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

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.”

John Edgar’s MG Special wearing its Emil Diedt aerodynamic aluminum body
A first photo of John Edgar’s MG Special wearing its brand new Emil Diedt aerodynamic aluminum body, at a park in North Hollywood, October 1951.
John Edgar’s MG Special - Palm Springs, 1951
Palm Springs on October 27, 1951. John Edgar’s MG Special as it arrived for its newly Emil-Diedt-bodied race debut, in color from William Edgar’s Kodak Brownie.
Ernie McAfee preps John Edgar’s MG Special for its Emil Diedt-body debut
Palm Springs on October 27, 1951. Ernie McAfee (no shirt) preps John Edgar’s MG Special for its aerodynamic Emil Diedt-body race debut, captured by William Edgar’s Kodak Brownie.
Ernie McAfee works at the rear of John Edgar’s MG Special at Palm Springs
Palm Springs on October 27, 1951. Ernie McAfee works at the rear of John Edgar’s MG Special as it arrived for its newly Emil-Diedt-bodied race debut, in color from William Edgar’s Kodak Brownie.
John Edgar’s MG Special - Emil Diedt-bodied race debut
Palm Springs on October 27, 1951. John Edgar’s MG Special as it arrived for its newly Emil Diedt-bodied race debut, in a color tableau from William Edgar’s Kodak Brownie.

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!

William Edgar, aged 19, poses with his father’s MG Special.
Torrey Pines on December 9, 1951. William Edgar, aged 19 and bad-habit cigarette in hand, poses with his father’s MG Special. Jack McAfee drove the car to sixth overall in the main event.
Jack McAfee driving John Edgar’s MG Special at Palm Springs, 1952
Palm Springs on March 23, 1952. Jack McAfee driving John Edgar’s MG Special to fourth overall in the main event and class win.
Ernie McAfee’s shop showroom in North Hollywood sometime late in 1952.
Ernie McAfee’s shop showroom in North Hollywood sometime late in 1952. Ernie (left) poses with Jack in John Edgar’s MG Special behind some of the car’s many race trophies.

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.

John Edgar MG Special crashes into Jaguar XK-120 for movie
Riverside International Raceway, October 1958. The ex-John Edgar MG Special, white, wearing race number 6, crashes in a stunt for Stanley Kramer’s MGM movie, 'On the Beach.' Engine removed and dummy at the wheel, the MG was hooked to the white Jaguar XK-120 #36, then released at speed to broadside a stalled Austin-Healey.

[Source: Will Edgar]

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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