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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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