Vauxhall: The Whole Story

Suddenly, at 113 years, Britain’s oldest make of car faces extinction. It is time to buy Vauxhall Model by Model, a study of its continuous history of manufacture from engines at the Vauxhall Ironworks on Thames-side Lambeth, to car factories in Luton and Merseyside. Vauxhall led Edwardian splendour with the Prince Henry and the 30-98, transformed popular cars in Britain with independent front suspension and integral body structures and in 1914 made D-type army staff cars then in 1941 Churchill tanks. Taken over by General Motors in 1927, Vauxhall was integral to British industry, but has an uncertain future following acquisition by Peugeot.

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Did MG create the sports car?

Some say Vauxhall did. And there were sports cars amongst the 39 Autocar named as motoring landmarks this week. Usual suspects, Austin 7, Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, Model T Ford, Jeep, etc but not one MG. Some cars became classics because there weren’t many. MGs were classics even though there were lots. Cecil Kimber’s original recipe was so good – use bits from a cheap production car, polish and refine them, smarten them up, make them a bit faster but not so fast as to be dangerous and they could be sold at a premium. From the humble Morris Garages’ sporty special to the K3 of 1933 raced by Nuvolari, MGs were charismatic. When a team went on a recce in January for the April 1934 Mille Miglia, they were received by the King of Italy, Il Duce Benito Mussolini and Enzo Ferrari manager of the works Alfa Romeos. They finished first and second in class when Britain was still a motor racing backwater

MGs were jazz age cars. They exemplified the suburban idyll, the Wodehousian world of Blandings or Jeeves and Wooster. MG was the sports 2-seater born and bred at Brooklands, made almost within the University of Oxford and trialled on British hills. It may have lacked the glamour and riches of the contemporary Bentley; MG was virtually classless not pretentious. A classic emblem for dashing young men in blazers and Bright Young Things with short skirts and bobbed hair it was picnic sandwiches and Anyone for Tennis?  John Betjeman's subaltern would have whisked Miss Joan Hunter Dunn from Camberley to Brighton or Gretna Green in an MG, never a Hillman.

The MG that wanted to be a Bentley, the 18/80

The MG that wanted to be a Bentley, the 18/80

Seldom fast or expensive and not always Midget, MGs were as much part of the British way of life as summer weekends or romantic novels.

MGs of the 1920s and 1930s lit the spark of sports motoring. In the 1940s RAF pilots climbed out of MGs into Spitfires. In America, heartland of large softly sprung gas-guzzlers, the MG was a nimble sports car raced by amateurs. Autocar should at least have remembered the 1962 MGB, the first open 2-seater to banish scuttle shake. Sports cars used to rattle to pieces before the B gave them backbone. It may be regarded nowadays as over-engineered and yes it was a bit heavy but you could open and close the doors without it sagging. Its stiff monocoque was exemplary.

My MGB - Heritage shell, Twin-cam M16 engine, 5-speed gearbox.

My MGB - Heritage shell, Twin-cam M16 engine, 5-speed gearbox.

Without the MG we might never have had The Mazda MX-5, which Autocar did include. MGs were the prototype shadowed by Singer, Austin-Healey, Triumph and countless more. MG-Rover collapsed and MG was bought by the Chinese, which pretended to carry on with a sports car like the underrated MGF but the game was up. Despite the bravura even MG clubs and magazines have shown them, China MG’s dull saloons are like British Leyland’s dull badge-engineered MGs. They won’t change the world ever again.

No problem with Autocar’s choice of VW Beetle, BMW 328, Land Rover, Range Rover, Citroen DS, Trabant, Mini, Jaguar E-type, Porsche 911, Audi Quattro, Mazda MX-5, or McLaren F1 but really - Ariel Nomad? Fun and an Autocar favourite but no more of a game-changer than a dune buggy.

My MGA. 1950s masterpiece. What joy it was

My MGA. 1950s masterpiece. What joy it was