Longbridge History MG Octagon MG-Rover Group MG-Rover Marque Rover History Rover Mascot Environment May 2002 Update Lord Austin's Office


MG and Its History!


In 1922, Cecil Kimber (1888-1945) was appointed to the post of General Manager for Morris Garages, the sales division of Morris cars. Kimber was a car enthusiast who had already worked for several companies in the motor industry. He was particularly keen on sports cars, and had considerable design flair, able to produce eye catching body styles. He had also accumulated solid experience in engineering, factory management, and the commercial and business side of the motor trade.

It was Kimber’s idea to begin to produce a line of special bodied cars on Morris chassis. He was later to state that he saw an opportunity in the market for a car that was ten per cent better than the standard product, but which would sell at a fifty per cent higher price. He took an ordinary Morris Cowley chassis and had it fitted with a light open two-seater body of distinctly sporting lines, and in 1924 he commissioned the Coventry firm Carbodies to produce sports two- and four-seater bodies for the Morris chassis.

For the first time, these cars were sold as MGs and the famous octagonal badge began to feature in advertisements. At £395 the four-seater with the 14hp Morris Oxford engine was an elegant vehicle, with the body panels partly in polished aluminium offset by wheel discs. At the time, a four seater standard Morris Oxford cost £285 and the similarly bodied 12hp Cowley as little as £195!

Kimber’s MGs soon caught on. In early 1925, he had a far more special car built for his own use. This used a much-modified Morris chassis with a special overhead valve version of the side valve Morris engine, and a light racing type body. He entered this car in the Land’s End Trial at Easter 1925 and won a gold medal. Although soon sold for £300, the car was bought back by MG some years later and has ever since become known as "Old Number One" – the first proper MG sports car ever to be made.

The MG name was, as Kimber later pointed out, given as a compliment to Lord Nuffield, taking the initials of his first business – Morris Garages - to form the inspiration for this great automotive brand. Importantly the initials were taken to form MG, not, as some naturally presume, to stand as an abbreviation for it.

In 1926, the original Bullnose Morris models were replaced by the so-called Flatnose types with a more conventional radiator, and the MGs followed suit. In 1927, for the first time the MG production was moved into a new purpose built factory at Edmund Road, Cowley. In 1928, the MG Car Company was formally set up, and the business began to separate from the original Morris Garages. Work had also begun on two new MG models, which would both be introduced later that year.

The first of these was the MG 18/80, a six-cylinder car with a 2.5-litre overhead camshaft engine from the most recent Morris model. Available with a range of open and closed bodies, the 18/80 was an excellent touring sports car, but comparatively expensive and never made in large numbers. The later Mark II version featured a redesigned chassis and four speed gearbox and continued in limited production until 1933. A special racing version, the Mark III 18/100 or Tigress model was introduced in 1930. At no less than £895, it is not surprising that only five were made.

Far more important of the new models in 1928 was the first MG Midget, the M type. This was based on the recently introduced Morris Minor small car with an 847cc overhead camshaft engine, chassis and engine being little modified, but the bodywork was a fabric-covered two-seater with a pointed tail. At £175 this was truly an affordable sports car. "The Autocar" declared that "The MG Midget will make sports car history".

The Midget went into full production in March 1929 and the success of the new car soon made it clear that it was necessary for MG to move yet again to a bigger factory. At the end of 1929, MG took over part of the Pavlova Leather Company’s factory at Abingdon on Thames a few miles south of Oxford, destined to be MG’s home for the next fifty years. The MG Car Company Limited was formally established, with William Morris as the main shareholder and governing director, while Kimber became managing director.

The period from 1930 to 1934 saw the development of the MG brand to become one of the most famous sports cars in Britain and the world. In 1930, MG built a special record car for George Eyston, with a Midget based engine in an all-new chassis with streamlined bodywork. This car, the EX120, set MG on the path to a career in record breaking, which would last until 1960.

The company also began to produce more specialised racing models, apart from the Mark III there was the Double Twelve version of the Midget, which gained the team prize in the 1930 Double Twelve race at Brooklands. This was the most important award gained by MG yet but was only a foretaste of things to come.

The EX120 led directly to the supercharged racing C type of 1931, while later that year the first small six cylinder MG was introduced, the F type Magna with a 1.3-litre engine derived from the engine of the contemporary Wolseley Hornet.

There was also the D type, a four seater Midget, but both this and the M type were replaced in 1932 by the new J type Midgets, in two or four seater forms, with additional supercharged racing models. With the J type, Kimber established what became the typical MG look: the double humped scuttle and the fold-flat windscreen, the deep elbow cut-outs in the doors, and the petrol tank and spare wheel strapped to the back of the car. The J types originally had cycle type wings but later versions had the long flowing wings, which also became part of the MG look.

In early 1933 came a further new model, the K type Magnette with an even smaller 1.1-litre six-cylinder engine. Long-wheelbase touring models could be fitted with four door saloon bodies, but a short chassis supercharged racing model, the K3, became the most famous Magnette, taking a class win and the team prize in the Italian Mille Miglia road race on its debut outing, while in 1934 a K3 was 4th overall in the Le Mans 24 hour race. MGs also won the Tourist Trophy race twice, in 1933 with Tazio Nuvolari in a K3, and in 1934 with the NE model. Meanwhile, a new record car, the EX127 or Magic Midget had been built for George Eyston to take further records in the 750cc class. This car was later sold to the German driver Kohlrausch and ended up in the experimental department of Mercedes-Benz.

Further developments of the Midget, Magna and Magnette models followed – the L type Magna of 1933, the P type Midget and N type Magnette of 1934, while the Q type and R type Midgets were racing models. The R type of 1935 was MG’s first single seater racing car and broke new ground with its all-independent suspension with torsion bars. However, in 1935 the MG Company passed from the private ownership of Lord Nuffield to that of the Morris Motors company. Almost immediately afterwards, MG announced that it was going to stop building racing cars, and effectively withdrew from the sport.

New MG models of the period 1935 to 1939 were more closely based on standard components from the Morris Wolseley saloon car range. The SA model, introduced at the 1935 Motor Show, was a comfortable six-cylinder sports saloon, and drophead coupe, with a two-litre engine, soon enlarged to 2.3-litres, which for elegance and performance was a close competitor of the contemporary Jaguar. It was followed by a 1.5-litre four cylinder VA model and in 1938, by the 2.6-litre WA, MG’s largest car to date, both similar to the SA in concept.

There was also a new Midget in 1936, the 1.3-litre TA, replaced just before the war by the improved TB with a new and more robust short-stroke 1250cc engine.

The new Midget MG became an active and successful participant in contemporary trials. Record breaking was not forgotten: in 1938 MG built the EX135 for Goldie Gardner, based on a K3 chassis with a new all-enveloping body. In 1939 this car set new 1100cc and 1500cc class records at speeds over 200mph.

MG’s best pre-war year was 1937 with almost 3,000 cars built. Total production from 1923 to 1939 amounted to some 22,500 cars, with the most popular individual models such as the M type or the TA reaching just over 3,000 cars.

The Abingdon factory was quickly converted to war production but in 1941 MG’s founder, Cecil Kimber, was dismissed by the Nuffield Organisation for failing to fit into the wartime pattern of the company. In 1945, Kimber was tragically killed in a railway accident.

The company therefore faced the post-war world without its original leader. However, the men at Abingdon quickly got back into car production with the TC in 1945, a developed version of the 1939 TB. In 1947 this was followed by a new small saloon, the Y type, using a similar 1250cc engine and MG’s first independent front suspension, designed already before the war by a young Alec Issigonis. The TC in particular became popular, and was the first MG to be shipped in quantity to the USA where MG would become established as the most popular sports car make. The TD model of 1950 combined the Y type chassis and suspension with a TC like body. Where some 10,000 TCs had been made, the TD reached almost 30,000 of which the vast majority were sold in North America.

By 1953 MG had a new general manager, John Thornley (1909-1994). Together with his chief designer Syd Enever, Thornley wanted an all-new sports car to appeal to the vital American market. MG was now part of the BMC group and Thornley was initially rebuffed by BMC’s boss Leonard Lord, who had recently agreed to produce the new Austin Healey sports car. A face lifted TD was however put on the market in 1953 as the TF model, together with an all new Magnette saloon, featuring unitary construction bodywork and BMC’s new 1.5-litre B series engine.

Leonard Lord eventually relented and gave the green light for the new car that was introduced as the MGA in 1955, with a new chassis, all enveloping bodywork in contrast to MG’s traditional style, and the 1.5-litre engine from the saloon model. This became MG’s biggest success story to date, as more than 100,000 MGAs were made until 1962, including just over 2,000 of the advanced Twin Cam model with two overhead camshafts and four wheel disc brakes. With the MGA, MG also returned to motor sport.

At Le Mans in 1955, three prototype MGA cars had taken part, and later models also ran in the 12-hour race at Sebring in the USA. A new MG record car, the EX179 of 1954 built for George Eyston had been based on a prototype MGA chassis. The last and most impressive MG record car was EX181 of 1957, with a supercharged Twin Cam engine behind the driver in a teardrop shaped body.

This was driven by Stirling Moss and later Phil Hill, and set 1500cc and 2000cc class records at speeds over 250mph.

In 1959 a new MG Magnette saloon was a badge engineered version of BMC’s new Farina styled 1.5-litre saloon, and further new models reflected a similar philosophy: the MG Midget of 1961 was based on the existing Austin Healey Sprite small sports car, while the MG 1100 saloon of 1962 was a tuned version of the Issigonis designed Morris 1100 front wheel drive car. However in 1962 the MGA was replaced by the MGB, a unitary construction sports car with a 1.8 litre version of the BMC B series engine.

In 1965 this also became available with the GT body, a hatchback style coupe. While the Magnette saloon was discontinued in 1968 and the 1100 derived 1300 in 1973, the MGB and Midget sports cars went on to set new production records. Both were also used in motor sports, in particular the MGB with good results in long distance sports car races such as Le Mans, Sebring, and the 84-hour Marathon de la Route at the Nurburgring which an MGB won in 1966.

An MGB derivative was the short lived six-cylinder MGC of 1967-69, with only 9000 made, although MG’s last competition car before BL pulled out of competitions was the spectacular and very fast lightweight derivative of the MGC GT. After the BMC-Leyland merger of 1968 there was comparative quiet on the MG front until 1973 when another MGB based model was introduced, the MGB GT V8 with the 3.5-litre Rover V8 engine, again destined only for a short career with just under 2600 cars being made over a three year period.

In 1974, all MG models were face lifted with new impact resistant rubber bumpers to meet new US legislation, and the Midget became the 1500 model fitted with a Triumph engine. The Midget bowed out in 1979 after a total production run of 225,000 – not counting the similar Austin Healey Sprite models – while the MGB lasted a year longer, and reached a record production of over 513,000. As the MGB went out of production, the Abingdon factory was closed and the MG brand disappeared from the North American market.

After a period when MG was in abeyance and several different proposals for the future of the brand had been discussed, in 1982 the name came back on a sporting version of the parent company’s Metro small car. Over the next few years MG versions also appeared on the Maestro and Montego models, and all-three MG saloons eventually became available in turbocharged versions as well. Particularly well liked was the MG Maestro 2.0 EFi model with a fuel injection 2-litre engine, an effective competitor in the "hot hatch" market of the 1980’s, typified by the VW Golf GTi. Most popular were the Metro and Metro Turbo models, which reached a combined production total of 142,000 cars.

There was also the short lived MG 6R4 rally car of 1984 with a centre mounted V6 engine and four-wheel drive, built in small numbers but never fully developed before rally regulations were changed to exclude such specialised machines.

Nevertheless, MG enthusiasts understandably longed for the day when the MG sports car would return. In fact behind the scenes, Rover Group was planning to do just that. A foretaste of things to come was the stunning MG EX-E concept car revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1985, based on the mechanical package of the MG Metro 6R4 rally car. Under the ownership of British Aerospace from 1988, plans for a new MG sports car were accelerated. The MG saloon range was discontinued in 1991, and in the following year the MG RV8 was introduced. This featured a re-styled version of the classic MGB roadster bodyshell, and was fitted with the 3.9-litre V8 engine from the Range Rover. It was only ever intended as a limited production model, and of the 2,000 cars made many were exported, in particular to Japan.

Several different proposals were now under consideration for an all-new MG sports car. Rover Group eventually decided in favour of project PR3, a mid engined two-seater which in many ways was a break with MG’s traditions, yet as an affordable roadster using some saloon car components it also followed in the footsteps of most of the popular MG’s of the past. The engine was a developed 1.8-litre version of the K series, with an advanced form of Variable Valve Control in the higher performance model, while the suspension was based on the Hydragas system, but interconnected front-to-rear.

Much of the development work was completed before Rover Group was taken over by BMW in 1994 but the launch of the new model only occurred a year after the merger, at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1995. Named the MGF, the new model went into series production at the Longbridge factory in August 1995, and quickly became enormously successful in the home market as well as many export markets. Indeed the MGF became the UK’s best selling sports car from launch.

The new millennium brought about a fundamental re-organisation in BMW’s plans culminated in the company being split apart. On 9 May 2000 the Phoenix Consortium acquired the Rover Group business that comprised both MG and Rover brands. For the first time in many years the company found itself independent, British owned and debt free. The future focus was on the MG and Rover brands as the MG Rover Group, itself operated by Phoenix Venture Holdings and now free to develop without constraint of partnership or ownership restrictions.

The new business strategy was product development led and the first evidence of this were new model introductions to a revised MGF range. A new 1.6-litre entry model and race-inspired Trophy SE, itself producing 160Ps, were launched in January with 2001, with MG sales peaking in the models final year.

January 2001 started with the announcement of a new range of MG Saloon models and followed by a whirlwind of activity. An assault at the Le Mans 24-hour race in June with the MG Lola LMP675 ran in torrential wet weather setting an impressive pace. An announcement to acquire the Qvale Automotive business for a future MG supercar preceded the launch in July of the MG saloons - the ZR, ZS and ZT models, which won widespread acclaim. The ZS was entered British Touring Car Championship for the remaining season and managed to take both a pole position and a win, in only its third outing.

Another quick start in 2002 saw the early launch of the successor to the MGF – up until then the best selling sports car in the UK over six years - the new MG TF. The TF carried new styling and suspension improvements and a competent four-model range. In a matter of months the MG product range had been refreshed and grow four-fold.

A number of product derivatives were introduced during the year, including diesel variants of the ZS and ZT and new turbo-charged engine for the 1.8T ZT. In October, the Birmingham Motor Show saw the debut of MG’s most powerful, and expensive car yet - the MG XPower SV which boasted a potential 965hp and a price of c£75,000.

More derivative models were introduced in 2003 in the form of lower priced ZS 110 and ZT 120 models, but the introduction of the 4.6-litre ZT 260 V8 really captured the public’s imagination. Driven by the rear wheels the practical muscle car was a masterpiece of understatement and aural excitement. It was fast too.

2004 is the 80th anniversary of MG. The virtues of the brand have long stood for sports car motoring, combining affordability and sheer driving pleasure. This continues at all levels in the range of cars that proudly continue to wear the Octagon badge.


William Morris could be considered one of the founding fathers of the British motor industry.  Beginning his career in Oxford in the 1890’s  as a cycle mechanic, he later branched out into the new motor trade and by 1910 had established himself as the proprietor of the Morris Garages, Oxford’s leading car dealer.  Three years later he was to fulfil his ambition of becoming a motor manufacturer when the first Morris car went into production at Cowley, near Oxford.  

With Morris’ time and energy being devoted to car manufacture, his original business was entrusted to a general manager.  In 1922, Cecil Kimber (1888 – 1945) was appointed to this post.  Kimber was a car enthusiast who had already worked for several companies in the motor industry.  He was particularly keen on sports cars and had considerable design flair, producing eye catching body styles. 

It was Kimber’s idea to begin to produce a line of special bodied cars on the Morris chassis.  As he said later, he saw a niche for a car that was 10 per cent better than the standard product but would sell at a fifity per cent higher price. 

Determined to emphasise that his cars were more than just revamped Morrises, Kimber showered these MGs with Octagon motifs; oval instruments gave way to Octagonal ones. 

It was thought that the Octagon symbolised the enthusiastic loyalty customers had to their chosen marque. This magic began to weave its spell on generations of true motoring enthusiasts.  In addition, motorsports activities rapidly elevated the fame and prestige of the MG marque.  

The famous enamelled Octagon MG badge was embraced by the international public when MG won its first international motor race in Argentina in the heady days of the 1920’s.  The winning car was a 14/40 four-seater, which averaged 62mph in the hands of Alberto Sanchiz Cires. 

The attractive octagonal badge quickly became a true mark of distinction and the company was not slow to appreciate that customers enjoyed showing off the MG presence.  Thus followed the tradition of using the octagonal badge or simply the octagonal shape, for any number of ingenious applications around the vehicle.  Bystanders, passengers and mechanices were never left in any doubt as to the origins of these charistmatic cars. Octagons were cast into the aluminium toe-board and the accelerator, MG hubcaps replaced the standard Morris ones and even the tool-box carried the MG symbol. Enthusiasts entered into the spirit of the idea and still write things like “Octagonally yours” to sign off letters. 

The MG octagon is one of the world’s most popular sports car marques, associated with a history of countless track winners, record breakers and classic road cars.