Currently reading: When Stirling Moss hit 246mph in a record-breaking MG
Britain’s top Formula 1 driver took a break from motorsport to drive the 300bhp, pill-shaped MG EX181

At the Beijing motor show, MG unwrapped an attention-grabbing new concept car in celebration of its centenary: an electric hypercar named the EXE181, with an ultra-low profile and a single, central seat.

But while it looked futuristic, it was directly inspired by a famous MG from 67 years ago, the EX181 (‘EX’ standing for ‘experimental’).

And to tell this story properly, we have to go even further back. In 1930, engineers and racers George Eyston and Ernest Eldridge conspired with MG founder Cecil Kimber to snatch top-speed records in the 750cc class from the Austin Seven, using a blower by Eyston’s Powerplus supercharger company, to score an invaluable marketing tool for both of them.

Autocar Archive: 128 years of magazines available online

The basis was MG’s new M-Type sports car, with its engine tripled to 60bhp and its body streamlined to create the EX120, or Magic Midget – and it indeed became the first 750cc car to surpass 100mph at France’s Montlhéry GP track.

Undeterred by a fiery crash that put him in hospital, Eyston set to work on the EX127, which was made yet more aerodynamic by way of a wind tunnel and had a lower driving position. It would extend the 750cc record to 120mph.

In 1934, Eyston set his sights on the 1100cc class record too, transforming an MG K-Type sports car into the EX135, nicknamed the Humbug for its cream-striped green livery. It hit 120mph.

A few years later, the EX135 was revised by legendary engineer Reid Railton, gaining a low, sleek, pill-shaped body, for a new attack by racing driver Goldie Gardner.

Using a long, straight stretch of Germany’s unique autobahnen in May 1939, Gardner put the 1100cc and 1500cc records past 200mph.

This came just months after Eyston had broken the outright speed record in his own rocket-shaped, Rolls-Royce V12-engined Thunderbolt, taking it to 345mph.

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The EX135 proved very versatile, being revised many times after the war to eventually break the records in the 350cc, 500cc and 750cc categories as well.

Despite a lack of competition, MG still wasn’t satisfied, so in 1954 it cooked up the EX179, matching a pill-shaped body with an enhanced version of the 948cc A-series four-pot from the Morris Minor – and Eyston, now retired from driving, was put in charge of the project.

This ‘EX’ rather underwhelmed, though, so in 1957 MG decided to extend the 1500cc record that it had held since Gardner’s amazing 1939 run with a new car: the EX181.

MG’s investigations revealed a flattened torpedo shape would be ideal, angled slightly downward, and with the rear wheels much closer together than the fronts. Fins were fitted at the rear and the driver was to be put in a tiny bubble.

Thankfully for the MG team, Britain’s top Formula 1 driver, Stirling Moss, was only 5ft 7in – although he still had minimal room inside, with his feet almost touching the car’s nose, the steering rack against his legs and the engine directly behind his reclined seat. The design seemed to work in the wind tunnel: despite the frontal area being just 10% less than on the EX179, drag was 30% less.

Autocar Archive: 128 years of magazines available online

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That engine, by the way, was a dual-overhead-cam B-series four from MG’s new A sports car, using a Shorrock supercharger and 84%-methanol fuel to make 300bhp at 7300rpm. And hence the car was dubbed the Roaring Raindrop.

That August, it was shipped from MG’s Abingdon home out to Bonneville, while Moss flew in from Italy, right after winning the Pescara Grand Prix for Vanwall.

There were fears that rain would stop play, but on the final available afternoon, Moss slid into the MG and floored it. Minutes later, one George Eyston confirmed from the timing hut that it had hit 246mph, upping the record by 41mph.

Two years later, the EX181 would also bag the 2000cc record, hitting 255mph in the hands of Phil Hill. That would be MG’s final record attempt – or would it? If it’s an EV marketing tool they’re after…

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