The Mighty MG Magnettes of '33
The Cars, The Drivers, The Mystery
Review by Sabu Advani, speedreaders.com, 2014
“Sources are contradictory, particularly when it comes to
which car raced where and when. The various theories based on the available
evidence are examined in the text and wherever possible the proponents of the
theories are cited. Some researchers, however, preferred that their name was
not attached to their ides. This has been respected.”
Hmm, people who know stuff but don’t want to go on record.
Just how incendiary a story is this??
Just to get, and hold, the attention of non-MG folk let’s
dispense with some preliminaries so as to establish this book’s relevance for
anyone dealing with universal questions regarding the authentication of
important automobiles. This is becoming an ever more pressing issue, especially
in regards to race cars whose value is in large measure affected by their
competition history. Almost 2/5th of this book examine in detail the forensic
challenges attached to one particularly important MG K3, chassis K3003, that
may or may not have a clone (possibly sold that way by the company itself, no
less!) and that has kept the cognoscenti on their toes: “For 50 years, the
story of this car’s history has been debated in MG circles; or perhaps, more
correctly, this MG debate has gone around in circles.” Fifty years is a
long time, and even after this supremely thorough book, a definitive resolution
remains elusive—as elusive as the actual, physical mystery car or, for that
matter, the existence of its driver during the period in question—although
author Cocks makes a good case for one particular reading of the facts.
The five Mighty Magnette team cars on which this truly
mighty book focuses were the first batch of a total of 33 six-cylinder
supercharged competition cars produced 1933/34. It takes some effort to think
MG as “the
largest and most progressive motor
the time” especially in view of the fact that it was ERA who quickly
assumed the mantle of dominant contender in the small-displacement class in
which MG’s now legendary 1100 cc K cars swept the leader board for the first
few months of 1933, beating even
their home turf, the
(with big-time drivers Earl
Tim Birkin, George Eyston, Count Lurani, Bernard Rubin and Hugh Hamilton
elbowing each other on the podium) before Tazio Nuvolari took a K3 to victory
at the Ulster Tourist Trials. All these folk and others, along with designers
and mechanics are profiled here.
Of the two prototypes and three team cars discussed, four
survive (their stories traced here to the current day) but none of the people
who once built and drove them do. This makes writing a definitive historical
book all the harder, especially as Cocks is committed to do some major
housekeeping in the
and exorcise the kinds of sloppy mistakes that stem from one author mindlessly
parroting another by regurgitating secondary sources instead of going back to
primary, original sources. Cocks has done this, as he has before in
of his, consulting race reports, period publications, and a host of marque and
restoration experts in Europe, North America, and Australia. While this does
make the world a better place, the reader who will struggle the most with the
nuanced new bits is the one who already has internalized the MG canon and now
has to spot in the new text those crucial bits that need to be unlearned.
The book is very well written and organized. An accomplished
Australian motoring historian, Cocks presides over his own publishing house and
has the skills and resources to produce high-level, all-round impressive work.
Among the hundreds of illustrations are a few colored photos from the 1930s,
very much a rarity. Period and modern-day photos of the cars are augmented by
technical drawings, fine art, and assorted ephemera. All are splendidly reproduced
and printed on substantial paper held together by properly sturdy cover boards,
and the book is nicely designed and typeset with only few, minor typos.
To return once more to K3003: owned since 1984 by Australian
collector Peter Briggs who commissioned this research, the car has been taken
to bare metal twice during his custody and the process documented
photographically. The forensic efforts, though, predate Briggs, involving at
one point even Scotland Yard experts. Appended are several thoughtful treatises
provenance, the practical and philosophical implications of keeping a racecar
original as it is being repaired/rebuilt repeatedly, and the sleuthing a
seller, buyer, restorer or auctioneer has to engage in to establish with
certainty what they have in hand. Other Appendices deal with K3003 specifics
pertaining to ownership and restoration as well as race results. Alas, no
unlikely event that none of the above rings your bell but you are a well-read
of that period, know that the book offers a few new insights into Tim Birkin
and Australian driver Bernard Rubin.
Also available in a premium leather-bound, slipcased edition
limited to 150 numbered copies at $450/£295.
Copyright 2014, Sabu Advani (speedreaders.info).