MG Cars came into existence back in 1924 when it was founded by Cecil Kimber who worked for the engineer and philanthropist William Morris, hence MG stood for Morris Garages. The MG works were based at Abingdon, south of Oxford, and here the company produced a range of high-quality, 2-seater sports cars.
After a couple of factory moves to cope with expansion and demand, the company eventually settled in Edmund Road, Cowley, Oxford in 1928. From this time onwards, the company obtained a separate identity and was known as M.G. Car Co. Ltd. The following year, after a successful time at the London Motor Show, the company finally settled in Abingdon.
During the early years, Kimber was made general manager and continued in the company until a falling out with owner Morris in 1941. In 1952, MG, along with the rest of the Morris Group, merged with Austin Motor Company as part of the British Motor Corporation.
The 1950s and 1960s proved a profitable time for BMC, although many cars put out by MG were merely rebadged versions of other company’s vehicles. One, however, that did make its mark was the MG sports car. The latter part of the 1960s saw plenty of changes with Jaguar joining the BMC portfolio and Leyland buying the corporation out in 1968 to form British Leyland Motor Corporation.
MGs were sent here from 1963 until 1972 when the process of assembling the kit for MG cars was ended. The end came when legislation demanded that at least 85 per cent of a car’s content be local and the MGs were less than 50 per cent Australian. Over the 9 years that MG cars were assembled at the Australian plant in Zetland, NSW they put together over 9,000 cars.
The last major change was the nationalisation of British Leyland in 1975, which ultimately led to the closure of the Abingdon works in 1980 and the abandonment of the MG name. Two years later, the name was resurrected by the Austin Rover Group and used for their prestige high-performance Metro, Maestro, and Montego models.
The marque then became a collector’s badge passed around by a number of motor companies, initially belonging to British Aerospace in 1988, followed by BMW in 1994, and in 2000, it was sold to the Rover Group, forming MG Rover Group and rebadging Rover cars with the MG tag. The marque was on the move again in 2005 when it was acquired by the Nanjing Automobile Group. It is now known as MG Motor with the first original, new model, the MG6, released in 2011, the first since the MG TF in 2002.
The initial MG models used existing Morris Oxford chassis and engines and had unique MG bodywork built on top. The MG 18/89 designed in 1928 was the first truly original MG rather than a reworked Morris car. This had its own chassis construction and the distinctive MG grille. A smaller version was built the following year and started the illustrious line of MG Midget cars.
The famous M-Type midget series was a complete success for the company. Both before and after World War II, the little sportsters were sold all over the world. They reached their peak in the 1950s, and the line was retired in 1955 when the last MG TF rolled off the Abingdon production line.
As the car company entered the 1960s, they took a new tack on their car designs, listening to customers’ desires for a more modern and better equipped car. This started back in 1955 with the MGA and was really taken into account with the updated MGB in 1962. Continued updates appeared, first with the MGB GT and later the MGC, but the heavy engine made this model tricky to handle.
One of the iconic cars of the company came out in 1961, the MG Midget, which was also slightly restyled, rebadged and sold as the Austin-Healey Sprite. The MGB GT was probably the last true MG car to leave the production line. By the time the Abingdon plant was closed in 1980, this car had been retired for four years.
Pressure on designers continued with legislation from the US, where safety and emissions issues were coming to the forefront. This ultimately led to the complete change in bumper design, with the old chrome ones exchanged for ‘rubber’ ones. The cars that were built after 1980 used the MG badge as a convenient readymade status symbol, rather than it having anything to do with building classic sports cars. The Metro, Maestro, and Montego during the 1980s and 1990s, and afterwards the Express van, Z and ZT series, and even the MG6 from 2010, were all pale shadows of the marque’s grand legacy.
The MGs of the company’s early years saw them winning time trials, races, and titles. As well as being a competitive race car, it was also sold for personal consumption. The car’s heyday in the 1960s had it competing against the Triumph sports cars like the Spitfire, or the E-Type Jaguars and the Austin Healey cars.
These days it sees the likes of the Mazda MX5 and BMW Z3 placed alongside it on the starting grid. The MG ZR puts itself in the same category as the Fiat Panda or Vauxhall Corsa, a far cry from its heady days as a sports car.
Those looking for a true classic MG should look at the pre-1980s cars, as that is where the marque of an MG really lies. The Montego and Metro prove to be perfectly adequate second-hand cars; they're just not a Midget.