It sat, a forlorn hulk, its body blackened and rusty from the elements, its chrome faded and lacklustre, the damaged grille half hanging off. The car almost looked like it was being reclaimed by the earth. It leaned to one side; one of its front wings lying on the ground beside it, which gave it an odd Cyclops-like appearance; its bonnet slightly ajar, as if silently trying to call for help.
The average person would never have picked it for a champion racing car, let alone one of the most successful MGAs built in the hallowed halls of the BMC Competitions Department.
Four British Racing Green 3000s were entered, officially by BMC but still run by DHMC, for 1960, while DHMC’s attention again turned to Sprites for the following two years.
For 1963, DHMC prepared three 3000s and a Sprite for the event. The following two years brought single entries of separate 3000s, with the 1965 entry, driven by Australian Paul Hawkins and English driver Warwick Banks, being the last for the 3000.
The DHMC entered Sprites at Sebring through to 1968 with private entries for the following two years.
Ian Prior saw the car and immediately fell in love, but it wasn’t for sale. Ian and his wife Pam were travelling around the US in a VW camper and had only stopped in to the little town of Titusville in Florida to visit a fellow MG enthusiast and NASA engineer, Art Floyd, and to see the tourist Mecca of Disney World a little further down the road.
Art had a workshop, where he was fitting a Buick V8 to his MG Y-type, next door to where the MGA lay, and promised Ian that he would keep working on the owner of the MGA to get him to sell it.
“It was 1977. Pam and I had taken a year off work to see the world, and the first three months were spent touring the States in the VW Kombi camper”, Ian explains. “We did a virtual circumnavigation of the States, 18,000 miles in total. We’d seen the MG near the start of the trip and by the time we got to Chicago, after six weeks of negotiation the guy had said he would sell it. We finished driving all around New England and then DC, then hurtled back down to Florida to get the car.”
The owner knew exactly what he had. It was he who had told Ian in the first place that the car had raced at Sebring. But in the mid-1970s a rusty, old MGA, regardless of any racing pedigree, was not worth a great deal and; “for the princely sum of 500 bucks, plus 50 for the original special head in the boot, it was mine”, Ian recalls.
“We loaded it in a U-Haul truck and shipped it back up to Charleston, which was the closest port where we could put it on a boat back to Australia.”
When Ian eventually got back home at the end of his year-long sabbatical, he was eager to get started on the restoration. He’d been a life-long MG enthusiast and has owned a wide range of models, from TC to MGB, Y-type and various MGAs.
But when he had “a so-called expert” muck up the body repairs, Ian became slightly disillusioned, and the car sat unrestored for many years.
“In a way it was good, because I was going to race it and I probably would have buggered it, so I’m glad I sat on it. It meant I was able to get so much more research done in the intervening years, so I could do it right back to how it raced at Sebring, and the car is so much better for that.”
That research enabled Ian to identify exactly which car he had and its unequalled history.
Between 1959 and 1962 MG entered 11 MGAs at Sebring – three each year except for 1961 when it only entered two. Nine of those cars are now accounted for, and Ian’s is one of the two 1961 cars.
It is the car that wore number 44 in the race and, driven by Americans Jim Parkinson and Jack Flaherty, finished first in its class and 14th place overall out of a field of 65 cars. The sister car, number 43, Peter Riley/John Whitmore/Bob Olthoff, was second in class, making 1961 MGA’s most successful trip to Sebring.
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The BMC Experience Issue 16. Jan-Mar 2016 Magazine
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