Ulster TT Magnette (NE type)

Ever since the dawn of motor racing car makers have carefully dissected the rules to get the most out of their machines within the regulations. And for just as long, organisers have changed the rules, ostensibly to “keep things fair” but often to simply prevent one team from dominating an event.

This has always gone on and competitors will always try to find, usually legal, ways within or around the rules to be more competitive. 

It’s not surprising when you consider that victory in a major event can have a big impact on sales – especially for a small concern trying to compete with the motoring giants.

In the 1920s and 1930s the most important road race in Britain was run by the Royal Auto Club, but because laws prevented racing on public roads in England it was held at Ards, in Ulster province, Northern Ireland. Known as the Tourist Trophy, or TT, it was originally for touring cars, hence the name, but from 1928 to 1936 when it ran at the 13.66-mile Ards circuit sports cars were allowed to enter. In order for touring cars to remain competitive, the TT was run as a handicap event.

Many cars built specifically to win the TT are revered by motor historians and collectors, especially if they achieved their goal.

The car on these pages is one such racing special. Although it didn’t actually win the TT, it was part of a three-car team that did and it has resided in Australia for over 70 years. 

Only officially recognised as its own brand in 1924, MG successfully promoted its products both for and through motorsport, and in 1931 won the TT with a supercharged C-type. A similar car was third outright and first in class the following year, and in 1933 they had one of their greatest wins with Tazio Nuvolari in a K3 leading A.P. ‘Hammy’ Hamilton in a J2 for first and second outright and first place in both classes.

All of these wins were with supercharged cars, but for 1934 the TT organisers decided that MG was gaining an unfair advantage with the blower and banned them from the race. Part of this decision was based on the fact that, apart from race cars, MG was one of the very few companies offering supercharged cars for sale to the public – a prerequisite for eligibility to the race.

MG, along with a few other competitors, were rejected in their appeal against the new rule, but by the time a decision was made it was only four months before the event.

So, MG had only from May to August – the race being on 1 September – to build an entirely new car that could be competitive.

The four-seater N-type Magnette was released in April 1934, a few weeks after the P-type Midget. MG boss Cecil Kimber ordered that seven chassis be taken from the production line to be converted into special racing cars specifically for the TT – this  would be known as the Ulster T.T. Magnette (N.E. type), usually simply referred to as the NE, and is one of the rarest model MGs built.

The cars’ chassis numbers were NA0516 through to NA0522 – full details of chassis and related engine numbers are in Richard Knudson’s book MG Competition Cars and Drivers. 

The 1271cc six-cylinder engine of the NA was improved with the compression ratio increased to 9.8:1 – requiring a tedious procedure to lap the head to match the block – a larger carburettor fitted and other minor changes, which lifted the maximum power available by 30%, to 74 bhp. While the K3 had used a pre-selector gearbox, the NE reverted to a manual change.

A narrow, aluminium, two-seater boat-tail body was quickly designed and built, with a large capacity, 18 gal (82lt), fuel tank inside the tail – a nod to aerodynamics which were only just becoming understood. The windscreen was apparently of a lightweight gauze material, rather than glass, and the rudimentary roof was the minimum design to meet the rules.

Although the rules stipulated that the cars must be listed for sale and run in normal trim, headlights were not required. Interestingly, no NE-types were sold to the public, but it may be assumed they were considered a development of the NA Magnette and were at least listed in the catalogue, as raced.

The first car was chassis NA0516, which   appears to have been used for testing and as a spare car. Three more cars (NA5017-5019) were completed by the end of June and were entered in the Light Car Club Relay at Brooklands, driven to third place outright by the ladies team of Irene Schwendler, Doreen Evans and Margaret Allen.

The final three cars were finished just in time for the TT. Having won the 1933 race, Nuvolari was invited to drive the lead car, NA0518, which was painted in Italian racing red in preparation. However, he was sponsored by Standard Oil but the MG team was sponsored by Castrol and had to use Castrol oil. 

Contrary to popular belief that Nuvolari simply asked too much payment for the drive, Knudson shows letters between Nuvolari and Cecil Kimber, the Managing Director of MG, explaining that Nuvolari and MG simply couldn’t overcome the sponsorship issue. Nuvolari reluctantly refused the offer so NA0518 was driven in the TT, still painted Italian red, by Bill Everitt.

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