I recently was shown a copy of The MG Salesman’s Manual dated December 1938.
Yes, even then the publicity department at either Cowley or Abingdon was on the ball providing excellent sales material to their dealers. The book was intended for the exclusive use of the salesman was never intended to be seen by the general public. It contains a host of interesting information on the options available for all the current MG vehicles, which were: MG 1.5 Liter Open Four Seater..MG 1.5 Liter Four Door Saloon...MG 1.5 Liter Folding Head Foursome. (Looks like a Tickford). Then a repeat of these vehicles in a Two Liter, (Six Cylinder), Version. There is also a 2.6 Liter mentioned but no information on body style etc.
All the MG Two Liter cars feature the unique “Jackall” control. This is a built in device that operates a semi-automatic jacking system for use when the car has a flat tire
There is also a lot of technical data on each car that I suspect was required reading but not very useful when it came to clinching a sale . What is certainly interesting is that the salesman had a total of forty items that could be purchased from MG all fitted at the factory of course for a modest fee. This is a substantial list but I will mention a few extras that certainly caught my eye and indicated that what some people call after market are in fact direct MG equipment.
Bonnet Straps..Dipping Headlights..Fog Lamps..Hood Cover..Inspection Lamp..Reversing Lamp..Second Spare Wheel..Traficators..Radiator Shield..Philco Radio..Wood Fascia Dash..Brooklands Steering Wheel.. Racing Wind Shield for the would be sports enthused also the useless Brooklands version which we often see fitted today on various T Type vehicles.
Now for the most interesting feature of the factory options: Color, you could have your car in what ever color you wanted for a few bucks more. On top of that metallic finish was also available but this was expensive compared with the normal finish. A metallic finish would cost around $36.00 based on the 1939 exchange rate of four US dollars to the British pound. Also the new owner could have a two tone finish but not in metallic, not quite sure why but a professional painter told me that it may have been because the cellulose paints of the day took a long time to dry which would make a two tone finish difficult. The term “Chosen by the Owner’, was featured with all the color options so much for all this talk about original factory colors from the arm chair experts who have read two books on the MG and know everything! You could also have your own choice of upholstery finish in leather or what ever. The famous Connolly Rage was available but this was expensive and took several weeks to complete on your new car.
Five colors were offered for the wheels of the vehicle but there was no information on what they might be except to say that the normal choice of black could be changed for one of the five available. As to be expected a charge of $10 would be made for this feature. A footnote stated that the new owner should be informed that a delay in the delivery of the vehicle could result when these factory options were purchased.
The options list was complied and registered as active from the end of 1938 and would apply for all the 1939 range of cars. It was obvious from the wording of the sales instruction material that these options had bee around for a number of years especially with the larger and of course expensive Saloon cars like the S.A and the W.A.
It should also be remembered that the annual Olympic Car Show took place each October so this Sales Brief would be useful when prospective buyers after visiting the show would descend on their local MG / Morris garage to talk with the sales people.
The quoted price for the 1939 MG series, again based on the 1939 rate of exchange at four US Dollars to the pound was: Midget Two Seater $880.00 Four Seater $1120.00 Four Door Saloon $1320.00 1.5 Liter $1556.00. No price quoted for the 2.0 Liter but the Folding Head Foursome was the most expensive at a cool $1876.00. All factory options were not subject to any local sales tax but the basic vehicle was. This tax charge was not universal; it only applied to certain metropolitan areas where heavy traffic was considered to be a drain on the local revenue. Example: In Edinbrough Scotland a vehicle tax was applied to residents of the city this was about $1.25 a year equal to the cost of a dog license at seven and six pence. Commercial vehicles paid about twice that amount.
This led to the majority of commercial vehicles be registered outside of the city limits, as always there is a loop hole in any regulations! The fair city of Oxford just a few miles from Abingdon has a tax levy based on the damage that motor vehicles inflicted on the ancient buildings of the city. In the late 1930s the city attempted to reduce this damage by taking up the main downtown road system and fitting rubber blocks to reduce the vibration. This was not a great success as the ability to stop when it was raining caused the insurance rates to soar through the roof! I recall the period when these blocks were being laid I was a small boy of around seven at the time and remember being fascinated by the whole procedure. You could smell the hot rubber blocks a mile away from the city center and of course this modification caused major traffic congestion. Central London did not have a local tax on vehicles despite the fact that the whole road system was never designed for motor vehicles as is the case today. Manchester in the north attempted to raise extra money this way but the local business interests soon stopped this proposal on the grounds that it would hinder normal commercial activity. The annual road tax imposed on all vehicle owners was created to develop a new road system for the British Isles and Northern Ireland. In reality it was simply another means of collecting money.
Less than twenty percent of this revenue was ever spent on improving the roads and city centers of the country.
If you wanted to build your own car the chassis was available for all the cars except the Midget. Prices ranged from $860.00 to $1200.00 This package included dash, with full equipment. Lamps..Unpainted wings..Spare Wheel..Petrol Tank. and standard bumper equipment what ever that may mean? If you also wanted the exclusive “Jackall” system fitted to your Saloon 1.5 Liter vehicle you paid an extra $25 to $40. This seems inexpensive for such a useful system. It was not available for the Midget. It was standard on the 2.00 Liter Saloon and where required on the special larger Saloon.
There is a whole page devoted to the subject of performance. Quote; “As a matter of policy we do not quote any specific performance figures. We have also decided not to submit our cars to any road tests carried out by various motoring journalists, not only are some of these open to considerable criticism, but comparisons are often drawn between different makes of cars that can be totally misleading. These journals only take into consideration what a car will do, not how it does it” End of quote.
Now this is very interesting as up until that date the company had always pushed for good road reports in various motor publications including a favorable report in 1937 on the then almost new MGTA in a premier motor journal. Kimber was always looking for a friendly journalist to take to lunch in order to get free publicity. It would be fair to say that MG was built on this sort of activity and of course its race performance until Cowley decided to disband the Factory Race Crew and withdraw from all compitions after the reorganization of 1936 under new senior management. It is obvious that the utility policy imposed by this new management structure was to be strongly enforced for 1939 and the future. It is open knowledge that the strong relationship between Kimberly and Billy Morris had waned since the reorganization of the Morris Empire took place and Billy stepped down from the Managing Directors slot and simply became Chairman. On top of that MG was now simply part of the Morris Motors operation where as before it was a private company that belonged to Morris who ensured that it survived even when it was in the red as it was from time to time.
The fitted tray for the tools in the saloon gets a special mention as a strong selling point. Also the open front windscreen and adjustable steering wheel. Also worth mention is the fitted tool tray for the Midget under the bonnet; this seems to be a standard feature as it is not mentioned as an option. There are four pages of the correct answers to specific questions, Example: “Do the MG Company alter their range of models every year?” Answer: NO. Question: “What production methods are used at Abingdon?”
Answer: Individual production method! (A touch of the double speak, double talk, there!)
Question: “Is MG going to have an independent race team again? Answer: Extremely doubtful there is no strong motive for such activity. The next one is truly interesting and obviously results from comments in the motor media on the need for better suspension on MG and Morris vehicles. Question: “Why is it that the MG Company does not feature independent suspension systems on their vehicles?” Answer: The Company is of the opinion that development has not yet reached a stage where it is really practical.
(It is interesting to note that at that time the majority of British and American cars featured some form of independent suspension at that time. It should also be noted that Issy Issigonis had already developed a very successful independent system that was eventually used on the TD and the MGY series in the Post war years. The reason why this system was not featured in the 1939 series was the reactionary attitude of Lord Nuffield who was against such new money wasting devices. It is similar to the attitude of Kimber towards hydraulic beaks in the mid thirties although his reluctance resulted from the idea that they could easily fail! When MG eventually came under the direct control of Morris Motors Abingdon was forced to use the standard Morris hydraulic system and of course many standard items from the Morris range of vehicles as a cost cutting procedure.
My last selected question and answer is informative. Question:” Why has the term Sports Car been dropped for the Midget?” (None of the advertising for the Midget featured the term from 1938.) Answer: Because of the attitude of the insurance companies towards this type of car. In reality it is a sports vehicle but, unlike our competitors we no longer use that term in order to save our customers extra insurance payments. (A nice marketing line that should impress any would be purchaser.)
Obviously this was a useful tool for any salesperson and once again showed that the Morris people were well ahead of the game when it came to promotion. As early as 1931 Morris was utilizing movie promotional films and was, like his idol Henry Ford allocating advertising budgets to premier Advertising Agencies. He also paid his workers above the national wage rate as did Ford, and offered a “Pay as you Drive”, system through his Morris Garage outlets. If you were a worker at one of his factories you could easily own a vehicle on attractive payment terms. Why?.. Simple, the more Morris cars that were on the road the better the image of a popular vehicle. As a small boy I did wonder why my father and all of his working friends had a Morris car when the majority of other none Morris employees seemed to ride bikes. He told me years later that the company deducted ten shillings a week, (about two US dollars) to pay for his car which was sold to the employee at the dealer’s wholesale price. It was also a good way to keep the employees that you needed.
Geoff Wheatley 2011