Determined to extend MG's racing and record-breaking activities into Class G (1,100 cc), Managing Director Cecil Kimber announced the MG K-series "Magnette" range at the October 1932 London Motor Show. It comprised the roadgoing K1 (four-seater) and K2 (two-seater), as well as the sports racing K3. Two of the first three production MG K3s finished 1st and 2nd in the 1,100-cc class of the 1933 Mille Miglia. As a result, MG became the first non-Italian manufacturer to be awarded the prestigious team prize. MG K3s had very successful racing careers in the 1930s. Whitney Straight won the Coppa Acerbo Junior, which convinced Tazio Nuvolari to pilot a K3 in the September 1933 Ards Tourist Trophy, which he won. A few weeks later, Eddie Hall's K3 took the checkered flag in the Brooklands 500 Mile Race by 28 minutes over 2nd place. Then Charles Martin and Roy Eccles finished 4th overall (1st in class) at the 1934 Le Mans 24 Hour race-the best result ever achieved by an MG. Keen amateur racing driver JHT Smith spent a substantial portion of his 21st birthday inheritance on a K3 in autumn 1934. JB 3180 arrived stripped of roadgoing accoutrements and sporting a rakish pointed-tail body. Smith took much of the 1935 season to adapt to the K3, then had a new, larger-capacity light-alloy fuel tank and shallower radiator fabricated, and he lowered and slimmed the bodywork. After some success, Smith transformed the car into a single-seater for 1937. From the factory, Smith procured a new engine block, "bronze" cylinder head, crankshaft, front axle, and chassis frame. In the winter of 1936-37, JB 3180 was overhauled and also received a new, sleek, monoposto body. It competed at Brooklands, Donington Park, and Crystal Palace with success. At the beginning of 1938 season, as JB 3180 was being overhauled again, another K3 owner, A.P. MacArthur, bought the original frame. The year was Smith's most successful season, with an outright win at Crystal Palace and an all-time Campbell Circuit class lap record at Brooklands. JB 3180 was treated to another revamp in 1939, with changes to the engine, supercharger, steering, front axle, and brakes, and it received a new monoposto body. The old body was sold to MacArthur, who had bought the original frame. After storage in WWII, JB 3180 returned to furious competition in the hands of new owners and was either being raced or on static display clear through 1990, at which point it was sold to Switzerland and rebuilt again. Returned to England in 1995, it continued to race, then was put up for sale in 2000 by then-owner Peter Gregory. But the car's single-seater specification deterred buyers, so Gregory restored the K3 to "slab tank" configuration. Rather than waste the special front axle, second monoposto body, and heavy-duty hydraulic brakes, Gregory incorporated them into a new single-seater which he based on a truncated MG KN chassis. Meanwhile, the original chassis utilized by JB 3180 had also been restored to Mille Miglia specification. Although this second car had not existed as a complete entity for over 60 years, its owner felt just as entitled to the registration number and identity of JB 3180, and he appealed to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. In Gregory's favor was the fact that he retained the original buff registration book, which had been handed to JHT Smith in 1934. Smith may have sold the original chassis to MacArthur as a spare during the late 1930s, but he kept the buff logbook so as to preserve the single-seater's identity. After careful deliberation, the DVLA agreed with Gregory and he kept JB 3180 and even got the chassis number K3015, even though those digits were not visible on the car's replacement chassis frame. The second car that laid claim to the registration mark JB 3180 was issued with the registration mark CAS 398 instead. It should be noted that the MG Car Club's Triple M Register disagrees with one of the DVLA's conclusions: The Triple M Register records the chassis number of JB 3180 as K3015/2 to differentiate it from the chassis number K3015, which they consider should still reside with the car built up using the original frame. For all that 1934/37 MG K3 is arguably the antithesis of a "matching numbers" car, we believe it to possess continuous history as an MG K3. Described by the vendor as being in very good condition with regard to its engine, pre-selector transmission, electrical equipment, interior trim, bodywork, and paintwork, its history file includes the original buff logbook, numerous period race programs, and a wealth of documentation.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1934/37 MG K3 Magnette
Number Produced:33
Tune Up Cost:$1,000
Chassis Number Location:Right side of firewall below wiring block
Engine Number Location:Stamped into small pad on left rear of block beneath exhaust header
Club Info:Vintage Sports Car Club The Old Post Office, West Street Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 5EL
Alternatives:1933 MG J4, 1927 Amilcar CO voiturette, 1930 Maserati Tipo 26
Investment Grade:B

This 1934/37 MG K3 Magnette Roadster sold for $381,150, including buyer’s premium, at H&H’s Buxton, England, auction on September 16, 2009.

Aside from the remarkable, world-record price, this sale is unusual in that our subject automobile illustrates four important value-influencing factors at one time. And in this case, given that there are two other discrete historic automobiles currently in existence that have some colorable claim to major parts or provenance of our subject car, the role of one factor, “continuous existence,” looms large in our story. But we’ll get to all that in due time…

First, a little background for context. The MG K3 is arguably the greatest MG ever built. Prior to its appearance, truly effective racing cars were either Italian or French. To be sure, England had her share of reasonably competent small-bore, club-oriented cars in the form of Austin, Frazer-Nash, Riley, and so on. But the K3 could take the fight to the best of the Italians and the French and win in class. This they did in the 1933 Mille Miglia, and outright (on handicap) in the RAC Tourist Trophy. In 1934, one won the Italian 1,100-cc championship, another achieved 4th overall and 1st in the 2-liter class at Le Mans, and so on. Indeed, a K3-based streamliner, EX-135, set international speed records at over 200 mph both before the war and, with Major “Goldie” Gardner, after as well. They were driven in period by the Who’s Who of racing, from Nuvolari to Lord Howe, Eddie Hall, and Tim Birkin, just for starters.

Thirty-three K3s were built between 1933 and 1935, and roughly 29 exist today, though 23 were reported extant by F. Wilson McComb in 1966. Due to the nature of British racing in the 1930s, it was common to rebody sports cars with single-seater coachwork for lighter weight and better aerodynamics. Such rebodied K3s were capable of lapping the outer circuit at Brooklands at speeds approaching 120 mph, an extraordinary feat for an 1,100-cc car. Needless to say, there is great demand for these cars among collectors and a dearth of “no stories” cars.

Our 1934/37 MG K3 Magnette Roadster is well known in MG circles and enjoys an extensive racing history, the high point of which was a 2nd in class at the 1935 Mille Miglia, many physical iterations ago. JB 3180 achieved its history by being ruthlessly used and modified in period to remain competitive. Like many other K3s, it was rebodied in period as a single-seater. It was also heavily modified mechanically, receiving a new chassis, relocated engine, special front axle, new block, bronze cylinder head, hydraulic brakes, special steering gear, lowered radiator, and so on. All of which adds up to the first noteworthy value factor of the four: With competition cars, history often comes at the expense of condition.

The second notable issue is the product of the sometime conflict between historic value and monetary value. Make no mistake-they can conflict. JB 3180’s historic value lies in its career as a slim-bodied, open-wheel, single-seat special, like a baby Grand Prix car-far removed from its two-seat sports car origins. Much of its content had been replaced in period with modifications intended to further its efficacy in competition.

While of immense historic interest, such a special is far less valuable than an intact and untouched K3 sports car. So it was that in 2000, a former owner “restored” the car to its “as-manufactured” configuration. In so doing, JB 3180’s monetary value was enhanced, and its historic value destroyed. Alas, this kind of “restoration” has happened to a number of important historic specials, when it was realized they were worth more dead than alive.

The third point to note is that while it is an accepted practice to restore a car to a moment in time, only certain cars are candidates for this approach-those that incorporate all, or virtually all, the components from that moment. When subsequent modifications have taken that original fabric beyond the “reversibility point,” such restoration ceases to be constructive and turns to vandalism, or potentially worse, the creation of, at best, a resurrection or, at worst, a replica of the original. Indeed, so extensive were the take-off parts that a shortened MG KN chassis was built up into a replica of the monoposto version of JB 3180 using the period front axle, brakes, and body work, and, presumably, any other non-K3 factory components.

The final and probably most important value-determining factor here is manifest in our subject’s registration number: JB 3180. It is important to understand that registration numbers in Britain stay with their automobile permanently. Because of this property, British competition cars registered for the road may be easily identified through their careers by the display of their unchanging registration number. Think of it as being as definitive as having the car’s serial number prominently visible. The identity of a particular racing car is made easy and unambiguous. Indeed, famous competition cars are often referred to by their registration numbers-CUT 7, BUY 1, and so on.

Except things can go wrong. Once the historic integrity of an object is lost through breaking it up into major components (having had two chassis, for example), we encounter the requirement for paper to support history. The question of where the original registration number goes becomes crucial. In this case, the original title and registration number, under the British system embodied in the “buff logbook,” have remained with JB 3180 throughout its many “George Washington’s axe” incarnations of five bodies, two chassis, two and perhaps three engines, three front axles, three sets of brakes, and so on.

It was this document’s continuous association with our 1934/37 MG K3 Magnette Roadster that the licensing authorities used to confer the original license number, JB 3180, on our K3 in opposition to the claim made by the owner of the now-rebuilt original chassis, K3015 (and probably the only extant component from JB 3180’s 1935 Mille Miglia exploit), which was replaced in 1937.

So now three versions of our subject car exist. There is the original Mille Miglia chassis, K3015, built into a complete K3 but registered with a contemporarily determined registration number. Second, our subject car, carrying a modern chassis number, K3015-2 (the original chassis having the valid claim to the factory number), but carrying the historic registration number, JB 3180, due to our subject’s continuous legal existence as an automotive entity from date of registration to the present. (And it is this notional concept of “continuous existence” that trumped authenticity and originality at the H&H auction.) Finally, a KN-based single-seat replica of JB 3180 exists, carrying neither the serial number nor the registration number, but carrying its non-MG period racing parts with most of JB 3180’s real history. At this point, it would be better to take the log book to car events and leave the car itself home.

I would imagine that the extraordinary result here was due to two determined but not terribly discriminating bidders vying for a recognized, event-acceptable, usable, “weapons grade” version of a very desirable but hard-to-find model. The underbidder should be thrilled to be out of it. Very well sold.

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