MG proves that low-cost can also provide maximum-fun with MG3 racer
Demonstrating tremendous insight, highlights Iain Robertson, history-aware MG (Chinese-owned since 2005) has tackled several ‘problems’ in one fell swoop by introducing a low-cost route to circuit racing that is sure to become over-subscribed.
Emblazoning ‘95’ on the doors and bonnet of a racing car is significant for MG, which was first established as a brand by Cecil Kimber, in Oxford, in 1924…95 years ago. As a brand in its own right, it was owned by William Morris, until he merged his marques with Austin to form The British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1952. History shows that BMC went through a number of transformations, becoming a state-owned car company and returning to private hands in 2000, until its receivership in 2005, when it was sold to Chinese Nanjing Automobile Group, which merged with SAIC in 2008.
Becoming entranced by and desiring to compete in motor racing has been largely off-limits to a great many potential weekend racers. The largest stumbling-block is invariably one of costs, which can be runaway expensive. To contest the British Touring Car Championship (the nation’s most-watched TV motorsport) can cost well in excess of £1m, which demands a major sponsorship search in an already purse-string-tightened market.
Yet, without setting sights on out-of-this-world targets, MG is a brand possessing close links with the largest single marque car club in the world, the MG Car Club, which boasts over 50,000 members worldwide. Motorsport has been a core activity for the club, since it was formed intuitively by the Abingdon, Oxfordshire-based factory in 1930, both as a developmental, as well as enjoyment and entertainment medium.
John Thornley OBE formed the MGCC in conjunction with Cecil Kimber that year. The club was able to purchase the original office buildings many years later, having saved them from being demolished and turned into a commercial property site. Visitors are welcome (post-code: OX14 1AS) and there is always a small display of MG models and other aspects of automotive historical interest. Professionally managed, with its own magazine and regalia, it is a haven for MG enthusiasts worldwide.
The club (MGCC) is independent these days but is also renowned for being the only one that is licensed to organise and manage solely no less than six championships nationally (BCV8, Cockshoot Cup, MG Metro Cup, Midget & Sprite Challenge, MG Trophy and MG Cup) and two series (Iconic 50s Series and Triple M Challenge), from its Kimber House offices in Abingdon, just south of the City of Oxford. They are all well-subscribed, possess dedicated, enthusiastic and friendly members and try, wherever possible, to keep costs within sensible bounds. Race entry fees in the six event MGCC 2019 calendar range from £255 to £435, while drivers aged under-25 obtain a 50% discount.
SAIC has produced the MG3 hatchback since 2013 (revised last year). It is well-regarded for its comprehensive equipment list, affordable pricing and five years manufacturer’s warranty. SAIC also hosts a number of British and overseas student interns at its UK Technical Centre at Longbridge, Birmingham. In league with MGCC, SAIC tasked its interns with building a race-viable version of the MG3 at the commencement of last autumn’s intake. The company provided the base model and set a budget of £5,000 for the task.
Naturally, had the company attempted to produce its own factory-built racing version of the MG3, the costs would have been astronomical. Using interns for the project has not only saved SAIC a small fortune but has provided a practical engineering project that underscores the enthusiasm levels for the brand and has engaged totally with the team. Speaking with Joe Power (a most aptly-named, 22-year old Derby University student, studying motorsport engineering) over lunch, I discovered that the project succeeded in drawing together a small, relatively youthful international team that was keen to delve into vehicle engineering, dynamics, marketing and production techniques, as part of their educational course.
In just five months, the research, development and production of a racing hatchback has been completed, in time for the start of the 2019 race season (30th March, Silverstone). Stripping out the interior, fitting an interior roll-cage, racing seat, safety harness and 4.0-litre plumbed-in fire extinguisher system (regulation safety essentials), plus upgrading the brakes (EBC pads and Aeroquip lines), improving airflow (K&N filter) and suspension (GAZ coil-over type), fitting a less restrictive exhaust (Scorpion), repainting and liverying the car has all been achieved within the £5,000 budget. Nattering with interns Callum, Tristan and Emil, they were heavily involved in addressing the viability of the MG3 as a racing car, testing it and similar models at Bruntingthorpe Proving Grounds in late-autumn 2018.
Driving it at Castle Combe racing circuit (Wiltshire) proved that the interns’ efforts have been no less than successful. The car handles neutrally, shifts gears effortlessly, stops and steers perfectly and is immense fun to drive surprisingly quickly, even on its Dunlop Direzza road tyres. Its normally-aspirated, 1.5-litre petrol engine retains its catalytic converter but, thanks to freer breathing, develops a still modest but improved 110bhp. While Perspex windows are a possible modification, as is an entire range of fibreglass body panels, the team removed almost 200kgs of trim and other materials from the supplied car.
As part of the project, the interns have also created a 250pp ‘Build Book’, which details all of the modifications. The production of an SAIC-supplied build kit comes next, although it should be possible for enterprising potential competitors to acquire either an accident-damaged, or used, example of the MG3 for between £2,000 to £4,500 and apply their own modifications for a similar rate. At a time when contemplating a motorsports entry can fall into the realms of ‘unobtainium’, this project should not just be welcomed but should encourage enthusiasts to take that vital extra step. That it has provided a valuable motor industry educational project should also be applauded heartily.
Conclusion: If the racer in you wants to give it go, the MG3 provides the most cost-effective route available to achieving that aim and, if you want to know more, just contact the MGCC (firstname.lastname@example.org), which will be delighted to help you.