MG: An Amazing Tale of How a Niche Sports Car Brand Has Become a Major World Player
By Roger Houghton
MG is an intriguing, niche car model which was spun off from the mainstream Morris
Oxford by a dealership, Morris Garage, in 1923, and has now become a high-volume
global seller. This brand has attracted the attention of motoring enthusiasts since its
inception and today there are more than 55 000 affiliated members of the MG Car
Club, which makes it the biggest single marque car club in the world.
The centenary of the MG marque is being celebrated worldwide this year and the
festivities in South Africa kicked off with the Cape Centres putting on a successful
four-day event in Prince Albert from May 23-26. Almost 100 people and 55 MGs
participated in the celebration organised by the South Cape Centre. Activities
included using 49 cars to make a large figure 100 on a school rugby field. What
made it special is that the two zeroes were, in fact, each an octagon, which is the
background of the distinctive MG badge.
There are seven centres of the MG Car Club in South Africa, and all will celebrate
the MG centenary in one way or another during the remainder of 2023. Worldwide
there are 16 national clubs in Europe and 14 in other countries in the world. Many of
them have several centres inside each country so the global spread of MG
enthusiasts is vast.
What is amazing is how the magic of MG continues to be a drawcard for fans and
club members after a century, particularly considering the convoluted ownership trail
the brand has undergone during this time. The enthusiasm for MG has not only
survived for many years but has still flourished as it floundered through periods when
the cars were relatively bad and built down to a budget when compared to the
The good news is that MG is now thriving under Chinese ownership and making
many more new fans all over the world.
The first five MGs were built in Oxford by Cecil Kimber’s Morris Garage in 1923.
They were two-seater sports models using Morris Oxford chassis and running gear
with the bodies made by Charles Haworth and Son. The “bull nose” Morris Oxford
on which the first MG was based had an engine of 1 802 cc and four-wheel brakes
were a welcome part of this car’s standard specification!
The Morris car company were impressed with these “specials” and agreed these
significantly modified cars could be badged as MGs as a reference to the initials of
Morris Garage. The badges on these cars actually carried the name MG Super
Sports. Later models were fitted with more attractive bodies made by Carbodies in
Coventry. Unfortunately, none of the original cars survive.
Cecil Kimber originally adapted his Morris Oxford to be competitive in trials driving,
so motorsport was in the MG’s genes from the beginning. This involvement has
continued over the years in rallying, circuit racing and record breaking after kicking
off in 1930 when William Morris gave his support to a factory-backed motorsport
programme, which was very much aligned to the early MG slogan of Safety Fast.
What is astounding is that support for the brand from enthusiasts has not waned
over the years as the MG brand was bounced around from owner to owner. The first
person to own the brand was William Morris, who sold it to his company, Morris
Motors, in 1935 which became part of the Nuffield Organisation in 1939.
The iconic MG brand was subsequently owned by another eight entities before it was
snapped up in 2005 by the growing Chinese automotive industry in the form of
Let’s follow the path from 1923 to 2023.
Several different models were made by the Abington-based MG Car Company
before its owner, William Morris, sold the company to Morris Motors in 1935. Once
under the control of Morris Motors the first new MG to be made was the Midget TA,
which appeared in 1936 and was the first of the so-called T-cars. However, when
World War II broke out in 1939 Morris Motors and its subsidiaries, MG, Riley,
Wolseley, and SU Carburettors were all part of the Nuffield Organisation. MG
founder Kimber left the company during the war and lost his life in a train crash in
The first MG to appear after the war was the iconic, TC, a two-seater sports car that
found a ready market that also saw this model being sold in the USA. Then Morris
Motors merged with the Austin Motor Company to form the British Motor Corporation
(BMC), with the TC having been superseded by the TD and later TF models. The
range also included the MG ZA saloon powered by a 1 500 cc BMC engine. Then
came a big breakthrough in 1956 with the introduction of the stylish 1 600 cc MGA.,
of which more than 100 000 were made in an eight-year production run. This was
followed, in 1962, by the introduction of the MGB with a 1 800 cc BMC power unit.
Meanwhile the attractive ZB Magnette saloon had been replaced by a badge-
engineered, boxy-looking, Farina-styled Mk 3 Magnette and at this time the unitary
construction Midget appeared under the MG banner.
BMC was renamed British Motor Holdings (BMH) in 1966 following the merger of
BMC and Jaguar cars. The owner of MG changed again in 1968 when BMH was
merged with Leyland Motor Corporation and the new entity was named British
Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC).
This move resulted in the MG Car Company being consigned to the history books as
no new MGs were introduced during the 1970s. The Midget went out of production
in 1979 and the plug was pulled on the successful MGB a year later, after a
production run of 18 years in which more than 500 000 cars were made, with two
thirds of them being roadsters. The famous Abington factory was disposed of at this
BL created the Austin Rover Group in 1982 and the MG name was revised with the
introduction of the MG Metro, a three-door hatchback, which later got a performance
boost with the addition of a turbocharger. This was followed by the introduction of
the MG Maestro and Montego to further boost MG’s revived image.
But it all changed in 1986 when the volume car production arm of BL was rebranded
Rover Group PLC and then renamed the Rover Group soon after, before it was sold
to British Aerospace in 1988.
The MG-badged Metro was withdrawn from production in 1990, while the MG
Maestro and Montego continued to be made until the following year. A Rover V8-
engined MGB RV8 harked back to MG’s glory day but had a short life as British
Aerospace offloaded the Rover Group to BMW in 1994.
Fortunately, German cash enable MG to finalise development of the mid-engine
MGF powered by a 1 800 cc Rover K-Series engine and used Metro subframes front
and rear. The MGF was the first car since the MGB of 1962 to be designed from the
start to be an MG. Production under BMW lasted from 1995 to 2000 and the car
proved a sales success as well as reviving the MG brand as a sporty marque.
But ownership of the brand was to change yet again as BMW sold the Rover Group’s
car engine manufacturing assets to the Phoenix Consortium in 2000 and the
company was renamed MG Rover. It continued to make and sell the MGF as well as
several MG saloons, based on Rover models. The MGF was substantially updated
in 2002. However, Phoenix’s MG Rover soon ran short of cash with MG and Rover
production at Longbridge coming to a halt on 7 April 2005.
MG Rover entered administration in 2005, resulting in the production of the MG TF
model ceasing. The remains of the MG Rover business were sold to the Nanjing
Automobile Company and the MG TF resumed production under the Nanjing
owned MG Motor in 2007. The model, by then heavily outdated, was not a sales
success and production ceased for a second and final time in 2011, with production
having been moved gradually to China. British production of the MGF and TF
totalled almost 40 000 units.
Nanjing then sold out to another Chinese motor company, Shanghai Automotive
Industry Corporation (SAIC) in 2007, with British production ending in 2009. SAIC,
which has been the largest car producer in China for the past 17 consecutive years
and made 5.3-million cars in 2022, is working wonders for the MG brand.
The path from 1923 to 2023 has certainly been a winding one besides going up and
down hills as ownership changed and MG’s fortunes rose and waned over the past
An expanding range of value-priced electric and internal combustion engine powered
vehicles are now making MG one of the fastest growing brands in Europe. In 2022 it
was the second fastest grower after Tesla, outselling well-established brands such
as Jeep and Honda.!
What is really exciting is that there is now a sports car coming to the 2023 model
line-up, albeit a “battery-electric vehicle” or BEV, to mark MGs centenary. The
newcomer will be based on the sensational Cyberster concept that has been shown
at motor shows this year.
Last year MG sold 113 917 cars in Europe, twice as many as in 2021 and more than
the 110 101 cars sold in its new home country, China. The MG 4, a BEV, was
Britain’s Car of the Year in 2022.
The pace is continuing in 2023 and it is the 23 rd car brand in Europe, ahead of
Porsche and Land Rover, besides Jeep and Honda. MG was also No 7 on the sales
list in Australia last year. It was 12 th in the UK, despite stock shortages, beating
brands such as MINI, Renault and Skoda.