Cecil KIMBER (1888–1845)
Creator of the MG marque
The Boundary House, Oxford Road, Abingdon
Cecil Kimber was one of the British motor industry’s most talented executives. Born in Dulwich to Henry Kimber, a printing engineer, he attended Stockport Grammar School and joined his father's company. He was first attracted to motor cycles but after an accident severely damaged his right leg, he transferred his interest to cars. He left the family firm in 1914 and took a job with Sheffield-Simplex as assistant to the chief designer. During WW1 he moved first to AC Cars as a buyer and then to E. G. Wrigley of Birmingham, a major component supplier to Morris Motors Ltd.
In 1921 William Morris made Kimber sales manager of Morris Garages in Oxford, and soon general manager. In 1924 he was inspired to develop a range of cars with sporting bodies fitted to a modified Morris chassis and displaying for the first time the now famous MG (Morris Garages) logo.
Kimber’s eye for line and colour was an important contribution to the sports car’s appeal. Production moved from Oxford to Abingdon in 1929. Kimber was made managing director of the newly registered MG Car Company and was the driving force behind the development of the M-type Midget (1928–32) whose reputation was enhanced by record-breaking and racing successes. Other MG models followed, production reaching a peak of 2850 cars in 1937.
Boundary House, where Kimber lived from 1933 to 1938
In 1935 Morris formally sold MG to Morris Motors, which gave Kimber less autonomy. With the outbreak of war in 1939 and the cessation of all civilian car production, Kimber had to seek war contracts. He negotiated a contract to build aircraft cockpits but, reprimanded for not seeking higher approval first, he resigned in 1941. He soon found other work, first with coachbuilder Charlesworth and then with specialist piston maker Specialloid as works director. On Sunday 4 February 1945, on business for the firm, he boarded the 6 pm express to Leeds at King’s Cross. Shortly after leaving the station, the train wheels started slipping back inside Gasworks Tunnel. The final carriage was derailed and Cecil Kimber was one of two fatalities. He was survived by his second wife Muriel Dewar and two daughters, Betty and Jean, by his first marriage to Irene Hunt.
The MG factory in Abingdon remained a great success story and source of pride in the town long after Kimber’s departure. It closed in 1980 but production of the popular MG marque continued at other places and under other auspices, currently those of the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.
- Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by Richard A. Storey;
MG: From A to Z (Marques and Models) by Jonathan Wood; and Wikipedia
- Speech made by Jonathan Wood at the unveiling ceremony (PDF)
- Oxford Mail, 10 October 2014:
“Blue plaque for MG cars founder Cecil Kimber's home in Abingdon”
On the morning that the plaque was unveiled, the famous ‘Old Speckled Hen’ MG (above) was present in the car park, having been driven across the country for the event. This original canvas-covered model was used by the men at the Abingdon plant and became paint-splashed, hence the name adopted for the brew created by Morlands in 1979 for the 50th anniversary of the Abingdon factory, and now produced by Greene King at their brewery in Bury St Edmunds where the car is also kept.
The plaque was unveiled at The Boundary House pub (Greene King), Kimber's family home 1933–38, by Jonathan Wood, motoring historian, on 4 October 2014, as part of the 90th Anniversary commemoration of the creation of the first MG in 1924. The ceremony was attended by members of the Kimber family, officers and members of Abingdon MG Car Club, and community representatives.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
THE MG MARQUE
MG Car Club Abingdon