Reminiscences

Octagon Newsletter … September 1986

By Henry Stone

So another 'Regency Run' is upon us … wasn't that fun fast year? It was my first 'London to Brighton' trip. I was transported back in time to the age when motoring was an adventure, and was viewed as such, instead of just a means of getting from 'A' to 'B'. I was fortunate enough to be a passenger in Geoff Radford's Mark II Speed Model MG, meticulously restored, right down to the last stitch in the trim, what memories it brought back. I remember the very first time I drove a Mark II … it was to pick up a visitor from Oxford Station. Although a line assembly worker, I held a licence and was sometimes loaned to the garage for short trips. Stan Saunders was the garage foreman then. With MG cars there was never a feeling of being a chauffeur. No you were a sports car driver, the passenger invariably sat in front with you and talked car talk, fostering the MG spirit.

What a grand sight it was on Madeira Drive to see all those beautifully restored and maintained examples of Cecil Kimber's vision. The interest and pleasure of the many spectators was very gratifying. Had Napoleon been able to view the turn-out he would have changed his mind about a 'nation of Shopkeepers' … the evidence of mechanical skill and pride in ownership was plain for all to see. I travelled up to Battersea Park with Dennis Ogbourne in his MGA, then from Brighton to Maidenhead in Ken Drake's immaculate TF. Finally, as an added bonus, I travelled from Maidenhead to Abingdon in Denison MGB GT. Four MG's in one day!

As a young man I pondered on the term 'sports' car amongst the other descriptions, Sedan, Convertible, Cabriolet, etc. The dictionary said, sport was fun or diversion, an outdoors pastime of athletic or competitive pursuit, whilst a sportsman was a man who would treat life as a game with fair play for his opponents. How applicable to those of you who have ever attempted to erect an 'M' type hood in pouring rain. A short description of this procedure would not be amiss here: when the refreshing little scud has turned into a steady downpour, one stopped the car and sought the carriage key, which undid the latch at the rear of the body deck, which formed the lid of the boot or luggage compartment. The carriage key was a small 'tee' shaped, taper shanked tool, similar to that which the railway porters of the day seemed to manage to lock the wrong carriage doors. This key was normally carried in a loop of leather attached to the forward cockpit trim, complying with Murphy's law it was rarely in it's appointed place.

Having finally located it, one ran to the rear of the car, inserted the key and by trial and error managed to rotate it 90o in the right direction, the lid could now be raised, the hood sticks and canopy removed. The sticks fitted together like a fishing rod, then socketed into two fittings either side of the rear of the cockpit. The hood canopy could then be pressed onto the studs and pulled forward to meet up with the screen. At this stage one usually discovered that, in your haste, the sticks had been slotted in the reverse way round, so that the stretching loop pointed to the rear instead of overhead. This meant that the hood did not reach the screen by three or four inches. Nothing for it but to throw back the canopy and reverse the sticks. The operation could now be completed, there only remained two sidescreens to fit into  the correct location.

One could now slide gratefully back into the car. Glancing at your companion, instead of the vivacious young girl clad in a stylish summer frock with puff sleeves, there now appeared to be a shivering half drowned caricature of the original … apparently having difficulty in controlling her speech. If ever there was a time for you to go into your suave, debonair, man of the world, devil may care act, this was it. If you could elicit, at this point, a tinkle of girlish laughter, her company and companionship were well worth pursuing … she was a 'sport' indeed. Proceeding on your way with the latest music hall hit, one would later possibly find that the picnic hamper and or the tool roll had been abandoned at the roadside during your last stop. Yes indeed, open car motoring was for 'sportsmen'.

Our next production 2-seater, the J2 was a real step forward, which raised the enthusiasm of the workforce sky high. What a pretty little individualistic car … underslung, compact, knock on hub caps, folding screen, a style that could be recognised from any view point at amazing distances. This was the car which really popularised the friendly waves of the MG fraternity. The feeling of the workforce and their pride and trust in their product was truly infections. They did not build cars, they built 'MG Sports Cars'.

The influence of Cecil Kimber's two-seater format stayed with us long after he left the company … up to and after the war even. The first deviation from the old square riggers was the MGA, with its all enveloping body. An MGB, with more creature comforts, was a logical forward step to cater tor the expanding American market. But the investigations of Ralph Nader into automobile accidental deaths and the Californian clean air regulations led to Federal regulations, which were ringing loudly and clearly, the death knell of the sports car, as we knew it. I have always been, and still am, proud to be associated with those magic initials … MG. I very often wonder how dull my life, and your lives for that matter, would have been if Cecil Kimber had not dreamed of, and built, his exciting little motor cars. That he did so, produced a band of MG folk who exude the joy of being alive, are quick to offer their hands in friendship and can always manage a smile or a grin in the face of adversity.

Long may they exist and prosper.

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