Words: David Burke-kennedy
n the mid 1930s, soon after the hip-swaying rumba became the latest dance craze, MG launched a sporty little 939cc two-seater number called the ‘PB’ — an improved version of the similar-looking but lower-powered PA. Three body styles were offered: a two-seat roadster (still highly soughtafter today), a four-seater, and a somewhat aerodynamic Airline fastback coupé.
All featured MG’S traditional wood-framed body construction, fold-down windshields on open models, centre-lock wire wheels, and leather upholstery. For those who could afford the £225 price tag — almost double that of a small family saloon — ownership was like having a babe magnet. For a start, it implied you were a person of means in an era of high unemployment — attractive in itself in the post-depression era. Or, to put it another way, the price was equal to 20 per cent of a lawyer’s average annual salary at the time. The ‘MG’ name had garnered an enviable track record since its launch in 1924 as a rebodied Morris. Various models were involved in competition and took land-speed records. So, apart from being viewed as successful and affluent, owners may also have been regarded as performers as they impressed their dates with a thenbreathtaking 0–96.5kph (60mph) in 27 seconds.
Besides, accommodation was encouragingly ‘ intimate’ (OK, cramped and sometimes bone-jarring) when you were bumping along on the roads of the day at around 112kph.
The PB’S replacement was the similar-looking TA Midget — the first in the T-series concluding with the MG TF. They were a worldwide export success post-war before being superseded by the legendary MGA in 1955.
and the 2½ million motor vehicles that had rapidly replaced predominantly horse-drawn traffic in Britain of the decade before. It was probably the MX-5 of its age.
The PB was the last of the early Wolseley-derived overhead-camshaft models produced in the era of MG founder Cecil Kimber, who worked with Morris Garages — from where the initials reportedly originate. It had the distinctive design hallmarks associated with the marque; notably, the confident vertical radiator introduced in 1928 and the freestanding headlamps, clam-shell fenders, and slabshaped fuel tank.
Five hundred and twenty-six PBS were produced from July 22, 1935 to February 13, 1936. Production ceased barely a month after Britain’s Autocar magazine gave it a favourable — albeit then-typically reserved — British road-test review. Whether that had any influence, or simply because it was a car favoured by those dashing armed services officers, is unknown.
However, coincidentally, on March 21, 1936, it was a British naval officer who snapped up one of the last MG PBS still in captivity at the main London dealer, University Motors.
Lieutenant JWH Bennett, Royal Navy (whose address was given as the Destroyer HMS Viceroy) sailed out of the showroom at the helm of black PB0759. Somehow, it turned up in New Zealand — possibly on a naval training vessel; most likely left behind when Lt Bennett returned to England on HMS Dunedin, which was stationed here to assist relief efforts after the 1931 Napier earthquake.
Despite its previous ownership, the car was registered as ‘new’ to Colin George Hamilton, 124 Salisbury Street, Christchurch on September 13, 1938. A radio serviceman, he had an interest in motor sport and flying, and died in service flying a Kittyhawk in 1943.
Fast forward to 1974, when 14-year-old Donald Mcleod of Hamilton and his brother Angus were each gifted a pre-war MG P-series by their father, Derrick, who, until then, had been an avid car collector. “Something must have happened when my late father was approaching 50 years of age,” Donald speculated. “He was no longer so keen to drive or maintain old cars.”
And he’d certainly had a few after developing an enthusiastic interest in classics, and MGS in particular, at the end of World War II. They included a 3½-litre shortchassis Bentley, 1925 Tickford Daimler, ‘spinner nose’ Studebaker, Cord 810, Bristol 401, Singer Le Mans, and the first of the MGS (his PB), which he bought in 1964.
But then Derrick had been another one of those dashing air force officers — serving as a Fleet Air Arm pilot in England during 1945. He was impressed by the sports cars flaunted by other young officers, who turned up at airfields geared up and behind the wheel.
Donald was aged four when he first saw PB0759 and says he was captivated — evidenced in photographs taken of him behind the wheel. By age six, he was sitting on Derrick’s workbench in the garage, pretending to help his father work on the real thing.
Along the way, it had changed colour and was now red, but it was still in original condition, albeit needing TLC and parts — particularly after an earlier electrical fire. Most of the original electrical parts were missing or needed to be replaced.
The car featured MG crested knock-ons, the ‘ deluxe’ dashboard that included two extra instruments, and a light that flashed on at 48kph/30mph — a speed limit introduced in Britain back in the ’30s. Except on this example, the light never seemed to work.
PB0759 was now 28 years old, and Derrick Mcleod began hunting for parts. He discovered a fairly complete PA owned by a young Auckland student, Renton Murray. The condition of sale was that the spare car was to be sold with another complete PB. Suddenly, there were three MGS in the Mcleod home collection.
The other usable MG — PB 0259 — which was one of the first from 1935 and coloured green, would be given to Donald’s brother.
“Cars were bought and sold from the collection; and raising a young family of two boys did not slow progress,” Donald recalled. “My mother made a call when she realized there was more garaging space than house space. A carport was converted into a games room, and the Daimler and Bristol had to go.”
By their teens, the Mcleod brothers were working with their father on the cars. When they became old enough to drive legally, they also became aware of the costs associated with owning a machine built in an era that had different standards of ‘precision’ engineering. Angus sold his PB in 1977 after an engine water leak seized one of the pistons.
Donald’s PB also posed challenges — more so during his years as a student, with its associated budget limitations. MG Car Club membership helped — there were invariably knowledge, assistance, and access to parts when major work was needed.
Unknown to him, PB0759 also had a history — much of it recorded and photographed by others and newspapers over the 28 years prior to his father’s ownership.
Until 1962, the car had resided in the South Island. When Donald took it back years later, the MG community welcomed it like a long-lost family member — and he learned more about the life and times of his car.
It was owned for a year by Ernest Arthur Kennard in the late 1940s and for just a few months in 1949 by Des Wild, a colourful Christchurch motor sport enthusiast and local car dealer.
Wild competed in New Zealand’s first organized track race, known as the inaugural ‘New Zealand Championship Road Race’, completing 41 laps and finishing ninth, then the South Brighton Beach Race. Both events were captured on film by aerial photographer VC Browne, and a newspaper article featured the car in a barrel roll on the beach. Wild completed the race with a broken rib and fractured wrist yet still finished a creditable sixth.
The next four years saw the MG residing at 11 Livingston Street, Timaru, under new owner Leonard Collett. Once again, it made news — shown fording a stream in a South Canterbury Car Club reliability trial.
So, what’s it like to drive?
“Comfortable but ‘ direct’,” Donald said, laughing. “The pedals are very close together — I have to wear special small shoes to ensure my feet don’t sit on the brake and accelerator at once. It’s a lot of fun, and actually feels faster than it is,” he said. “But it has very light steering, so you have to really concentrate, or you end up running off the road.”
It’s certainly seen its share of roads around the country. Since 1981, it’s completed six pre-’56 MG Rallies in New Zealand and featured in a Napier Art Deco Festival parade and a Hastings Christmas parade.
And there have been club outings and appearances at the Ellerslie Intermarque Concours & Classic Car Show, at which, this year, it took the Radio Live Survivors Class Award.
Like his late father, Donald also caught the car bug — and has owned distinctive models from Ford, Peugeot, BMW, Renault, and MG.
Unusually, PB0759 has remained a runner and in use throughout all its life, and retains its old black-issue registration plates. Over the 51 years the car has been in
his family, Donald says it has been steadily improved and maintained to keep it mechanically excellent, running, and as authentic as possible. It has been modified for safety or maintenance reasons, though — extra tail-lights were fitted circa 1960, for example. Panels surrounding broken trafficators were replaced, the original petrol tank was restored, and a new front apron was made by specialist craftsman Rod Brayshaw in 2008.
Following a broken crankshaft and the discovery of cracks and wear in the block, the bottom end of the engine was replaced with a new blueprinted unit in 2009. All original parts that were replaced, including the block, have been retained. Successfully upgrading the vehicle’s condition, keeping it running, and sharing the experience are among the highlights of owning PB0759 — and Donald enjoys seeing how people react to the little car.
Can you put a price on that? Donald says comparable restored examples are offered for up to £40K overseas. The relationships he’s forged through the club and with maintenance specialists over the years are, however, priceless. He still receives photographs of the car taken back in the day — the last appearing just a few weeks ago (in February).
And he has a precision workshop that makes vintage parts that are hard to obtain, and which he hopes to offer for sale.
Eighty years on, PB0759 is still a little babe magnet. But the babes are now somewhat older and often prompted by their kids or grand kids, curious about the small car that won hearts generations before and is still doing so today.