This is the story of a 1949 MG TC which I owned from 1970 to 1989 and raced it extensively during that period. This a significant TC that has been a race car for far longer than a road car, and today has had an active racing career for well over 50 years of its 66 year life to date. For a large part of that time I was lucky enough to own, extensively modify and successfully race TC8924.
It was first raced circa 1964 by Mike Zimmerman, who developed it using a supercharger. During his ownership the car was driven on the road to and (sometimes) from meetings, and by the late 1960s it featured AC Cobra wheels and Dunlop CR65 (R7) racing tyres, a single seat and was fitted with a 1300cc high compression supercharged engine. The supercharger was a Roots type, adapted from an aircraft cabin pressurisation compressor, and fitted initially between the front dumb irons and driven off the nose of the crankshaft. The radiator always had a cut out in the bottom tank for the drive. The carburettor was mounted on the supercharger intake side, and the whole unit was later fitted to the right hand side of the engine.
Using high compression pistons with 60thou overbore was not really a recipe for reliability – I calculated the static compression was around 9.5:1 and the dynamic compression was over 14:1 – and in early 1970, I purchased the car from Mike with a blown up engine in a box! I seem to remember paying £250 for what my parents described as a heap of junk!
The basic ingredients though were all there, so I was happy with my purchase and I set about rebuilding the engine of TC 8924 which was registered as FBD 64. Initially I decided to use the
supercharger set up, with a single H4 1½” SU, and on a very snowy day in February 1970 the first attempt was made to start it. Very quickly the battery went flat, and efforts to push start it were severely hampered by the compacted snow on the road (see picture)!
The car was then towed to a local garage and eventually after much fiddling with the timing (which was magneto) it fired up. I then drove the car around most days to run it in and quickly discovered several problems with the supercharger set up. Firstly, the long single belt that drove the supercharger from an adapted front crankshaft pulley didn’t have a tensioner, so the belt rapidly stretched and it lost boost.
Secondly, when everything was working correctly it was boosting at around 20psi, so it had incredible power but for a limited time. I entered a few Curborough sprints in late March and April, as this was only about 10 miles from home, and these outings produced a moderate success as I could come second to Dave Clewley in his 1350cc normally aspirated TC.
By the time I got home after running for a total distance of around 12 miles the boost had dropped to around 5 psi and power was almost non existent! I had also discovered, thanks to a Robin Rew photograph (see picture – car number 44) of the car at Curborough, that the handling was far from ideal.
I was also starting to realise that I didn’t really understand supercharging, so decided to build another engine, this time running on carburettors. I then had a breakthrough, when I saw and advert in the Exchange and Mart for an XPEG racing engine, which was for sale in Derby. It turned out that the engine had come out of a Buckler which had been raced by Peter Gamble (who these days supplies the Hi-Gear 5 speed conversions) and it was indeed a 1466cc TF block engine which had been highly modified with the MG Factory racing camshaft, very big valves in a highly modified head. I was told that the engine had been built by the same person that built the racing XPEG engines for the works Lotus 6 driven by Peter Gammon. I bought the engine for £65! This was to be the basis of my engines until I sold the car in 1989.
Once back home I stripped the engine to check it all out, and only had to fit new bearings before installing it in the car. Although the car came with an exhaust manifold and inlet manifold complete with a pair of H6 1¾” SUs, I decided I needed an advantage over the other competitors, so I sold this set up (to Nick Taylor and they are still fitted to his car today) and fitted the Derrington exhaust manifold that came with the supercharged engine and I had a new inlet manifold cast that would take a Weber 45DCOE.
This move was somewhat controversial when the car made its first appearance, as the T-Type racing regulations stated that modifications must be ‘kept within period’. I argued that as many cars were now fitted with the later HS series of carburettor which were not a period carburettor for a T-Type and had been accepted as a development, the 45DCO was a period carburettor during T-Type production and the 45DCOE was a similar development. Also, just because no one racing a T-Type in period had thought of fitting a Weber as an alternative to SUs didn’t mean this form of carburetion wasn’t a period modification, and so it should be allowed!
The argument was accepted at the time and was not reversed until the 1990s! In this form the engine produced just over 100bhp when set up on the rolling road at Morspeed, who operated in a railway arch in Birmingham. We had to tow the car into central Birmingham, which was pretty scary, made more so when the tow rope got tangled around the offside steering arm as we made a left turn causing the car to turn sharp right almost into the queuing traffic at the junction. Happily the drive home was without incident.
At the MGCC May Silverstone I made my racing debut with TC8924 (see pic).
The poor practice and my first appearance resulted in an amazing handicap allowance of 1m 45s, and since I was expecting the car to lap the old Silverstone Club circuit in around 1m 20sec this would mean that the competitors on scratch (no time allowance) were still sitting on the grid when I completed my first lap. I then had to do 4 laps to the flag compared to their 5 laps! On my 4th lap I could smell a bonfire, and when coming down the club straight to finish the race (although I didn’t know how many laps I had done!) I was looking for the bonfire in the adjacent fields, when I noticed the floor of the car was well and truly alight.
I stopped at the marshals’ post approaching Woodcote corner and having failed to put the fire out using a dry powder extinguisher, they found a road cone and filled it up with water which did the trick. If I had just driven around the corner I would have won my first race! This would eventually take almost another 3 years to achieve. The problem had arisen because the exhaust pipe stopped under the car instead of exiting beyond the bodywork and the hot exhaust had set fire to the wood.
At this stage I’m not going to bore readers with a race by race account of my time with TC 8924 as I didn’t keep records at the time, something I now regret.; instead a few highlights (and lowlights) of my ownership.
Initially the car was fast but very unreliable – I even thought of getting it exorcised! In 1971 I repainted the car, and changed the colour from dark green as I have always found green to be unlucky, to chrome orange with green wheels, bulkhead and chassis. This colour combination played havoc with people’s eyes including mine! So for 1972 I repainted it French Blue with yellow wheels (a la Prince Bira ERA), a colour scheme we both liked as the car started to settle down and became reliable. In the early 1970s, the T-Register championship didn’t have set rounds, and competitors accrued points depending on where they finished in class of any events they could enter. There was a limit to how many events could be counted, but it was up to competitors to find suitable events. This led to myself, Dave Clewley and Nick Taylor entering races at Cadwell Park and Croft in particular where the organisers were happy to accept entries for what were seen as ancient cars. The first race Dave and I did at Cadwell was a combined Sports Racing and Sports Car race over 10 laps of the short circuit – it missed out the Mountain section. This configuration was rarely used and after practice a Chevron B16 Sports Racing Car with Cosworth FVA power of Frank Aston was on Pole, but Dave was 3rd fastest and 6 seconds under the Sports Car lap record and I was 5th fastest and 5 seconds under the record.
Dave had blown up his engine in practice, so there was a gap in the front row of the grid directly in front of me. When the flag fell, I went for the gap, and there I was leading the race! (see pic; no.137).
I later extensively baffled the sump and the problem was resolved, but by then the Championship had become set rounds of races, sprints and hillclimbs. The braking issues were never really solved, despite the use of very hard Mintex M20 competition linings all round and extensively drilling the back plates. The main issue was that the pressed steel drums couldn’t dissipate the heat the brakes generated and distorted. Skimming them made the problem worse as the metal was even thinner and more likely to distort. In the early 1990s many started to use Datsun 240Z rear drums modified to fit TB/TC hubs and these were cast iron and finned. A little later came the use of twin leading shoes, achieved by using a second wheel cylinder, which improved things even further.
The change to a championship having fixed rounds was a suggestion that I put forward at one of the annual drivers’ meetings with the idea of focusing all the cars to fifteen or 16 rounds each year and put on a good show for the organisers and spectators alike. I felt this was especially important at race meetings and we could then have our own race rather than being a sub-class with other cars. This was accepted and by 1973 the T-Type racing Championship was being welcomed by race organisers around the country.
However 1972 was a really hard learning year for me, as the limits of the mechanical parts were being pushed more and more on the cars at the front of the grid. I entered 38 meetings that year, of which almost 50% were races and I didn’t finish a single race! I had two engines on the go, one in the car and the second at a machine shop being rebored, linered, crank regrind, etc etc. I developed a good relationship with my bank manager, who on one occasion when I went into the branch (of the National Provincial Bank), came around the counter and enquired ‘How’s the racing going?’ I replied that I had blown up four engines in the last month, to which he simply said ‘I thought so as your overdraft has increased – again! I thought it was important to maintain a good relationship with the bank manager, who inadvertently had become the sole sponsor of the car.
By the end of 1973 the breakthrough happened, and with further engine development pushing power figures up, and the car being seriously lightened (it was down to a little over 13 cwt), plus more understanding of reliability, led to me winning my first race. This was a London Motor Club meeting at Mallory Park and after a titanic battle with Dave Clewley and Gerry Brown I crossed the line in first place. The picture shows how close the three of us were which lasted for the entire race, with me sandwiched here between Dave (No. 211) and Gerry.
Through 1974, the suspension was further developed by fitting radius arms and a panhard rod both front and rear. Also the front axle beam was de-cambered so the wheels were vertical or in my case ½° negative camber. Sadly the XPEG based engine blew up on the approach to Copse during a race at Silverstone when the crank broke and a con rod also failed. Fortunately the very special cylinder head survived, but a new 1350cc, low friction engine was built as a replacement. As the pistons were better quality (Hepolite Powermax), the con roads were lightened, polished and tuftrided, as was the crankshaft, together producing an engine that would rev to well over 8,000rpm quite reliably.
I did suffer one engine failure at the 1975 MG May Silverstone meeting when a big end bolt failed, but other than that it ran reliably and produced 125bhp after a 4 hour rolling road session.
At the end of 1974 I bought a set of Formula Vee racing tyres at the Dunlop end of season sale. A chat with the Dunlop people suggested that they would be very good for Sprints and Hillclimbs but the T-Types were too heavy for them to be used in races. However, at £40 for a set of 4 they were around 25% of the price of a set of the Dunlop L section CR65 tyres we had been using – and were required by the Championship Regulations. One problem was they were tubeless, and of course the TC had wire wheels, but Dunlop recommended using MGB road tubes in them, so the tyres were purchased. Nick Taylor also bought a set. A week later, the annual Drivers Meeting was being held, where I proposed a rule change. The wording on racing tyres was ‘Racing tyres may be used but must be Dunlop L section tyres’. As some competitors were using Dunlop M section tyres which had a lower profile and therefore a wider tread, my proposal was to amend the wording to ‘Racing tyres may be used, but they must be Dunlop’ reasoning that this allowed those using M section tyres to be legal. The change was accepted, but when I turned up the following week at a Silverstone Sprint meeting with the very low profile Formula Vee tyres, there was something of an uproar, which never went away. This was mainly because the cars looked odd with such a low profile tyres (see picture), and with hindsight we should have bought 4 rear tyres, which were higher profile (and wider!).
At about this time I undertook a modification that had mixed results. Nick Taylor’s family ran a garage and whilst changing the differential on a customer’s Ford Anglia van, he compared it with a TC differential. The results were startling. The Ford diff had practically the same dimensions to the TC diff. The hole in the banjo had to be opened out by about 1/32in to accommodate the Ford diff and a new bolt pattern drilled and nuts welded onto the inside of the axle casing. The half shafts were different as the Ford items had a fine spline to go into the differential cage, and the outside end had a ‘top hat’ flange that bolted through the brake drum. We went to the local Ford agent, and bought 6 Cortina halfshafts (which cleaned them out of Cortina halfshafts!). We then found a machinist that could soften them (they are extremely hard) cut the top hat off and machine a TC hub spline onto the outer end. They then thought they would be able to harden them again. So we now had 3 halfshafts each which would connect a Ford differential to a TC hub.
The Ford car differential ratios were not much use for a TC as they ranged from 3.54:1 (RS 2000) to 4.1:1 (Anglia and Escort saloon). The Ford van diff was also too high at 4.4:1 although I did try one at Croft but it moved all the corners down one gear, so third gear corners were being taken in second. It was the rally ratios that were particularly interesting as these ranged from 4.7:1 in 0.2 steps to 6.1:1, so there was ample scope to find something suitable for the TC.
I was running a TA 4.875:1 diff so I bought a 5.1:1 Ford diff to supplement it. Using the Ford differential also meant a Salisbury Limited Slip differential could be used, so I bought a whole unit that had been used in a rally car from the advert pages in Motoring News. The first race using the Ford LSD was at Mallory Park, a circuit that really suited the T-Types as the straights are not long enough for the aerodynamics to hamper performance, and the car was a revelation. The hairpin was a big tail slide to get round thanks to the LSD, and the lower ratio gave it much more punch out of the corners. BUT, along the straights it was slightly slower so the overall effect was that lap times were not improved significantly. I put this down to the fact that the TC diff had less drag due to its design, but the hypoid Ford diff was tighter and this slowed the car on the straights.
During practice, Nick’s car broke a halfshaft and seriously twisted the other, and my car had one badly twisted halfshaft (through 30⁰), but the other was ok, so for the race only my car made the grid. It survived to the end, but on the Monday after I pulled the halfshafts out; both were now badly twisted. The local Ford agents were staggered when we were at the counter for another 6 Cortina halfshafts, and had to order them in. A phone call to Ford Technical Department led us to a company called Induction Hardening on the A45 Coventry bypass, and after having the machining done, they hardened the shafts back to Ford specification.
This largely solved the problem, but I still felt the end result was inconclusive and at some races afterwards I used the TC 4.875 diff; at others the 5.1 Ford LSD. Incidentally, in an effort to stop the back axle oil getting onto the rear brakes, I vented the differential housing, and fitted a flexible long tube taped to one of the back stays of the roll bar. I was amazed at how much smoke the LSD generated around Brands Hatch, which of course doesn’t have any truly straight pieces of road.
The 1975 MG Car Club May Silverstone meeting produced one of the most memorable races in T-Type history – and is still remembered in T-Type Racing circles. This meeting always attracted a good entry for the 10 lap T-Type race, and for this year there more competitive cars attending than ever before, with 6 or 7 cars able to win the race. After practice it was clear that the front runners would be Dave Clewley (1500cc TB), Gerry Brown (1500cc TC), Chris Jones (1360cc Supercharged TC) and myself (1350cc TC) as we had all broken the existing lap record in practice and were in the 1m 16s bracket around the old club circuit. Nick Taylor (1500cc TB), Paddy Willmer (1350cc Supercharged TC) and Ron Gammons (1500cc TC) were lurking around to pick the pieces if the front runners struck a problem.
When the flag dropped the race quickly settled into a slipstreaming battle with two cars side by side leading and two cars slipstreaming them about a yard behind! At the end of each lap as the four cars approached Woodcote corner, they fanned out sometimes negotiating the corner 2 by 2, other time 3 and 1 (see photo) and on other occasions 4 abreast!. For lap after lap this battle raged on but for me it was not to be.
Back home, when I took the head off I discovered 3 pistons at the top and where the fourth piston and bore should have been there was just a hole. The piston crown and a very distorted con rod were found in the sump; examination showed a big end bolt had failed. The race was won by Chris Jones, his first win for some time, but an engine splutter mid Woodcote Corner meant Gerry ran into the back of him and pushed him over the line! The saving grace for me was that all 4 cars were credited with the same fastest lap at 1m 15.4s, a new lap record, and one that stood for some time until Ron Gammons lowered it into the 1m 14s with his highly successful TF 1500. A lowlight though was when I ran into the back of Gerry and got my nearside front wheel stuck between the rear chassis and wing of his car resulting in a cut around the sidewall of my front tyre.
More modifications over the winter of 1975/6 involved fitting an undertray. I had read an article on vehicle aerodynamics and realised that although the TC is very upright, it does have a relative small frontal area when fitted with cycle wings. More importantly something like a 30% improvement in aerodynamic efficiency could be achieved by improving the airflow under the car.
A few measurements of the car were taken and I bought a sheet of 18 gauge aluminium and set about fitting it as an undertray to the bottom of the car. This had to be easily removable for service, so brackets were made up to accept DZUS fasteners which were fitted through the sides of the bodywork. Similarly a sheet was fitted along the chassis rails between the rear wheels terminating at the end of the chassis at the back.
The front was more awkward because the springs were underneath the chassis rather than on top, so the front section was covered with sheet aluminium over the front dumb irons, and the front of the undertray attached to this with DZUS fasteners, and at the rear of the front springs a u-shaped bracket with a pin fixed the undertray to the springs, allowing it to move up and down with the suspension. The exhaust was fitted below the undertray just in case it set fire to something again, but otherwise the bottom of the car was smooth. And it worked! The result was an extra 5 – 8 mph along the straights for the princely sum of £8 for the sheet of aluminium. Also on cold days the cockpit was nice and warm, but on hot days it cooked my feet!
At the 1976 MG Car Club May Silverstone meeting I had my first (and only) racing crash. The T-Type race settled into its usual slipstreaming battle and I was chasing Gerry Brown who was leading. Entering Copse Corner, which by now was flat out in a TC (at about 100mph!), I was about a car length behind Gerry when we caught up a backmarker who moved off the racing line to let us past. As he did so he started to spin on the dirty surface and went between Gerry and myself! I hit his car midships, rolling over and pushing it out of the way by my momentum. Lots of body panels flew off and I can remember crouching down inside the car, and switching off the engine. As it coasted to a halt I was able to steer it onto the grass and stopped by the next marshals’ post which was half way up the hill to Maggots Curve, about 150 yards from where the impact had occurred. Needless to say the damage was considerable (see picture) and the nearside front wheel had taken the brunt of the impact.
Once back home the car was stripped from (and including) the bulkhead forward. The chassis was straightened by putting the front end on a substantial axle stand, heating it up where the bend was and hammering it back into line with a sledgehammer. A new door had to be made but the radiator shell was straightened and so was the headlight, although I couldn’t at that time get a new 8” glass for it so I used a piece of Perspex. I was given another front axle by a fellow competitor, but for the next race which was at Croft two weeks later the camber angle hadn’t been reset, so it was quite a handful to drive. But I won the race! What was somewhat unsettling, and occurred about a week and half after the accident was a short report about it in Autosport, which claimed I had been killed! You can imagine the reaction from other competitors when I turned up at Croft.
After the win at Croft I won the next 3 rounds of the T-Type Drivers Championship held at Snetterton, Brands Hatch and Curborough, and of these the win at Brands was the best race I won because for once I raced tactically. Gerry Brown initially led, but retired with a misfire when the coil lead came out of the distributor, and Dave Clewley took over the lead. For nine laps Dave and myself were inches apart (or so it seemed), but starting the last lap Dave made a rare mistake and ran wide going through Paddock Bend. I managed to pass him on the run up to Druids Hairpin (see picture) and hold the racing line all the way to the flag.
sent a copy to my bank manager thanking him for his continued support. He was very appreciative of this gesture and increased my overdraft limit!
The Curborough meeting was also full of drama. Gerry Brown was leading the championship by a slender margin and needed a good result to consolidate his lead. After unloading his car from the trailer he attempted to start it and it sounded decidedly sick. A quick diagnosis showed a lobe had been wiped off the cam, a problem that occurs sometimes when starting highly tuned racing engines (of any type) from cold. I offered him a drive in my car, as for sprints and hillclimbs two drivers are allowed. I then spent the rest of the day trying to beat him! I managed a second run just 0.1 seconds faster to take the class win, leaving another record of 39.4 seconds. Gerry was 2nd in class with Dave 3rd.
When Gerry first drove the car he complained it was dying leaving the line, so I explained that with the racing clutch I used (a Cortina GT racing clutch from AP Racing) it just gripped, and the tyres gripped causing it to almost stall. My starting technique was to rev the engine to 6,000rpm and then feed the clutch in whilst in first gear, using it to control the wheelspin. As the acceleration increased then increase the revs up to the normal limit of 7,500rpm before changing into second. When he tried this he also found that the starts were very rapid. Incidentally the car could accelerate to 60mph in around 7 seconds and had a top speed of around 110mph. All this performance of course came at a cost, and fuel consumption at the fast circuits was about 5 mpg! Gerry returned the favour and let me drive his car at MGCC Silverstone end of season sprint, by which time he had won the Championship. I must say it was a very impressive car, and had a lot more torque than mine.
For 1977, there were a few more rule changes, but in particular the use of the Formula Vee tyres was banned, and L section tyres only reinstated, despite some competitors continuing to use the wider M Section tyres. I put the set of Formula Vee tyres up for sale for £40 and they were snapped up by a Morgan racer, so remarkably I had free tyres for two years, and despite Dunlop’s fears that the TC was too heavy to race on them they were actually fine once the levels of grip they offered were understood. They got very hot under racing conditions – so hot in fact that they sizzled if water was dropped onto them after a race – which probably helped the grip levels. Braking distances were also considerably shorter, again as there was more grip. Incidentally, the Morgan racer who bought the tyres was also a sports car dealer in the West Midlands, and he turned up in a nice MGC GT. After we had done the deal on the tyres, we chatted about the C GT which was for sale, and we did another deal of my MGB roadster for the MGC GT.
As soon as the 1977 season started it became obvious that everyone else had moved ahead over the winter in terms of power, with the 1500cc engines getting closer to 150bhp on carburettors, but still with standard cranks and rods. I could still finish second or third quite easily but the car just wasn’t fast enough to challenge for the wins without a lot more development (and money!). This was unlikely as in August I got married so towards the end of the year racing was having to take a back seat for setting up a home. I then took a break from circuit racing until 1981, although I did a few sprints. I also did a road rally with a Maxi, finishing second to a Triumph 2.5PI in a special class for standard production cars. By 1981 I could still get 3rd places but by now the costs of racing were escalating rapidly and having sold a nice Mark 1 Ford Escort RS2000 (and bought the Maxi as a Tow/Family car) the money raised bought just 4 races, so each time the car went out of the garage it cost over £600. 1981 also saw the birth of our first daughter so money became even tighter. In 1982 I did my last race with the TC, which was at Mallory Park. This was the year Ron Gammons introduced his very fast TF 1500 which was set to dominate racing by winning every race for the next 2½ years. The TBs and TCs fought back but had to resort to supercharging to get a power advantage to make up for the poorer corning ability. This was really the end of my story on track and the car languished in the garage until 1989 when I sold it to Paul Smeeth. Paul had a supercharged engine built and the car became a front runner once more, along with Dave Clewley. Engines were now very special with steel cranks and rods and alloy heads.
TC 8924 is still racing today, and I was reunited with the car at Mallory Park on 29th March 2015. Over the intervening years the car changed hands from Paul Smeeth to Peter Greenaway when a change in T-Type Racing Regulations outlawed the use of efficient modern superchargers, which effectively limited the power and speed, not to mention the spectacle of the front running cars, several of them being retired to just occasional use. With Paul Smeeth and Peter Greenaway, the car was raced abroad on several occasions, particularly in Denmark and at Angouleme in France. It changed hands again at the beginning of 2015 with Graham Meyer becoming the latest owner. At Mallory Park the car was driven by well known restorer Peter Edney and finished 2nd overall in the Iconic 50s race being beaten by an MGA Twin Cam. It is now finished in dark green, its original colour, and it certainly looks fit enough for another 50 years of racing.
A final thought relates to a set of pictures taken by Gerry Brown during a meeting at Snetterton. The first is my favourite picture of the car, and it the one I have used to illustrate the car on the T-Database. It shows the car approaching the Bomb Hole in a lovely 4 wheel drift, with headlights on so I must have been coming up to lap some back markers.
I had entered two races that day, one for T-Types and Morgans (in separate classes for the respective championships) and the second for (I think) Pre 1965 Sports Cars.
In the T-Type/Morgan race the TC was quicker than most of the Morgans over a lap with only the full race cars being quicker. Although the TC was slower down the straights, it was much quicker through the corners and I ran into the back of a couple of Morgans because they were so slow. I won the T-Type class in that race, (see second picture).
In the Sports Car race I had a great scrap with an ex-Works Healey 3000, which had raced at Sebring. It had over 200 bhp, 4 wheel disc brakes and alloy bodywork. In practice we had been circulating together and both did the same lap time, so were alongside each other on the grid. As with the Morgans the Healey was faster down the straights, but slow through the corners, and each lap we crossed the line nose to tail, with the Healey always leading. So for the race I decided to take off the cycle wings and headlights as I only needed another couple of mph to get the better of him. This wasn’t strictly within the rules but nobody complained. It was very strange driving a car where some of the reference points (i.e. the headlights) were suddenly not there. It didn’t work either as every lap we crossed the line nose to tail with the Healey in front, and at one point going through the Bomb Hole I put a big dent in the alloy back wing of the Healey (See 3rd picture taken just before in The Esses).
After the race I saw the driver striding across the paddock, obviously looking for me, so I was worried that he was really annoyed about the coming together. As it turned out he wanted to congratulate me on the great scrap we had had for every one of the 10 laps and he was amazed at how fast the TC was. He wasn’t the first or last to find out!
Long live TC 8924!
Ed’s note: Thanks Pete for something of a marathon article which we finally managed to get published!