Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff

AN OCTAGONAL MOVIE STAR

TO CAR enthusiasts, the name MG conjures up an image of a classic two-seat English roadster. The MG TC was the sports car that American servicemen brought home after World War II. The one that a generation of kids sketched in their notebooks during study hall.

MG TC Roadster, the epitome of sports car to an entire generation of us. Image of this 1949 model from shannons.com.au.

By contrast, the 1930s MG SA had four doors and aspirations to compete with high-performance motor cars such as Lagonda and Jaguar. What’s more, this particular MG SA, one of only 90 with Charlesworth coachwork, became a Hollywood star.

1937 MG SA Tourer, Coachwork by Charlesworth. This and other images from Goodings & Company auction catalog, Scottsdale, Arizona, January 22, 2011.

The year 1935 was a pivotal one for MG. Established in 1924, the firm was William R. Morris’s personal property deriving its name from Morris Garages. It was on July 1, 1935, that he sold this sports car manufacturer to his holding company, Morris Motors Limited. Soon afterward, MG expanded its production to include SA saloons (we Yanks call them “sedans”).

The MG SA, built between 1936 and 1939, was a large motor car by Brit standards of the era, with a 123.0-in. wheelbase and a 193.0-in. overall length. By comparison, my 2012 Honda Crosstour’s respective dimensions are 110.1 and 195.8 in.

The MG SA saloon was bodied in-house at the firm’s Abingdon, Oxford, works. Drophead coupes were custom-bodied by Salmons & Sons in Newport Pagnell. Tourers carried Charlesworth coachwork. Charlesworth, located in Coventry, built custom bodies for other low-volume British automakers including Alvis, Armstrong Siddeley, Daimler, and Lea-Francis. Mass-market Hillmans and Singers also had Charlesworth bodywork.

The SA engine was a tuned version of the Wolseley Super Six’s.

The SA was powered by a Morris Motors corporate inline six-cylinder engine displacing 2288 cc and producing 78.5 hp at 4200 rpm. The engine had a particularly long-stroke tall design, and to maintain a low bonnet, er… hood, its two SU carburetors had their characteristic dashpots mounted horizontally.

Note the SU carbs’ horizontal alignment.

The SA’s four-speed manual gearbox had synchromesh, but only in its top two cogs. Drum brakes were actuated by Lockheed hydraulics; this, at a time when many cars still featured cable braking. (Henry Ford retained “the safety of steel, from pedal to wheel,” until 1939).

A luxury feature of the MG SA was its Jackall jacking system: This gizmo fed hydraulic fluid to jacks mounted on the car’s front and rear axles, thus raising and lowering front, rear, or both ends on demand. For more details of its operation, see the system described for a later MG Y application.

A proper motor car came with a proper toolkit.

Maintaining the SA’s sporting heritage, wire wheels were fitted. And reminding owners they had purchased an MG, the marque’s octagonal logo appeared on everything from the SA’s instrument panel to bonnet latches to door locks.

This particular MG SA got into the movies through Pacific Auto Rentals, a California company specializing in providing unusual cars to Hollywood studios. In 1940, it appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s drama Rebecca, starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and George Saunders.

A scene from Rebecca, 1940.

Coincidentally enough, last evening XMSirius “Radio Classics” ran the 1948 “Screen Guild Players” radio adaptation of Rebecca. The SA didn’t explicitly make the radio cut, but I imagined when it would have appeared.

A scene from Cluny Brown, 1946.

The SA also appeared in The Invisible Man’s Revenge, 1944, with Jon Hall; Love Letters, 1945, with Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotton (screenplay by Ayn Rand); Woman in Green, 1945, a Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes saga (of the most definitely non-Canonical sort); and Cluny Brown, 1946, with Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones (another of my “Radio Classics” favorites).

According to the Goodings & Company catalog for its 2011 Scottsdale auction, “In later years, it is thought that the son of a Pacific Auto Rentals company executive selected the SA from the collection to retain as his personal car.”

What a fortunate young man. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

2 comments on “AN OCTAGONAL MOVIE STAR

  1. Skip
    March 9, 2018

    Dennis thanks for making my day, and giving this great marque the spotlight. I’ve owned one for 30 years, at first because it was all I could afford, and now because I can’t imagine deriving more enjoyment from any other car. As classics today, they are held to a different standard than when new. I find their styling timeless and their mechanics inviting. When I was topping off the B with gas recently a kid walked up and said, “Wow. Nice car. What is it?” I said, “It’s an MG.” He said, “Yeah, but who makes it?”

    Safety fast….

  2. autoscribe1974
    July 27, 2018

    As a veteran R&T reader, I’m delighted to stumble your piece on this special SA. I had the great fortunate to profile this car’s restoration in Hemmings Motor News’s Special Interest Autos magazine, April 2003, when it belonged to Barry Briskman in Arizona. It’s been a dream car for me ever since.

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