Introduction to Triple M cars



Cecil Kimber, founder of MG

Take a look outside Kimber’s office windows.

MG is one of only a handfull of car makes that have survived from the very rich and turbulent history of British car manufacture. The name of MG has been associated with affordable, well-behaved sports cars for a very long time, but it is unlikely that the Chinese would still be manufacturing MG cars today if it wasn’t for all the record breaking and racing successes of the MG Midgets, Magnettes and Magna (Triple M) cars of the 1929-1936 period.

Cecil Kimber had founded the MG (Morris Garages) business in the mid nineteen twenties. He modified Morris chassis and engines to a more sporting specification, and sold them with considerable success.

The Triple M period was marked by two management decisions by William Morris (later Lord Nuffield). The first decision was to direct Kimber to shift his attention to a smaller car market, using the 750 cc Wolsely overhead camshaft engine that Morris had acquired along with the rest of that company. The first car that resulted, the MG M, provided high performance at a low price, but to the modern sports car enthusiast it looks a little like a rowing boat moving backwards on a trailer.

MG Ms shortly before the start of the Double-12-Hour Race at Brooklands.

In just six years time though, Kimber and his men at Abingdon went through half the alfabet in developing new and better types. They developed a cross-flow cylinder head and an overlapping valve timing which was extreme for those days. They supercharged the engine at ever increasing pressures and developed a six cylinder version. These engines ran up to 7200 RPM  and produced around 150 hp per litre. A figure which wasn’t improved upon in Grand Prix racing until well after World War II.

During the same period, the chassis evolved from the basic M type chassis to the central backbone chassis with fully independent double wishbone suspension of the R type. By 1935, MG had won countless victories in many races, and held every speed record that existed in their class.

Then came the second management decision that marked the Triple M era, or rather the end of it: Lord Nuffield decided to shut down the MG racing department, and to start a new line of MG sports cars which would provide more comfort and reliability to the growing numbers of customers who did not wish to compete in motor sport events. Although the resulting T-series was quite successful in terms of sales, the technological development of MG cars slowed down drastically and the basic styling of the swept wing J2 was to be maintained for two decades - a period in which other car makes were going through dramatic innovations. Although MG would go back to racing and record breaking after World War II, they would never regain that very impressive lead which they had over their competition during the 1929-1936 period.

So what was it like to own a Triple M car in those days? There are two wonderful contemporary accounts which I’d like to mention. One is titled “ Wheel spin”, written by C.A.N. May, a great trials enthusiast who spent all his weekends in the 1930s driving his various MG models  up muddy hills, preferrably in extremely foul weather with the top down. He was quite successful as a driver and received various awards form the hands of Cecil Kimber himself. It is hard to imagine today, but the trials were such popular events that they actually caused local traffic jams!

Another contemporary account is a personal favourite of mine, written by Paul Brickhill and called “Reach for the sky”. It is a biography of Douglas Bader, the RAF fighter pilot who lost his legs in a silly low level aerobatics accident before the war, but who later emerged as a hero from the Battle of Britain. It makes great reading to a twelve year old, and it is even better when you read it at forty two and realise that it all actually happened! To Bader, driving his MG appears to have been the next best thing to flying a Hurricane, and he drove and crashed several unidentified Midget types of the Triple M period.

To May and Bader, as well as to many MG enthusiasts today, an MG wasn’t just a vehicle for getting from A to B, but it formed part of their lives and it affected their lives. To May, it appears that his line of work was just a means of financing his second life, trialling in MGs. To Bader, his ability to drive a sensitive sports car with two tin legs restored much of his crushed ego. Bader and his wife Thelma remained loyal to MG, but they had to put up with a lot of things. A costly repair to a broken differential forced them to postpone their marriage by many months, and on two occasions Bader hit another car and Thelma crashed her forehead onto the ignition key. Read this book and take another look at that ignition key sitting there. And don’t make my mistake of telling your mother-in-law about this!

And finally, what is it like to own a Triple M car today? You can read all about it on these pages. But I can give you a few hints already. Of all the pre-war cars that are still credible, fun-to-drive sports cars today, the MG midgets are amongst the most affordable. You can buy a J2 that will hold it own against a Bentley on the race track at a fraction of the cost - if you have the guts to use its superior handling qualities and drive it the way these cars are meant to be driven! They are beautifully styled cars which have set a trend that would last for decades. They are beautifully manufactured compared to later MGs and other makes - you can tell from each part that it has received more attention in manufacturing than is possible in full blown mass production. Most importantly, they are brilliant fun to drive, with the perfect balance between understeer and oversteer that has always been typical of MGs. Triple M cars are, however, less forgiving than  the postwar models with independent front suspension. This means that you definitely shouldn’t try to use the brakes when cornering, nor should you try anything else that you shouldn’t try in a racing car or on a motor bike. When you get accustomed to this, you’ll find yourself safely pushing the car to its limits on public roads, at speeds wich today are considered acceptable by the general public and which will not cause physical discomfort to your passenger. Enjoy!

The photographs in this page were from these out of print books, which I’d like to recommend:

            Maintaining the breed, by John Thornley

            Reach for the sky, by Paul Brickhill

Two excellent modern books on Triple M cars by Malcolm Green:

            M.G. Road Cars - Volume One - Four Cylinder O.H.C.

            M.G. Road Cars - Volume Two - Six Cylinder O.H.C.

An excellent web site dedicated to Triple M to cars is:

A good place to have your Triple M car serviced is:

A good place to buy out of print books is:               

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