History of the MG Car Club: Part 13

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Until 1997 the office administration of the Club had been carried out by a series of female administrators who handled the day-to-day running of the office and carried out specific work directed by the members of the Board.

The fact that most of them served the Club for many years (for example Lyn Jeffery 1990-1997) is an indication that the arrangement worked efficiently and smoothly. Jean Bryce served as Membership Secretary for over 20 years. 

In August 1997, however; the Board decided that the time had come for Kimber House to bring considerably more responsibilities 'in house'. It was felt that this now required the appointment of a full-time Chief Executive, a position which was filled by Rob Gammage. 

Rob Gammage (left) and Roger Latham (Anglia Centre) 

The office was soon to handle competitions, an improved membership department, Safety Fast! production, a new computerised accounting system, the appointment of an exhibition organiser and generally improved services to Centres, Branches and Registers. The new Chief Executive was given a fairly free hand to be proactive with new projects, at the same time keeping the Board and the Council up-to-date with developments.

Rob Gammage with the 1998 MGCC Competitions Department 

Inevitably, the increase in membership and Club activities meant that more office accommodation was soon required at Kimber House (formerly No 12 Cemetery Road). With its small cottage-style rooms, a lot more space was needed for the new members of staff. The Board negotiated the purchase of the adjoining cottage No 11, which had been the residence of an elderly couple who had lived there for many years. A mutually amicable arrangement was agreed whereby the Club would arrange for them to be rehoused in a bungalow in Cornwall where they planned to retire. The purchase of the bungalow by the Club was seen as a maturing asset and the financial arrangements were successfully completed. 

Under the successive Chairmanship of Mike Hawke, Peter Best and Stephen Cox, the Club was set to enjoy a period of modernisation and consolidation. At Kimber House, competitions were now handled by Peter Browning. John lnness was appointed exhibition manager, and lan Rendle (Safety Fast! production) handed over to Andy Knott. 

The year 1997 produced a trading surplus with increased membership and the 100,000th member soon to join. In I999 Classic Car magazine awarded MGCC Silverstone best club event of the year - the second time in three years. In 2000, the Club of the Year Award from Classic & Sports Car magazine celebrated the 75th anniversary, over 300 annual events in the UK and a growing membership worldwide. In 2001, after 16 years, Paddy Willmer retired as editor of Safety Fast! handing over to Peter Browning. 

Celebrating anniversaries proved to be good promotion and an opportunity for special events. Safety Fast! in March 2003 recorded 75 years of the M Type, the 40th Anniversary of the T Register, 30 Years of the MGB VB, the 25th Anniversary of the VB Register, 20 years of the Maestro and the 20th Regency Run (London to Brighton) which attracted over 700 cars. The year 2003 also saw the formation of the new TRZS|ZT Register. 

First event by the MG ZR/ZS/ZT Register, Duxford 2004 

The growing popularity of Track Days, where enthusiasts could bring their road cars to sample circuit driving, prompted the Club to set up its own MGs on Track operation. Originally inspired by Dave Livingstone at the start of the 2004 season, the Club's Track Days soon became regular events enjoyed by a growing number of members. 

It was during 2004 that controversial plans were drawn up for the building of a modern purpose-built office to replace Kimber House. This ambitious project caused considerable controversy and was finally shelved on the basis that the cost would involve spending a huge chunk of the Club’s financial assets, which were probably unlikely to have been recovered by increased business. 

Towards the end of 2005 the Board discussed a proposal that Safety Fast! should be downsized to include only Club news, while feature material would be incorporated into the long established magazine MG Enthusiast which would be mailed to members. This was not generally popular; there were administrative problems and the arrangement was soon terminated and Safety Fast! was reinstated in July 2007. 

The Club's financial position has always been reflected in the strength of membership, particularly new members, and this has always been linked to the availability of new MGs. The closure of MG Rover at Longbridge in 2005 was to see a serious drop in membership income as the production of MGs came to an end. By 2006 the Club's finances were not strong and a serious reduction in activities like the racing programme had to be made. 

The year 2007 was to see many staff changes. Treasurer Peter Buckles stood down and Andy Knott took over as Safety Fast! editor from Peter Browning who retired. Rob Gammage moved on, the Club appointing Richard Jones as the new General Manager. Richard worked in the area of business development in motorsport and raced an MGF. Steve Carr joined the staff as the new Competitions Secretary. John Day took over as Chairman from Peter Best. Richard Jones left after only one year to be replaced by Julian White as the new General Manager in January 2009. 

The Chinese Connection - Julian White

Much to my delight, I was offered the role of General Manager of the MG Car Club and started with the Club in January 2009. 

Whilst the Directors had tried their best to brief me beforehand, never in my wildest dreams had I envisaged the complexity of the position and the opportunities that would be presented to me over the course of the coming years. 

A lot has changed at the Club in recent years. Most importantly, we pushed ahead with the John Thornley suite which opened in June 2010 funded entirely through membership. This is a fantastic purpose-built meeting room allowing us to hold talks, film shows and other Car Club events. This heralded a new open-door policy, whereby we invited our members and other interested parties to visit Kimber House, primarily to view our growing archive collection but also feel the real spirit of MG that is Kimber House. 

MG Abingdon factory employees at the ground breaking for the John Thornley Suite 

More recently, we got ourselves involved with a new 'MG garden' here in Abingdon, with the Car Club providing a timeline of MG's history. 

My appointment as GM coincided pretty much with the launch of the first new SAIC MG, the MG6, in China and at the point where SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation) were beginning to step up their MG presence around the world. 

We had, I was told, already had a delegation of press members and senior figures from SAIC from China visiting Kimber House, shortly before I joined. Nobody was more surprised than me when a call came out of the blue inviting me out to Shanghai.

Julian welcomes Chinese journalists to Kimber House in the John Thornley Suite 

After sorting out the necessary visas, I was invited to go out to Shanghai departing on October 16, 2010. This was to be the first of a number of regular trips I was to make over the next few years. 

I arrived in Shanghai in the company of Richard Monk, my opposite number with the MG Owners' Club. At the time, neither Richard nor I had much idea why we were wanted. I had been told in advance that they would like me to make a short presentation to the press and senior figures from SAIC about the history of MG and the MG Car Club. This was all to take place in a pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010, a huge world trade exhibition

When the day arrived, I made my speech alongside the then British Consul for Shanghai. Despite my nerves all went well. Shortly after, Richard Monk and I were asked to attend a press conference with about 20 journalists. It soon became apparent that they were particularly interested in the MG Car Club and the history of MG. This made me think that I should seize the opportunity to more closely align ourselves with the brand's current owners. 

The following day I had a meeting with Ms Emmy Lin (MG and Rover Marketing Director) and her colleague, Phil Feija. We discussed various ways we could be of benefit to one another going forward; not least, I explained my vision that they should get involved with our international event at Silverstone, MGLive!, helping to align ownership with MG Car Club membership. 

Julian White with Ms Emmy Lin 

In the months that followed, various communications went backwards and forwards between ourselves and MG China, out of which we honed a 'heritage partnership'. This would include an agreed scope of work, in exchange for some financial support from them. This was to fund an additional team member at Kimber House and ongoing support with MG Live!. Our consultancy role would in turn help them with translation of brochures and other bits of literature, as well as supporting new car launches and, as importantly, correcting any historical inaccuracies. 

This relationship has evolved further over a period of time. Both members of the Kimber House team and I are invited out to China, generally at least once a year, to attend new car launches and strategic meetings concerning MG worldwide. 

MG China celebrate the 80th anniversary of the MG in Shanghai 

Back here in the UK, our relationship with MG UK continues to strengthen, with two cars currently available - the MG6 and smaller MG3 - and of course the Club supporting our newest register, the MG635 Register. 

At Kimber House, in more recent times, we have hosted a number of reunions for the Abingdon MG workers, and more recently have held a presentation day for our members who have achieved 50 years' membership of the Club. 

We continue to forge close links with both local and national museums; indeed, as I write this, the Abingdon County Museum has a permanent MG display demonstrating the importance of MG to local commerce, and of course the families whose living was made within the factory. 

Finally, I think it worth mentioning that we continue to work closely with a number of MG-related businesses, both locally and nationally, enjoying sponsorship and dedicated support from a number of them. 

I was very sorry to have to stand down as General Manager in 2015 through ill health, but will always remember my time at Kimber House. 

The Future - Adam Sloman

Over its 86 years, the MG Car Club has seen many changes, from the creation of British Leyland, the closure of Abingdon and, perhaps the biggest change, MG's move from British to Chinese ownership. 

Adam Sloman, General Manager of the MGCC 

And, while those changes have been huge, the world around us has changed too. The rise of the internet and social media sites means that the connection between people locally, nationally and globally has changed massively - where people might once have relied upon Safety Fast! dropping through their letterbox to be kept up-to-date with latest news from the Club, today that information is at their fingertips and is instantly available. 

And, while it is fantastic to have such easy access to such information, it has created a plethora of alternatives to the MG Car Club, many of which are free of charge. 

So, the challenge to the Club during this period is how to remain relevant to our existing members and how do we attract new ones?

The Club has been proactive in engaging in social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as creating video content for the likes of YouTube and audio content via the Club's fledgling Safety Fast! podcast. 

In order to justify our existence as we move forward, the Club needs to be proactive in all areas - most notably in support of MG s parent company, Shanghai Automotive lndustrial Corporation, and with tangible support of each new MG model.

Since Julian's efforts to establish a relationship with SAIC and assist in the creation of the MG Car Club China, Kimber House has worked with SAIC tirelessly – supporting model launches across the globe, as well as attending events in China, South America and the Middle East. 

MG arrives in the Middle East 

The MG Car Club continues to enjoy a strong partnership with SAIC, serving as World Heritage Partner to the company, playing a vital role in protecting the heritage and history for the current generation and future generations.

Adam makes a presentation in Dubai

And it is that sense of protection that led to the Club's decision to begin a project to construct a new archive facility at Kimber House - a facility that eventually became known as the Bill Wallis Wing. Led by Dave Saunders, the Bill Wallis Wing’s design process began in 2015, with construction starting late that year. The plan was simple: to create an archive facility capable of protecting the Club’s enviable collection for many years to come, as well as adding further display and library space. 

The extension was designed by member Maurice Standish, who worked together with Dave to identify an appropriate building firm, Ultimately, Morris and Blunt were selected to carry out the project and building work began in October 2015, with the official opening of the wing in May 2016 being presided over by June Wallis and daughter, Louise. 

June Wallis opens the Bill Wallis wing in 2016 

The new archive room is equipped with state-of-the-art moving racking, capable of storing up to 23 tonnes of material. With an ever-growing collection, it is vital that the archive is as future-proof as possible. Upstairs, the two single offices have been remodeled to create a large double office, while the room above the Club's archive plays host to the Kimber House Library. 

The project was completed on time and serves as a testament to the efforts of both Dave and Maurice, providing an outstanding facility to the Club that will be enjoyed by members for decades to come.

Drawing this most recent period of MG and MGCC history to a close is the announcement of the end of MG production at the Longbridge plant in Birmingham, bringing 92 years of MG history to a close - the future will see all MGs built abroad for the first time in the marque's history. With MG now very much part of a truly global family, we cannot expect UK production to happen, though we all hoped that one day Longbridge might be producing cars in its 1000s once again. 

Despite the changes in MG's production, we can all take comfort that, as always, the MG Car Club will continue to endure and, with an incredible membership at its heart, long may this continue.

Acknowledgements – Peter Brown (Editor)

This Club History series has been based on the late Mike Hawkes' book “The First Seventy Years”, published in 2001. This was the first complete history of the Club and was a truly major achievement by Mike. When the Club’s archive copy of the book was lost and the original production discs were found to be damaged, it was decided to feature an updated and enlarged version to run in Safety Fast! - this month brings the story up to date. Thanks are due to those who have contributed new material, to Andy Knott who has led the production team and Peter Neal who has helped gather together the new collection of photos. Finally, a special thanks to those past members who regularly contributed Club news in the pages of the MG Magazine, The Sports Car and Safety Fast! who recorded the all-important early years of the Club.

NAMGAR would like to thank Andy Knott, Editor, Safety Fast! for his kind permission to reproduce these articles. 

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Last updated on March 2, 2017.