A tiny, wavering soprano has a tough time in a Wagnerian opera, no matter how good she may be

Last of the Abingdon marque's pre-WWII racing cars, the R-type was unveiled on April 25, 1935. Beautifully wrought, its revolutionary chassis boasted such advanced features as selective dampers and finned drum brakes.
Powered by a supercharged 747-cc OHC four-cylinder engine mated to four-speed ENV pre-selector transmission, the racer was credited with an incredible 113 bhp at 7,200 rpm. Clad in lightweight aluminum bodywork, it looked every inch the miniature Grand Prix car.
In keeping with MG's contemporary competition policy of backing selected privateers rather than fielding its own works team, the ten MG R-types produced were sold to hand-picked customers at a bargain price of £750.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1935 MG R
Years Produced:1935
Number Produced:10
Tune Up Cost:$600
Distributor Caps:$100
Chassis Number Location:Unknown
Engine Number Location:Unknown
Club Info:Vintage Sports Car Club, The Old Post Office, West Street, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 5EL
Investment Grade:B

This 1935 MG R-type sold for $243,822 at the H&H Classic Auctions’ Cheltenham Auction, February 21, 2006.
In the racing business, revolutionary concepts sometimes hit the world with a crash and roar, leaving the rest of the competitors staggering in shock and awe (to coin a phrase) as the mighty new paradigm sweeps all in front of it. This is the making of legends like the pre-war Alfa Romeo Alfetta, the Porsche 917, and the Cosworth DFV-engined Lotus 49.
Other times, revolutionary concepts arrive in unlikely and little-noticed small packages, stomping their feet and yelling for attention, but basically doomed by circumstance to a minor role followed by irrelevance. It’s only years later that historians look back and say, “Wow! That was incredible!”
The MG R-type of 1935 was just such a car. The chassis and suspension utilized concepts considered revolutionary 20 to 30 years later when they were “rediscovered” by Cooper and Lotus. The cars handled arguably better than anything of their era, but they were small and low-powered, competing on the pre-war stage dominated by titanic battles between the Third Reich and the Italians, and they were cast on the scene with utterly no factory support. A tiny, wavering soprano has a tough time in a Wagnerian opera, no matter how good she may be.
The MG Car Company (Morris Garage) had survived the difficult years of the 1930s by selling passenger cars that its customers could afford and wanted to buy. MG was a significant player in the small-displacement part of the market, mostly 750-cc engines. William Morris (later Lord Nuffield), the chairman, didn’t particularly like racing, but accepted the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” philosophy and allowed enthusiasts below him to develop and produce competition versions of standard cars for customers to race.
This was done out of the “experimental shop” at Abingdon, where a small cadre of true believers pushed Lord Nuffield’s tolerance ever harder through the early ’30s. By 1934 they had developed the “Q-type.” It had a 750-cc engine that made 113 hp at 7,200 rpm (supercharged at 25 psi and burning an alcohol witch’s brew) but the double-rail chassis with “cart-sprung axles” simply couldn’t turn the power into speed. The frame would flex and the axles would jump so the tires were seldom on the ground. It was time to rethink the concept.
From a chassis standpoint, the R-type threw everything out and started fresh, in the process abandoning any pretense of being a production car. It was the first (and only) single-seat MG produced. Instead of chassis rails, it sported a Y-shaped backbone frame built of electrically welded sheet steel, with the engine mounted in the Y in front and the differential mounted hard to the tail in back. If you thought the Lotus Elan was revolutionary-they did it here first. The completed frame weighed 56 lbs, half of what a K3 frame weighed, and was radically stiffer.
Suspension was independent front and rear, with A-arms and torsion bars utilizing inboard shock absorbers (lever action hydraulic). Beyond independent, the suspension was fully adjustable for static setup front and rear, something that didn’t appear again until the late 1950s.
With the differential mounted hard to the center box frame, mounting the rear suspension required some creativity. MG solved the problem by casting a differential housing with suspension mounts incorporated (not seen again until the late ’60s), which is the basis for a great story.
The experimental shop was a small operation, not a factory, and they only had a small casting furnace. The decision was made to cast the differential housing in aluminum because it was easier to melt in their furnace, but they couldn’t afford the 60-pound minimum order for material. Looking around, they realized they had lots of used aluminum pistons, so they cleaned them up and tossed them into the crucible.
In the end it worked out beautifully. The first part was cast with others to follow, but one of the upper managers wanted to know what alloy they had used. After some hemming and hawing, the perpetrator took a deep breath and said it was “pistominium.” After the surprise, he was congratulated for his resourcefulness.
It was an incredible, revolutionary car, and the boys at Abingdon had great hopes for it. They built an initial run of ten cars, all pre-sold to selected MG privateers for £750 each (which sounds cheap, but don’t be fooled-converted to 2006 dollars, that’s about $55,000), and were planning on a second batch with at least five firm orders.
In the spring races, the MG R-type proved quick but inconsistent, with a number of the revolutionary concepts needing refinement, but the kinks were getting ironed out. Then, in late June the word came down that Lord Nuffield had been pushed too far. Effective immediately, all racing activities were to cease and the experimental department was to be disbanded. Overnight, factory support for MG racing disappeared.
The privateers who had bought MG R-types soldiered on, but without factory support, the car was never developed as it needed to be. The ten cars built never had any real impact on the racing world, particularly in the politically testosterone-charged era leading up to the second war. Though brilliant, they were a flash in a very turbulent pan.
This car, a 1935 R-type S/N 0255, was originally shared by siblings Kenneth and Doreen Evans and raced throughout England and Europe in its early years, then sold to South Africa. It fared well (between regular mechanical failures), but wound up in a Bulawayo wrecking yard, whence it was rescued in 1963. S/N 0255 has been extensively rebuilt for vintage racing.
MG R-types remain seriously collectible cars. The basic rule “what was special then is special now” applies in spades in this case. It was very special then, it was very rare then, and it still is. Admittedly, it is worth a decimal fraction of what a Mercedes or Auto Union GP car of that era is worth, but that was true then as well. It’s a lesser jewel, but a jewel nonetheless, and a worthy part of a serious collection.

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