Guilty pleasures: MG 1100/1300

| 9 Oct 2020
Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: MG 1100/1300

One of my early recollections, aged about five or six, is of my dad coming home from a car auction with a shiny, two-tone black-and-cream MG 1100 saloon, probably bought for my mother, although she had not yet passed her driving test in those days.

The MG was not around for long: when, the next day, I asked where it had gone, Dad mumbled something about it being 'rusty underneath' and it was never mentioned again.

Reel forward a dozen or more years and my pal Adam proudly appeared outside our house in his first car: a pale-blue, two-door MG 1300 which, like most of his early transport, had been rescued from a local scrapyard his dad, George, was friendly with, having been brought in as an MoT failure.

It was faded but tidy enough and I vaguely approved of it although, as usual, I had my mind focused on hopeless rusty BMWs and Lancias, and had yet to capture my first working road car, an S-type Jag.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: MG 1100/1300

However, the point was that one of us had an actual vehicle that worked.

I remember Adam extracting the advertised 100mph out of it on the local section of motorway, and looking worried when the heavy ‘breathing’ of the twin-carb A-series lump caused the oil-filler cap to pressurise and blow off with sticky, messy consequences for his engine bay.

There was much worse to come.

Bored, we’d got into the habit of taking lengthy drives out on the A57 up the Snake Pass. To me it had the feel of a romantic drivers’ road, like the ones motoring journalists talked about in ‘adventure’ pieces on Italian exotica.

By now, I had use of a Vauxhall Astra 1600 estate thanks to my job, so we would hit the road together, Adam taking the lead simply because the Astra was so much quicker than the MG and I tended to leave him behind otherwise.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: MG 1100/1300

It was a balmy summer evening, post tea time.

On a downhill stretch of the Snake Pass, heading for Buxton, I watched in horror as the MG advanced on a VW Golf with no sign of brake lights or slowing.

Rather than colliding with the VW, Adam veered left and hit a short wooden stake on the verge, causing his MG to invert itself.

It had only just stopped spinning on its roof when I pulled up and helped him stagger out, shaken but without a scratch.

The cause was failure of the master cylinder on the single-line brake system; when the fluid gets past the rubber seal your stopping power disappears. The same thing happened to me a couple of years later in my S-type, albeit with less dramatic results.

As for the MG 1300, that unlucky car found itself back in the scrapyard from which at least half a dozen more budget runabouts were procured for Adam: a Fiat 850 Coupé, Rover 2200 and a Honda Civic spring to mind.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: MG 1100/1300

This was the mid ’80s. My gran had quite a tidy 1100 estate and my pal Dave Todd’s dad had a lurid orange 1300GT, but nobody was talking about MG’s 1100s and 1300s as ‘classics’.

Usurped in the family-car popularity stakes during the ’70s by the bigger, brasher Ford Cortina, they were already few and far between on the roads with a savage rate of attrition due to rust. Indeed, when Adam’s MG was rotating on its roof I spotted plenty of it, rather suggesting his MoT man must have had a guide dog and a white stick.

It was a cute little car, though, and I recall it as being comfortable on its Hydrolastic suspension, quite quick (being the MkII version of the 1300 with twin SUs, good for 70bhp), with safe, agile front-wheel-drive handling.