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50 years of MGs   by Tom Ford & Jim Lunson

1951 - 2001

THE MG CAR CLUB, LTD. WASHINGTON D.C. CENTRE
MARKS ITS 50TH ANNIVERSARY

In October of this year, THE MG CAR CLUB, Washington D.C. Centre will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. This is truly an amazing feat of longevity for a group dedicated solely to an automobile marque. The Club currently has over 200 members who actively drive, maintain, restore, and otherwise enjoy their cars, the people, and events associated with owing an MG.

In 1951, the club began with a first meeting held at Manhattan Auto, the sole MG dealer in the Washington area, then located at Seventh and R Streets, NW. At that time, the entire East Coast was represented by a single organization, centered in the New York City area. This organization was part of the original MG Car Club founded by Roy Marsh and John Thornley in 1930. This Washington area club was founded as a separate sub-centre of the Eastern United States Centre. The number of members involved in the founding is not known, but by 1954, when the sub-centre became a separate centre in its own right, there were 47 members in the club. In 1956, the club won the Nuffield Trophy from the MG Car Club organization as the most outstanding MG Car Club worldwide.

Interviews with several of our club’s earlier members provided invaluable insights into the club's early activities and adventures. They were different times then. The MG of the day was often an owner's only vehicle and was used as an everyday car for going to work, shopping, and whatever else was needed. The "whatever else" was quite often a rallye, autocross, gymkhana, or other driving event. Gay Horan, club president in 1956 and owner of a 1952 TD, noted, "The wiper motor on the TDs were mounted upside down, which caused them to quit working when it rained. It was then necessary to remove the wiper motor from the car and place it in the oven at 250 degrees to dry out." On one occasion, during a state safety inspection, Gay engaged the wipers only to find they didn't work. Without missing a beat, she manually operated the wipers successfully through the inspection. The inspector asked if this was normal. Her reply, "It’s an MG, the wipers are manually operated." No problem passing!

The club's early interest was oriented heavily toward racing. The Marlboro Speedway in nearby Upper Marlboro, Maryland saw a lot of MG activity in association with the Sports Car Club of America. One member, Tony "Cappy" Capiello, who raced his MG there frequently, took corners well enough to have one named after him. Cappy’s Corner on this track is still in use today and still bears his name. In 1958, the club was instrumental in establishing the Washington Metropolitan Council of Sports Car Clubs to promote more interest and local competition in racing.

Throughout the '50s, the club was a small but active and dedicated group. A well remembered event happened when club members showed up in force at National Airport to greet John Thornley, who had come to town to introduce the MGA twin cam to America. This event ended with the members entertaining John in Georgetown for dinner and conversation.

1960 marked the first in a series of yearly rallyes sponsored by the Sports Car Council, with the MG Club winning the first championship. In 1961, the Club finished second in the rallye championship standings. And so the club moved toward greater interest in rallyes, autocross and social events. During this period club membership reached a new high of 72 members.

One famous rallye of note was thought up by Dan Rowzee, club president in 1967. It became known as the Fairfax Scramble and lasted all night, never leaving Fairfax County, Virginia. The directions were numbered but were not in numerical order. Several cars were not heard from for days.

Perhaps the best rallye the club ever sponsored during this period was one known as the Braille Rallye. This event was started in 1963 in cooperation with the local chapter of Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. It was established as an incentive for blind children to learn to read Braille. Once the children could read well enough, they were invited to act as navigators in the MGs for the rallye. This Braille Rallye was extremely popular and soon expanded to include adults as well as children. It started a tradition, which has continued ever since. This year's rallye marked the 39th consecutive running and saw 36 MG's in the field. Each year after the rallye, club members sponsor a grand picnic for the participants and their families to celebrate the partnership between the club and Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. Today, this tradition continues to delight and excite many visually impaired children and adults as well as the drivers who participate in the event.

Throughout the '60s and '70s, club members remained active in rallyes and social events, concentrating on driving their cars as much as possible. Beginning in the mid-1970s, development in the Washington, D.C. area accelerated and began to dramatically alter the landscape of the region and the roads that once were so friendly to MG events. Country lanes quickly became four lane highways, and the roads became unbearably crowded, changing forever the character of the area and the ability to run the roads in an MG friendly manner. This rapid development, combined with the demise of the sports car market, altered the nature of events the club sponsored. Membership began to dwindle, and the club entered a period of decreased activity.

The club endured another jolt in 1980 when production of the MG ceased. Until that time a great portion of the club's activities were underwritten financially by the three MG dealers in the Washington area, and this support was suddenly and without warning cut off forever. There are stories of the mad scramble by a few loyal members to quickly reorganize the club to establish dues and fund-raisers to help sustain its activities. During this period, one important member of note was Larry Berger. He served the organization as president, activities director, fund-raiser, and general inspiration for over 15 years (1978-1994) and almost single-handedly kept the club intact and active during much of this period.

In 1990 the club became associated with the newly formed NAMGBR and NAMGAR organizations as well as the national "T" Register. The club stayed active and by the early 1990s, club membership started to rise again. The Spark, the club's newsletter, was rejuvenated and expanded. Social activities, including a monthly 'Natter 'n Noggin' dinner, became the norm, but only a few driving events were held.

Then, in 1994, club members volunteered to host the National MGB Convention. Aptly titled 'Cruising the Capital', the convention included a car show, numerous vendors, an awards banquet, racing at a nearby track, and an attempt to break the Guinness Record with a caravan of over 200 MGs. The publicity the club received brought an influx of new members and a renewal of interest in driving events.

In 1996, the Club began its own major annual car show, Hunt Country Classic. Held in mid-October at beautiful Svea Farm in Middleburg, Virginia, last year's show drew almost 200 cars of various British marques. The event included a clown, apple pressing, hot lunch, a silent auction to benefit a local charity, and, of course, fine automobiles, all set in a beautiful fall atmosphere in Virginia's famous Horse Country.

Today, club activities cover a wide range of both automotive and social events, which combine to create an atmosphere conducive both to learning about and driving our cars as well as to a spirit of camaraderie among members. The club is representative and inclusive of all MGs. At last count, there are one TA, one VA, 34 "T" series, one ZB, 27 A's, 152 B's, two C's, 22 Midgets and even one MGF (imported and driven by a British subject assigned to the Embassy here).

The year 2000 saw over fifty club events and membership of 220, an all time high. We had picnics, overnight caravans, lunch rallyes, membership dinners, campouts and tech sessions among other things. Annual highlights on the club's calendar included the awards banquet to honor outstanding members, the Braille Rallye, and the Hunt Country Classic Car Show.

The objective of the Club is to preserve the marque and maintain the traditions established over the past fifty years. Efforts include sharing technical knowledge and teaching other MG owners how to maintain their cars, sharing supply sources, generally lending a hand to help keep the cars on the road, and having a good time doing so. Many volunteers make our club activities possible, and countless hours are spent ensuring we continue a tradition of excellence within the club.

The 50-year milestone occurring this year is quite a commendable achievement, which makes all club members, both past and present, extremely proud. In addition to our loyalty to the fine MG marque, we feel a strong responsibility to uphold the fine history of the organization and to strive to continue our activities as long as there is an MG.


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