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Auction details for the MG R Type

Detailing the racing history of the Doreen Evans MG R Type

From: H & H Auctioneers

MG R-Type Single Seater Racecar

Lot No: 45

Make: MG

Model: R-Type Single Seater Racecar

Year: 1935

Vehicle Registration: N/A

Chassis Number: 0255

Engine Number: N/A

CC: 750

Body Colour: Blue

Trim Colour: N/A

MOT Expiry: N/A

Estimate: £130000 - 150000

Details:  The design which the Elan chassis brings to mind is the R-Type MG of 1935, designed by H. N. Charles. The similarity of concept and execution between these two cars is so striking that one is tempted to conclude that Chapman took his inspiration for the Elan from the single-seater MG. The R-Type had a backbone steel frame of immense structural strength, and wishbone-type independent suspension front and rear, but used torsion bars rather than coil springs as on the Elan" (Car & Driver Magazine, February 1964).

Last of the Abingdon marque's pre-WW2 racing cars, the R-Type was unveiled on 25th April 1935. Beautifully wrought, its revolutionary chassis boasted such advanced features as selective dampers and finned drum brakes. Powered by a supercharged 747cc OHC four-cylinder engine mated to four-speed ENV pre-selector transmission, the racer was credited with an incredible 113bhp @ 7,200rpm (151bhp per litre). Clad in lightweight aluminium bodywork, it looked every inch the miniature Grand Prix car. In keeping with MG's contemporary competition policy of backing selected privateers rather than fielding its own 'Works' team, the ten R-Types produced were sold to hand-picked customers at a bargain price of £750. Among the lucky few were Sir Malcolm Campbell, George Eyston and the Evans family whose 'Bellevue Garage' had previously done so much to enhance the Octagon badge's sporting reputation.

Shared between siblings Kenneth and Doreen Evans, it was the latter who gave chassis 0255 its track debut by competing in the JCC International Trophy Race at Brooklands on 6th May 1935. Showing a maturity beyond her nineteen years, she finished seventh overall and second in class behind a similarly-mounted Sir Malcolm Campbell after three gruelling hours of racing (her average speed of 80.63mph was only some 6mph slower than that posted by winner Luis Fontes aboard his Alfa Romeo 8C-2300). Adapting quickly to the MG, she used it to set a new Ladies Record of 45.4 seconds at Shelsley Walsh hillclimb on 18th May 1935 before relinquishing control to her brother.

Piloted by Kenneth Evans for most of the summer, 0255 made its next appearance at Brooklands for the Empire Trophy on 6th July 1935. One of five R-Types running in the event, it succumbed to mechanical failure after seventy-three laps but not before it had diced with the likes of Pat Fairfield's victorious ERA or Donald Letts' third-placed MG K3 Magnette. Thanks to the efforts of Bellevue's tuning maestro Walter 'Wilkie' Wilkinson (later to find fame with Ecurie Ecosse) the distinctive Cambridge Blue-liveried R-Type was fighting fit by the time it arrived at Donington Park for the Nuffield Trophy just seven days later. Lining-up against such famous names as Eddie Hall, Dick Seaman, Lindsay Eccles and Reg Parnell, Kenneth Evans managed a highly impressive sixth overall behind Freddie Dixon's 1500cc Riley after 2 hours, 36 minutes and 4 seconds of frantic effort.

Suitably emboldened, car and driver made the journey to Pescara, Italy for the Coppa Acerbo Junior race on August 15th 1935. Retiring on lap one, they fared considerably better ten days later at the Prix de Bern in Bremgarten, Switzerland where they crossed the line eleventh overall having gone wheel to wheel with several ERAs and Maserati 4CSs (indeed Evans had the satisfaction of beating Hermann zu Leiningen's ERA). Back on home soil once more and driven by Doreen Evans, 0255 put up a convincing performance during the 21st September 1935 BRDC 500 Mile race at Brooklands. Though she was to retire with valve trouble, a succession of unerringly constant 107mph laps left more than a few eyebrows raised.

Returning to the legendary Weybridge circuit on 14th March 1936, she finished an excellent third in the BARC Second Mountain Handicap behind Douglas Briault's Alta 1100 and Aubrey Ashton-Rigby's MG K3 Magnette. Despite completing ninety-one laps of Donington Park aboard 0255, Kenneth Evans was timed out at the end of the 4th April 1936 Empire Trophy race (though, he 'finished' sixth overall behind four ERAs and a Maserati 6CM). Entered for the JCC International Trophy Race on 2nd May 1936, the MG disgraced itself by catching fire at roughly half distance forcing Doreen Evans to make a hurried exit (moments before it backed across the track and into a barrier). Thankfully, neither driver nor car was seriously injured and the R-Type was back in action for the Nuffield Trophy at Donington Park on 4th July 1936 (albeit that Kenneth Evans was at the helm). Lasting but a single lap, it was duly recovered to Bellevue Garage. Prepared for sale amid news of Doreen Evans engagement and imminent emigration to California, it attracted the attention of well-known South African racer Roy Hesketh.

It was in Hesketh's ownership that 0255 would undertake perhaps the two most amazing races of its career. Entered for both the Third South African Grand Prix on 1st January 1937 and the First Grosvenor Grand Prix on 16th January 1937, it came radiator grille to radiator grille with the awesome Auto Union C-Types of Bernd Rosemeyer and Ernst Von Delius (whose team had been lured over to Africa by entrepreneurial race organiser Brud Bishop in an attempt to boost DKW sales). With both Grand Prix being run to handicap formulas, 0255 was sandwiched between a Bugatti Type 35 and a Ford V8 Special for the first event, while notable entries included Dick Seaman (Delage 15 S8), Earl Howe (Bugatti Type 59), Hans Ruesch (Alfa-Romeo 8C-35), Piero Taruffi (Maserati 8CM) and Pat Fairfield (ERA R4A). Dropping out after just five laps of the 11 mile 57 yard course with supercharger failure, Hesketh could only watch as Herbert Case's markedly slower Ford V8 Special crossed the line in eighth place. Unfortunately, the MG faired little better at Grosvenor Park. Setting off behind M.E. Bothner's Bugatti Type 35B but in front of Mrs Kay Petre's Riley (the White Riley?), it fell victim to a chronic misfire on the eleventh lap and again could do little but look on as the ERAs of Howe (R8B) and Fairfield (R4A) were devoured by the hard-charging 'Silver Bullets' (Rosemeyer setting lap records of 114.89mph and 83.73mph respectively over the two courses).

Mechanical woes apart, 0255 proved to be an inspired purchase given the rough nature of many South African circuits. Speaking in a magazine interview years later, Kenneth Evans recalled how it had ironed out all but the worst bumps at Brooklands (where drivers often wore a body belt to keep them in the car) and that its handling was a fantastic improvement at the time. Reputedly notching up a string of wins and podium places between 1937 and 1939 when Hesketh signed up for the Air Force (sadly never to return), the R-Type also competed in such prestigious events as the Rand Grand Prix and Coronation 100. Sold off in 1948, it endured years of neglect and abuse before being rescued from a Bullawayo scrapyard by Clive Puzy on behalf of Ralph Clarke in 1963. Refurbished over a twenty year period incorporating as many original R-Type parts as possible, 0255 remained in Clarke's custody until 2000 when the vendor acquired it from our July 2000 Buxton auction.

Since then, it has undergone an extensive mechanical rebuild in an attempt to bring it up to present day historic class racing standards (the total expenditure is estimated at £30,000). Supplied and assembled by Mike Dowley of Sports & Vintage Ltd (Shrewsbury), its replacement 750cc engine apparently boasts a new block, Cosworth pistons, steel crankshaft / con-rods, R-Type oil pump gears and a special cylinder head (as worn by an R-Type in period). Entrusted with the car's ENV 75 gearbox, specialist Bill Morris duly restored it to R-Type specification (a task which involved sourcing the correct ratios and a magnesium sump). Upgraded with a bevel-cut crown wheel and pinion (replacing the correct type but unmatched straight-cut R-Type equivalents that had previously lived in the differential), the MG also received a new casing for its overhauled Zoller supercharger courtesy of Tom Dark. Interestingly, Zollers were notorious for wearing out their casings in the 1930s, some competitors reporting a drop in boost pressure from 25 / 27psi to around 10 / 15psi by the end of a 500 mile race (indeed Reg Jackson is supposed to have cited the service time they took up as one of the reasons that the MG factory withdrew from racing). Other modifications aimed at enhancing usability / reliability comprised the fitting of a hand-operated hydraulic clutch (intended to prolong gearbox band life during racing starts), lighter radiator and quick release steering wheel. Riding on a fresh set of seventy-two spoke racing wheels shod with Englebert tyres, 0255 has yet to see any competitive use in its rejuvenated form. As such, the vendor suggests that "final settings should be carried out on a rolling road with a suitable operator". Variously describing the car as being in good (paintwork), good + (bodywork), good-to-excellent (chassis) or excellent (engine, gearbox, electrical equipment, wheels / tyres) condition, he further informs us that the MG comes with a quantity of spares: original numbered cockpit floorpan panels, original brass radiator, fishtail pipes (2), in-line stepped silencer boxes (2), rear straight through exhaust pipe section (for VSCC events etc), original R-Type steering wheel, original R-Type induction manifold, sundry transmission / gearbox spares, used straight cut crown wheel / pinion, methanol carburettor needles and a quick-lift jack for warming up the engine / gearbox etc.

Though, the lack of factory development meant that it never quite lived up to its potential, the MG R-Type was in many ways every bit as advanced as its full-scale contemporaries from the likes of Alfa Romeo, Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union. Offered for sale with current Vintage Sports Car Club buff form and large paperwork file this enormously historic MG promises access to a host of prestigious events worldwide.

Please Note: The above account of 0255's history is by no means definitive and we would ask potential purchasers to satisfy themselves as to its provenance (for example the race results listed above have been drawn from a variety of different sources some of which may prove more accurate than others).

Note: This 1935 MG R-type sold for $243,822 at the H&H Classic Auctions’ Cheltenham Auction, February 21, 2006.

 

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