo had a purpose, which was to provide a damping effect on camshaft flutter (for want of a better word) caused by the cam compressing springs then receiving a kick from the recovering spring. Try to imagine, therefore, our feelings on seeing this large (by our standards) heap of ironmongery which was the 1292cc push rod unit to power the new T series M.G. in 1936.
What the hell, we thought are we doing with a post office van engine? Billy Morris in his infinite wisdom, as we discovered later, by selling the assets of M.G. to Morris Motors, had saved us from the fate of many other light car manufacturers between the wars. Although Cecil Kimber was a brilliant man in his field, he was too nice to be a hardheaded businessman.
However, our spirits soon rocketed. Kimber, although forbidden to participate in any further motor racing adventures by his new boss, no doubt with tongue in cheek formed wo trials teams known as the “Cream Crackers” (TA and TB Midgets) and the “Musketeers” (N types) which were highly successful; thus MGs were back in business doing what they knew best, how to steal quarts from pint pots and keep on doing it for long periods! We soon realized the advantages of the larger bodies which one sat in rather than half out of and the increased torque of the larger engines.
Henry and Frank Churchill finishing the last 50 miles of the OOTTT as participants.
Of course, the TA power unit with its large flywheel and oil/cork clutch was not to us as lively as we would have liked, but when the TB was introduced shortly before the outbreak of war its new 1250cc short stroke unit and lighter flywheel/clutch assembly enabled the “elastic to be wound up a bit more.” Alas, only 379 were built before Herr Hitler halted production.
H. N. Charles and his design staff were now based at Cowley but they still managed to keep the distinctive two-seater format for which M.G. were renowned of folding windscreen, flared wings and vertically-mounted slab fuel tank with a spare wheel chassis mounted carrier behind. At the outbreak of war, we turned our energies to other things to help the war effort, cars being all but forgotten. However, with the cessation of hostilities service complaints on the TA and TB were examined, the result of which was the legendary TC Midget which went into production in 1945. The main deviation from all previous M.G. models was the introduction of rubber spring shackles in place of sliding trunnions, but four inches more passenger room was also added across the body which makes the car instantly identifiable from its pre-war counterparts by having only two running board tread strips instead of three.
The TC remained in production until the end of the Forties, some 10,000 being produced, the bulk of which went for export. It was with this model that the Abingdon workforce built up its production to 100 cars per week, although this target was sometimes hampered by the non-availability of parts!
Like with virtually all the cars which appeared in the showrooms immediately after the war, the TC was only intended as a stop-gap until a new model could be developed and it soon became evident that something a bit more comfortable was needed to appeal to the large American market whose drivers were used to everything the TC was not. Most important amongst the features which heralded the TD in 1950 was the combination of wishbone and coil independent front suspension, a major turning point in M.G. chassis design. The beam axle was finally given the push. With its completely redesigned body along traditional lines the TD offered new standards in sports car comfort but was frowned upon by purists who were particularly dismayed at seeing bolt-on disc wheels replace the splined-hub wire wheels. It was also the first sports car to come out of Abingdon in both left and right-hand drive versions, emphasizing the importance placed on the export markets. In all some 30,000 were built in the following three years, including the rare MkII version which had a high compression engine as raced in the 1 ½ litre class at Silverstone (where it achieved 2nd, 3rd and 4th) and the Ulster TT at Dundrod (1st, 2nd and 3rd) – M.G.s do it again!
Around this time, we already had an all-enveloping bodied car with which to compete against the more modern looking sports car which our rivals were producing, namely the Austin Healey, the Triumph TR2 and the higher priced Jaguar XK120. Later this would in fact become the MGA series development car but in 1953 it was not to be and so to maintain sales figures the TF series Midget was thought of (the TE suffix being by-passed for obvious reasons!). This car did not evolve from the design office at Cowley “but kind of grew like it in our development shop!”. The two men who come to mind as being the brains behind the TF were Bert Windham, the production foreman and Billy Wilkins who was our number one panel-beater. At that time most of the new cars were having their headlamps faired into the wings of an all-enveloping body and this meant that Lucas were loathe to produce headlamp shells solely for us. Hence, our headlamps also had to be faired into the wings, even though the rest of the car remained traditional in its body styling. This meant that the wing body line was high into the engine compartment which necessitated fixed bonnet sides. The radiator grille was sloped back to improve the cosmetic looks of the front end and the instrument panel was recessed under the scuttle to reduce sun glare. To everyone’s pleasure the car presented the prettiest looking square rigger we had ever built. One could almost say that it grew from seeds sown among the M.G. workforce. It was a great pity that BMC did not let us have a power unit to suit the car. However, the T M.G. Midgets spanning some 19 years of production, war apart, gave a lot of pleasure to a great many people, for that matter they still do and will continue to do so until the oil wells finally run dry.”
TSO editor’s note: Thanks to Henry for the use of this piece which appeared in the program of the London-Inverness-London endurance run.
TTT 2 editor’s note: As mentioned in the introduction, Henry spent a lifetime working at Abingdon. He joined the MG Car Company in 1930 and started on the assembly line, fitting the wiring harnesses to 18/80s and M-types. It was not long before he became involved with the company’s racing activities. In those early years he had a hand in preparing the three K3s for the Mille Miglia which won the team prize in 1933, and in preparing the three L2s for the 1933 Brooklands 12-hour relay race.
Involvement with the Factory’s record-breaking achievements started with George Eyston’s EX135 ‘Humbug’ at Montlhery and was to continue right up to the 1950s at Bonneville Salt Flats with EX179 (Captain Eyston again) in 1955 and 1956. Then again with EX181 ‘The Roaring Raindrop’ in which Stirling Moss broke the measured mile record in 1959.
Henry died in 1990.