The Works Rally Cars
Soon after production of the MG Midget Mk 1 began in mid 1961, BMC took three of the cars and converted them for international rallies as publicity for the new model.
All three of these cars had Tartan Red paintwork with Old English White glass- fibre 'works' hardtops. Their front wings, bonnet, doors and boot lid were replaced in alloy, and there were various factory-fitted modifications to the interiors. They retained the standard drum brake set-up, and production ventilated steel wheels, though their engines were up-rated to full Formula Junior specification of 995cc capacity. Precise build dates and chassis numbers are not known.
This car's first and only 'works' appearance was on the 1961 RAC Rally (No.31), driven by Derrick Astle and Peter Roberts, in which they finished 8th overall and 1st in class.
Paddy Hopkirk drove the car on the Ards Airfield Driving Tests in July 1962 when he had just been signed as a BMC 'works' driver: "and in his hands some extremely creditable times were recorded. It does not seem to matter what that man drives, they all seem to go a little bit quicker when he is behind the wheel". This from the Ulster Automobile Club's Sept-Nov 1962 magazine. Click on the link to read the article. [Thanks to Mike Wylie]
The car was sold by BMC in 1963 to Mike Hughes (co-driver of YRX 747 on the '62 Monte Carlo Rally) and was converted to wire wheels. He did some rallying/racing near Formby, Liverpool, including 'Sand Races'. A B-series engine was fitted to provide more power and the original alloy bonnet was re-shaped to accommodate it.
YRX 727 was eventually sold in the late '70s to a Mr. Peter Riley (not the BMC 'works' driver), who is believed to have reverted the car to standard steel panels. Its current whereabouts are unknown.
The first 'works' appearance of this car was in the 1961 RAC Rally (No.21), when it was driven by M. Sutcliffe and R. Fidler, in which they achieved a 2nd place in class.
In early 1962, YRX 737 was re-badged by BMC/Abingdon as an Austin Healey Sprite MkII (including Sprite 'works' hardtop in place of the earlier BMC MkI Midget hardtop) and converted to Sebring spec' with Girling disc brakes and wire wheels. In this guise it competed in the 1962 Tulip Rally (No.59), driven by Tommy Gold and Mike Hughes, when it finished 39th overall and 3rd in class.
The car also competed as a Sprite MkII (Sebring) in the 1962 Alpine Rally (No.23) driven by J. Williamson and D. Hiam. The 1962 RAC Rally is thought to have been its final 'works' event, after which the car was sold by BMC (in 1963) to Graham Vaughan of Boscombe, Bournemouth. He used YRX 737 as his everyday road car for the next 7 years and retained its original 'works' specification. He part-exchanged the car for a Lotus Elan, purchased at Swanmore Garage, Boscombe, in 1970. The next owner, Richard Haughton tells, left, what became of YRX 737.
The first 'works' appearance for this car was in the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally (No.44), driven by Peter Riley and Mike Hughes. They finished 33rd overall and 1st in their class. In the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally (No.158) the car was driven by R. Jones and P. Morgan and once again it won its class.
Sold to Paddy Hopkirk by BMC during 1963 the car was shipped to Northern Ireland, where Paddy sold it a short time later to the Woodside Brothers, Robert and Ian, of Woodside Haulage, near Belfast. Ian rallied YRX 747 on numerous occasions including the Circuit of Ireland, in 1964. They sold it to Ken Carson in the late 1960', and he modified the car substantially for use in rallycross, complete with wide wheels, flared wheel arches, and replacement Ford engine, gearbox and rear axle. Sadly, YRX 747 was damaged beyond repair when Ken rolled the car during a mid '70s race meeting as a result of which it was later scrapped.
[I am very grateful to Jonathan Whitehouse-Bird for providing these photos, and for passing on the above information which he gleaned in direct conversation with Peter Riley, Mike Hughes, Graham Vaughan and Robert Woodside during the late 1980s. Thanks are also due to Mike Wylie for putting me straight on a few little errors.]
MORE FROM MIKE WYLIE (June 2015): Hi Martin, The illustrations submitted by Robin Clubbe (below) are of a double page spread from ‘Castrol Achievements 1963’, the little publicity booklets from Castrol we all eagerly awaited. These were a free booklet, posted to us after completing a form in 'Motor Sport' magazine and usually accompanied by the lubrication chart of a car of one’s choice. The poor souls fulfilling the requests had a thankless task as most of us asked for charts for the most unlikely cars. Anyway, the right-hand picture shows Ian Woodside and Esler Crawford on their way to victory in the 1963 Circuit of Ireland Rally, held over the Easter weekend every year. There is a well-known story that they had an engine fire when in the lead and were helped out by fellow competitor Ronnie White who lent them a carburettor to get to the finish, sacrificing his own placing in the common good. Such was the chivalry in Irish rallying at the time. Ian’s supercharged Sprite was prepared and entered by Alexander Engineering for the event, and by winning in 1963, Ian was given the privilege of starting at Number One in the ex-Works lightweight Midget, YRX.747 the following Easter, 1964. Cheers, Michael.