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"80 mph in comfort for under £200 is motoring history indeed!" Motor Sport Magazine, 1932
It seems a pretty safe bet that if you were to amalgamate the vital elements of a pre-second war sports car into just one machine, the MG Midget J2 would be the result. The strict two seater’s classic long bonnet feeds back to a curvaceous two humped scuttle and thence to low, cut away doors aft of which there is a truncated tail with a racy exposed fuel tank to which is strapped a spare wheel; it shouldn’t work contrasting so strongly with the elegant front end but somehow it does, melding simplicity and function with style and pizazz. Some people just have ‘an eye’ for such things and they are often not automotive designers – Cecil Kimber, Sir William Lyons and twenty-five years later, Peter Kirwan-Taylor all penned stylistically acclaimed machines. That long, beautifully louvered bonnet not only gave the J2 elegance but a bonus dose of practicality; lift a centre-hinged panel and not only is the engine exposed but also the gearbox, pedals and their associated componentry for easy tinkering. Knock on wire wheels, a fold flat screen and fly-off handbrake reinforced the car’s links to the Works Competition and Record Breaking cars and MG’s marketing types made plenty of this.
In the day the chaps at Motor Sport magazine, and indeed the weeklies, Motor and Autocar, had it spot on – sort of. They all picked up on two figures; 80 MPH and ten bob under £200 (definitely enthusiast sort of money). Indeed Motor Sport hit the magic eight zero (as no one ever referred to it) both under the lee of Brooklands’ Byfleet banking and on the public road on the way back up to Town, remarking that with the screen folded flat a 60 MPH cruise was viable and that the ‘excellent’ brakes had averted a potentially catastrophic J2/lorry/tractor collision. The only slight issue was a Cecil Kimber (Mr MG) dictate which demanded that very impressive top speed so the press car was tweaked somewhat and a few days after Autocar confirmed that it was ‘mission accomplished’, it promptly snapped its crank. Consequently customer cars’ compression ratios were lowered in the interest of longevity.
The J2’s Wolseley derived 847cc engine’s lineage included the immortal M Type and Montlhery Midget so the genealogy was looking strong. Sporting an overhead cam shaft driven via bevel gears, a new eight port cross-flow cylinder head and twin semi-downdraft SU carburettors, even on a crank friendly 6.2:1 compression ratio it put out a more than respectable 36 bhp at 5,500 rpm though temptation to go beyond those revolutions still generally resulted in a pair of door stops residing where the crank used to be.
A single dry plate clutch hooked the engine up to a ‘crash’ gearbox sporting a lovely remote gear change enclosed in an alloy casting which bought the gear knob nicely to hand. Up a gear on the earlier cars’ three speed units, the J2 had a ratio for every circumstance from ultimate top speed and brisk cruising to steep hills and even trials competitions.
Underneath the chassis took virtually straight side rails under the rear axle and these were cross braced with tubular supports much like the C and D-types. Beam front and live rear axles were suspended on semi-elliptic springs all round damped with Hartford friction-type shock absorbers, mounted transversely at the rear. Bowden cables operated the effective four wheel 8” finned drum brakes and the fly-off handbrake worked simply by being attached to the brake pedal. Still in the era of chassis lubrication, at least the J2 had a centralised Tecalemit system, accessed at the back of the bulkhead. Rudge Whitworth provided the obligatory wire wheels and Marles-Weller the adjustable rake steering gear. Produced from August 1932 to early 1934, just 2083 examples were made at the Abingdon MG factory and with its supercharged J3 and J4 stablemates providing a strong halo effect, the J2 was and remains one of the best loved pre-war MGs.
Finished in its original livery of red with black wings, this highly original J2 is just how we like them – mechanically sound and very tidy cosmetically, yet not so perfect you would be wary of using it. Registered on April Fools’ Day 1933 when MG was still an independent company rather than part of Morris Motors, it is to early ‘cycle wing’ specification, swept wings not being available until a few months later. A copy of the Factory Chassis Log held on file confirms that Chassis Number J3067 was one of thirteen cars to be signed off on 20th March 1933. The Factory production data card, a copy of which is also in the MG’s file, confirms the original colour scheme was ‘Black-Red’ (MG traditionally listing the darker rather than most extensive shade first) and that it was delivered to renowned MG, Rolls-Royce and Armstrong Siddeley dealers J Cockshoot & Co. Ltd. of Grosvenor Garage in Manchester on 31st March 1933, to the order of G.K. Rostron Junior Esq. of The Homestead, Cheadle Hulme. Copies of extensive correspondence between its first owner and various departments within the MG organisation are present in the car’s extensive history file and indicate that Mr Rostron may have been a somewhat ‘demanding’ customer. Within a few months he was complaining of dirt in the carburettors, a lack of air filters, an overly flexible steering wheel and sticking valves. MG responded patiently giving appropriate advice while explaining the optional extra ‘Ashby’ steering wheel could only be procured for the price of seventeen shillings and six pence if ordered instead of the standard item at the time the car was built. Despite the Factory’s suggestion that Mr Rostron simply shorten the exhaust valve guides, the sticking valves saga rolled on into 1934 when a Mr R.A. Macfadyen of the Factory Service Department had a new cylinder head, camshaft and rocker gear “specially prepared” with particular attention being paid to the valves and guides. This was duly dispatched to Cockshoots for fitting. J3067’s original cylinder head is recorded as having been reconditioned and returned to stock at Abingdon in May of that year with the problem apparently resolved, though by September 1935 Mr Rostron was complaining of a leaking rear axle... There is no doubt that the History File provides not only a wonderfully detailed record of this J2s early life but also a window into 1930s style customer service.
Today the MG looks the epitome of the between the wars two seater sports car and having been fully restored some eleven years ago it has been cosseted away from the elements ever since. Bills on file testify that MG guru Barry Walker supplied parts for the engine rebuild and that a comprehensive engine service with particular attention to a sticking oil pressure relief valve was carried out by Ian McPherson & Sons of Prestwich in November 2013. Since then the J2 has been used and maintained by two MG enthusiast owners, the most recent of which is only selling to free up some workshop space. The period-correct paintwork is still in excellent condition, a testament to both the quality of the application and the care the Midget has received since it was restored. Skilfully applied over excellent panels the paint is deep, even and has a good shine. Under close inspection, aside from a small area of shrinkage on the scuttle, we could not find any major blemishes, chips, cracks or other damage and the J2’s wood frame is apparently in fine condition though Audi-esc panel fit should not be expected.
The fabric weather gear including hood, side screens and full tonneau cover is in virtually ‘as new’ condition and probably dates from the time of the restoration. Added to this, windscreen wipers ensure the MG is capable of use during a normal British summer.
Silver painted 19” wire wheels with chrome spinners sport virtually unworn Avon tyres and behind these sit - still cable operated - finned brake drums which on a car so light, are more than capable. A not particularly period wing mirror is fitted and while it is undeniably functional, substituting something more in keeping would be a Sunday morning job and definitely a ‘quick win’. The beautiful chromed Lucas head and side lights, twin horns, radiator cowl and mesh grill are all in excellent order and make for a fabulously stylish front end.
Step through the ‘suicide’ door and drop onto the well-padded driver’s seat and you are presented with the simple, non-deluxe (no clock or water temperature gauge) engine turned dash (very Bugatti!) which for us is more functional and appropriate than some of the later offerings from MG. The seats have been professionally re-trimmed in practical dark red vinyl piped in black, those with more expensive tastes might choose to upgrade this to leather at some stage. The sprung Bluemels-type steering wheel is of the period, set close to your chest and perfectly sized for the required ‘heft’; pre-war cars are steered from the shoulder not the wrist.
Under the bonnet, everything looks to be correct and in good order including the pair of open throated SUs so bemoaned when the car was new. Dropping down another few feet, the underside of the J2 is suitably ‘vintage’ with splashes of muddy puddle over a good coating of chassis black paint as can be seen in the photo gallery. The finned elektron sump has the expected, nay desired, light coating of oil and the chassis appears to be ultra-solid and virtually unblemished.
The Midget starts very well with a little help from the choke and hand throttle, the controls of which are sited on the gearbox extension. The Smiths oil pressure gauge registers a healthy 75 to 40 psi at idle depending on engine temperature while the Lucas ammeter shows the dynamo contributing at least something to the electrical system. Keeping aware of the flipped gear-change pattern with the 3rd/4th plane furthest from the driver, gears are engaged with just a slight chattering of teeth and brushing up on ones double de-clutching would doubtless improve this. All in all the J2 drives really well while its pre-war character would prove the ideal antidote to your average modern tin box or even two seater ‘sports’ car; if Mr Audi-owner finds the fit and finish a little unfamiliar, being let out of side turnings with a cheerful wave will floor him completely.
A charming original MG J2 1933 sales brochure is included in the car’s history file – please see the photo gallery – along with the aforementioned factory correspondence, sundry restoration bills and a current V5C document.
Sporting a plethora of built to last original parts such as the beautifully worn face of the clutch pedal and the bonnet still bearing its chassis number stamping, the J2 is in our view the epitome of the sympathetic restoration. All Whitworth fastenings, spring washers and grease nipples with the pervading aroma of warm engine oil, the Midget is evocative of a different time when one communicated with the Factory via The Royal Mail and actually received a reply, no matter how spurious your perceived issue was. In robust health and ready for a variety of MG Car and Owners Club events or just a lively run to your favourite Local for a pint of foaming (ginger) ale we feel this J2 is well worth serious consideration being in both ‘apple pie' condition and very sensibly reserved.
Registration number: XJ 6721
Chassis Number: J3067