So I bought an Airline….
By William Opie
No not BA, Easyjet or Virgin but an MG Airline from 1934.
I have always admired the Art Deco era between the world wars in its expression of beautiful sculptures and buildings that stand out in today’s cities. Maybe also because it was an era that captured so much decadence that appealed to me!
So how did MG’s start making Airline Coupe’s?
For the answer, you have to turn to HW Allingham, a prolific designer who started his own firm in 1931 specialising in car design. He designed the Airline body in 1934 and a prototype was made by Whittingham and Mitchel but the production bodies were made by Carbodies. Just 50 bodies were made fitted to MG cars (PA,PB N types) between 1934 and 1936 with the last body on an MGTA now in Australia. They are regarded as one of the prettiest MG’s of all time but the price for what was regarded as a small luxury car really made it a tough sell.
The story of FA5589
Like many things in life, chance plays its part. Ray Ruffels and I were up on the Club stand at the Classic car show at the NEC last Autumn and in a chance conversation I heard about an incomplete project part restored but more or less complete in Cheltenham. I followed this up and sure enough there she was, body rebuilt , bits everywhere but obvious parts missing both mechanical and trim. FA had been off the road since 1967 , moved house (or garage) more than once and maybe some bits used on a MMM special in the same garage. At one point languishing on the drive, a price of two gallons was offered to take it away! There is a lesson here for any would be restorers, you never know what is missing until you try and put it together! A deal was struck with the current owners and then several trips to sort out what was there and eventually pre-covid ship the car home.
If there was ever a time to start a new project then lockdown gave it to me on a plate! In the interest of domestic peace, I had to balance between gardening and house projects too. The 2m distance also meant I could not get help to lift the body so trolley jacks and blocks of wood got me out of trouble to raise it off the chassis to give me access. I have done some MMM cars before and generally start with ‘wrecks’ as that is all I could afford at the time. Anyway, the fun is in the ‘doing’ searching for parts, fettling, cursing and I am fortunate in having engineers at work to tackle some machining as necessary.
Unfortunately, the last owner became very ill quite quickly so discussing what had been done proved a challenge. Luckily he was very thorough with many photos and notes plus some contact addresses. Detective work and local help put me in touch with the man who did some work on the car over several years and was planning eventually to help but had retired. So from his house a boot load of parts came home to be reunited with the car and a petrol tank commissioned as the original was beyond repair. Also missing were many invoices for parts which his wife tried to locate. I suppose I should leave that topic as I may well of ‘lost’ the odd paperwork at home for obvious reasons.
FA 5589 fortunately had quite a history, having been driven hard on autocross events in the early 60’s and came with many notes from previous owners. An engine rebuild in 1960 cost £42, 10 shillings and tuppence! The last MOT was 1967!
FA’s early years proved a challenge for MG at Abingdon as the history file ( in the archives of our Club offices at Abingdon) were 72 pages with many complaints over the squeaking, rattling body (dealt with by Mr Allingham) and a replacement bonnet after a fire! One letter commented that they could only achieve 73MPH. Engine work consisted of skimming the head to trying to increase the performance above its standard 36 BHP!
Currently, I am completing the chassis, reinstating the 12-inch cable brakes and many feet of brass centralised lubrication system before finishing the engine work which started in 2012 with the white metalling. The challenge will be the interior which was quite luxurious and the roof with its Art Deco Cathedral lights which slide open. Luckily other owners are happy to help remotely from the USA to Australia with details and photos and having many original parts help even if I don’t know yet where they all go! It may take a couple of years to finish, but then my PB took 16 years so that may be optimistic! I would welcome any local contacts in the UK but at the last count, only a handful remain on theses shores.