by Karen Border, TRF Publications
I have promised our MGB customers some stories about the origins of the MG marque and so I began researching them. But here is my effort to explain how the MG was developed. Because it is such a complicated story, I am going to have to do it in installments. I have also included a list of books and web links that I used for research, so you can read more about the subject. This is the second installment. All of the installments can be found at https://the-roadster-factory.com/Images/POTW/MG-Origins/MG-history.html .
INSTALLMENT 2. THE EVOLUTION OF THE MG AND OLD NUMBER ONE
Cecil Kimber (1888 – 1945) was born in Dulwich, South London, and he is credited with being the driving force behind the creation of the MG sports car. In 1921, he became the Sales Manager for Morris Garages in Queen Street in Oxford. Morris Garages was a sales and service center for Morris Motors, Limited, and included the main sales facility in Queen Street, a repair garage at Longwall Street and Holywell, and workshops in Cornmarket Street. William Morris also owned a manufacturing facility in Cowley where the Morris Oxford and Cowley cars were made. In 1922, Kimber became the general manager of Morris Motors after the resignation of Edward Armstead, and was then responsible for managing the sales office, the repair garage, and the workshops.
Kimber was aware that many people wanted cars that looked and performed more like sports cars than the cars that Morris offered, and he knew that people would pay a premium for them, thus increasing the profit for the business. He began promoting sales by producing his own special versions of Morris cars to appeal to people who wanted a custom or sporting car. In addition to being a sales manager and general manager, Kimber was also a visionary, and he and his wife, Irene, drew and designed custom body coaches. To build the cars that would eventually become the MG, Kimber first used the Morris Bullnose Cowley chassis and running gear from the Morris factory, and then he added his custom coachwork which he had produced by Carbodies of Coventry. The suspension was lowered and the high steering components were modified and lowered (raked). The car colours were pastel and they were two-seaters with leather seats and with the “Dicky Seat” (occasional seat) behind. The hood was unique because it covered the front seats as well as the occasional seat at the back. The car was nicknamed a “Chummy” which might have been because the hood covered all of the passengers and not just the two in front. One source called these cars “Kimber Specials”.
The cars were originally assembled at the Longwall Street repair garage, but in 1923, they needed more room. They moved to an old stabling yard in Alfred Lane which Morris had used to store used vehicles. The assembly staff consisted of Cecil Cousins and his assistant, Stan Saunders, Jack Lowndes and George Morris.
Eager to prove that his cars were true sport cars, Kimber entered a Chummy with a race-tuned engine in a road race. In March 1923, Kimber won a gold medal in the London-to-Land’s End-Trial. He celebrated his win by designing and ordering six two-seater coaches from Raworth of Oxford. These bodies featured yacht-like scuttle ventilators and rakishly slanted windscreens braced on the sides by triangular glass supports. These 11.9 hp Raworth Chummies were probably the first cars to be referred to as an M.G. However, sales were slow because the cars were twice as expensive as a Morris Cowley.
William Morris, seeing an opportunity for profit, created his own version of a “Chummy,” called the “Occasional Four”, and priced it lower than Kimber’s Chummies. Knowing that he had to make a distinction between his Chummies and the Occasional Four, Kimber next tried the Chummy coach on the Morris Oxford chassis and added a more powerful 14 hp engine later in 1923. Sales of this car were not too successful, so in 1924, Kimber tried a more elegant saloon body, designed by G.S. (Jack) Gardiner who was one of Kimber’s sales team, on the Morris 14/28 Bullnose radiator, Oxford chassis. This car body was of polished aluminum and may have been fabricated by Clary Hughes of Birmingham. Gardiner’s car was so distinctive that Kimber created a similar one with a coach from Carbodies for Billy Cooper who was a timekeeper at the Brooklands track. His car attracted a lot of attention when drivers and spectators saw it parked at the track entrance.
Morris Motors made some changes to the Oxford chassis in September 1924, which included a nine-foot long wheelbase. Kimber took the longer chassis and designed an all aluminum, four-seater open tourer with optional two colour paint on the bonnet, boot, and wings to go with the polished aluminium side panels. He dropped the Morris Motor name and advertised them as the M.G. 14/28 Super Sports, “our popular M.G. Saloon”. At least four different versions of the 14/28 Super Sport were offered at the 1924 Motor Show, including an open two-seater, open 4-seater tourer, and a vee-front saloon. The car badge was still the Morris Oxford badge that was used on all of the Morris cars, but a separate MG octagon badge, “MG Super Sports”, was added to the last of the 14/28 cars built. The cars featured artillery-style wheels in 1924-1925, and then in 1925-1926 they had bolt on wire wheels. Some experts feel that the 1924 Morris 14/28 was the first car to be called the M.G. instead of the 11.9 hp Raworth Chummy. Here is a YouTube video link about the 14/28 Super Sports: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8TCxKrr-gw
In 1925, Morris Garages moved from Alfred Lane, Oxford to a larger place on Bainton Road, which shared space with the Morris radiator works. Also in 1925, Hubert Charles, a Morris engineer, began working in his spare time fitting the MG bodies to the new Bullnose Morris Oxford chassis, and he also worked with Kimber on engine tuning and experimental work. He officially joined MG in 1928 as Chief Draughtsman. Continuing expansion meant another move in 1927 to a separate factory in Edmund Road, Cowley, Oxford, near the main Morris factory and for the first time it was possible to include a production line.
There are several points of view about the MG octagon badge and the official registration date of the M.G. Car Company. The logo appeared in Oxford newspaper ads as early as November 1923, and some sources say it was registered as a Morris Garages trademark on May 1, 1924. Other sources say that it was not a registered trademark until 1925. The exact date when the M.G. Car Company was officially formed also varies between sources. Most sources say it formed in March 1928, and they had their very own stand at the London Motor Show in October 1928. Old Number One.
Kimber was still interested in garnering racing credentials for his cars. In 1924, he had a special racing car built on a modified Bullnose Cowley chassis and fitted with the Hotchkiss (now owned by Morris) 11.9 hp, 1548cc overhead valve engine. The lightweight, two-seater body was built by Carbodies of Coventry, and had a boat-shaped tail. The rear was modified by cutting the chassis frame and welding new rails which curved up and over the rear axle to secure the rear springs. The engine was tuned and it had a standard Morris 3-speed gearbox. As with all the Kimber Chummies, the high Cowley steering column was lowered. The dash was fitted with a tachometer, fuel and oil gauges, in addition to the standard speedometer and ammeter. Lighting was provided by two small sidelights on each side of the scuttle and a single headlight. The headlight was removed at some unspecified time and is not on the car at the present time. The car was originally painted in plain grey primer, but its current color is red. It was originally registered FC 7900 on March 27, 1925. In March 1950, it was registered under a new number—FMO 842 after a restoration, however in 1959 the car was given back its original registration number.
Kimber drove this car and won a gold medal in the Light Car Class in the 1925 London-to-Land’s End-Trial. The car was then sold to one of Cecil Kimber’s friends. It was offered back to Kimber but he did not purchase it at the time. It was used to haul food for pigs for a while, and then it was purchased in 1932 by a MG employee after he recognized it in a scrap yard in Manchester. He bought the car for £15. The car was restored in the Abingdon factory in 1933 and was used for sales promotions. The Nuffield Organization (formerly Morris Motors) officially christened the car “Old Number One”. It was described as being, “The First M.G., Built in 1923,” even though it was built in 1924. Many people feel it was not the very first MG car as that honor should go to either one of the 11.9 hp Raworth Chummies or one of the 1924 Morris 14/28 cars. It has been exhibited at many events and shows in England and it was sent to the United States for the 50th anniversary celebration of the MG. Old Number One is currently on permanent display in the Historic Vehicle Collection at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon and is still kept drivable. Here is a link to the British Motor Museum: https://www.britishmotormuseum.co.uk/. You can view a video about Old Number One at this YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfZKfbfMviw .
Sources Used: The websites listed here provide more in-depth information and are worth the time to read!
Video about the Bullnose 14/28: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8TCxKrr-gw
Video about Old Number One: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfZKfbfMviw
Great Marques M.G., by Chris Harvey, 1983
MG Past & Present, by Rivers Fletcher, 1985
MG by McComb, by F. Wilson McComb, Revised Edition by Jonathan Wood, 2004
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