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Lot 356: MG Midget TA 'Cream Cracker' Sports

The Oxford Sale, Bonhams (9 December 2013)

The latest Series T MG Midget... gives an unusually good performance for its engine size, handles in a distinctly better manner than the ordinary touring vehicle and possesses those touches in the tout ensemble that endear it to the owner with sporting tendencies.' The Autocar, 18th September 1936. The British have a penchant for applying nicknames to just about anything and everything, and in motor sport there is none more famous than 'Cream Crackers', which was given to one of the teams of works-supported MG Midgets contesting the popular trials events of the 1930s. Their cars were finished in the MG Car Company's brown and cream livery, hence the name. MG had been active in motor sports from the time of its foundation by Cecil Kimber in 1928, but following the Morris takeover in 1935 these activities were severely curtailed, much to the dismay of all at the Abingdon factory. Nevertheless, Kimber was permitted to indulge in some record-braking attempts and also to supply parts and technical assistance to customers intent on racing their MGs. Circuit-racing opportunities were relatively few in the inter-war years; indeed, until Donington Park opened in 1932 the UK had only one permanent track: Brooklands. Off-road events, on the other hand, were much easier to organise and required less-specialised machinery. These trials (or 'mud-plugging') events, which usually involved attempting to climb the steepest and most challenging hill in the area, were immensely popular and attracted works-supported entries from the likes of Singer Triumph, Riley and, of course, MG. Teams frequently adopted jocular names, the Cream Crackers' principal MG rivals being 'The Three Musketeers', while in Scotland Abingdon's representatives were 'The Highlanders' and 'The Blue Bustards'. Drivers Maurice Toulmin, R A Macdermid and Jack Bostock had formed the Cream Crackers in 1934, campaigning the P-type Midget throughout that season and on into 1935, proving virtually unbeatable. For 1936 the team was supplied with supercharged PB Midgets, which were driven by Toulmin, J E S Jones and Ken Crawford. The Cream Crackers' domination continued, much to the resentment of the genuinely private entries. At the season's end the team switched to the new overhead-valve TA Midget, the overhead-camshaft P-type having been dropped. The three cars were registered 'ABL 960', 'ABL 962' and 'ABL 964'. To avoid accusations of being 'works' entries, they were sold to their respective drivers on the understanding that MG would buy them back at an agreed price at the end of the year. Successor to the PB Midget, the TA Midget was an altogether larger and roomier car. Longer in the wheelbase at 94", the simple chassis followed established Midget practice with semi-elliptic springing all round, though the use of hydraulic dampers at the front and the adoption of Lockheed hydraulic brakes were new departures. Although styled in a manner MG enthusiasts had come to expect, the new two-seater broke with tradition by employing an overhead-valve engine instead of the previous overhead-camshaft type. The TA was introduced after Morris Motor's take-over of MG and used the 10hp 1,292cc four-cylinder Wolseley engine, itself derived from that of the Morris Ten, which produced around 50bhp at 4,500rpm. Though MG purists complained about the adoption of a pushrod engine and synchromesh gearbox, the TA was faster than the PB, having a top speed of 80mph (with the folding windscreen lowered) and its total production of 3,003 was 19% more than that of the P-Series. For trials purposes the Cream Cracker TA Midgets were given an aluminium bonnet and body panels, cycle wings and knobbly tyres, while the two spare wheels mounted on the boot were principally there as an aid to traction. Compressed air cylinders were carried to inflate the tyres for road use between the trials stages. Otherwise, the cars were left standard apart from increased ground clearance, up-rated shock absorbers and a steel sump. Unlike William Morris (by now Lord Nuffield), Cecil Kimber was a firm believer in the adage 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday', and there can be little doubt that the TA Midget's healthy sales resulted at least in part from the successes of the Cream Crackers, which were widely reported in the motoring press. A letter on file, written by marque authority F Wilson McComb (author of 'MG by McComb') to this car's late owner, Norman McKee, states that it 'was the one driven by Crawford, and it would take a very long letter to list all the successes that it achieved, finishing up with the MCC 1937 Team Championship. Look up the report of any trial during 1937 and you will almost certainly find Crawford winning an award with your car.' For 1938 the Midgets were fitted with bored out VA engines and duly took the Team Championship once again. Sadly for the Cream Crackers, 1938 would be their last year of competition as Maurice Toulmin got married in January 1939 and the team was disbanded. 'ABL 962' had been returned to the MG factory and subsequently passed to Harry Roberts, who gained awards with it in the 1938 and '39 Lands End and Edinburgh trials. He kept the car until 1947. During the 1950s the Midget was used for speed events and was raced at Brand Hatch. The car was subsequently owned by cartoonist Ralph Steadman from whom it was purchased in 1962 by Norman McKee. Steadman had blown up the engine, which had to be rebuilt around a new cylinder block. Already an established trials competitor, Norman continued to campaign the MG enthusiastically, winning ten awards in the Exeter and Lands End trials and two in the Edinburgh. He also used it for auto-cross, hill climbs, rallies and auto-tests. 'ABL 962' was re-upholstered and rewired in the early/mid-1990s but otherwise is described as un-restored. The car has not seen active use since approximately 1998 due to the Norman's ill health, though it has been regularly started and maintained. It will have been serviced and MoT'd by time of sale. Accompanying documentation consists of the aforementioned correspondence, old-style logbook, Swansea V5 registration document and various copy magazine articles about the MG trials cars. Offered for sale by the McKee family, 'ABL 962' represents a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire one of the most historically important cars in the history of MG.

Lot Details
Auction The Oxford Sale
Bonhams, Oxford, Woodstock, UK
TypeCar
Lot Number356
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£50000
Hammer Price (inc premium)£57500
Year1936
Condition rating2
Registration numberABL 962
Mileage-
Chassis number932
Engine numberMPJG 1177
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors2