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

For one, the Arnott had been replaced with a modified Italmeccanica supercharger, the positive-displacement Italian-made blower my father was then importing. Its 2-lobe, straight cut steel rotors turned through pulleys at 12,000 rpm to make 12 lbs boost, but at the same time shooting fuel-air mixture to way-too-hot 350 degrees. This urged Ernie to engineer a pair of aircraft heat exchangers for intercooler-outercooler roles in temperature reduction. Further, a new camshaft was machined from billet so the IT blower could better scavenge exhaust gases. Compression was dropped to 6:1, with solid copper head gasket and alloy head studs aimed to keep the engine from blowing its top—literally. To slow the car quicker, surplus Bendix aircraft brakes were adapted.

Ernie also re-did the steering, had special steel axles made, went to a 4.875 rear end and used larger valves with double springs, but kept the stock MG pistons. Minus only fuse and plunger, this virtual bomb, running Firestone racing rubber and expelling ear-splitting exhaust, scored 148 horses on the Clayton dyno. Said one magazine write-up, “With a power-to-weight ratio of 1:10 this car goes like nothing other than an Offy midget.” We would see about that.

Pollack, again: “Race day at Pebble arrived and when the flag went, I came up along the outside and was really hauling butt going by everybody.” Bill’s voice lowered to almost a whisper, “All of a sudden everything died,” he said. “The car just quit.” He tried to re-fire it, pulling repeatedly on the starter knob, then finally saw what was happening every time the engine cranked over. “Each one of the stacks” he said with animated hands, “shot out a squirt of water!” Ernie’s intercooler maze had self-destructed, in turn blowing the radiator, with the electric pump filling the engine with engine coolant. “So that was the end of ‘88,'” lamented Pollack, “and, I think, of my tenure in the car.”

Bill didn’t need to beat up on himself; it wasn’t his fault. The MG’s engine simply had been tweaked too far. And before it could be re-thought, re-done, Pollack was up, out, and away driving Tom Carsten’s Cad-Allard, a big change soon to earn Bill fame as one of American sports car racing’s most successful drivers. That’s the subject of his book, “Red Wheels and White Sidewalls: Confessions of an Allard Racer.” If you haven’t read it, you haven’t been there.

MG 88 Special at Palm Springs, 1951
Palm Springs on April 1, 1951. John Edgar, seated under awning of makeshift pit, confers with mechanic about his MG '88' Special. John’s son, William Edgar, captured this with his Kodak Brownie.
Fueling John Edgar’s MG from the old Mobilgas tanker at Palm Beach
Palm Springs on April 1, 1951. Fueling John Edgar’s MG from the old Mobilgas tanker that traveled the race venues back then. Edgar (black cap) is with group that includes Jack and Ernie McAfee and 'Sec' Guasti, in a tableau from William Edgar’s Kodak Brownie.
Jack McAfee drove the MG 88 Special to fifth overall at Palm Springs
Palm Springs on April 1, 1951. John Edgar, smoking as usual, poses with his MG ‘88’ Special. Jack McAfee drove the car to fifth overall, second in class.

Back from Pebble, Ernie McAfee took our MG to the drawing board once more looking for solutions. The intercooling was revamped to utilize a more efficient Crosley radiator placed on the cockpit’s left side. Following decent finishes again at Carrell Speedway, Palm Springs and on Sandberg’s hill, the car was once more ready for Pebble Beach in May 1951. Together, the McAfees loaded “88” onto a rental rig and headed north, a trip Jack would never forget.

“We blew a trailer tire up on the Ridge Route,” he recalled, “and the clamping ring came off and went down into the canyon.” At that, Ernie suggested they unload the race car and Jack get in and drive it. Remembering the din of the MG’s straight stacks, Jack laughed out loud retelling the tale. “I drove that damn thing all the way from the Ridge Route to Pebble Beach,” he told me. “Maybe that’s why I don’t hear very well today.”

On Pebble’s improved course, Jack McAfee drove “88” to ninth overall in both the Del Monte Handicap and Pebble Beach Cup races, winning his class in the latter. “The car ran super, and it handled,” said Jack. Pollack, now the man to beat in the big Cad-Allard, won the main in Carsten’s 6.0-liter monster, while Phil Hill took the Del Monte Cup driving his open 2.9 Alfa Romeo before a career switch to Jaguar then Ferrari, early steps toward his world championship ten years later. What my father got from this second Pebble Beach experience was a clear call he’d better catch up with changing times. The MG begged for more than just horsepower. Critical for its survival was less weight and vastly improved aerodynamics. Edgar mused that he should dump it, and in a rash moment he placed a “For Sale” advert in June 1951’s issue of Road and Track. But nobody wanted to pay the $4,500.

Ernie McAfee works on John Edgar’s MG while others watch
Sandberg Hillclimb, April 15, 1951. Ernie McAfee works on John Edgar’s MG while others watch; left to right: Jack Early (hand on MG hood panel), Ernie McAfee, William Edgar, Charlie Victor. Car on left is Thatcher Darwin’s Ford-V8 Special, overall winner.
Jack McAfee starts a run in John Edgar’s MG at Sandberg Hillclimb
Sandberg Hillclimb, April 15, 1951. Jack McAfee starts a run in John Edgar’s MG, while Ernie McAfee (dark clothes, no cap) watches with group. Note straight exhaust stacks seen over front wheel. Ear-splitting!
Jack McAfee in John Edgar’s MG rounding Big Tree Bend at Sandberg Hillclimb
Sandberg Hillclimb, April 15, 1951. Jack McAfee in John Edgar’s MG rounding Big Tree Bend during a run. Jack was fourth overall, second in class.
Jack McAfee on practice lap in John Edgar’s MG on the old Pebble Beach
Jack McAfee on practice lap in John Edgar’s MG on the old Pebble Beach road race course in late May 1951. He finished ninth overall in both of the car’s races during this meet.

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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!

    =rds

  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