The MG story started back in 1921 when Cecil Kimber signed on as the sales manager for Morris Garages in Oxford. In 1922, when the general manager suddenly quit, Kimber was promoted to general manager. As a motoring enthusiast and keen competitor, Kimber had the idea to develop the rather plain looking and mediocre performing Morris Cowley with a special body, as well as modifications to the chassis and engine. The Cowley, also known as the “Chummy” was developed over a succession of model changes. Kimber entered his personal “Chummy” in competitions in the area, including the 1923 London to Land’s End Trial. Kimber won a gold medal for his efforts (one of 53 gold medals!) but elected to receive a pair of cuff links instead of the medal. These modified Morris Cowleys became increasingly popular. When the Cowley sports model was discontinued in 1923, Kimber decided to develop his own Morris Garages sports car which garnered additional competition awards. Sales of the affordable performance car took off. Registered on 1 May 1924, the now familiar MG octagon logo was first seen in the May 1924 issue of The Morris Owner and remains unchanged to this day.
Some have said that MG stands for Morris Garages and abbreviate MG as “M.G.”. When MGs were first sold back in the early 1920s this is certainly true, but over time this changed. In 1990 I had the opportunity to travel with Jean Kimber Cook, Cecil Kimber’s daughter, and a group of MG enthusiasts, for three weeks during an MG adventure in South Africa. When asked what MG stood for, she said that her father would say “It just stands for itself.” So there you have it, MG stands for … itself!
Now what about the octagon? Kimber acquired a love of art from his mother who was a painter. His appreciation for art was realized in his neat geometric designs, the most famous and lasting of which is the MG octagon. The octagon symbol first appeared in an ad in the May 1924 issue of The Morris Owner. The octagon symbolized the enclosure of a large area within a small space, hence the “quart in a pint pot” slogan of the early MG days. Kimber’s infatuation with the octagon led to the inclusion of octagons on every imaginable place on earlier MGs: octagonal sidelamps, radiator caps, dipstick handles, instrument faces, panel knobs, cam cover breather holes and even gearshift knobs. The Kimber family even has a service of octagonal dinnerware for special occasions. In the late 1930s MG adopted their now famous slogan, “Safety Fast!”. Some say Kimber was inspired by the sign, “Safety First” on the back of a bus he was following. Whatever the inspiration, it did embody the marque’s appeal.
Cecil Kimber at the wheel of “Old Number One”,
Sadly Kimber was forced to resign from MG following a war time contract dispute. In tragic contrast to his “Safety Fast” lifestyle, Cecil Kimber died in a freak 4 mph train accident on February 4, 1945. He may be gone but his spirit lives on.