Celebrating the Spirit of Competition

1934 MG K3 Magnette

Chassis Number : K3027             Horsepower : 120           Displacement : 6-cylinder, 1.08 L           Wheelbase : 94"

These Cars

How did such a small displacement car get into this collection with so many of the biggest boys ever made? Occasionally, in history a David comes along to conquer the Goliaths or at least give them a good show. How could one resist the very supercharged 1100 cc car, which came in fourth overall in the 1934 Le Mans against much bulkier competition, especially when the car was in its original unrestored condition? It may be easy to understand why; the proudest of all of the cars ever made by MG was the K3 of 1933 and 1934, of which only about 31 sequential cars were made.

At international sports car races as well as record-breaking events, the MG K3 was a serious competitor. It won its class in the Mille Miglia; our car won the index performance in 1934 at Le Mans. The famous MG K3 known as EX 135 set numerous records for its displacement size. Drivers found it a magnificent car to handle and viewers marveled at its grace. It was certainly the high point for the marque car known to make voiturettes rather than take-all-comers racer.

In his classic K3 Dossier, author MF Hawke indicates that the success revolved around the concept to build a small capacity car like a big car. “Save weight where possible but not sacrifice strength. Then develop the engine to provide enough power to outpace the opposition.” The car looked right. As Hawke says, in whatever form, it has to be one of the finest-looking cars ever built. “The K3 as has been said is a sturdy car. It has a strong, supple chassis which ensures that it keeps its feet firmly on the ground. It has an engine which is sometimes too willing for its own good and produces lots of big horses for around 3,000 RPM onward. The preselector gear box is quite delightful and makes it a very easy car to drive.” The car had excellent tortional flexibility, secondary to inner stiffening channels and a wide-based cross-center X just behind the gearbox. Care was taken to design the suspension and the axle location eliminated the need for a torque tube at the rear.

There is a famous story frequently recalled that when Ettore Bugatti saw the prototype K3 and commented that the front axle was too frail considering the rest of the chassis, supercharger, and potential speed. Thus apparently in response, a heavier version was made on the later K3 models.

The engine was a gem! The crankcase unit was cast in high-grade iron, the dimensions made as light as possible. With light connecting rods and good internal rigidity, constant operating speeds of 6,000 RPM were possible, although after supercharging heavier pistons, then heavier rods were required by the end of the production. With special counter-balanced cranks, up to 8,000 RPM was possible (though at the expense sometimes of broken rods).

Initially, a Power Plus supercharger was applied, but later the much more reliable Marshall 85 was added. Limited by the size of the valves because of the head anatomy, power outputs of 150 brake horse power per liter were eventually achieved, even with the valve limitation. The preselector gear box led to the car’s legendary drivability, particularly when instantaneous gear changes were possible without having to let go of the steering wheel during a high-speed turn. Serial number K3020 was the first with the two-seater pointed tail body, such as the one in our collection. All subsequent stock K3s took this beautiful shape.

Class victories in British and foreign countries were numerous, such as the Coppa Acerba in Pescera, the Stelvio Hill Climb, the Moderna Grand Prix. Excellent performances in races throughout Great Britain were numerous. First places in virtually every type of Grand Prix, trophy race, trial, hill climb, were innumerable. These cars raced well into the post-war period, loved and thrashed by their owners. Many of the cars did not survive intact. A review of the car-by-car analysis in Hawke’s book shows that most of them had new bodies, engine changes, or were destroyed.

Our Car

This car came in fourth overall in the 1934 Le Mans driven by owner Lindsay Eccles and C.E.C. Martin. I’ve often referred to this car as the “lost MG.” I believe it was lost for three reasons. The first and most obvious is that it seemed to drop from the face of the earth in 1980. Hawke’s book indicates that in 1968 it was sold to a Bill Loven in Canada, but sometime later, perhaps around 1980, it went to Bill Hill in Chicago. “It is not clear who owns the car or why it is kept in Mr. Hill’s restoration establishment. Certainly it has not seen the light of day for a very long time, and information is hard to come by”, records Hawke. This is where the story ended for most K3 enthusiasts.

The second reason is that the car seemed to have been lost in history. It amazes me why its greatest accomplishment, fourth place overall in the 1934 Le Mans and winner of the Index Performance is not memorialized in the myriad MG history textbooks. Our library has approximately 25 books on MG history. Most of them do not even mention that Le Mans race, even though they include extensive reports on the Mille Miglia, the Brooklands Races, the Nurburgring Race, etc.

The car is also lost in another way. There has appeared in a few articles a myth which seemed to have been generated decades ago, and reiterated erroneously throughout the literature. The story is that the fourth-place finisher was actually K3025. Perhaps the fact that CEC Martin owned K3025 but drove K3027 in the 1934 Le Mans may have caused this confusion. Even in his magnificent detailed study of MG K3024 entitled ELC 2 (the registration number of that car), Doug Nye vacillates on the 1934 fourth-place finishing Le Mans car. However, review of the records available including the Le Mans entry list, photographs of 3027 at Le Mans with Eccles on board, Hawke’s detailed analysis, and other photographic reports bring closure to this issue.

Aware of the existence of this important car, you can imagine my surprise when out of the blue, I received a call from George Ktsanes, indicating that he was finally able to wrest the car from Bill Hill and that I could guy it if George did the reassembly. It’s a long saga as to how and why Hill kept the car for so long, but there was apparently a dispute between Hill as the restorer and the car’s owner. Hill had just sold off the most valuable piece of the car, the Marshal magnesium-cased racing supercharger.

MG K3 guru Chris Leydon was unable to get the supercharger from the Englishman who purchased it, even though the Englishman understood that it would be most appropriate to have this supercharger back on the original car. However Chris is such a consummate gentleman as well as a superb restorer of the most complex engines. He had in his possession an original magnesium bodied racing Marshal 75 supercharger which he planned to put on a replica that he was building. Generously, Chris was willing to swap the original supercharger to go on K3027 if we, in turn, purchased for him a replica. I cannot thank Chris enough for this kindness and commitment to originality.

George Ktsanes did an excellent job of putting the car together. Changes in the chassis frame, such as boxing in at certain places, were removed, and the frame was brought to original specification. This was the most difficult part of the reassembly. The engine did not require a great deal of internal work, and the gearbox had to be fettled very little.

George mated the supercharger to the front of the crankcase and brought everything together very sensitively, taking care not to destroy any preservable original paint, such as the entire rear half of the body, but blending in with appropriate finish the other parts of the car to match the original paint that we had.

In the end, however, I was disappointed when the final bill had been paid, that I could not reach George to take delivery. This confused me a bit, but I knew him to be a conscionable man since we had very satisfactory dealings in the past. It turned out that our curator at the time, Sofia Wynnytsky, had contacted George in anticipation of a surprise party for my birthday which was to occur in about three weeks after he completed the car. She found George in time to have the car delivered to the surprise event held by David George at his shop. I was shocked, surprised, and delighted, not only by the kindness of David and all of our friends, but also by the beauty of the grubby little car. I took it for a ride up and down the road by his house, and then we went onto a wonderful rally.

I couldn’t have been happier with the job. George really did not alter the finishes very much, although he did have to paint areas to make the car look uniform. The rest of it is unrestored, but, fortunately, the original engineturned dash panel, headlights, and all the bells and whistles were intact, having been in storage for so many decades. The car runs beautifully. George reminded me to keep the separate oil lubrication pump going even if the car runs a little smoky because lubrication of the supercharger bearings is of foremost concern. Though the smallest displacement car in the collection, she remains one of the most delightful to drive.