In the roaring 1920s, under the visionary helm of Cecil Kimber, MG’s story ignited. More than just a marque, MG epitomised British automotive brilliance. Yet, as captivating as its astounding automobiles would prove to be, its journey would prove to be a tapestry of both triumphs and tribulations.
The racing circuits of the 1930s saw MG vehicles breaking speed records and claiming victories, earning a formidable reputation as racing legends. The MG TA Midget, the stunning MG TF and later the astonishing MGB GT came to define quintessential British sports cars. Yet, by the 1960s and 1970s, MG found itself on precarious ground. Economic crises, changing automotive tastes, and management mishaps that engulfed the British car industry in the 1970s, culminated in a tumultuous period for the brand.
By the late 1970s, the dark clouds of receivership loomed. However, resilience, a cornerstone of its heritage, saw MG navigating through the storms, numerous owners, restructuring, and rebranding. Its rebirth in the 2000s, backed by foreign investment and a rejuvenated vision, has led to an era of renaissance for the brand. Yet despite being passed from pillar to post around Europe and the Far East, the MG car country of origin has always remained Britain, and MG is still widely seen as an iconic British brand.
This is a journey punctuated by groundbreaking innovations, adrenaline-charged racetracks, heartbreaking downturns, and inspiring comebacks. This is the history of MG.
MG: A True British Icon
The origins of MG are rooted in the visions of two automotive pioneers: William Morris, the mind behind Morris Cars, and Cecil Kimber, a salesman who joined Morris’ service centre in Oxford, known as Morris Garages, in 1921. Within just a year, Kimber rose to the role of General Manager. Beyond overseeing the showroom and garage, Kimber showcased his flair for car design. By innovatively crafting sportier versions of the Morris vehicles on sale, Kimber laid the groundwork for what would evolve into the inaugural MG car. The history of MG had begun.
Old Number One
Kimber modified a Morris Oxford in 1924 to create what would come to be known as ‘Old Number One.’ It was a four-seater sports car that showcased the potential of Morris’s components when given a sporty twist. Its radiator was specially designed, it sported a sleeker, more aerodynamic body, and the changes to the chassis gave it a lower, sportier stance. Kimber also added MG Super Sports to the car’s nose in recognition of the place where it was conceived, Morris Garages.
The car made its debut at the Lands End Trial in 1925, and its success affirmed Kimber’s belief in the potential of these sportier Morris cars. It’s worth noting that while ‘Old Number One’ is seen as the genesis of MG history, it was a one-off prototype rather than a production car, but its legacy and influence cannot be understated. It paved the way for a series of production MG cars which would capture the imaginations and hearts of enthusiasts around the world.
The first production car from MG was the 14/28. This was a 1.8-litre, four cylinder, two- and four-seater with a top speed of 65 mph. It was built from 1924 until 1927, when it was replaced with the 14/40, the first car in the history of MG to carry the company’s iconic octagon badge. An icon that endures to this day.
Over the next decade, MG’s brand and reputation continued to grow. Besides laying the foundation for some of the fastest, prettiest, and most affordable road cars of the day, the 1930s were also the heyday of MG on the track.
The M-Type and C-Type Midgets solidified MG’s standing as a formidable challenger to the elite Italian and German racers. It was with these models that the renowned ‘Midget’ moniker was first introduced. However, the 1.1-litre inline-six K3 Magnette truly catapulted MG to global acclaim. Driven by the legendary Tazio Nuvolari, the K3 clinched victory at the Ulster TT and secured a commendable fourth place at the 1934 24 Hours of Le Mans. Its crowning moment came in the 1933 Mille Miglia when it triumphed as the first non-Italian car to top its class.
The Q-Type, along with its successor, the R-Type, marked the zenith of MG’s racing evolution before the war. Sporting aerodynamic designs and robust engines, these models were primarily crafted for competitive excellence and to set new racing records.
The Road Ahead: From Pillar to Post
Before World War II erupted, the final cars MG produced were the 2.3-litre straight-six SA and the 2.6-litre inline-six WA, both luxury saloons priced around £400. With the onset of the war, MG, along with numerous other British automakers, ceased production as resources were repurposed for wartime needs. During this time, Cecil Kimber himself departed the company in 1941.
In 1952, MG’s parent company, Morris Motors, combined with Austin to establish the British Motor Corporation, which also included renowned British brands like Riley and Wolseley. Under BMC’s oversight, many of MG’s models were essentially rebranded versions of other BMC vehicles. While this consolidation provided more resources, it also caused MG cars to share numerous components with other BMC lines, diminishing their unique appeal. However, MG’s signature small sports cars remained untouched by this trend.
Central to MG’s legacy, the stunning MGA paved the way for models like the MG Midget, MGB, MGC, and the impressive 3.5-litre MGB GT V8. These cars set the standard for iconic British roadsters from the 1950s to the early 1980s, becoming icons of MG cars’ history.
Tumult, Change and Decline
The following years saw significant change at MG, which would ultimately lead to a series of complex acquisitions and takeovers which diluted the brand beyond all recognition. In September 1966, BMC merged with Jaguar Cars. Three months later, the company changed its name to British Motor Holdings Limited (BMH). Just seventeen months later, in May 1968, BMH merged with Leyland Motor Corporation Limited and became the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC).
Under BLMC, MG cars were in danger of being consigned to history. The company faced challenges on all fronts, including strike action, quality control issues, competition from abroad, and a lack of investment in new models. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, British Leyland’s financial troubles meant that MG’s sports car production was halted, with the MG badge being placed on more pedestrian Austin models.
The famous octagon was fixed to Austin’s rather nondescript Maestro and Montego models. In 1982, the marque was briefly revitalised with the launch of the MG Metro, a sportier version of the Austin Metro.
In 1986, after substantial reorganisation and divestment of several subsidiaries, BLMC transformed into the Rover Group. Soon after, from 1988 onwards, British Aerospace oversaw its operations.
Keen to reignite MG’s legendary sports car heritage, Rover unveiled the MG RV8 in 1993, a modern take on the iconic MGB Roadster. A year after BMW’s acquisition of the Rover Group in 1994, the MG F sports car was launched, serving as a nod to MG’s illustrious history.
By 2005, the Nanjing Automobile Group from China acquired the MG brand, as well as the assets of the now-defunct MG Rover Group.
By 2023, the ownership baton was passed to the Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation (SAIC), following its 2007 acquisition of Nanjing. Today, the current stable of cars includes petrol, hybrid and electric models.
Oh-MG: The Best of British
In the annals of motoring folklore, MG history resonates deeply. From its humble origins in the workshops of Morris Garages to its meteoric rise on racetracks and city streets the world over, the history of MG is one of passion, innovation, and resilience.
Its cars, from quintessentially British sleek roadsters to world-beating nimble racers, have encapsulated a spirit of adventure and an enduring love for driving. While the brand faced its share of tribulations, from corporate upheavals to financial downturns, its legacy remains unquestionable. Today, traversing the winding roads of MG’s storied journey not only reminds us of an iconic motoring brand, but also evokes an emblematic era rich in heritage, craftsmanship, and a celebration of automotive artistry.