In 1084, we are told, William the Conqueror celebrated Easter at Abingdon, a town situated where the river Ock, which drains the Vale of White Horse, joins the river Thames. Enthusiasts of motor sports couldn't care less. The thing that really matters about Abingdon, as they know, is that it is the home of the MG sports car, a perennial bestseller in the U.S. On the right, where just-built MGs are receiving final inspection, and on the following pages, the camera of the renowned French photographer Brassai shows the MG in its native habitat.
Writing of the appeal of early sports cars, the MG general manager, John W. Thornley, has said, "The motorcyclist knew the meaning of response to his controls, had experienced a surge of power when he opened the taps, had learned the importance of balance and of placing his wheels to a hair's breadth, [but] felt perhaps that to keep the girl friend on a bracket behind him was a bit of a waste."
In America, during the great revival of interest in sports cars since World War II, capped and jacketed MG owners have indeed thrilled, charmed or scared the daylights out of a generation of warmly adjacent girl friends. More important, the MG has become perhaps the best-known symbol of what a sports car is. Last year the tea-drinking artisans of Abingdon built 20,037 streamlined MGA models (each an outrage, by the way, to the conservative types who cherished the previous squarish MGs), of which a full 15,492 were shipped to America.
Mr. Thornley thinks this is jolly good.
"If we knew all the answers to why Americans buy MGs," he says, "we should be home and dry to the end of time. The real attraction undoubtedly is that once the driver sits in the seat and takes hold of the steering wheel, he feels that he is in complete control, that he can wring the car's neck if it doesn't behave. At all times an MG is stable and predictable; it gives notice of its intentions through the seat of the driver's pants."
The first MG, vintage 1923 (left), was a stripped-down and souped-up Morris Oxford with Hotchkiss engine, cycle fenders, racy lightweight body and a top speed of 80 mph—a far cry from the streamlined version in the inspection shed on the right.
Ducks watch from the pleasant bank in the foreground as an MG unhurriedly crosses the quiet Thames by antiquated ferry near Abingdon. As Photographer Brassai noted, the historic waterway is at this point une petite rivi√®re.
Finished cars are arrayed in bright patterns in the big export car park at Abingdon, awaiting shipment overseas. White MGs are in foreground; standard Austin-Healeys and Sprites, which share the Abingdon assembly line, are beyond.
Sleek MGs move toward completion on the assembly line at the Abingdon works. The crane overhead drops √† body shell onto a chassis every seven minutes. The line stops as the workers take 10-minute tea breaks at 10:20 and 4:20.