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READERS WHO are into old sports cars may recall the MGA, this British roadster built from 1955 to 1962. Perhaps less familiar is an earlier MG, the 1951 Phillips MG Le Mans car. And even less familiar, there’s another earlier MG-based car that George Phillips also ran at Le Mans.
Here’s the tale, albeit with its chronology reversed. The 1955 MGA was noteworthy for updating traditional MG lines, essentially unchanged since the 1930s. The MGA’s sleek 1950s styling kept the company in business, with more than 101,000 produced between 1955 and 1962 in several versions, including Coupes and Twin Cams.
Though the MGA proved successful in export, the car was not particularly popular in its home market. Brit sales over its eight years totaled only 5869, less than Austin-Healeys or Triumphs, for example. (The MGA outsold Morgan, Dellow and the like, but that’s another thing entirely.)
It was in 1951 that English enthusiast George Phillips (sometimes appearing Philips) commissioned MG designer Syd Enever to create a streamlined body for his MG-based Le Mans car. If the car looks familiar to us, it’s because the 1951 Phillips MG was a styling precursor of the MGA.
Phillips chose a TD powertrain and chassis, MG’s latest at the time. However, narrowness of the TD’s ladder frame resulted in a shortcoming of appearance: Its driver sat overly tall atop the frame. When MG finally got around to adapting the design for production, a wider frame and different seat pan were part of the package, as were higher doors making for a less dramatic sweep of wings (fenders, to us Yanks).
Phillips and codriver Alan Rippon ran the car at the 1951 Le Mans, where they dropped out in their 80th lap of the 8.5-mile circuit. (The winning Jaguar C-Type completed 267 laps in its 24 hours.)
As a principal photographer for Autosport magazine, George Phillips combined his motorsports job with competing at Le Mans. Here, let’s revert to historic chronology, beginning in 1947. The MG TC was everyman’s idea of an English sports car, and Phillips owned one which he had rebodied as a sports racer.
He and his MG TC special raced at Goodwood Circuit in September 1948 and won its class. Then he took it to the first post-World War II running of Le Mans in 1949.
At the 1949 Le Mans, Phillips and his co-driver R.M. Dryden were doing fine until around half-distance. Then came disqualification for receiving “outside help.” The help in question was giving his mechanic a lift. Zut alors!
In 1950, he and the TC special returned to Le Mans. Indeed, with a channel crossing thrown in for good measure, he drove the car there and back.
In between the trip there and back, George and his co-driver Eric Winterbottom drove the TC special to 18th overall in the 1950 Le Mans. They completed 208 laps, finishing 2nd in class to a Jowett Jupiter, another Brit competitor that traveled only 12 laps more. The winning Talbot-Lago 4.5-liter completed 256 laps.
To conclude on a note of the future, a spiritual replica of the Phillips TC special has been fabricated, largely from period bits. It’s expected to appear at the Goodwood Revival, September 9 – 11, 2016. Details of this car, with a neat photo gallery, are given at the Goodwood Revival website. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015