The MG Century: 100 Years—Safety Fast!

by David Knowles

“If there is one thing that this concluding story tells us it is that MG is not only back in a big way, but there seems little sign of the progress stalling any time soon. In July 2022, SAIC proclaimed its one-millionth export MG. If one adds this figure to previous milestones, stretching right back to 1923, then the number of MGs built by the time that the marque gained its century was in excess of 4.5 million.”

That statement starts the final chapter of another excellent book by a British writer who is the go-to expert in matters MG, and the history leading up to that scenario will surprise all those casual US motoring enthusiasts whose awareness of MG as a living marque ends with the MGB exciting the US market and UK production stopping altogether in 1980. All the more pleasing to note that the publisher is American powerhouse Motorbooks. Not least, for the buyer that means a book with high production values and easy on the wallet. Check, and check.

How’s this for a bold layout? But, we’re setting you up here . . . that is the photo used in the press release. The printed book, below, had its typography, color, and image area tweaked.

The book came out just ahead of the centenary exhibition at the Abingdon Museum (April 6–June 30) and if you can’t get thee bodily to Abingdon-on-Thames, the historic home of the marque, the book is a fine stand-in. For the serious student of the marque it is in fact better because Knowles, as is his wont, not only adds a few corrections to the established body of knowledge but calls them out specifically and with attribution—and, if applicable, discussion as to the reasons they had been recorded differently before—rather than simply burying them in the narrative (as too many writers do) which makes it hard even for knowledgeable readers to realize exactly where they need to unlearn something. Knowles, it has to be appreciated, has been writing about the marque for three decades (his first book came out exactly 30 years ago, 1994, MG V8 Twenty-one Years on from Introduction to RV8) which means he’s had access to primary sources, many of whom quoted at length in the book. Moreover, he is deeply entrenched in the club world and as a long-time MGB owner himself has an organic, “lived” relationship with the marque.

The octagonal badge with its angled lines look like it was done on grid paper by someone with a ruler. Well, it was—by an accountant.

Stacks of books have been written about the marque; Knowles alone has 15 MG-centered books to his name, plus countless articles in specialist magazines. As a Chartered Civil Engineer by trade he is not only used to looking at the technical side of complex problems but also their commercial dimension—and automobile manufacture definitely ticks those boxes.

It is no exaggeration to say the book is impressive in reining in a subject that spans many years, many people, many models, and many corporate permutations. If this is your introduction to MG, you can hardly do better. If you are an old hand you are bound to pick up new detail, see above, that will require a recalibration of what you knew (cf. William Morris’ attitude towards motorsports). Knowles has always said about his MO that he likes to dig deep into new and original material as well as try to delight and surprise the reader.

The timeline of the MGB design is always good for an argument (who raised the windshield and roofline, when, why); Knowles sorts it out.

After sorting out the founders’ origin story (also the badge design’s which is a subject that still sparks controversy) the book delves into the societal factors that influenced Morris Garages to pick their particular segment of the market and the early pivot to cultivate a sporting image. The subsequent history is presented more or less by decade, which, by default, means the arc from the 1920s to 1980 appears more organic and cohesive than the modern-era Rover/BMW/SAIC phases of ownership in which the cast of characters revolves more quickly and the corporate strategies are disjointed (which, no surprise, is why there have been so many changes in ownership in the first place).

Ideas by Rover/BMW.

Motorsports activities, especially the early record attempts, are covered with all the fanfare they deserve.

Printed on substantial paper, the book is smartly designed and laid out, its many and varied images suitably placed and well reproduced. There is a thorough Index that includes even peripheral matters that occur only a single time in the text but have a bearing on the story (an example for US readers: what do “Collier, Miles, 89” and “Collier, Sam, 89” have to do with MG?). There is, too, a smattering of low-impact typos.

More has been written about MG cars than MG people so it is with no small measure of anticipation that we look forward to Knowles’ next book, once slated for 2022 but still delayed, about the fellow who knocked on MG’s door as “a keen lad of 14” and “would go on to great things”—MG’s famous Chief Engineer Syd Enever.

The MG Century: 100 Years—Safety Fast!
by David Knowles
Motorbooks/Quarto, 2024
240 pages, b/w & color images, hardcover
List Price: $60 / £45
ISBN-13: 978-0760383155

  • Hi Sabu – thank you very much for your kind words about my book. For anybody desperate for a signed copy may I direct them to the MG Car Club offices in England. The Enever book is coming – it had to await some special input about Syd’s post-MG time at Jensen…

    Comment | David Knowles , April 28, 2024
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