The Baby Magna
During the 1930s The MG Car Company Limited may have manufactured coupes and saloons, but it was best known for its small, open, two seater sports cars. Part of the fame can be attributed to success on the racetrack, and this was despite the fact that many of the cars that competed were also used as road cars too.
The list of drivers that have success in MG cars reads like a Who's Who of the titans of the era: such names as Sir Henry Birkin, Tazio Nuvolari, George Eyston, Whitney Straight, Richard Seaman, Earl Howe and a host of others found success driving MGs.
The K-type was the successor to its larger brother, the Magna. This was powered by a 1271 cc overhead camshaft six cylinder engine, a version of which had originally been used in the Wolseley Hornet, William Morris having bought the Wolseley company earlier. This engine was reduced to 1087 cc, by lowering it's stroke, so that it could compete in the International Class G, a very popular racing class at the time for cars under 1100 cc.
The new car, called the Magnette (ie little Magna) sported a cross flow cylinder head, with magneto ignition. This generated 48.5 brake horsepower. They were rearwheel drive and there was a choice of a four-speed, unsynchronised gearbox or a pre-selector one. In this type of gearbox the gear lever was used to preselect the next year to be used, and then a pedal control actually engaged it. This did away with the need for a clutch. There were two choices of chassis, one with a nine foot wheelbase and one of seven foot 10 inches.
Racing driver Earle Howe was very taken by the Magnette and he felt that adding a supercharger would make it far more competitive. He persuaded William Morris to create a purely racing car version, dubbed the K3. This utilised the shorter chassis and a supercharger was fitted which, together with a number of other improvements, boosted power up to a very impressive 120 brake horsepower. In the 1933 Mille Miglia race three of these cars were entered, and two of them came first and second respectively in their class. Also in 1933 Tazio Nuvulari drove one in the Ulster Tourist Trophy and wiped out all the opposition. The following year a K3 would probably have won the Le Mans 24 hour race had it not been forced to retire by an accident.
A total of 33 of these cars were manufactured, some for the use of the official race team and the rest for private owners. Although MG itself retired from motor racing in 1935, most of these private owners continued to race them until well into the post war period. As a result, sadly, most of them didn't survive; some of them were given new bodies, some different engines, and others were just wrecked. There are a number of replicas still around, based on the earlier models.