Octagon Newsletter … April 1999
By Al Fraser
Like any automobile producer, the MG Car Company developed experimental models which often became production models. Cecil Kimber realized, at an early time, that properly set up and successful experimental cars could provide a great deal of free favourable advertising and he was happy to supply factory assistance to speed and endurance record attempts in his cars. Between 1930 and 1959 MG established 43 international class speed records with factory-supported experimental vehicles. Many other EX cars were precursors of well-known production models. This article gives a brief description of the most famous of the experimental cars and lists the many experimental numbers, which often became production models.
The first, EX 120, evolved from a collaboration with Captain George E.T. Eyston who was attempting to establish the first 100 m.p.h. speed for Class H (750 c.c.) in a baby car, using the diminutive 1929 MG Midget. This effort was in direct competition with an attempt by Malcolm Campbell to "break the ton" in the same class in a specially prepared baby Austin. The diminutive MG broke 6 international records on the way to becoming the first 750 c.c. car to go 100 miles in one hour and was the basis of the C-Type Montlhery Midget special. Unfortunately, the car was destroyed in a fire at the end of its successful runs.
The next step was EX 127, the "Magic Midget", completed late in 1931 to replace the destroyed EX 120 and designed with the express purpose of smashing every Class H record. In its illustrious career this car set numerous records, was the first of its class to surpass 120 m.p.h. and was later sold to Bobby Kohlrausch, a noted German driver who continued to break records on the Continent, where its design was of great interest to German pre-war engineers.
The next car for Captain Eyston was my favourite, the legendary EX 135, based on the K3 chassis with both racing and record-breaking bodies and built to assault the Class G (1100 cc.) records. The original streamlined body was painted in cream and chocolate stripes, winning for the car the nickname "Humbug", as in 1934 it re-wrote the record books for its class. The next year, with the corporate ban on works-sponsored competition, Eyston sold the car. Two years later, Kimber and Goldie Gardner, a well-known racing figure, decided to re-acquire the Humbug, add a Reid Railton designed completely enclosed body and attempt to break both Class G and F records. They were completely successful in both attempts, with the car becoming the first 1100 c.c. car to exceed 200 m.p.h.. Following World War II, Lieutenant Colonel Gardner had EX 135 again rebuilt with a 750 c.c. six cylinder Magnette engine modified so that the number of operating cylinders could be quickly changed. For Records in Class H in 1946 the car ran on all six cylinders. In 1947, it ran on four cylinders for a Class I (500 c.c.) record of 118.1 m.p.h. After Nuffield management discontinued with factory assistance in 1935, Gardner removed the "MG" name, fitted the car with a Jaguar 2 litre engine and took the Class E record. Another change in management at Nuffield, and the fact that the Italians had taken the Class I record from England, lured Gardner back. Abingdon modified the engine capacity and in 1949 Gardner recaptured the 500 c.c. record on just three cylinders at a speed of 154.8 m.p.h.. In 1950 all but two cylinders were blocked off and the records fell to the fabulous MG in Class J (500 cc.) at 121.09 m.p.h.. It was suggested that if there was a class for single cylinder engines Gardner would have attempted that as well! The next year, sporting a TD engine, EX 135 ran on the Utah salt flats to take more records in Class F. In 1952, both Gardner and his 18 year old flyer retired. In its career, wearing an assortment of bodies and engines, the venerable EX 135 broke the world record ten times in eight different classes, a tribute to the builders and the driver.
The next creation, EX 179 was based upon the MGA chassis and closely resembled EX 135. With it, Eyston and Ken Miles took seven Class F and 25 American records. Wearing the notorious Twin Cam engine, the car took nine Class G records.
The final factory record breaker was EX 181, a rear-engine creation nicknamed the "Roaring Raindrop" for its unique form.
This model took the Class F record at 245.6 m.p.h. with Sterling Moss at the helm in 1957. Two years later Phil Hill drove the car to an amazing 254.9 m.p.h.. This was the end of factory supported speed cars until 1998-99 when Rover constructed the EX-F, an MGF special, designated EX 255, that is attempting to break the EX 181 record. To date, the highly modified car has reached 217.4 m.p.h., almost 100 m.p.h. faster than the stock MGF.
MG at Bonneville
Octagon Newsletter … May 2001
In 1959, MG EX 181, fondly known as the “Roaring Raindrop” carried Phil Hill to a record speed of 254.9 m.p.h. and the Class E record using a bored out Twin Cam MGA engine with a monstrous Shorrock blower. In 1997 Rover Group ran a modified MGF, designated EXF to a speed of 217 m.p.h. using a turbocharged 1.4 litre K-Series engine. Rover promised to return the next year to take the Class E record with the more powerful EX 255, with record driver Andy Green at the helm.
Unfortunately EX 255 was plagued by mechanical problems and the troubled relationship between Rover and BMW who saw no importance in these speed records. Now it appears that MG Rover is once more looking toward Bonneville and the Class E record with EX 255 or a successor. Hopefully all these proposals will become firm commitments as the revived car company seeks to once more enter the true sports car field and understand the benefits of racing/rally/record breaking victories.
It seems, from the latest publicity from MG Rover, that the famous motto "Safety Fast" has been replaced with "Outrageous Fun for All!" What would Cecil Kimber think?
Octagon Newsletter … September 2001
In their quest to return the MG logo to the forefront of competition, MG Rover commissioned Lola to build three cars, designated EX 257, with two of them entered in the June, Le Mans 24-hour endurance race. Despite mechanical problems during the qualifying, causing electrical failures in one car, both cars qualified in the dark … 1st and 2nd in their class.
Most of the 24 hour race was run in the pouring rain. The MG Lolas maintained high placings until teething problems set in and neither car finished the race, one bowing out after five hours, the other after twelve hours, both with telemetry problems and low oil pressure.
This return to racing shows that MG Rover is serious in its intention to restore its place in the sportscar realm. As mentioned in earlier newsletters, the company is planning a luxury high performance car, developing an "extreme" MGF and a one-off 500 b.h.p. ZT, all for next year.
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