In this page, we will feature articles, images, facts and figures from the history of our favourite marque. This page will continue to grow and evolve over the coming months, so remember to come back soon.
with thanks to John Saxon
Members will recall an address by Allan Foy at a members meeting back in 1998 on the history of local assembly of BMC vehicles. What follows are additional comments relating specifically to MGAs subsequently provided that may be of further interest.
Allan joined BMC at Zetland in November 1957 as a Technical Report Writer in the Experimental Department, the other department employees being test engineer Reg Fulford and purchasing officer Allan Stapleton. Allan Foy had previously served an apprenticeship with a tractor dealer but left before finishing his course to join Power Farming Magazine as Assistant Technical Editor when aged about 18 or 19.
He stayed with BMC until 1975 which by then was called Leyland Australia. BMC changed its name to British Leyland Motor Corporation in 1968 and then to Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia in 1972. The Leyland Australia name was publicised at considerable cost to emphasise the Australian aspect, rather than the UK heritage.
MGA assembly from CKD kits began in 1957 at Pressed Metal Corporation (PMC), Cosgrove Road , Enfield and continued to be assembled there until production ceased in 1962. The MGA was never assembled at BMC Zetland although the engines were built there, as were all ‘B’ series engines. In later days, the smaller capacity ‘A’ Series engines were also assembled at Zetland from mainly imported components, but with some local content such as gaskets, oil seals, pistons and rings, and engine bearings.
Of interest, allan advised that UK built MGAs could be ordered through the dealer network at extra cost and were delivered off the ships to BMC for distribution to the dealers for final servicing and registration.
MGA engine assembly also commenced at Zetland in late 1957 on the same line as the other ‘B’ series engines for Wolseley 1500, Austin Lancer, Morris Major, Austin A55, Morris J2 and vans. No Riley 1500s were assembled in Australia and no other BMC engines were assembled at Zetland, at this time.
MGA blocks, crankshafts, connecting rods, cam shafts (different timing) and cylinder heads (larger valves) were of UK manufacture right through to the end of local MGA production .
Crankshafts were of a different composition (harder metal) than the standard ‘B’ series components although identical in all other respects. The only local engine content would have been the gaskets and possibly the water pump, engine side covers and spark plugs. Later, after manufacture of starters and generators commenced locally, these parts, painted a flat black, were also bought in and assembled to the engines prior to them being painted red.
The heart shaped combustion chambers of the cylinder heads was a critical part of the Weslake patent. The combustion chamber when first developed for the Austin A40 had a definite point to it but this was gradually reduced over the years. The reason for the heart shape was to create turbulence in the combustion chamber so as to promote a swirling mass of more closely mingled gas at Top Dead Centre. As a result, BMC were able to use a leaner fuel/air mix thus providing an improvement in fuel consumption. The effectiveness of this design feature was born out by the many successes achieved in events such as the Mobilgas Economy Runs at the time.
Random engines were tested every day, perhaps 2 or 3 only, with MGA engines not being especially selected. Tested engines were run between 40 and 60 minutes, stripped down and then rebuilt seeking signs of foreign bodies, dirt, rings installed incorrect way up, poor bearing fit and so on.
Engines were run on a fairly gentle cycle on the dynamometer with no attempt to test for ultimate maximum power, although full throttle would have been used, speed was held down to about 4000 RPM. The dynamometer operator would have had a “feel” for the engine he was running and would be able to tell whether it was performing satisfactorily or not.
The Experimental Department was not required to be advised of any problems found on the line but that did not mean of course that there were none!
The components for each engine, MGA or otherwise, were placed in separate compartments and shelves in individual wire baskets for each engine, then were delivered to the assembly line on pallets by forklift. The baskets moved along the production line where an operator at each station would do the assembly operations assigned to him. More complex operations such as fitting pistons to connecting rods and checking connecting rod alignment was done in fixtures at the side of the assembly line and probably by a higher skilled operator than the assembly line operator. The same would apply for the assembly of valves and valve springs to the cylinder head and the sub-assembly of the rocker shaft, rockers and springs. Pistons were supplied by the manufacturer with the rings installed and the size grade marked on the top surface. Blocks were measured and them marked with the size grade of the piston to be used at the end of the cylinder block machining operation.
Items such as gaskets, standard nuts, bolts, screws and washers were held in racks or containers at the appropriate stations along the line,
Prior to fitting the sump, all of the almost complete engines were transferred to a machine where the engine was “motored” for about 20 minutes with the object of bedding everything down. A continuous supply of clean oil was provided from the machine and cooling water was circulated through the water jacket. After this operation the sump was fitted, valve clearance adjusted and the assembly of the engine completed.
Most of the tools used by the operators on the line were air-operated with torque preset to avoid over-tightening. Where appropriate, multi spindle nut runners were used; for example, all the cylinder head nuts were tightened simultaneously. The normal procedure was to start a fastener by hand, then apply the air tool.
If one cylinder was found to be of an odd size, the block would be re-honed so that the same grade (diameter) piston would be used in each bore.
The blocks were on a jig, which would allow the block to be rotated to fit the crankshaft and attach the rods to the shaft. Pistons, complete with rods, were installed from the top.
Engine blocks, crankshafts and cylinder heads from the UK were received covered in protective grease it was necessary for them to be degreased and cleaned. All the engine components were passed through a washing process that used a trichlorethelene bath. Subsequently this process was deemed to be carcinogenic and was replaced by a process using soluble oil and steam.
All engines and blocks of UK origin had the engine number stamped on an aluminium plate, which was attached to the cylinder block with drive screws (rivets). Australian registration authorities required that the number be stamped into the metal of the block itself as the engine number is used as a means of vehicle identification. At the engine number stamping operation on the line, the rivets would be chiseled off, the plate removed and the numbers stamped into the block in the same location as the removed plate. This surface on UK engines was as cast, so that sometimes the stamped numbers are hard to read. The removed plate was then usually tied to some part of the engine such as the oil filler neck or a plug lead for proof to whoever might want it that the number had been stamped correctly.
Australia was the first to bore the ‘B’ Series engines out to 3”, giving 1622cc capacity, first used In Australian Production Austin A60, Morris Oxford V, and Wolseley 15/60 in 1959. UK said it could not be done, but reluctantly followed on MGA by going to 2-15/16” giving 1588c
in about 1960 and 3” on MGA 1600 Mk.II in about 1961. At about the same time UK went to 3” bore on most of its other “B” Series engined cars renaming them Austin A60, Morris Oxford VI, Wolseley 16/60 and an MG Magnette became a Mk. IV.
MGA engines were painted red, the other engines being painted a Grey colour although later, in 1962, the Morris Major Elite, Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 six cylinder engines were painted a colour called Silver Blue.
The painter used separate spray guns and there was a card or other means of identifying the MGA engine so that it received Red. The distributor cap and leads were removed and masks placed over the spark plugs and distributor base. The starter motor and generator were in place and therefore were painted Red. The gearbox was not attached and was left in its natural aluminium state. Overspray could be seen around the base of the spark plugs when the engines were finished being assembled.
Series I Lancers, Majors and Wolseley 1500s had a final drive of 3.73/1 giving a high 3rd gear and almost an overdrive top gear, this being very popular in Australia.
When the Series II Austin Lancers and Morris Majors were introduced (the Wolseley 1500 local production then ceased), a differential ratio of 4.22/1 was used, much to the chagrin of a lot of people who thought one of the car’s best features had been lost. However the Sales Department decreed that brisk acceleration was more important than effortless cruising.
Fine spline half shafts which have a higher torque transmitting capacity were introduced to compensate for the higher torque of the 3 inch bore of the 1622cc engines used in the Morris Major Elites. This was an ‘A’ Series axle originally designed to take the torque from the 803cc engine as used in the Austin A30!
Similar changes were made to the ‘B’ Series axles as used in the Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80. Here there was an axle originally designed to take the torque from the 1500cc engine of the Austin A50 now being asked to cope with a 2433cc engine.
Around the same time, MGAs also acquired the fine-spline half-shafts. There must have been a good reason for this at the time, although Allan doesn’t recall that half-shaft failure was ever a problem with MGAs, which had a ‘B’ Series axle. He commented that perhaps people who did a lot of standing quarters might have known differently!
Allan pointed out that even if horsepower is increased, but torque not, there is no need to strengthen the half shafts as the increased horsepower only moves the torque up the RPM band. Accordingly, the coarse splines on earlier MGAs were OK even though the horsepower developed was greater than the standard B series engines. For interest, early Falcon engines were tested on the dynamometer at 65HP, not the claimed 85HP and early Holden engines at 65, not 72HP as claimed.
The P76 engine of 4.4 litres genuinely developed 185HP. Borg Warner, in designing the automatic transmission, assumed that the horsepower would really only be around 140 so that the first sample transmission did not survive the initial road testing.
MGB and Later:
All early MGB engines arrived complete from the UK, including starters and generators. Only in 1969 were Australian built starters, alternators and distributors introduced to increase the local content. The engine was not opened.
The “upside-down” type throwaway canister type of oil filter was first introduced in Australia in Austin Freeway and Morris Major Elite in 1962. Local engineers incorporated a non-return valve to prevent filter drain-back into the sump with the engine stopped, a by-pass valve to ensure supply of oil in case of a clogged element and a stand-pipe inside the filter to minimise loss of oil when unscrewing the filter This filter carried part number AYB52 or AYB222 (Ryco P/N Z23) and had a ½” BSP thread.
Mk I Australian built MGBs followed the MGA UK design, using the original type suspended replacement element type filter until the introduction of the MK II in November 1967 when the whole thing was turned upside down with an adapter, but still using the replaceable element. This continued until March 1970 when a further change was made to adopt an upside-down, throwaway canister filter, the whole thing visually similar to the Australian concept. The filter carried part number GFE135 (Ryco P/N Z38).
The original suspended filter was always a hassle to get at and a messy thing to change. When MGB was introduced in 1963 in Australia dealers and some owners very quickly saw that that the Australian upside-down filter system would go straight on, giving a much more convenient arrangement, and many cars were so fitted. BMC (Australia) issued a Service Bulletin detailing the parts required to effect the change, and stating that warranty would not be affected. The same changes were eventually introduced on Australian-built Austin 1800s and the same parts could be fitted to any ‘B’ Series engine except Series II Morris Oxfords, which did not have a full-flow system.
Individual Austin and Morris dealers were replaced in 1961 when the BMC Dealership network came into being with participating dealers selling all models.
Local assembly of MGBs concluded in 1972.
Duty was 50% on the imported content. Using local trim, tyres and batteries resulted in a 20% duty concession.
Although it has been claimed that wooden tyres were fitted to CKD MGAs until local tyres could be fitted to reduce duty or to overcome a shortage problem in the UK, Allan could not recall this applying in his time at BMC.
CKD assembly with use of local parts such as tyres, trim and batteries resulted in 50% local content.
MGA 1600 MK II was the first MGA to be “owned” by Experimental for copying of patterns for the new hood on that model and other items as required.
The first MGB from local assembly was number 501.
PMC sometimes used metric fasteners in error as they also assembled Peugeots and Fiats.
Zetland MGBs were roto-dipped through paint but cars built by PMC were only slipper dipped. This meant that after the body was assembled it was slipped into a bath of paint only about 12” deep so that only the floor and sills got the benefit of being treated with the anti-rust primer. Some of its effectiveness was reduced, as there was no means of degreasing the hidden areas before dipping into the paint.
John Saxon, MGA Registrar, March 2004
“THE CAPTAIN” George Eyston and MG
Captain George E.T. Eyston was probably the “main man” of MG record breaking. The “Captain” came about as a result of his World War 1 service where he won the Military Cross and became a staff Captain.
Born on the 28th June 1897 he soon got into motoring, with the purchase of a motorcycle at age 13. At Cambridge he obtained an Engineering degree and took up motor racing in 1923. This involved both cars and motorbikes, and later motorboats.
In that first year of motor racing he won his class in the Boulogne Motor Week races (France), and later in 1923 was third in the Grand Prix des Voiturettes Legeres. In 1926 he won the same race and in 1927 was placed in 23 races in England and France. He was second in the Irish Grand Prix and the Ulster T.T. and also in the Gold Cup and Gold Vase races at Brooklands.
All this was to become second place (no pun intended) to his subsequent record breaking achievements.
At the end of 1930 Eyston decided to concentrate on record breaking in “baby” cars of 750 c.c. capacity. The International Class H records for the mile and kilometer were held by a Frenchman called Ratier, with a car of his own design and construction.
Eyston tried to get Ratier to build him a car too but was unsuccessful. He then looked at sleeving down an 1100 c.c. Riley engine but that didn’t come off either. He then came across one Jimmy Palmes, and old Cambridge pal of his. Palmes was sleeving down his own 850 c.c Midget to 750 c.c. to use for an attempt on the Class H 24 hour record. Eyston accepted Palmes invitation to join him in his endeavours and the pair enlisted the support of MG boss, Cecil Kimber.
Fitted with a Powerplus supercharger of his own design, the little Midget became the famous EX120.
On New Year’s Eve of 1930, Eyston broke three International Class H records at a maximum speed of 87.30 miles an hour (140.5 k.p.h.) with the little MG without the supercharger fitted.
The magic 100 m.p.h. had never been reached by a 750 c.c car despite efforts by companies such as Austin, so Eyston decided the record was to be his. On February 16th. 1931, again driving Palmes’ Midget, this time fitted with the Powerplus supercharger, four more records in Class H were broken, at speeds up to 103.13 m.p.h. (166 k.p.h.) for 5 kilometers.
Undeterred by the date, on 13th. March 1931 Eyston scored two more Class H records, followed on September 17th 1931 by securing the 100 kilometers record, and on September 25th of the same year at Montlhery in France, covered for the first time in a “baby” car 100 miles in one hour. This attempt also achieved four other Class H records for the MG Company.
It was at this attempt that Eyston had a close call, being forced to jump out of the little Midget when it caught fire at around 104 m.p.h. (167 k.p.h.). In Eyston’s words “.. I noticed a flicker of fire at the front of the engine…I dabbed the gear lever into neutral and hoped to coast through another lap…the fire was now into the cockpit and around the seat….my feet were getting burnt….I got out and onto the tail of the car, holding on to the top of the steering wheel with one hand.” He leapt off at around 60 m.p.h. (96 k.p.h.) “as I had learned to fall from a horse but the impact was rather startling”.
It was three months before Eyston was fit again.
Undeterred, Eyston was back at it again by the 22nd December, again at Montlhery, and got the MG up to 114.77 m.p.h. (184.7 m.p.h.) gaining another four records in Class H. British to the core, Eyston wanted more, and this time on English soil, so on February 8th. 1932, on Pendine Sands, he ran the Midget up to 118.38 m.p.h. (190.5 m.p.h.) all still on 750 c.c. remember!
Wanting even more, Eyston went back to Montlhery in France and on December 13th. 1932, still with the Magic Midget (now transformed into a “saloon”, by the addition of some fairing designed to lessen wind resistance), reached 120 m.p.h. (193 k.p.h.).
Other Class H records fell to the team of MG and Eyston (and Bert Denly) too, including 200, 500, 1000 kilometers; 200,500,1000 miles; and 3,6, and 12 hours.
Think of it, 1000 miles (1609 kilometers!!) around and around a banked track!
Alone, or as the leader of a team, Eyston held 22 of the 24 Class H records in 1933, and since the end of 1930 had secured 37 records in the 750 c.c. class. All this in addition to many other world records and international class records in other classes.
Just to round off 1933, Eyston partnered Count “Johnny” Lurani in winning the 1100 c.c. class in their MG K3 Magnette in the Mille Miglia.
Eyston was unusual in that he only “broke” records, as distinct from establishing ones that nobody else had bothered to establish.
This is only a little bit of the “Captain’s” story but to show he didn’t only concentrate on the “tiddler” classes, he also designed the all time biggest and heaviest record breaker up to that time.
This was the “Thunderbolt”. A 10meter long, seven tonne, 73 litre, 3700kW (5000b.h.p.) monster built in 1937. The “engine” was actually two Rolls-Royce aeroplane engines. With this “car”, Eyston reached 357.5 m.p.h. (575 k.p.h.).
George E.T. Eyston, O.B.E., M.C. was a successful businessman, a director of several companies including Castrol, and was also President and Patron of the MG Car Club, Ltd.
The term industrial espionage was bought into the public arena with a bang in 2007, when a Ferrari designer handed over a large multi page, “technical document” to rival team McLaren! All this led to legal claim and counter claim involving the governing body (FIA) and many costly legal eagles.
Not content with that, Renault were found to have in its possession, documents and drawings of Mclaren’s! Leading to more legal wrangling. Posing the question who owns intellectual copyright if someone leaves one job and goes to another, at what point can they use knowledge and experience gained.
This problem of espionage has gone on for as long as competition has existed, but hasn’t been high profile until big money got involved.
One of the most bizarre, and worthy of a film involves MZ, the East German two stroke motorcycle company in the 1950’s. Their brilliant development chief Walter Kaaden unlocked many of the secrets to making a two stroke motor work at greater efficiency, and be capable of beating the then dominant MV Agusta team. He had with him at the time a talented engineer and motor cycle racer Ernst Degner, who later when leading the 1961 world 125cc championship, finished his last race, going past the finish line and his pits to a waiting van, that whisked him away, so he could defect to the West. Taking with him the knowledge of Kaaden’s work, first to Suzuki, and then Yamaha. Degner still had one more race to clinch the championship, but was barred from riding in Argentina, thus giving the title to Honda by default. Walter Kaaden’s MZ’s never got the World championship they deserved.
To give some idea of what developments in competition have done over the years show in 1956, a 500cc motorcycle at the Isle of Man TT recorded the first over 100mph lap. Twelve years later a Yamaha 125cc motorcycle (a quarter the size) recorded a lap of 100.32mph! On the same 37.75 mile circuit.
Back in the 1930’s Cecil Kimber insisted that Mercedes had used the technology they had gained from “inspecting the ex works Magic Midget MG’ of Bobby Kohlrausch, that had a special 750cc motor developed by the works under the supervision of Reg Jackson. The car had been the first 750cc car to better 140mph. He insisted Mercedes had just mounted 2 of his motors on a common V8 crank to form there W165 grand prix car winner.
It has also been suggested that when the SA was being developed, Cecil Kimber had a big falling out with Harry Weslake, Harry was used as an advisor on cylinder head design, and at the time was being used by the then small company of SS Jaguar to develop an overhead valve cylinder head for the side valve Standard Car company engine that SS Jaguar intended to use in it’s new model. It just happened to be a direct competitor to the proposed SA. The capacity of the Jaguar engine was 2663cc! Could the pre knowledge of the SA’s 2 Litre capacity (which had to be increased to 2288cc so as to keep up with their new competitor. causing more delays before being shown to the public), have been an accident!
I doubt it!