John Edgar MG Special – MG Mighty Midget, TC for All Times

Jack McAfee driving John Edgar’s MG Special on the airport course at Palm Springs.
Palm Springs on October 28, 1951. Jack McAfee driving John Edgar’s MG Special on the airport course. A burned piston ended the car’s aerodynamic-bodied race debut.

Our MG Mighty Midget, TC for All Times

By William Edgar and photography courtesy of Edgar Motorsport Archive

My first really dramatic recollection of our MG-TC was drifting through Sunset Boulevard’s curves, my father at the wheel. He’d folded the screen flat and the wind-blown tangs of hot engine and rubber were sheer adrenaline. I was 15 then, had already learned to drive the family’s Type 57C Bugatti, and knew that handling the little MG would be cake. All I wanted was a chance, but first I’d have to swipe it.

We were living at a smart hotel in Hollywood at the time that John Edgar got his MG-TC late in 1947, and the cut-doors two-seater fresh from Abingdon-on-Thames was parked in a lot just beyond the Garden of Allah’s kidney-shaped swimming pool and hibiscus shrubs. When my parents walked to dinner at a close-by restaurant (where the mandolin player was a Brazilian who’d come to the States with Carman Miranda) I’d make my move on the idle MG.

I knew I’d have a safe hour or so behind its RHD wheel and up the road I flew, feeling myself a reborn Tazio Nuvolari. I’d read all the prewar Grand Prix books and knew what those drivers looked like when they drove. I had their body language down pat and spoke the lingo, spouting engine and chassis specs. The MG in my grip was a bullet on the loose.

Earlier that summer, Roger Barlow, a California Sports Car Club co-founder, foreign car importer and filmmaker, had accepted John Edgar’s deposit on what would be a postwar sensation—MG’s belligerent new Midget Series “TC”. Perhaps no automobile ever fit as nicely the mitts of those wanting an affordable, great handling sporty car (under $1,800) that demanded so relatively little of its driver. At 5,200 rpm its 1,250cc overhead-valve inline-4 made a feisty 54 hp, sent aft to 19-inch knock-off wire wheels through a syncho-mesh quad-speed gearbox shifted with your left hand, while your right managed the flick-quick worm steering of only 1.5-turns lock-to-lock. Just 1,732 pounds was what she weighed, and her 15-gallon gas tank was good for a 400-mile romp without re-fill.

Funny, those first TCs came by ship in basic color lots of 20, ignition keys cut according to car paint, so the key to our red one would fit any other red TC. When the freighter docked at San Pedro, new owners were bused to the harbor to drive their MGs back to the seller’s shop. The little TC’s track was too narrow to fit ordinary car haulers and, because they were right-hand drive and in order to be street legal in California, electric turn signals—the kind used for trucks—had to be dealer-installed before you could take your TC home. So there they were, this convoy of shiny MGs rolling toward Hollywood, the owners’ first road test conducted en masse.

The TC’s drum brakes were Lockheed hydraulics, adequate for stock setup. Suspension on the 94-inch wheelbase roadster was semi-elliptic leaf springs front and rear. The chassis, underslung below the rear axle and upswept over the front, was braced with tubular cross members and box sectioned side elements. British to its yoke, the TC possessed more than a few quirks, and rode stiffly—characteristics consistent from the time the first MG came into being at Morris Garages in 1923 to begin the marque’s famed racing history.

Original MG TC factory brochure cover, 1947
Original MG TC factory brochure cover, 1947. Dealer Roger Barlow gave this to John Edgar to entice him into ordering the car.

When it rained you stopped, pulled up your TC’s canvas twill top and fastened floppy side screens to keep out most of the wet—never all. Its 19 x 4.50-inch Dunlops stuck, but still allowed respectable drift, and the dash-mounted horn belonged on a toy. But never mind being heard. Under hard acceleration, twin SU semi-downdraft carbs brashly voiced the car’s approach. It ran flat out at 73 mph with windscreen and throttle all the way down. This Brit marvel—its engine declared by motor journalist Ken Purdy in 1949 as “defiant and tough as a Staffordshire pit dog”—was a kick to drive back when Fords mimicked tanks and Cads weighed more than some cabin cruisers. Essentially, the MG-TC was a hot little item straight off the boat, and before the car publicly reached its hit status, Phil Hill, Bill Pollack and John von Neumann had one. So did my father. The difference was, John Edgar wasn’t racing his—not yet.

First to be had of our MG was off-beat family service. My older brother, Jack, attending Hollywood High, needed wheels, and the snappy MG in his hands began attracting classmates wanting a ride. Flies to honey, it was. One day after school he pulled in for gas at the Richfield station where our father’s friend and veteran motorcycle racer Rollie Free worked. A total of nine high school kids were in the tiny MG, piled on top of each other, literally. About then, in drove our father and, mad as hell, he walked over to them. Janice, my brother’s girlfriend with a cigarette habit, looked up at the fury in John Edgar’s face and blew smoke in it. The MG went into lockdown.

Not long after, my father had Rollie ride our HRD Vincent Black Lightning prototype at Bonneville for an unfaired motorcycle speed record. Also, during that eventful summer of ’48, Edgar turned the MG over to race car engineer Ernie McAfee. Already, Jack Early, another MG zealot among those who raced their TCs in the San Fernando Valley’s illegal Cento Miglio, had begun modifying our TC by putting in Oldsmobile valves. When Ernie got the car, more mods were made and on went an Arnott blower, sparking new fire in my father, who already in his younger years had been an outboard hydroplane ace only a few wins short of a national title.

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Show Comments (18)

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  1. Neat story about the Edgar MG Special. I love how Edgar and McAfee kept digging deeper and deeper with the MG. What a special time…

    Nice see Mr Edgar contributing to Sports Car Digest. Look forward to more.

  2. Great story and fantastic car! My Dad had 3 TC’s over the years and I remember going 73 mph in the last one on the highway in the 80’s when I was about 14 and my brother who was driving about 19, I was terrified… Articles like this make you fall in love with the hobby all over again, thanks!

  3. Wonderful story. But didn’t that lovely 88 die an ignominious death in the film “On the Beach”?

  4. Great story!

    Well-told, Mr. Edgar, a great period piece for those of us who were not there in So Cal.

    Sad ending for a wonderful car, though. A real pity, sacrificed in a second-rate movie. At least you had some great stills to share.

    Looking forward to your next contribution!


  5. Great story and photos Will. Glad you had that Brownie handy to give us a great view of that period. Hope you gave up that nasty cigarette habit.

  6. “My first really dramatic recollection of our MG-TC was drifting through Sunset Boulevard’s curves … I was 15 then, had already learned to drive the family’s Type 57C Bugatti.”

    Mr. Edgar, you had me at “hello…”

    An excellent read.

  7. Great story. Ffunny, I just happen to see that clip from the movie recently and had no idea this was the car that was sacrificed. Mitch

  8. What great memories, I mostly remember the John Edgar Ferrari. Those were the days when you could race what was your daily driver or at least drive your race car to the track.
    Ralph Bush

  9. Fantastic, Will! I think I was at Mirage that day, and for sure I was working as turn marshal at many of those races in which “old 88” participated. I well remember your dad and the Lincoln Continental. You have truly captured the feel of those great days, days that will never be seen again. Thanks! Ed

  10. Great Story William. Your Brownie provided a priceless historical record. I’ll bet you have some pictures of a car that I currently have – the Ford-Auburn Special built By David Addison in Santa Monica in 1947). It ran in all the races you refer to. I am very curious to see if you have some pics of my car in action!! If interested, you can email me at [email protected]

    Great Job!!

    1. Truly wonderful era for racing, if only I had a time machine, would love to see more pictures…….

      Stephen (from Ireland)

  11. William, Your story of the 15 year old Sneaking the MG out while the parents were dining brought back memories. My Dad worked 3rd. shift, and would sleep evenings, during which time, I would grab the keys for the Family Sedan, a 47 Buick, and take her out for some well needed exercise. Thanks for a great Story, well written.
    Bob Rose

    1. I did the same ,thing waiting for my parents to fall asleep then push our family 1939 Buick Century out the driveway!
      But I got caught in between trips to the local dinner, a snowstorm passed leaving entry tire tracks to our garage. Grounded!
      Russell Simon

  12. thanks so much mr. edgar for chance to re visit an old friend Nr. 88–that was my first race Palm Springs 195l. others were Phil Hill in 2.9 Alfa and thr Kimberly Ferrari 166. (first time on west coast to see/hear that great sound. jim sitz lost in Oregon

  13. Although i am 4 years younger than William we travelled the same path.My father was an associate of John Edgars and i was able to follow the race scene from the early hill climb days.The Edgar MG special was just that.SPECIAL! I hated to see it destroyed.I’m glad i stumbled accross this article.Thanks William.

  14. Great to see Will’s color photos taken with his Brownie–I was using the same equipment at that time, at age 11. Re. his comment that 88 “turned the tables on Phil Hill in 2Jr.” at the first Torrey–that was because Phil retired 2Jr after twice leading the race ahead of Graham in the Chapman Cad Allard, eventual winner. First the TC’s cycle fenders came loose, then the gas tank, causing the retirement. Phil once told me 2Jr. “was perfect for that course.”

  15. they had to slow down the race scenes because the director or somebody thought people wouldn’t believe cars would go that fast! and it’s just me, but I thought I saw ‘on the beach’ in the spring of ’54; I remember m roommate giving me a hav-a-tampa on the way out of the theater