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“… Phil, a fine and patient craftsman, has restored it to 100% original condition… a fine 18/80…” William Boddy on ‘MG 1124’, Motor Sport, April 1992
In the mid to late 1920s MG was still very much under the wing of parent company Morris and its single minded eponymous owner William, but boss Cecil Kimber was keen to establish it as a completely separate company with unique products, as opposed to modified versions of more mundane Morris machines. The 18/80 MG Six of 1928 was hence the first ‘genuine’ MG with its bespoke chassis and importantly trademark (literally as later pastiche-ers found out to their cost) MG radiator surround. Kimber’s marketing chaps made plenty of this fact, stressing it was quite unlike anything on offer from Morris and the only place one could experience the new (almost) 2.5 litre straight six engine. In a move that was the polar opposite of what some would describe as the cynical badge engineering foisted upon MG in the post Second War years, only the very best of materials were employed with huge attention to detail, some of which was invisible once the car was built. What MG’s customers did see and hopefully appreciate was bucket front seats, blinds to all windows, door pockets, rope pulls, armrests, a roof light and ventilator, fitted flasks and ashtrays. They also got that big, 2468cc six cylinder engine derived from the stillborn Morris Light Six unit. Substantially redesigned with a new block and twin horizontal SU carburettors tucked down below the exhaust manifold, its duplex chain driven overhead camshaft helped it to an impressive 60 bhp with bucket loads of torque to match. New-fangled shell bearings for the big ends and four mains which supported the ultra-strong crankshaft gave unprecedented longevity and only added to the unit’s inherent smooth and civilised nature. A cork clutch transferred the engine’s output to the rear axle via a three speed ‘crash’ gearbox (four ratios not being required due to the gutsy nature of the engine) and torque tube. Bespoke MG front and rear axles were suspended via semi-elliptic springs damped by Mr Hartfod’s excellent friction units and while early examples utilised Perrot-style brakes, these were later replaced by cables assisted by a Clayton Dewandre Servo resulting in a highly effective system. The Marles frictionless steering gear came in for almost universal acclaim and the relatively large machine’s handling and road-holding was praised effusively.
The end result was a very expensive vehicle (£695 in 1930) and though the headline grabbing MG Midgets won races and broke records left right and centre, the 18/80 was still a quick car, able to show a clean pair of heals to benchmark sports tourers such as the Alvis Silver Eagle and 3 litre Lagonda Six. Having said that, the economic climate was somewhat against the larger MG and it proved a tough sell with only some five-hundred made in total and just a handful of four door saloons. Though production ended early in 1931, stocks of new examples were still available well into 1934.
In 1930 MG decided a roomier Mk2 version was required though in a tacit admission that it offered no improvement over the earlier version, it was offered alongside the Mk1 (as they then had to call it); the additional weight of the car further suppressed sales and today the original 18/80 is very much the one to have.
This particular 18/80 is a very well-known and much admired car both within MG circles and the broader Vintage world. Accepted as likely to have been constructed in 1930, MG 1124 left the Abingdon factory as a bare driving chassis bound for coachbuilders Carbodies and was there united with a fabric over ply four-door saloon body, Number 7982 26630 which it still sports today. Thought to be one of just three 18/80s to this specification (and the sole survivor), the MG was registered to Mr H Gordon Tucker on 9th June 1931 via renowned MG dealers University Motors, off Park Lane, London. It possesses an exceptional and interesting history with its first owner commuting from Sussex into Central London in it, parking in the public car park under Hyde Park. Whether or not this was on a ‘day in, day out’ basis throughout his tenure, by the time he came to part with it after nearly forty years, 346,000 miles had been covered. Worthy of particular note is that in 1931, Tucker’s brother was serving with HMS Dolphin and gave him a dolphin radiator mascot that some nigh on ninety years later is still in pride of place on the 18/80 despite presumably literally tens of thousands of hours in public view.
After such committed stewardship it is hard to imagine who could be a worthy second owner of MG 1124. Step forward Mr Phillip Jennings, early Triple-M member and MG man through and through who was already using a J2 as his everyday car. Doyen and driving force of The Vintage Register, running it solo from 1980 to 1986, there could not have been a better man to take over the MG in a deal apparently struck with the help of MG aficionado F. Wilson McComb. As Phil himself states in his notes on file, the car was “…in a very sad state and obviously beyond any further mileage.” and he duly parted with the princely sum of £70 for it. A sympathetic chassis up refurbishment was embarked upon and steady progress was made over the next decade. The extensive history file contains a bill for blasting the chassis and Phil notes that timbers were replaced but that much was retained. The body’s fabric was replaced and the interior was reupholstered by Wilkinsons of Derby while new wings were commissioned. Another MG guru, Ron Gammons rebuilt the engine and gearbox for what Phil recalled was around £800 – a substantial sum in the day – utilising modified Riley Kestrel pistons to raise the compression ratio in an apparently successful attempt to resolve overheating issues. New shackle pins, springs, skew gears, brake cables, linings and bearings were fitted throughout but Phil’s ‘light touch’ restoration ethos dictated that the original instruments, chrome, tax disc holder, budget lock key, petrol cap and of course Dolphin mascot were all left untouched. Once completed, MG 1124 was “run every year” with the odd gap in the run of some nineteen tax discs in the file not necessarily indicative of lack of use... Modifications from standard were minimal with just a heat shield fitted to prevent fuel vaporisation – a common problem on the big six MG engine with the carburettors in such close proximity to the exhaust manifold.
After over thirty years and another, relatively insignificant, 10,000 miles Phil decided the time had come to pass the MG onto a new owner, just its third in seventy years and Mr Peter Mace purchased it in May 2000. An enthusiastic member of The VSCC and fully paid up MG fan (unless living at ‘Kimber House’ was pure coincidence!), in his tenure the 18/80 competed in VSCC, MGCC and EMGS trials and rallies as well as providing elegant road transport.
The current owner acquired the MG in 2009 by which time a further 9,000 miles had passed under its wheels taking the grand total to 364,000. Now affectionately referred to as ‘Miss Marple’, maintenance highlights from his tenure include rewiring the car, refurbishing the fuel tank, overhaul and strengthening of the rear axle by John Day and taking advantage of a ’group buy’ of remade brake drums in 2013.
During Phil Jennings’ tenure, MG 1124 was featured in the April 1992 issue of Motor Sport (copy on file) where its Founder Editor William Boddy remarked on its exceptional history. Noting that 60mph felt more like 40 to 45, WB also commented, “As it was, I enjoyed the flexibility of the car. When a gear change is needed it is easily effected, with the substantial long central lever but as I did not get the double-declutch timing exactly right every time, I was glad of the forgiving, rugged, crunch-free gearbox." The brakes (including the typical MG fly-off hand brake mounted to the driver’ right), light steering, comfortable seat and doors that closed ‘impeccably’ also found favour as did the quiet engine and (once mastered) delightfully smooth clutch. All in all, a glowing report from a renowned commentator.
It would appear that Mr Tucker was not really one for paperwork and there are no records or photographs from his tenure on file; it was after all very much his daily driver and not at that stage a ’collector’s car’. There are however, copies of over fifty items of correspondence from the Factory to Mr Tucker regarding servicing and maintenance covering the 1931 to 1934 period, at which point one can assume he had the car attended to more locally. Once taken over by Phil Jennings, the records start to build up dramatically with beautifully presented invoices and quotations from various companies from 1969 onwards, along with correspondence from the likes of Ron Gammons relating to the work summarised above.
Various V5 registration documents are also present along with a continuation Buff Log Book showing the MG was taxed quarterly around three times per year from 1960 to August 1967, normally excluding the mid-winter months. Owners’ manuals and no less than twenty-eight MOT certificates covering 1967 to 2016 are also present. Of some note, the file contains original correspondence from every one of the car’s owners making arrangements for its sale, detailing its history or simply giving ownership advice to its new custodian. Wiring diagrams, drawings and extensive notes detailing what oils and tappet clearances to use provide what is essentially a workshop manual specifically for this car. There is also a wealth of MG 18/80 literature, magazine articles and so on including the October/November 1983 issue of the MG Car Club’s “Safety Fast” magazine which featured MG 1124 on its front cover.
Once the nifty tool to keep the clutch pedal down when the 18/80 is not in use (cork clutches generally don’t like to remain in contact with flywheels) has been released, starting is relatively straight forward with minimal juggling of choke, hand throttle and advance/retard levers. The big six ticks over with just a few hundred RPM showing on the beautiful, watch-like Jaeger chronometric tachometer with a further six matching, nicely aged dials arranged across the crackle black dashboard with, as ‘Bod’ observed, “not an octagon among them.” The clutch typically drags slightly and firm but fair persuasion sees first gear engaged with minimal grinding of teeth. A gentle release of the clutch pedal and the torque of the engine sees the MG move off with barely a whiff of throttle. Though we didn’t add more than a further 0.0001% to the car’s total mileage, our short run was enough to ascertain that the driving experience is every bit as good as expected and a more extensive road test conducted a few days before our visit had seen the car perform very well – the driver perhaps less so... The suitably aged interior is a delightful place to be and it is not hard to see where MG spent the substantial sums of money invested in each car.
Given the major restoration work was carried out between forty and fifty years ago, the car is still in fabulous if not ‘box fresh’ condition. Everything has had a chance to settle down and the freshly restored MG 1124 of the early 1980’s has now acquired its own unique finish born of considered, sympathetic use. The leather has its share of creases and the paintwork the odd chip and crack but these all suit this old warrior down to the ground. The underside has a light smattering of good old watery mud but its protective finish is well applied and intact – please see the photo gallery.
Included in the sale are some useful spare parts such as clutch plates and wheel bearings, along with some items that have been replaced over the years including rear lights, brake drums and a number plate.
As we say MG 1124 is a very well-known machine and it features in a number of books including Phil Jennings’ master-work “Early MG”, “Oxford to Abingdon” by R I Barraclough and P L Jennings (again!), “A-Z of British Coachbuilders 1919-1960” by N. Walker and “MG Saloon Cars 1920s-70s” by A D Clausager.
The most travelled Vintage MG in existence? Possibly, though we would also suggest that there are not many cars of this quality, with history and rarity to match. We will leave the final comment to Mr Jennings. “It has been a great joy to own this car and we are only custodians in passing along life’s road. I do hope it will give you the same pleasure…”
Registration number: MG 1124
Chassis Number: 4FS/6713
Engine Number: JC 11088