For some time, on his way home from work, Jack McAfee had stopped by a shop at 5822 West Washington Boulevard in Culver City to chat with Emil Diedt, one of the best chassis engineers in the game for both sports and Indy cars. Diedt could drastically alter the shape and success rate of our boxy MG. My father, still in his pre-Ferrari days and thinking small can be better, gave Diedt the go-ahead. Jack said it was a “here’s the car, put a body on it” kind of deal. What Diedt actually created in the Edgar MG Special—in only 30 days, no less—was a highly functional, stunning work of art.
Our Diedt-body “88” made its racing debut at Palm Springs on October 28, 1951. Lighter and infinitely more slippery, not to mention further modifications under its aluminum envelope skin, all eyes were on Jack and the newly shaped MG. From ninth at the start he shot up to seventh, then fell back. Something was wrong; McAfee pitted with a burned piston. Don Parkinson won in his Jag, followed by Bill Stroppe in the scrappy V8 “60”-powered MG special called “2-Jr.”
At Torrey Pines in December, Jack turned the tables with our MG and led “2-Jr”—this time with Phil Hill driving the little V8—to win Class 3. A week later at Sandberg, Jack won his class again in “88” and repeated a class victory at Palm Springs in March 1952 while taking fourth overall—the IT blower now replaced with the newer version S.C.o.T. [Supercharger Company of Turin], bringing “88” to be called “the best known blown MG in the U.S.” In full-page color, it was a Road and Track [before the ampersand] cover car. I have to chuckle whenever I see that issue because to make the MG point left the image was flopped. “88” didn’t matter—it looks the same both ways. But RHD became LHD in the bargain!
We did well at Pebble in ‘52, won our class at Golden Gate Park’s inaugural road races attended by 90,000 spectators, finished Torrey Pines sixth in the main with another class win, then won class at El Segundo’s trials. The streak was of the first rank, though disenchantment was perhaps inevitable. In March 1953, Jack McAfee stepped up into my father’s 4.1-liter Ferrari 340 America to win the Palm Springs main outright. In the same race, George Metzger drove our MG to sixth overall, but it was no longer the jewel of my father’s eye. “The world had gone by,” said Jack. John Edgar was into Ferraris now, with Porsche 550s and Maseratis to follow. His last entry for our MG was Bakersfield on March 21, 1954, with Jack at the wheel and managing only ten overall. “88” was again for sale, and this time it sold.
The new owner of what had become “Old 88” was Los Angeles television personality Bill Leyden, and he began racing it with the engine out of a Triumph TR-2. Bill’s motor switch, casual attitude and mediocre outcomes at Santa Barbara, Palm Springs and California’s new road race course at Paramount Ranch in Agoura, even though the genial Leyden enjoyed driving it, resulted in a come-down for the car. Its once luminous stature was missing; it became a rather pathetic also-ran, a frequent DNF. Then, in October 1958, the former Edgar MG Special made a striking comeback to be seen by millions.
Film director Stanley Kramer was shooting a movie about nuclear disaster, drawing its story from author Nevil Shute’s best-seller, “On the Beach”. Shute, himself a sports car enthusiast, had included a do-or-die road race in his novel of human destruction, and Kramer had to have it in his film, cost be damned. He rented Riverside International Raceway and hired top drivers to pilot a field of sports cars. Bob Drake in a Ferrari would sub for star Fred Astaire’s “Julian Osborne” suicidal character. Others recruited to stage Kramer’s mock “Australian Grand Prix” included Dan Gurney, Max Balchowsky, Jerry Austin and Mary Davis. Skip Hudson drove the Corvette camera car, while Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner in their acting roles grimaced on cue at meticulously executed carnage. The stunt considered the movie’s most daring showed an Austin-Healey broadsided in the esses by a deadly missile—the old John Edgar MG.
Engineless, dummy at the wheel, the doomed now-white ex-Edgar MG wearing number “6” was hooked at its side to a fast Jaguar XK-120, and at the precise moment released to go flying straight into the stalled Healey. Flames consumed both cars while cameras rolled. In that fiery moment of filmmaking butchery the Diedt-bodied gem was denied its chance to ever be a vintage prize.
In a way, though, its end felt right. “88” would never be restored, primped or fussed over, relegated to remote private collection or silent museum hall. I think I like best the way our little racer went, and my father would, too—full speed ahead and KA-BOOM!
Today, when I drive my Miata top-down through Sonoma Country’s wine country where I live, I remember vividly our MG TC and what it was back then, over sixty years ago, blower howling, wind in the face, decades still ahead of me with cars and motorcycles yet to come.