30 years of the MGCC at Kimber House

17th July 2020

As well as celebrating 90 years of the MG Car Club in 2020, we are also celebrating three decades since the club moved into its current premises at Kimber House, Abingdon. It is a location that is inter-woven into our clubs history and that of the marque MG.

The first MG Car Club sporting event took place in 1930, the Chilterns Trial. In January 1931, the first club dinner was held with Cecil Kimber as guest speaker, during which Cecil Kimber pledged to this present, to donate 50 guineas to club funds. In 1932 the club held the “First Show-Time Dinner-Dance at the Café Royal.” Among the guests were Sir William Morris, Earl Howe, Sir Henry Birkin, Mr. G.E.T. Eyston, and Mr. Cecil Kimber.

As MG production increased, the Club continued to grow and the structure of Regional Centres came into being, extending membership of the club across the UK. 

A Northern Centre was formed by March 1933 and a Scottish Centre, now the Caledonian Centre, shortly after. By April 1933, the membership had topped 500 and had both a Trials team and a Relay Race team. The latter taking part in the BRDC 500 Miles Race at Brooklands in September 1933, finishing in second place.

A bi-monthly magazine, called M.G. Magazine, made an appearance in May, 1933, edited by Alan C. Hess, Secretary of the M.G. Car Club and former editor of Motor Sport.

In October 1942 Motor Sport announced: “F.L.M. Harris has had to resign his Hon. Secretaryship of the M.G. Car Club, a position he has fulfilled so extremely successfully for the past eight years, on account of increasingly heavy R.A.F. commitments.”

In 1945, the club was taken in-house by the MG Car Company at Abingdon. Petrol was strictly rationed, so club motorsport was more or less non-existent. August 1951 saw the first Silverstone ‘all-Centre’ meeting, an evolution of which is called MGLive! today. 

Membership continued to grow and the first overseas Centres were formed. The club was greatly strengthened by the initiation of a magazine circulated to all members, Safety Fast, compiled by F. Wilson McComb.

During the period 1960-1967 the South East Centre organised competitive events at the Firle Hill Climb in Sussex.

In the 1960s, there was a growth in Overseas membership. In 1966 The Motor reported: “The MG Car Club recently enrolled its 5,000th home member. Which, with some 4,000 overseas members, gives the club a total strength of more than 9,000 souls.” 

As the 1960s drew to a close the relationship with the parent company — first BMC and then British Leyland — lost the closeness which had previously existed with MG. The club faced an uncertain future but Gordon Cobban, then Chairman of the South East Centre, and others worked hard to not only plan a safe financial basis for continuing but to license the club name (and that of Safety Fast) from BL. Support from UK and Overseas Centres for the new structure was vital, so in October 1969 a fully independent MG Car Club was formed, providing a basis for the club which continues today. Initially the club moved into rented offices in Abingdon but quickly became somewhat nomadic being based in Boston, Studley and Radley.

Kimber House prior to the Club’s purchase and renovation

The MG Car Club at that point in time, always wanted to return the headquarters to Abingdon, the home of MG. In April 1988 a Building Appeal Fund was set up in order to raise money for the acquisition of a home for the club. By mid-1989, this resulted, thanks to the generosity of many club members and other benefactors, in the purchase of 11 & 12 Cemetery Road, a detached property right next to the original gate of the MG factory. 

The property is located where Cecil Kimber (Club President from 1935-1945) and John Thornley (General Manager and subsequently Managing Director) successfully ran one of the world’s most well-known and well-respected car manufacturing companies and so remains an iconic location to MG fans globally. 

Many donations in cash and in kind were vital to the renovation of the premises as suitable offices for the club, completed in July 1990.

Crowds gather to celebrate the opening of Kimber House

The office is known as Kimber House in tribute to Cecil Kimber, the founder of the MG Car Company and is located in a position such that, most of the MGs produced at Abingdon, would have passed right past the front door at one time or another! 

Unfortunately, Kimber House is currently closed to visitors owning to the current restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kimber House is not just home to the MG Car Club, it’s also an MG museum, with all kinds of treasures on display!

Under normal circumstances, visitors can visit exhibitions of various MG and MGCC memorabilia, from the limited-edition MG SMEG fridge to scale models and collectibles. You’ll find items covering almost every model of MG, from those vintage Oxford-built cars, to the icons built in Abingdon, through to the newer MG Motor models.

You can also get up close and personal with the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon Rally MGB and you might even spot an MG or two in the car park as well!

Visitors can also explore the MGCC archive room. Over the years we have collected and received contributions from members for all things MG. There are more than 10,000 photos plus production records for most MGs produced up to 1950. There are also small collectible items, and some have even travelled a long way to get back to Kimber House for its new home.

The MG Car Club’s on-site shop has all kinds of items to remind you of your trip to Kimber House and if you’re not a member, you can join in person and meet the staff and volunteers that run the club.