In 1949 Dick Cobden and Douglas Williams, two young men from Sydney, independently visited the M.G. factory at Abingdon and both were introduced to John Thornley and George Tuck. Dick Cobden’s father ran York Motors distributing Morris cars and Douglas Williams’ father, Percy, was managing director of P&R Williams (distributors of MGs). John Thornley, never one to miss an opportunity, recommended to both men that they start an MG car club on their return to Sydney.
Dick Cobden was an early competitor in an MG TC Special, including competing in the 1949, ’52, ’54, and ’55 Australian Grand Prix in a Cooper MkV and then Ferrari 125. Dick had several races against Jack Brabham.
Thanks to the effort of these two men and others, the M.G. Car Club NSW held its first AGM in February 1950 and became the first official MG club in Australia. It arose from an amalgamation of a ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ group of MG owners principally from the Sydney region. Members were also drawn from the wider New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian locations.
In the early days, an application for membership was sent to the parent club in the UK and the membership card was returned from there. A part of the annual subscription was remitted to the parent club.
The first interim president was Clive Cadden, who was followed by Jim James.
Jim held the position for many years with his wife Lee as secretary. In June 1954, a newsletter was replaced by a monthly gazette, which comprised a folded foolscap sheet which gave a cover plus three pages for news.
In the 1950s TCs, and later TDs and TFs in various states of modification from single-seat specials to everyday road cars lightened by the temporary removal of a few body parts, formed the backbone of the early entry lists in the competition. These comprised trials, hill climbs, gymkhanas and speed/car control events.
Events were regularly held at locations like Mt Druitt, Foley’s Hill (Mona Vale) and the old Castlereagh Airstrip.
Support for the club came from the Nuffield factory at Zetland, Sydney, and the dealerships. The dealers encouraged members with the supply of tuning parts and mechanical services. Some dealers themselves were very active club members and competition drivers.
The Club grew quickly, both in numbers (reaching 283 in early 1955) and in stature. Some members had been prominent in the staging and competing in events pre-war and with their experience and a keenness to compete at the highest levels, the club was soon organising events at the New South Wales State level, a move which also attracted entrants from long distances.
The first MGA was delivered to members Jim and Lee James in March 1956.
During the 1960s, interest started to shift from speed and performance events as pressure mounted from the ‘men in blue’ on the drivers of these speedy little cars. Interest in rallying and touring activity also started to emerge. The MGA had arrived, along with Midgets and MGBs. The club was organising more rallies, often taking place at night or over a weekend. These events had a wider appeal and the membership swelled to include owners of non marque cars. To reflect this emerging interest, the club magazine became known as Spotlight in June 1960.
The concept of registers was also embraced during the mid-sixties with the formation of the T Register, under Bob Beer, at a meeting on the premises of the dealership in the Sydney suburb of Blakehurst. The Pre-War Register followed soon after, under Errol Sales, but this took longer to gain support due to there being fewer eligible cars in the hands of club members.
Within a few years the T Register was very strong, organising its own evening meeting and events more suited to these older models. These evening meetings, with those of the main body of the club as well as committee meetings, were all staged at the Zetland plant until the demise of MG production in 1972.
During that time the relationship between the plant’s management and the club was excellent and many tours were organised for members. There were no ‘runs’ as such in the early days, just a drive somewhere to have a picnic or a meal. The social side was not forgotten as there were the occasional theatre parties, dances and an annual Christmas party. The Saloon Register was established in the late 1960s followed by the MGA and MGB Registers in the early 1970s.
The 1970s and 1980s
Our club staged the first national meeting in January 1970 in Sydney. Members from all other MG car clubs in Australia were invited to speed events and social activities. Not long after, the club magazine changed its name to Opposite Lock (the steering wheel boss shown upside down) to reflect a greater focus on the marque.
Hosting of the national event at Easter has rotated between the clubs around our vast country ever since, and our club has organised several national meetings over the years. Competitors are awarded points for class wins and places. The Wratten Trophy (in honour of John Wratten who was killed while driving an MG in 1971) is fiercely contested and awarded to the club whose members amass the most points after a ‘fudge,’ or levelling-out factor for distance travelled and member numbers has been computed.
Speed events remained popular through out the ’70-80s but motorkhanas lost favour in place of early morning breakfast runs and other day trips of 150-200 kms to scenic and interesting places. Rallying underwent a revival in the late 80s and 90s as the entries were made up of older cars and older drivers seeking a more ‘historic’ enjoyment from the event rather than the youthful cut and thrust of earlier competition days. Breakfast runs remained popular and an attendance of 200 members and families was not uncommon for some events.
By the end of the 1970s the aim of owning our own land was clearly unattainable and for the next decade or more the club maintained a somewhat nomadic existence as it moved from one set of club rooms to another after the closure of the Zetland plant and the Leyland Pavilion (old showground). A number of venues were tried at Lidcombe, Blacktown and Concord.
In 1993 Ron Taylor and David Wigley started the ‘Tour De’ events, a longer navigational/observation rally without time keeping normally staged over the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June. The Tour De has proved an immensely popular annual event with a themed and costumed dinner/dance as the social highlight. The Tour De has remained popular and in 2017 celebrated an unbroken 25 years on the weekend.
In 1999 we took over a lawn bowls and recreation club at Henley on the harbour for club meetings continued there until 2003.
Since the turn of the millennium the MG Car Club has continued to offer a full range of social and sporting activities for members, because our legal status depends on remaining a ‘sporting’ club.
Midweek Muster runs began in 2001 to cater for the growing number of retired members who were looking to tour interesting places in and around the Sydney region. A Touring Register was established in 2007 to plan trips of several days duration to distant venues within the state of NSW and beyond.
Members continued to maintain their involvement in social and sporting activities with the express aim of preserving the MG brand and maintaining the breed and history of the marque. The best opportunity to see the superb range of MG models in the club was during the annual Concours and Display Day which was held in Silverwater Park. Judges awarded trophies and medallions to the best presented cars in fiercely contested MG classes.
The club had a strong group of members competing in regularity, racing and speed events organized by various motoring groups. Many club members who do not compete, assist with the conduct of these events as marshals, flaggies or administrators.
Most activities continue whilst the average age of members increases. The sporting contingent has reduced in numbers over the years as older drivers retire and are not always replaced by younger members.
Having new sporting MGs in the show room would help in this regard! In recent years the SAIC Company in China has purchased the right to manufacture cars bearing the MG badge, and we trust they will include some sporting cars. One SAIC venture will be an all new electric MG for the first time, and this may bring in some sporting members.
With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the club accelerated the use of computer software to simplify administration and improve communication with members. Upgrades have occurred to the online membership renewal system, online regalia sales and greater use of the electronic ‘Running Board’ and the club website. Zoom tele-meetings and electronic magazines (from April 2020) have also become a reality.
Face-to-face meetings also continue and are normally held at the Strathfield Golf Club on the second Tuesday of the month (except for January) at 7.45 p.m.
The club has survived due to the appeal of the MG cars themselves but, more importantly due to the willingness of many members to volunteer for the various positions that are crucial to the running and success of the club.
Presently all pre-war, post war and newer models are catered for including growing numbers of Modern MGFs /TFs and SAIC made MGs. Hopefully we will continue to see the owners of newer MG sport and saloon cars join the smorgasbord of activities the club offers.
This material was provided by Rob Dunsterville (a former member), Eric Hayes (Life Member) for the members handbook of 2009, and updated by Steve Perry and Allen Gower in July 2021.