The Dick Jacobs MG TA Special: and a 40 year odyssey of sorts!

Do you ever have those bizarre coincidences of events and places that make you wonder how they could possibly occur? Then here’s one or two you might like. 

My daily commute now takes me through the Herefordshire village of Pembridge where I drive past a pub called the Red Lion. In 1983, this location was sort of a footnote in the part of a book I was reading, entitled ‘An MG experience’ – written by the MG enthusiast and racer Dick Jacobs. The bit I was most interested in was the section of the book about the Dick Jacobs MG TA Special raced up until 1950.

The Red Lion in Pembridge (to the right of picture).

Working in London back then, I would avidly read this book on my train journey for the information concerning the creation and development of his supercharged MG TA special he built for the post war 1100cc formula racing around 1946 as part of the ‘voiturette’ type formula. The book was full of great information on the car’s development.

This class of grand prix racing was almost a continuation of the pre-war formula, seeing mostly pre-war racing cars continuing where they left off in 1939, with drivers such as Bob Gerard and Prince Bira competing in these smaller-engined cars.

Dick Jacobs piloting the TA Special in the Goodwood 1949 race.

In the bleak just post-war years, Dick Jacobs obtained an MG TA chassis with the registration number CS 7695 which then gained a very light aluminium body, without the usual distinctive twin humped scuttle top panel of the pre-war TA or the just post war TC.

The Jacobs TA special had a Morris 1100cc engine installed onto a TC gearbox, this Morris engine being basically an 1100cc version of the MG TB XPAG 1939 engine. This Morris engine was fitted to the just pre-war 1938 Morris 10/4 Series 2 cars (and later on, up to 1947 Morris 10/4s), an engine that was also widely used by the War Department in WW2, which is where this TA’s engine came from as war surplus.

With a set of Wolseley 12” Hydraulic brakes, telescopic front dampers and an elderly supercharger fitted, the car was steadily developed and improved, being tested in various speed trials and on circuit racing. In those days, petrol was still rationed and often of variable quality of around only 74 octane rating, perhaps 80 octane if you were lucky. At this time the ‘Pool Petrol’ a blend of what was available at the pumps then, was often much lower rated than today’s 95 octane. (Which is why a fast road cam in your XPAG engine on 95 octane today will help your car go better as it returns more power!). During racing, Dick found that the low octane fuel caused performance problems and particularly head gasket failures. Fitting a solid copper head gasket went someway to sorting the failure problem out as did including additives into the fuel to pep it up.

With 500 x 19” wire wheels on the rear axle and 17” wheels on the front to save weight and the car being finished in a dark Racing Green’ cellulose paint finish including the radiator shell, the car was easily identifiable on the track; as was Dick Jacobs, wearing an ex-RAF leather flying helmet and dark blue cotton overalls, a far cry from the Nomex overalls and full-face crash helmets of today! The good old days we might muse.

Dick Jacobs in his MG TA – a fantastic photograph.

The Dick Jacobs car heralded the last years of what we might call the ‘classic-looking MG car’, with upright radiator shell and separate wings. In 1953, the new competition regulations outlawed cycle wings and cars had to be fitted with enclosed wings or bodywork. The MG TD fortunately was able to compete (Dick Jacobs then with MG factory support after his own efforts, was measurably responsible for MG resuming active racing involvement again).

Dick Jacobs was able to race at the Isle of Man in 1949 with the TA, although it was outclassed by the ‘pedigree’ cars like the ERA, Simca and other pre-war purpose-built racing cars, it did have the effect of generating interest for MG to resume racing officially.

A particularly good sales point too, as many of the then Abingdon 2-seaters were being exported, mostly to the USA. With Britain needing US Dollars currency, MG were in a great position all round to benefit from this market. Even though early in 1949, Dick Jacobs was then a ‘privateer’ without official factory support, the potential was obvious.

Dick Jacobs racing the supercharged MG TA Special.
The outside ‘straight through’ exhaust must have sounded glorious!

This brief era of racing was very much a golden era to look back on today, an era of ‘privateers’ racing their own cars, often at their own expense or if they were lucky, having a patron behind them with the finance to assist the progress. This was an era when you could often borrow tools from the next-door pit during a race and it was, as the late Bill Boddy would say – ‘all terribly carefree’. (Another interesting coincidence being that Bill Boddy moved to Wales and lived about 20 miles from my location).

The Press interview – Dick Jacobs at the Manx race 1949

The ultimate test for the Jacobs Special would be the 1949 British Empire Manx race on the Isle of Man, I recently found a cine film of this race on YouTube with the second section of the film in colour, rare for this time and you can see the colours of the cars quite clearly. We are fortunate that this rare piece of history exists for us to enjoy. Dick Jacobs raced as car no 39 in this race and put up a spirited performance as you can see from the footage. If you can find this film it is well worth watching.

Note the Supercharger! The car looks superbly proportioned.

‘Sounds like an ERA’ Dick commented.

Dick Jacobs in the 1949 Empire Trophy Race.

Although the TA Special showed a lot of promise, the basis of the car was outdated compared to the then current TD. As a result, in 1950, Dick Jacobs developed a new car. MG donated a TD chassis that gained an MG YA rear axle and 16” disc wheels; with the TD’s rear chassis being modified to house coil rear springs.

Looking very much like the Frazer Nash of that era from the front, with a very stylish streamlined look, the car had the additional benefit of independent front suspension over the TA’s front beam axle, something that the MG YA would have had in 1939 production had WW2 not started and production given over to support the war effort.

The TA that had done so much for Dick Jacobs and bringing MG back into racing, was sold in 1950. When I read that in the book I wondered where it had gone forever and whether it indeed existed anymore, or whether like many older cars from that time had been scrapped due to the 1960 MOT regulations, which saw many serviceable and repairable cars needlessly scrapped. How ironic that we now enjoy MOT–free status on our old cars!

SHK 7 the MG TD chassis-based car.

I thought that when I read that last bit on the TA being sold that it would be a footnote and the car would not be seen again. However, if we take a brief detour, continuing on in the Dick Jacobs book, we will come full circle back to the famous TA.

The Dick Jacobs MGA at Le Mans 1955.

With the success of SHK 7, a new development was also afoot to replace the TD, which was the MGA, although this was delayed due to the new Austin Healey launch and the stopgap MG TF became the last of the ‘traditional’ looking MG cars. Dick Jacobs meanwhile drove factory MG TD Mk2s and then the new MGA. He had seen the prototype MGA built on a TD chassis at the Abingdon works. The following year, Dick would be one of the MGA team drivers in the fateful1955 Le Mans race.

This race will be remembered for the major incident in which a Mercedes car crashed into the crowd, causing many fatalities. Dick Jacobs crashed into the remains of the accident debris and was very badly injured, the crash effectively curtailing his competition days as a driver and nearly cost him his life.

Post 1955, Dick Jacobs then became involved in a team based in Herefordshire which was racing the new Gerald Palmer designed MG ZA, a car that had taken over in production from the MG YA and YB and was the first modern looking MG saloon. Compared to the Y types, the ZA was totally new and futuristic, sharing the BMC ‘B’ series engine which modified would finally end up in the MGB until the end of production in 1980.

Like the MGA, the ZA heralded the future look of MG cars onwards and immediately made the recent TD and TF look old. The ZA and MGA cars being the logical development of the just pre-war MG cars and with the demise of the 1953/55 TF, the old order had changed in the new post WW2 world. However, the MG YA front suspension, designed in 1939, remained almost unchanged until the end of MGB production in 1980, serving the TD, TF, MGA and the MGB – which shows how much ahead of the game MG was back then.

The ZA team that I had read about back in 1983 had been brought together in the small Herefordshire village of Pembridge at the Red Lion pub; located on the A44 main road. The Red Lion still remains open as an operational pub.

It was here that the Landlord, Harold Rumsey, a member of the Herefordshire Motor Club, put together a team to race the then current MG ZA saloon cars. Enlisting the help of Dick Jacobs as manager who visited the Red Lion, a team was formed. The team enjoyed success and Dick Jacobs then went on to manage the BMC factory supplied early closed MG Midget and MGB coupe racing cars.

The ‘Red Lion’ team with Harold Rumsey 2nd left and Dick Jacobs 3rd left.

For Dick Jacobs, the end of the road came literally with the M11 – his Mill garage where the famous Jacobs cars had been developed was compulsorily purchased to make way for the M11 motorway. However, the old TA he presided over hasn’t gone away.

Early in this century with the advent of the internet, I started seeing if there was any reference to the old Jacobs TA and although I had one lead on it, this contact didn’t go anywhere. It was only in about 2017 that out of curiosity I started looking for some old pictures of the car again and struck gold.

The Jacobs car had been purchased in the 1960s and stripped for restoration, however, the owner for various reasons had not restored the car and it remained unrestored as such, until around 2010 when it was finally restored.

I managed to contact the owner who had owned the car for all those years and it is fantastic that it has survived and is still usable. Now that is a car I would love to own and drive!

The Dick Jacobs TA as it is today.

Going back to my own story, it seemed that history would repeat itself.

By 1983, I had been involved with MG Specials for only a few years and the desire was to build a replica of some sort, of that Dick Jacobs car. A 1930 MG Special I had briefly driven had unfortunately been sold and I wondered if I would ever see it again. I also wondered back then did the Dick Jacobs TA still exist, or had it like many others in the 60s and later been lost or scrapped?

About twenty years later in 2000, having relocated to the England /Wales borders area I remembered when driving through Pembridge the Red Lion pub from the Jacobs book – how bizarre to be in that very street and still involved with MG Specials. I had no idea back in 1983 I would end up local to that area, or still be even today enjoying these cars.

Even more bizarre was a 2021 eBay purchase of an MG writing case that Dick Jacobs had used around 1956, about the time when he co-managed an MG racing team at that pub with the then landlord Harold Rumsey. I managed to secure that item! More bizarrely, a month ago another similar writing case turned up!

The Dick Jacobs writing case still has the 1956 calendar in place along with his Mill Garage letter headed paper and envelopes. Likely used at the time he was involved with the MG ZA Magnette racing team based in Pembridge…and then another one recently came to light!

Going back to the early 80s and by 1985 I had managed to locate the elusive 1930 car I had first driven in 1981, purchased it and less engine and gearbox it was mine for about £3500. I still have it. The previous owner told me that it had pre-war history. It had been apparently rebuilt from a saloon in the early 1930s perhaps due to fire damage.

My 1930 MG Special – I have photos of it going back to 1958

An engine and gearbox was found that the late Peter Gregory had to hand; it had come out of an MG F-type Magna used in the’1100cc’ post war racing formula Dick Jacobs had raced in and turned out to be an XPJM engine, being basically the same Morris unit as the Jacobs car engine. It was duly shoehorned in and run for a few years until the oil pressure was getting low and it was taken out for a rebuild. Even needing an overhaul, it did manage to generate 6000rpm up the Test Hill at Brooklands in 1990 at the reunion.

A very close fit!

A house move came along and the car was put into store for about a decade and then overhauled. It is presently having a cylinder head overhaul after a rocker pedestal failed.

Ed’s note: Much of this article by Matt Sanders and almost all of the pictures is based on Dick Jacobs’ book “An MG experience”. The book was published by Transport Bookman Publications and I sought and have been given permission to reproduce the images from the book by Clive Stroud, Director, to whom I am most grateful.

Matt mentions that he managed to contact the owner of the Dick Jacobs TA and I have subsequently been in touch with him having copied him Matt’s draft to me.

He has commented as follows:

“A very interesting article, although there are items in it with which my information does not fully agree. Like Matt, the majority of my information came from An MG Experience in which there are many views of CS 7695. I actually bought the car in 1965 as a road going special. The seller told me it had been built for the speed runs on Brighton front. He was unaware of who the modifier had been. I used it for about 2.5 years as my only transport which included 2 trips to Newquay and Bude in Cornwall. My friend and I loaded the car with a tent and gear for 2 weeks each time and set off travelling mainly overnight, we arrived in Bude car park at 5.00 a.m. of which I have a photo. Of course, we had problems, a breakage of both handbrake cables, the collapse of a main oil pipe joint etc.

The car was then stored in an open shed with a tarpaulin front where it was gradually stripped down for a re-build. Back in 1970 I got married and the car moved to a shed in many pieces, the chassis living on a pile of builder’s scrap in the garden.

In September 2011 I was made redundant and received an enquiry from Australia about the car and that was when I first found out about the car’s history as noted in Dick’s book. It also kick-started the rebuild, the majority of which was done by me.

The main item that I was helped with was shot blasting of the chassis together with its straightening and a small amount of welding. I also bought a newly rebuilt and tuned XPAG engine Using some of my parts like the sump.

The car was put on the road in 2013 and after various adjustments etc., has been used ever since.

I have driven it via MG Live at Silverstone to my daughter’s house (near Chobham), John O’groats, Morecombe, Goodwood, South Wales etc with very few problems.

The original green I painted it was colour matched to the hinged side of the doors but has recently been re-painted in a much darker shade. I do not know which is more correct and would be pleased to hear ideas, thoughts etc., from any interested people.”

In a follow up email the present owner said:

“If you happen to have Safety Fast vol. 58 no. 12 December 2014 there is a 4-page spread I wrote for it, might be of interest.”

Unfortunately, I was unable to source a copy of this article. One final comment from your editor is that it never ceases to amaze me how our cars come to be saved; all the more so with this one, as it is of great historical significance.


2 thoughts on “The Dick Jacobs MG TA Special: and a 40 year odyssey of sorts!

  1. Christine Fair says:

    We have a copy of the Dick James Special item in Safety Fast Dec 14 if anyone is interested.

  2. Nick Thompson says:

    The car is back on the road after a few minor repairs and my hope is to take it on some long trips again like before. I am not sure where you are based but it may be possible to call in. Also I have a few photos, some from early after my purchase, some after the rebuild or during rebuild if they would be of any use. I have no objection to my name being shown.

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