THE EX-WORKS SEBRING 12 HOUR TEAM CAR
1959 MGA TWIN CAM SPORTS RACING CAR WITH HARDTOP
Former UK Registration No. UMO 96
Chassis No. YD2 2575
Engine No. AEH 37RS 14707
Light MG green with twin verticle stripes and black interior
Engine: four cylinder, twin overhead cam shafts, 1,588cc, 108bhp at 6,700rpm; Gearbox: four speed close ratio; Suspension: front, lever arm dampers, lower wishbones, coil springs and anti-roll bar, rear, multi-leaf springs and lever arm dampers; Brakes: four wheel disc. Right hand drive.
From the late 1940s until the MG factory at Abingdon closed in 1980, it was the huge American demand for British sports cars that brought sufficient orders to keep the production lines in business. While other countries around the world and the home market were important, none was as important as North America. The modern-looking, streamlined MGA was introduced in 1955 and this too proved to be a sales success in MG's most important market. Of a total production of 101,081 MGAs, 81,401 were exported to the USA, some eighty-one per cent of the total market.
Owing to the importance of this market, it was not surprising that the British Motor Corporation was keen to support any efforts MG might make to promote their products in America. One route was through record breaking attempts such as the supercharged MG Twin Cam EX181 which Stirling Moss and Phil Hill drove in 1957/9, setting world class records. The other was through sports car racing. Perhaps the most important circuit for MG in the post-war period in the USA, and also a major fixture on the international racing calendar, were the races held on an airfield circuit near Sebring in Florida. These were established in 1950 by former Briggs Cunningham team manager, Alec Ulmann, who decided to mimic the French 24 Hour Le Mans concept by running endurance races for production sports cars. From the first six hour race in 1950, MGs figured well in both overall and class results. From 1951 the race was lengthened to 12 hours and was particularly grueling owing to the bumpy nature of the circuit. In that year an MG special placed fourth overall and TDs won the team prize. By 1956 the MGA had arrived and three north American MG importers entered standard cars with aero-screens and straight-through exhaust systems, finishing a credible fourth, fifth and sixth in class. The following year they were more successful, taking the team prize and gaining first and second in class. In 1958 the higher performance Twin Cam had been announced, but there were no officially-supported MG entries that year. In 1959 the competition department at Abingdon became serious and prepared three Twin Cam coupes to race and shipped over a mass of spare parts and a fourth practice car. Entered through the MG concessionaires, The Hambro Corporation, all three cars finished in a very wet race including a second and third place result in the 1,300cc to 1,600cc class. In 1960 Abingdon once again prepared the factory team, this year with many more modifications. The three race entries were registered UMO 96, 93 and 95.
This particular car, UMO 96, was driven by Canadians Fred Hayes and Ed Leavens and it was identifed by its twin white stripes. In a race where the MGAs were hampered by brake pipe fractures, UMO 96 finished a credible third in the 1600cc GT class and 24th overall at an average speed of 68.5mph. UMO 93 also managed to finish fourth in class while the other car withdrew early due to valve gear problems. It is interesting to note that in 1960 an MGA Twin Cam, with an engine bored out to 1,762cc, won the 2000cc class and finished 12th overall at an average speed of 91mph at the Le Mans 24 Hour race.
As the most successful team car at Sebring in 1960, it is also interesting that this Abingdon prepared car started life as a standard roadster. In total only seven Twin Cams were factory race prepared and coincidentally this car represented the last appearance by a 'Works' Twin Cam in any motorsport event. Among the modifications was a special cockpit panel behind the seats to accommodate a theoretical travelling suitcase (a Sebring regulation that year) which could not be fitted into the trunk owing to the long range 20 gallon tank and spare wheel strapped on top taking the space. The other features were extensive and included a race tuned engine, two inch SU carburetors, close ratio gearbox, competition accelerator pedal, uprated suspension, anti-roll bar, quick lift jack points, twin fuel pumps, competition wiring loom, 5" Smiths chronometric rev. counter, special cockpit ventilation, carburetor and engine vents, flared wheel arches, spotlights, no bumpers and an aluminum hardtop.
Following the Sebring race, UMO 96 was sold to American enthusiast, Art Smith, who continued to campaign the car for a couple of years. It remained in the North East for a number of years, competing in SCCA events during which time its engine was changed for a 1622cc unit. It was still fitted with this engine when it returned to the UK in 1988 in the capable hands of Mr. Colin Pearcy. He was a long time enthusiast of the MG marque, particularly competition cars, and he embarked on a thorough restoration to return the MGA to its full Sebring specification. Great lengths were taken to ensure originality was retained. Fortunately, the car was largely complete and while the body shell was slightly rusty, there was no perforation. Mr. Pearcy was also fortunate to have a spare Twin Cam engine from another 'works' car he owned (ORX 844) and this was fitted. The body-off, ground-up restoration was carried out by the respected marque specialists Brown & Gammons at a cost of some L20,000. The only concessions to modern racing were a discreet roll cage and safety fuel cells. The finished car was road tested and extensively featured in two leading UK magazines, the January 1992 issue of Classic Cars and the August 1994 issue of Classic & Sportscar. In July 1994 the car was sold and returned to the USA in the current enthusiast's hands and has since raced in VSCCA and SVRA events. Some concessions to USA racing included modern braided fuel lines, a USA fuel cell, battery cut-off switch and an in-car fire extinguisher system. In 1996 the car was re-restored by Vantage Motors of Stamford, Connecticut with no expense spared; in excess of $35,000 was spent to return the car to concours race condition, since which time it has not competed. On a recent test drive the car performed beautifully. Consequently this highly historic MGA Twin Cam is ready to either return to the road/race track or join a public/private collection. UMO 96 is well documented in the history books and there is a highly active MG Club both here and overseas, including an active MGA Twin Cam registry.