Cyril's MG: theft and amazing discovery


Cyril's old car now in roadworthy condition thanks to Malcolm Simmonds

There are a couple of curious tales about Cyril Pike that we have managed to piece together concerning his MG car which not only later proved to have had a famous previous owner but was also cheekily stolen from his rented garage near the church.


Major Cyril Pike who died in 2002, at the age of 86, was a well known figure in Cuckfield. Many folks will associate Cyril with his red Peerless GT sports car that was so regularly parked outside his house ‘Picknells’ close to the High Street mini roundabout. Only 300 Peerless GTs were made, and we hope to tell you more about this car in a future article.


But what many people don’t know is that he also owned an MG VA, with a very distinguished heritage - and this has more than one curious tale attached to it.



The MG VA is an imposing vehicle head on

Although this story starts long ago - let’s begin in 1975. A young local solicitor, Kip Waistell moved home to Cuckfield High Street, just opposite the Talbot Inn. Kip got to know Cyril very well as they were both very active Cuckfield Sealed Knot members. Some five years later, Kip bought a second property in the village with a view to redeveloping it. At the end of the garden, which backed onto Church Platt, there was ‘a dilapidated corrugated iron garage, without doors, sheltering the MG and Pike’s Peerless sports car’ as Kip described it.


Kip continues, ‘Rather than vacating the garage so that we could demolish it, Cyril agreed to pay the princely sum of 50p a week rental, unilaterally reduced by him to a bottle of sherry at Christmas, then to nothing. At the time of the garage collapsing in the 1987 hurricane, Cyril was thinking of accepting my long-standing offer of £900 for the MG ’.


Stolen then recovered

‘The garage was at the end of a short drive leading out onto the main road. In broad daylight, a low-loader was reversed up the drive and the garage remains lifted off the MG, which was then dragged onto the truck and taken away. Everyone who saw it assumed Cyril had “done a deal”. One can only admire the cheek of the thief.’


‘The fellow who we believe stole the car, approached a mate of mine in a car club that I belonged to, asking what the car was worth etc., but my mate decided not to touch it and informed me. I told the police, who did not even go to interview my mate.’



Jean Kimber-Cook and Cecil Kimber at the Eastleach cottage

All went quiet but there was another local motor enthusiast who knew Cyril well and had been very keen for several years to do a deal with Cyril on the car. Former local resident Malcolm Simmonds, who today lives in Storrington, kept an eye open for the stolen MG and struck lucky when he spotted the car in ‘Classic Car Weekly’.

It took two years before Malcolm negotiated a deal in 1996 and bought the car. Meanwhile Cyril was kept in the loop on his progress. By this time Cyril, now 80, had changed his feelings about ownership. He partly blamed the collapse of the garage on Kip - and had been impressed by Malcolm’s enthusiasm and seven years of persistence - so Cyril relinquished any claim on the car. At this point nobody realised the importance of the car.


The Managing Director’s own car

Malcolm proudly had his acquisition trailered to an MG Car Club ‘SVW Register’ annual gathering in Abingdon. Here an eagle-eyed Dutch member of the club showed him a photograph of Cecil Kimber, the managing director, and driving force behind MG, with his own car - the very same CBL 192.


The picture (see above), showing his daughter Jean, was taken outside their holiday cottage at Eastleach, near Cirencester, in the summer of 1941. Jean Kimber-Cook, who was at the MG event, recognised the car and was able to provide the original picture, clearly showing Kimber’s personal badge bar fitted to the car.



1939 publicity shot at Barley Mow, nr Abingdon. Nearside headlamp wartime mask (offside bulb was removed)

According to factory records it was issued with a guarantee plate on 19 April 1939 and the registration number CBL 192 reserved (seemingly as part of a batch) in August of that year but only first licensed for road use by the MG Car Company on 20 January 1940. Initially it was a showpiece car featuring in publicity photographs. The car was then used by Cecil Kimber as his company car, and it was fitted with trumpet horns, his badge bar and a spot lamp.


Cecil Kimber lost his job soon after the war broke out after production had switched to aircraft component manufacture. And four years later he was killed in a freak railway accident at King's Cross on 4 February 1945. He would normally have been travelling in his MG VA but took the train because of the scarcity of fuel and petrol coupons.



Cyril's Peerless GT and MG VA at Cuckfield Church c1962

Kimber was the genius behind the brand of MG which was conceived ‘to make sporting models out of workaday Morrises’. MG became the first non-Italian marque to win the Mille Miglia (1000 Mile) race in Italy with a K3 Magnette. From this point on the marque and the ‘MG Octagon’ badge became famous worldwide and even today early MGs are highly collectable. Most desirable of all must be Cecil Kimber’s own MG.


Cyril’s ownership

Malcolm filled in the Cuckfield back history: ‘Cyril Pike, had originally bought the MG in 1958 from a dealer in Richmond, South London (for £199 less £9 for repairs). He travelled widely in it when he worked as an engineering consultant. A file of receipts from names such as Toulmin, Richardsons and Archway all point to the car being well cared for and it was later rebuilt mechanically and resprayed (in black again) c1961/62.’


A few years later Cyril, due to increasing motorway journeys, bought his red Peerless GT. But as he was still fond of the VA, both were run for a while. Eventually the VA was laid up in its garage until it was stolen.


Malcolm couldn’t wait to tell Cyril the remarkable story of the car’s early history, and Pike confirmed that he had been completely unaware of its pedigree. Cyril knew Malcolm was a real car enthusiast and was comforted by the fact that it would be well cared for and that he no longer had to garage it. Malcolm recalled:


‘He was very gracious about me having the VA - after all, I had tracked it down and undertook all the bargaining to get it back for him.’


Since its purchase Malcolm found the car was indeed in excellent order and required little to persuade it to run. The body is largely in ‘original condition’.


But what about fellow car enthusiast Kip Waistell? Well Kip may have initially been disappointed by Cyril’s decision to pass the MG over to Malcolm, but this certainly didn’t put him off historic cars. He and his wife, Carmen, have had several amazing adventures in their other historic vehicles that they have owned since. In 2005 they rode scooters all the way back from Kazakhstan.


Then in 2007 they drove 8000 miles to Peking in ‘Brian the Snail’, a 1930 Austin Seven. Two thousand miles of this was with a broken prop shaft! They not only succeeded but raised enough to buy 5,000 mosquito nets for Kenyan children for Unicef. We plan a little feature on their adventures shortly.


Technical details of the MG VA

The MG VA, or MG 1½-litre as it was originally marketed, is a motor car that was produced by MG between February 1937 and September 1939 and was the smallest of the three sports saloons they produced in the late 1930s, the others being the SA and WA.


Unrestored interior of the car

The car used a tuned version of the push rod, overhead valve four-cylinder Morris TPBG type engine that was also fitted to the Wolseley 12/48 and Morris Twelve series III. The MG version had twin SU carburettors and developed 54 bhp (40 kW) at 4500 rpm.


Drive was to the live rear axle via a four speed manual gearbox with synchromesh on the top three ratios, though on some early cars it was only on the top two speeds. Nineteen inch wire wheels were fitted, and the 10inch (250mm) drum brakes were hydraulically operated using a Lockheed system.


A version of the car was made for police use with a 1707 cc engine and calibrated speedometer. It was possible that Kimble’s own car may have been fitted with the uprated engine.


Postscript

Why not take the passenger's seat in Cyril's old MGVA and enjoy a drive through Cuckfield in 1940's executive style? Turn up the volume and enjoy a sound of the era!



Sources and further information

Wikipedia MG VA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MG_VA

Wikipedia Cecil Kimber: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Kimber


Acknowledgments

Our thanks go to the following:

For the excellent vehicle shots by Stephan Lindoff.

For the Barley Mow photo SVW Register of the MGCC.

Also to the late Bas de Voogd, the Dutch member of the MG Car Club, without whose research this story would not have come to light.

To Malcolm Simmonds and Kip Waistell for their help in the preparation of this article.


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.