It’s a mug’s game trying to divine which is the most iconic marque in the history of the automobile, but for sake of argument, I’d venture it’s the MG, the classic little British sports car celebrating its 90th anniversary at MG90, a massive event on June 21-22 at Silverstone, the Northamptonshire home of British motor racing. But the big British event isn’t the only shindig honouring what’s sometimes affectionately referred to as the poor man’s sports car.
MG aficionados will gather in Indianapolis June 15-21 for the 2014 North American MGB convention – and 12 of the 350 cars will be from the MG Car Club of Toronto, which holds the dual distinction of being the oldest MG club in Canada and one of the oldest continuously run MG clubs outside Britain. So what better place to plumb the depths of why this storied little sports car entrances tens of thousands of sports car nuts around the globe? And who better to be our guide at exploring all things MG than John Burrows, a British expat and the club’s president?
Burrows has lived in Canada since the 1950s but the siren call of the MG has been impossible to resist. “I’d say that about 35 per cent of our members are originally from the U.K. and they differ from the Canadian members in that most of them didn’t go to college or university here.” Burrows believes “nostalgia,” and a hankering for one’s lost youth, is part of the appeal of the MG for many club members.
“I find that a common thread for many of them is that they had an MG 20 or 30 years ago, often when they were at college,” he says.
Most moved on to other car makes while raising a family and pursuing a career, and then, in mid-life, an epiphany of sorts occurs: “You know what, I want to drive an MG again,” Burrows says.
Perhaps this explains the mean age of club members, which Burrows puts at 55, give or take a year. “We’re not getting a lot of younger members. If a 25-year-old wants a sports car, they’ll get something a lot fancier like a Mustang.”
Part of the appeal is that the MG is not a big-ticket indulgence. “It’s not an expensive car to buy or maintain,” says Burrows.
And that is an integral part of the MG tradition. When it was launched 60 years ago, the MGB retailed in Britain for $3,000, about the same as a Chrysler Valiant. “It was not a luxury car, never has been,” says Burrows.
The marque’s consumer-friendly price point remains one of its selling features. “If you want a ‘driver’ (an MGB that is road-worthy and mechanically sound) you’ll likely pay anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000,” says Burrows. “It may not win prizes in car shows but it’ll be in good shape and totally driveable. Some people have ones for $25,000, which have had a complete nut-to-bolt restoration, but they’re ‘show cars.’ They go to auto conventions on the back of a trailer.”
The other defining characteristic of the MG is its vintage status. Although the marque is 90 years old, no new MG has rolled off an assembly line since the company shuttered its famed Abingdon factory in 1980.
That’s not precisely the case, says Burrows. “Between 1995 and 2004, cars known as an MG F, and an MG TF, were made in the U.K. and were recognized in something called the ‘Post-Abingdon’ register.”
Is that splitting hairs? Maybe. For purists, the marque died in 1980. However, vintage MGs are alive and well and living in all corners of the planet, with attendant MG clubs for their proud owners.
So what happens at such clubs? What’s their purpose?
“In its early days, the club was more involved with competitive races, rallies, hill climbs and some clubs, like one in Kingston, still do that,” says Burrows. But with its 60th anniversary looming next year, the MG Car Club of Toronto has evolved into more of a social organization, as well as a forum for owners to share information and expertise.
“Last weekend, a convoy of about 30 MGs and 30 Triumphs went on a two-day run up to a resort in Orillia and back – that’s the kind of thing we do,” says Burrows.
Trading expertise can pay dividends for owners of cars whose minimum age would be 34-plus years old.
“Last weekend, a member said to me, ‘I can’t accelerate properly; I think it’s the fuel pump,’ Burrows said. “And I said, ‘Before you do anything, check your flow chambers and the carburetor.’ He e-mailed me back, ‘You were quite right, one was set too low, and I was starving it of fuel.’ That likely saved him a bundle at the local service station.”
For Burrows, the vintage status of club members’ cars is an advantage. “The MG is a very simple motor car and even today you can buy everything you need to build a new one … I could buy a new body shell if I wanted to put the money into it. My car rarely goes to a service station because of its simplicity. I can do 99 per cent of the simple work myself.”
So why does the MG still resonate with car buffs? Why is it so inherently charismatic?
“It’s just a very sporty car,” says Burrows. “Always has been, always will be.”
Note: With this article, Drive begins a series of occasional stories on car clubs.
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