Then came the leap. On pre-dawn October 10, 1948, he aimed our Bugatti toward the Mojave Desert’s El Mirage dry lake. Ahead of us was Ernie McAfee, hauling our MG. We were going to a meet of the Russetta Timing Association and all of the best larger-bore rods and lakesters in Southern California would be there. The odd-ball MG bunch that day, which would include Phil Hill and Barlow, was looked upon with wonder as to what and who in the hell we were. But El Mirage was all about f-a-s-t, and good speed trap numbers promised respect no matter “what ya brung”.
At sunup, alongside revered highboys, chopped sedans and torpedo-like belly tanks, our petite MG seemed more baby buggy than car. All around I remember how full-house flatheads bellowed at red line, making pure lakes music. Nonetheless, the Arnott supercharger, when its throttle was punched, gave our TC’s open exhaust a bark that snapped hot-rodders’ heads, including icons there like Dean Moon and Lou Baney. My father strapped on his Clymer helmet and “sickle” goggles and made a pedal-down run at the lights. Riding high on tall wire wheels, he and the Midget were knight and stead on charge. His clocked 93-mph—stock top plus twenty—was fastest MG of the meet. On that blistering morning at El Mirage, the little red car’s racing life was born.
But first there were more street miles in its history, hairy episodes of our “blowing away” many an MG in boulevard drags and canyon-carving contests. When my father wearied of such illicit fun, I was right there again—freely driving the car now with full boost. The stock rear rubber hopped and chattered, spokes loosened and bent. Soon the MG’s wheels were cut down to 16-inch. I saw the car morph from little beauty to budding brute. Then one day it went to the shop and didn’t come home. My father was now mailing checks to “Ernie McAfee Engineering Company” and our MG’s horsepower rose accordingly.
Enter another name early on associated with the Edgar TC—Bill Pollack. Fresh from law school and working at Petersen Publishing, Bill was driving his own TC and gaining a reputation for being impressively quick. In addition, up-and-coming MG mechanic John von Neumann had stuck a British Shorrock vane-type blower on Pollack’s engine before Bill drove it in his own first race at Palm Springs’ inaugural meet. Also, while hanging around Ernie’s shop, Bill met my father, who’d been awed by his Palm Springs effort. Edgar thought Pollack would do well with our MG that Ernie was prepping, and so invited Bill to drive it at the Santa Ana blimp base sports car races.
On June 25, 1950—our MG’s first legit race—Pollack finished ahead of three other blown MGs and von Neumann’s Lea-Francis, to come second behind Sterling Edward’s V8 “60” special in Santa Ana’s preliminary, putting Pollack on row-3 for the main. Roy Richter’s Allard won that big one, leaving Pollack and other future driving greats, including Phil Hill and Jack McAfee, in its dust.
By now, too, a new hand was helping at Ernie’s. Jack McAfee had been called in to mount a full-race V8 in my father’s Lincoln Continental after its stock V12 began blowing smoke, like they all did. Jack knew racing, both its mechanical and driving aspects. He’d cut his teeth on dry lakes hot rods and dirt-track sprints. While Ernie McAfee was good with a slide rule, Jack McAfee understood perfectly the rules of slide. Thus began the McAfee duo that many erroneously believed to be brothers. Asked Ernie of Jack, “Can you speed shift?” The new McAfee replied, “Every Model ‘A’ driver speed shifts.”
At the wheel, “Big Jack” made our MG appear even smaller than it was. Two weeks after Santa Ana, he took the Edgar TC to first in class at the El Segundo Time Trials, clocking 18.32 secs. for the standing quarter-mile. My father wanted Jack in the car again for an approaching hillclimb, but McAfee then was Tony Parravano’s driver and the gentleman in Jack was a man of honor.
John Edgar himself took our MG up the Sandberg Hillclimb, a half-mile unused gradient on the original “Ridge Route” an hour north of Los Angeles—winning his class in 37.93 secs. to finish third overall ahead of McAfee in Parravano’s Jaguar XK-120. Public road rallies and hillclimbs like this at Sandberg Ranch were where the burgeoning sports car contingent played, testing engine and chassis modifications on European imports alongside emergent home-made specials such as the hillclimb’s overall winner that day—Thatcher Darwin’s potent V8. Our TC found its niche midway—a classic British sports car modified through American hot rod savvy. Edgar’s plan was to push its limits further than any other racing TC had gone before.
Back at Ernie’s shop in North Hollywood, work on the MG continued toward its next outing, Gardena’s Carrell Speedway at 174th Street and Vermont on the south side of Los Angeles. For the sports cars’ first meet there on October 15, 1950, Carrell’s half-mile dirt oval was altered to go out through the pit gate, up a hill and across the parking lot before rejoining the oval, forming a 1-mile circuit. Primitive, but future top contenders honed their skills here. Pollack was again at the wheel of the Edgar MG, winning 2 heats. “You could really dirt track that car,” Bill told me years later. “You’d let it all hang out, and slide sideways.” Another blown MG, Harold Erb’s, won the 20-lap feature that time. Meanwhile, Pebble Beach’s opener was less than a month off and our MG—well known now by its catchy number “88”—needed extra punch, and got it.
My father towed the car north with his hotted-up Lincoln, and Pollack recalled for me what the MG was like in practice for that very first Pebble Beach race. “The thing was ready to orbit the earth!” said Bill of “88.” “It made an incredible racket and went like stink.” What had Ernie done to it?!