The arrival at Diss Auction Rooms of a shiny red, head-turning MG PA two-seater sports car with sparkly spoked wheels, soft top, oodles of chrome and characterful features such as a bold front grille, large engaging headlamps and strategically placed car-horn heralds the approach of the next Automobilia auction.
Complete with an extensive documented history, including detailed records of meticulous restoration, this classic Midget had certified registration as LV 7661 on 17 March 1934. Perusing the file I noticed it was originally purchased from a dealer in Liverpool on March 22 1934, not only the year of the model’s introduction, but the very month. What’s more, it was bought in the name of a Mrs W Esplen from Thornton Hough, Cheshire.
I found this fact fascinating and started to dig deeper. It was still relatively unusual for women to buy cars in the 1930’s and the launch of the sporty MG P type Midget as the replacement for the J2 would not have matched everyone’s taste or pocket. When introduced the P type two seater sold for £220 (£240 for the four seater version). £220 IN 1934 equates to the spending power of approximately £15,615 in 2019.
However, it received glowing reports in the motoring press and sold well, so cars were coming off the production line at the rate of 200 per month. I continued to research:
The latest MG provided over 100 new features, including increased engine power output and the sales brochure boasted that it was “all the usual equipment that sportsmen demand (note“sportsmen”) - supplemented by the following new extras: easily accessible tool accommodation; non-reflecting fascia board; new revolution counter; chromium plated long range headlamps; new seat adjustment; dual arm electric windscreen wiper; stop and tail lamp; improved hood and side curtains; and new fold flat windscreen with toughened non-discolourable Triplex safety glass."
As the MG Owners’ Club describes: “The first cars produced were all two seaters and following its predecessor the J2 had its wheels painted to match the car's interior, this was soon dropped in favour of aluminium paint. P types were available in three distinctive duo-tone paint schemes, each one came with matching upholstery.” The three choices referred to were Ulster Green and Dublin Green, Oxford Blue and Cambridge Blue and Carmine Red and Saratoga Red. It was also possible to have single colour schemes, the most popular being Black. This was closely followed by Green, Red and then Blue. In a very modern manner, some cars were produced in primer only, so allowing the prospective owner to have the car painted to his choice and for an extra ten guineas the owner could specify the factory to complete the car in any colour leather or bodywork he so desired.
Before the end of March 1934, Mrs Esplen had reported weak springs and problems with the door locks on her pride and joy (so teething problems are not just a modern phenomenon with new cars); investigations by the repair works discovered that the width of the seat cushions was preventing the doors closing properly and everything else was sorted amicably. However (perhaps naively), it surprised me to find a note amongst the garage’s correspondence dated 4th May 1934 referencing the little car already had 2,000 miles on the clock. By August the same year and onwards to 1940, there is some insightful correspondence in this car’s file about some of the snags MG were overcoming with at least one of their MG PAs.
The P type was never intended as a racing model, unlike many of its predecessors, however it was seen on the circuits and in 1935 a three car team of P types was entered in the 24 hour Le Mans race. The team was managed by George Eyston, a hero of the First World War and an accomplished MG driver in his own right. The team consisted of six ladies, nicknamed "The Dancing Daughters" by the media. So, in this context, it was highly fashionable for a lady to be driving an MG Midget; Mrs Esplen was a lady of her time! However, although The Dancing Daughters attracted much publicity, they did not fair particularly well against opposition from Singer's 972cc sports car. The Singers took 1st, 3rd and 4th places. This, along with other factors prompted Abingdon to produce a more powerful model, to be designated the PB which was introduced in 1935. In all, a total of 2,500 P types left Abingdon between 1933 and 1936.
I proceeded to extend my research just a little further. I went on to discover that Mrs W Esplen was Mrs William Esplen, or Kathleen Eleanor Esplen. Her husband William Esplen, was born in Cheshire in 1908 and educated in West Kirby and Edinburgh. He started business in an accountant’s office and transferred to the Stock Exchange before entering the motor trade. He raced in 1930 at Belfast, Dublin, Brooklands and elsewhere. He was sometimes known as Bill Epslen and raced MG’s. In 1934, Bill was a successful 26 year old. In April 1935, their son William Brian was baptised; could the MG PA have been a gift from a proud husband to his young wife the previous spring? The relevance and appropriateness of the perky red MG Midget to a lady in Cheshire was beginning to make perfect sense, and it would certainly have suited her life style. Unfortunately, my findings were tinged with sadness.
Bill Esplen served as a flying officer in the Second World War. He was shot down and killed on 8 September 1941, aged 33, while returning as wireless operator/ air gunner in a Wellington Mark I from a raid on Berlin. The entire crew of six which had taken off from Stradishall, is buried in the 1939–1945 war cemetery in Berlin-Charlottenburg.
However, this cheery little car, chassis number PA0273 has been much-loved by successive owners, with a great deal of care and money expended on it. Undoubtedly the top lot in TW Gaze’s Automobilia auction on Thursday 10th October, and with a guide price of £30,000 it definitely seems the one to chase…
Viewing: Wednesday 9 October 10am – 4pm and Thursday 10 October 12noon – 4pm
Sale starts: 4pm Thursday 10 October
Enquiries: Andre Ling 01379 650306 firstname.lastname@example.org
Catalogues available www.twgaze.co.uk and bid live via www.the-saleroom.com