MG is a company with a proud history that stretches back to the days when Cecil Kimber, then General Manager of Morris Garages in Oxford organized for a handful of Cowleys to be modified, with special bodies by Charles Raworth, and sold as the Morris Garages two-seater Sports model. There was also the larger Super Sports on the Oxford chassis and a small Chummy model on the Cowley chassis.
This was in 1923 and even as early as 1928 these cars were referred to by the company itself, in a booklet titled The Story of the M.G. Sports, as the first M.G. Sports Cars.
However, these were all badged as Morris Garages specials, but the first car advertised specifically under the M.G. name was the unsuccessful vee-front saloon in March 1924. Advertisements for the MG Super Sports model followed in the same month.
The following year Kimber had a special one-off car built by two Morris Garages employees, Frank Stevens and Charlie Martin, specifically to enter the Land’s End Trial. Kimber easily won a gold medal on the trial, which provided invaluable advertising for the fledgling car maker.
Kimber sold the car, registered FC 7900, to a mate, but in 1932 reacquired the car for publicity purposes. From then on, it was always known as Old Number One – not for being the first MG, but for being the first proper competition MG.
But details blurred with the mists of time and many people have since considered Old Number One to be the first MG.
Fast-forward 50 years and the powers-that-be at MG decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the marque in style, with special badges on every car built in 1975 and a special commemorative limited edition model.
As Wilson McComb revealed in his tome MG by McComb; “In doing so, British Leyland were, of course, at least one year late, if not two…the BL publicity department had unfortunately fallen for the ancient canard that Kimber’s 1925 Land’s End car was M.G. Number One, and there were one or two bad cases of ruffled dignity when the error was pointed out. The only defence was to go on insisting that FC 7900 was the first M.G., despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary (astonishingly, there are some who maintain it to this day, for one motive or another).”
McComb blamed himself for part of this error, having made the same mistake himself some sixteen years earlier when he wrote in the MG in-house magazine Safety Fast; “two things I then believed to be true: that the car should be dated 1925 instead of 1923 (as it then was); and that it could, nevertheless, be regarded as the first M.G.”
“The first belief was correct”, he wrote in his later book. “Subsequent research, and the documentary evidence it revealed, led me to revise my second belief, for a historian who refuses to change his mind in the face of new evidence is no historian. It is, though, ironical that my own researches should be quoted in an attempt to disprove the incontestable result of my later research!”
The cogs of big business may often take time to get turning, but are equally difficult to stop once in motion. Having made the decision to celebrate the anniversary in 1975 and release a special edition of the MGB, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, and costly to cancel the project.
David Knowles explains in his book MG V8; “largely for sales and marketing purposes, 1975 was decreed as MG’s ‘Golden Anniversary’ and so a major advertising push was coupled with a handful of cheap and cheerful changes to the model ranges…”
So it was that the octagon badges on the grille and boot of most, if not all, MGs built in 1975 were produced in gold and black, rather than the usual chrome and black or chrome and red. On the GT, where the BGT badge on the tailgate had metallic blue lettering on a chrome background, this became black lettering, but still on a chrome background.
The embossed MG octagon on the plastic steering wheel centre boss changed from a red to a gold painted background – though on the black plastic, especially many years down the track, it looks more a “creamy beige”, as Knowles put it.
Some cars also received a dash emblem with the MG octagon surrounded by laurel wreath, with 1925 above and 1975 below the octagon. However, it appears these were not universally or consistently fitted and may have been a dealer-fitted extra.
The Jubilee model
The centrepiece of the 50th anniversary celebrations was a special limited-edition model of the MGB GT, known as the Jubilee, or sometimes the Anniversary, model.
As an aside, this was not the first limited edition MGB built. Back in 1967, to celebrate a year since the release of the MGB GT in the US, a run of 1,000 First Anniversary MGB GT Special cars were built, solely for the US market.
Initially 750 Jubilee cars were to be built, this time solely for the UK market, but when one was destroyed during filming for a television commercial, an additional car was built. All of these were the standard 1798cc four-cylinder version of the MGB GT.
The cars were not built in a single batch and as a result their chassis numbers are not sequential, but fall within the production numbers GHD5 374858 G to GHD5 379588 G, according to Anders Ditlev Clausager in Original MGB. This is a spread of 4,730, but Clausager says only 4,274 of 1975 models were built, between late 1974 and 1975.
Colin Goodey from the MGB Jubilee and LE Owners Club (or JULE) in the UK – www.mgbjubilee.com – explained it in more detail. “The chassis numbers in Clausager's book are correct. I have seen the same Archives he used and can confirm. The first car was built on 9/4/75 and the 750th car was built on 11/6/75 then there was a gap until 2/7/75 when the extra one was built to replace the one damaged making the advert. On a side issue the damaged car was used as a mule/factory hack and at one stage was used as a prototype O series turbo model (approx 170 bhp), resprayed metallic BRG and given some special turbo stripes.”
According to Clausager, while not considered a Jubilee model, one North American spec MGB Roadster, painted Brooklands Green, also received the Jubilee stripes. Built in October 1975, it was billed as the one-millionth car built at Abingdon, was raffled off in 1976 in the USA, and apparently still exists.
There was also a one-off Jubilee MGB GT V8 (chassis number GD2D1 2605 G, on 21 June 1975) built for David Haddon, the managing director of the British School of Motoring, to be used as a high-speed test car.
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The BMC Experience Issue 20. Jan-Mar 2017 Magazine
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