In the days when I used to go to MG Silverstone, before the event title MG Live! was dreamt up, I always made a point of going to see the display of XPAG Specials. They were all nice cars, but one in particular stood out as far as I was concerned; this was the Mitchell MG.
The Mitchell MG in the XPAG Specials’ tent at Silverstone in 2008. Standing around the car are Jimmy Cox, Pete Neal and the late Don Hayter.
In the last few months, I’ve re-made acquaintance with Bob Hobson (owner of the Mitchell MG, who I met at Silverstone all those years ago and he has been very helpful in sending pictures and text to help me put this article together. I must also mention Peter Neal, who wrote two fine articles entitled MITCHELL’S MONGREL(S) which were published in Safety Fast! in November 2017(PART 1) and December 2017 (PART 2). I have drawn heavily on these articles for background information on the late Terry Mitchell, who was a colleague of Pete’s at Abingdon.
Unfortunately, Terry did not live to see the car as it is now, pictured with his two surviving daughters, Linda and Theresa, at the same Silverstone event.
Terry Mitchell was a gifted and extremely able design engineer. As a young man he had a burning ambition to practice his skills working for the Great Western Railway (GWR), but it was not to be.
He had a fascination for steam locomotives and spent many an hour at Didcot, a railway station local to him on the GWR line, west of London, Paddington. Apparently, so keen was he to find a way in to the engineering side of GWR that he did a spell in the ticket office of his local railway station, but it didn’t open any doors.
Accepting that a career within GWR was not going to materialise, Terry re-focused on other potential job opportunities and looked towards the motor industry in Oxford. He was successful in applying for a position as a trainee design draughtsman with Morris Motors in Oxford.
It was not long before he was working in the MG and Riley office at Cowley, where he quickly ‘graduated’ as a draughtsman working for a time on brake and suspension parts for the Riley Pathfinder.
Terry was living in lodgings in Oxford with a colleague whilst working at Cowley and suggested that his garden shed would be an ideal workshop for the construction of a ‘sports car’. To put this into context, the shortage of cars for the home market in post-war Britain as a result of the need to, in the words of Sir Stafford Cripps, (the then president of the Board of Trade) “Export or die!”, spawned quite an industry in ‘specials’ as a way in to car ownership for young impecunious enthusiasts who could turn a pre-war vehicle into a look-alike sports car.
I’m old enough to remember the ‘Buckler’ brand, the origins of which dated from 1947 when Derek Buckler designed his own chassis to take the engine and running gear from his Ford 1172 cc side valve E93A. Buckler went on to offer chassis which were tailored to customers’ requests, with early bodies made from aluminium and later from fibreglass. Buckler also offered a range of tuning accessories for the E93A.
Terry’s first attempt at a ‘special’ was very likely to have been Ford Ten based, with a home-made body, but having completed it, he moved on to building another in the same shed using a tubular steel (RAF surplus) frame which he designed and welded up himself. This car used parts from a variety of models; a Morris Ten engine, modified front suspension from a Morris Minor, a differential from a Vauxhall 12 and even some turned down shafts from a Bedford lorry. The project took three years of evenings and weekends to complete and was featured in the Nuffield Organisation house magazine Teamwork. A chance remark by Terry to the magazine interviewer that “I’m afraid she’s a bit of a mongrel” led to the car being referred to, and widely known as, “Mitchell’s Mongrel”!
Terry’s hard graft and ingenuity in building, single-handedly a sports car with a coupé style body in a garden shed, combined with his performance as a proficient draughtsman, must have come to the attention of John Thornley, for shortly after completion of “The Mongrel”, he was asked by Thornley to spend a few weeks on loan to Abingdon. This was obviously career progression for Terry since he would be assisting Syd Enever in the design of the bodyshell for a new record breaker (EX179), which would be based on a prototype MGA chassis with an XPEG engine.
As we now know, the project was very successful and led to the opening up in the summer of 1954 of an in-house design office in Abingdon, whose first task would be to complete the engineering on the MGA, which had just been given the go ahead.
Following the success of EX179, Abingdon embarked on yet another record-breaker project, the EX181. Terry, who had been permanently transferred to Abingdon, along with two colleagues when the in-house design office was established, was heavily involved in the car’s development as its principal designer.
Not one to let the grass grow under his feet, and despite what must have been an extremely busy work schedule at Abingdon, Terry had started to plan for his next special. This was to be an open two-seater sports car with appropriate chassis design to obviate the need to use a coupé style body, as was the case previously.
By now, he had married and had bought a bungalow on the outskirts of Abingdon. The building of a large wooden garden shed was an immediate priority. Here, having made a scale drawing of the intended chassis, he cut and shaped the various tubular steel members and took them into Abingdon on a Saturday morning to have them welded up.
The car used many standard parts which were available at the time; the windscreen from a Sprite, the torsion bars from a Morris 1000. Front suspension was based on the TF with MGA hubs and rack and pinion steering. The rear axle was Terry’s own version of the De Dion design, complete with inboard brakes. The Watts linkages installed were well ahead of the time and were later utilised for the BRM and Vanwall race cars.
Terry’s choice of front and rear suspension for his special was similar to that employed on the EX181 record breaker with which he was heavily involved at the time.
The rear axle arrangement.
For the engine, Terry managed to acquire EX173/1, one of two (EX173/1 and EX173/2) which had been specially prepared and used for Goldie Gardner’s blown EX135 record car. When the car was retired from service, EX173/2 remained in the car and EX173/1 became surplus to requirements. As we will learn later in this article a later owner ‘blew it up’ racing an E-type Jag.
Having fitted EX173/1 into the car (still awaiting body panels) Terry proceeded to fabricate a four-branch exhaust, which from the manifold fed into a side mounted silencer in the sill area below the driver’s door. The tail pipe can just be seen emerging a little forward from the off-side rear wheel in the photograph below. Also note, but not readily apparent from the angle this picture was taken, is the forward-sloping radiator, mounted on outriggers. The purpose of tilting the radiator was to gain maximum airflow and also to achieve a low bonnet line.
Having got this far, it was now time to concentrate efforts on the body. Drawing on his experience with EX179, the basic outline of the body was formed by using small, cross-section tubing and then adding plywood templates, cut to shape at regular intervals to form the final contours of the surface. The ‘mock-up’ was then handed over to a specialist metal worker, who turned what he was given into a stunningly beautiful body in aluminium.
The project had taken from 1954 to 1961 to come to fruition, but there was another assignment completed (for a friend) in this period – a three-wheeler reminiscent of an Isetta bubble car – the front of which can just be seen in the next picture of Terry’s car outside his bungalow around 1961.
The Mitchell MG did not stay with Terry for much longer, since now with a young family in tow, a rather more suitable form of transport was required. The car was sold and an Austin A90 Westminster was acquired. More’s the pity since it is estimated that Terry only did 100 miles in his car.
We now close the book on Terry’s ownership and trace the subsequent history of the Mitchell MG.
Bob Hobson, who I mentioned at the beginning of this article, now owns this ‘gem’ – you cannot fail to detect that I love the car! Apart from sending me lots of photos, Bob also sent me a scanned copy of the buff log book. This reveals that there were three owners after Terry and before Bob; all were from the Reading area.
The second entry (after Terry) in the log book is date stamped 1962, the next 1965 and the next 1966. The man who bought the car from Terry did not keep it long for he advertised it in the July 1963 Motor Sport for £850 (information courtesy of Stewart Penfound). The advert stated that the car cost £1,000.
After the final (1966) entry in the log book the car was sent for auction, but no details as to when and where are available (but see later description of the car for the auction).
We now come to the history of the car in Bob’s ownership and fast forward to the 1970s. Bob was living at the time in the Buckinghamshire village of Ivinghoe Aston. His neighbour, who owned a garage in Berkhamsted and who may have bought the car (stripped down for rebuilding by a previous owner?) at auction, knew that he was into old M.G.s and told Bob that he had an M.G. in bits, with a tubular steel chassis and an aluminium body. Bob was sufficiently interested to go and see it and a deal was struck for the chassis, the body and a few tea chests containing bits and pieces for the car.
Bob’s son Lawrence with the body shell on the chassis – pic taken 43 years ago.
Bob was obviously keen to find out as much information about the car as possible and went to see Terry, whose name was the first one in the log book. They got on extremely well as Bob is an ex-Royal Air Force engineer and Avro Shackleton pilot and Terry had spent time in Egypt at the commencement of World War II as an RAF flight mechanic, servicing Merlin engines for Spitfires. Also, Bob’s father was a talented engineer whose main hobby was repairing antique clocks and building model steam engines and Terry’s hobby (apart from the cars!) involved the construction of large-scale models of GWR steam locomotives.
Terry told Bob that when the car went for auction the ‘write-up’ was hopeless, so he produced this:
|M.G. Mitchell Experimental Super Sports Car|
The Car was designed and developed by Terry Mitchell the Head of Chassis design at the MG Factory in Abingdon. Development work started during 1954 and the Car was eventually put on the road as a sports car in 1961.
The Chassis was produced from Tubular Steel members shaped, cut and welded at Abingdon by Harold Wiggins in the development shop. The body formers were produced in wood as a pattern for the body which was moulded in Aluminium and made to a fine tolerance of accuracy in order to balance the aerodynamics of the completed car.
The front of the car has a ‘snout’ air intake to the radiator similar to the later produced well known ‘E’ Type Jaguar. The rear is rounded off with a very small Boot to take the spare wheel and tools. The general shape pf the car is rather like a Maserati or racing Jaguar with its snout and lamps well sunk into the body in pronounced grooves.
The car was produced using many standard parts available at the time. The Windscreen is from a Sprite, the torsion bars are Morris 1000. The front suspension is based on the MG TF and the ‘knock on’ wire wheels and hubs are from the MGA. The rear axle is Terry Mitchell’s own version of the De Dion design complete with inboard brakes. The Watts Linkages installed were well ahead of the time and were later utilised for the BRM and Vanwall race cars.
The original engine fitted in the car was the MG EX. 173/1 experimental engine, unfortunately at some later point in the car’s life this expired and was replaced by a tuned XPAG Engine.
Bob also contacted one of the previous owners in his quest to learn more about the car’s history. He probably landed on the right one as he was told that the EX173/1 engine had been ruined in this chap’s ownership because it had been pushed beyond its limits by racing against a friend’s E-type Jaguar. This was not a particularly fruitful contact, but at least it confirmed the fate of EX173/1.
The restoration of the Mitchell MG did not start in earnest until 2006. This was due to Bob’s move to Scotland where he was heavily involved with the major task of refurbishing a 17th century house. Wisely, he took the decision to entrust the restoration of the bodywork to Gordon Needs of Alyth, Perth and Kinross.
The results of Bob’s restoration speak for themselves as the following pictures show:
Bob’s 1955 TF1500 with his 1954 ‘Mitchell MG’.