Chicagoland MG Club
Back to Archives
Submit an article
Intro & Club Officers
Left Hand Drive
Right Hand Drive
March Meeting Report
Welcome New Members
Amtrak Road Trip 2005
Technical Seminar -UCM
Missouri Endurance Rally
MGA Seats Rebuild
Spring Tune Up Party
Open House at UCM
Spring Chicken Rally
Cruise Night w/ AE Band
Champagne Brit Car Fest
AHCA Spring Gymkhana
GRX 307D - Old Faithful
Regalia Items Available
GRX 307D, known as “Old Faithful”
To Finish First, You Must First Finish
I’m sure many CMGC members couldn’t imagine running an endurance rally such as the Missouri Endurance Rally or the Rally ‘Round the Lake, whether because they wouldn’t want to do it or because they believe it’s just dumb luck that an MG could be driven that far without breaking down. Well, the factory racing and rally teams regularly ran events that would make such events look like a walk in the park.
By 1966 the Marathon de la Route had evolved from long distance road races held in the Liege, Belgium area to an 84 hour race held on the Nurburgring circuit in Germany, 75 miles away. The race was gruelling to both man and machine. The organizers gave each team an average (bogey) lap time that they needed to achieve on each 17.5 mile lap; for the MGBs this was 16 minutes during the day (66 mph) and 19 minutes at nighttime (56 mph). They had to lap in under 25 minutes or they were out of the race. Twenty minutes per 50 laps was allowed for servicing, and if additional servicing was needed it was limited to 20 minutes per lap, but teams were penalized one lap per minute used. And they also had to run at least as many miles in the last 12 hours of the race as the first 12 – so no sprinting ahead and coasting at the end. The rules did allow 5 minutes every ten laps for refueling. Sound tough? You bet. Sound complicated? Yes, it was a race you had to think about to a greater extent than most. To add to the works MG teams troubles, they were in the GT class, a broad class that had MGBs, Porsches, and Ferraris competing on equal terms.
The works entered two MGBs - GRX 307D piloted by Andrew Hedges and Julien Vernaeve, numbered 47 and in the familiar red and white for this race, and BRX 855B piloted by Alec Poole and Roger Enever (son of THAT Enever), numbered 46 and all black. The race started at Midnight with the cars starting at one minute intervals without any warmup laps. MG almost immediately put their repair allowances to use as Enever went off the track on some loose pavement and had to come into the pits to get the car fixed, costing no. 46 3-1/2 minutes over their lap time. Not to be outdone, Hedges went off the track in even grander fashion and doing far more damage to the front bodywork, lights and fuel tank, and costing him 4-1/2 minutes over their bogey lap times. The mechanics put in a valiant and successful effort in getting things back together and both cars continued the race throughout the night without such further drama, albeit at the bottom of the field. Keep in mind that due to the lap time restrictions, they could not do all the repairs needed all at once; the mechanics had to do a bit on one pit stop, then a bit on the next. It’s a credit to the cars and their prep that they could keep up the pace they did without being fixed all the way. Another factor in MG’s favor was the decision to have the driver’s drive for 7 and-a-half hour shifts, thus allowing them to have some real rest between shifts. This was to really play itself out later in the race.
By the halfway point of the race, the MGBs were running in second and third place behind a Belgian raced Ferrari, but some Ford-Lotus Cortinas lurked behind just waiting to take over those spots. In the morning of the third day, the decision was made to lure the Cortinas into a little race with Poole. They started chasing him and just as the MG team hoped, one of them started pushing their car a bit too hard; it overheated and blew the engine. Yes, you read correctly – an MGB forced ANOTHER car to overheat. The second Cortina driver decided to hang back so the car could finish the race.
A bit later that day, a big thunderstorm hit and the decision to keep the drivers rested and alert panned out, at least to some extent. The lead Ferrari was being driven by a very tired Italian fellow who crashed the car and put it out of the race. MG was now running 1-2, but Enever’s car aquaplaned on the now soaked rubber-dust covered track and crashed into a ditch, landing on its side. It took 18 minutes to get the car back to ugly-side-down and in the pits, but they did it and managed to only drop to fourth place. Hedges wisely pulled in to switch to rain tires, but did lose a place, now running in second place.
Twelve hours left in the race now; Cortina in first, no. 47 MGB second, a Volvo third, and the no. 46 MGB in fourth. In the ’65 Sebring race, an MGB won second in class largely because it was able to drive through a torrential downpour. Fast-forward to this race and both MGBs put their cars’ and driver’s ability in the wet to use again and steadily eroded the leads of the Cortina and Volvo until the ‘Bs were running 1-2, with Vernaeve leading in the no. 47 car. Alas, it was not to last, as the no. 46 car snapped a rear axle shaft as it pulled out of the refueling pit. As the refueling pits were separate from the main service pits, and cars were not allowed to either be pushed to the pits or have a spare brought to them, the no. 46 car was forced to leave the race. Despite such an end, it was still a great performance by the car and its crew, coming back from a crash and last place, to 16th, and then second place when they had to drop out.
The no. 47 car didn’t have any such trouble and steadily increased their lead until Hedges finished the race three laps ahead of the Cortina, and seven laps ahead of a 2-liter BMW. First in GT category, only car left in the GT category, one of only 14 cars left in the race, and first overall. How did MG win such a gruelling race? Mainly by being a dependable car. The BMC Competition Dep’t could have sent a big Healey, but they decided MGBs would do the job. It’s relatively easy to make a car go real fast for short periods of time; to do it for 3-1/2 days straight is another matter altogether. They built these cars to go fast alright, but they were not that far removed from the cars on the showroom floor. They also carefully planned and executed how to run the race. Fast enough to keep up to pace in the front of the pack, but not so fast that the car was under too much stress, like the Cortina mentioned above. The same philosophy went for the drivers. A break of 7-1/2 hours meant a solid 6 hours of sleep between shifts and that translated to not crashing the cars beyond repair (see Ferrari) and sharp driving skills that enabled them to regain, maintain and increase leads (see ending stretch) as they needed to so MG could win the race.
GRX 307D was known as “Old Faithful” before this race, and its performance at the Nurburgring in ’66 only cemented that reputation. Is a Ferrari GTB or a Porsche a better sportscar than an MGB? Not if it can’t finish the race.