250,000th MGB

Article originally published in Spark & Spanner 02/23 SABCC.org

The Official Publication of the South Alabama British Car Club

story and photos by Rodney McDonald

An important part of British car history has resided in Mobile for over half a century and most of us were never aware of it: The 250,000th MGB built by the Abingdon MG factory.

Around 1970, the management team at British Leyland became aware that MG had far exceeded their previous model production record set by the MGA with over 101,000 built. The runaway success of the MGB meant that production was about to achieve the quarter-million mark. At the time, this was an incredible achievement for a two-seat sports car. BL’s publicity people knew they had an opportunity to promote this milestone in their largest export market—the USA.

It was decided that the 250,000th MGB would be given away in a nationwide contest designed to get the public to visit their local MG-Austin dealer to enter the contest. Ads were placed in American auto enthusiast magazines promoting the contest as well as reinforcing their image as “The sports car America loved first.” One of those entrants walked into White’s Imports, the MG-Austin dealer in Mobile and filled out his form.

And he would win.

William Lewis Newton, or “Fig” to his friends was a young former Marine and recent Springhill College graduate who was working in the construction industry in Mobile. He was likely stunned when he got word that he had won the car and that it would be presented to him at the recently-opened Road Atlanta racecourse on November 28, 1971.

BL outfitted Fig in a snazzy windbreaker jacket emblazoned with both MG and British Leyland logos and presented him with the keys to his Blaze Orange 1971 MGB/GT. Publicity write ups and photos were circulated to the print media, BL and MG had their day in the sun and Fig had his MGB.

Apparently, Fig was no MG enthusiast, but he drove the free car for some time until he parked it in a vacant lot around ten years later. He had moved on to Birmingham which he made his permanent home, but the MG stayed behind in Mobile.

Tony Wilson is enthusiastic about MGs and really all things related to transportation. He drove through his high school years with his own 1971 MGB/GT painted in another shade of ‘70s earthtone orange called Bracken. Around 1984, Tony became aware of the forlorn contest car through a friend who told him about it. Tony said that his friend became more and more insistent that he look at it and finally, he did. Tony negotiated with Fig and a deal was struck for the MGB/GT, the promotional signage and the documentation that came with the car. After borrowing a trailer, Tony got the car to the garage on a property he owned in Mobile. And there it stayed parked for almost 40 years.

At the 2000 edition of British Car Festival at Fair-hope Beach Park, the day’s events had wound down and the show was being packed away when a gentleman approached my brother Alan and me and chatted about his special MGB/GT. He showed us photos of his car with the BL/MG rooftop sign indicating that it was the 250,000th MGB built. Our conversation was brief, our attention was asked for elsewhere and the man with the photos was gone. We never did find him.

In the mid-2000s SABCC had a rudimentary web site that I set up and ran to the best of my limited ability. At one point, I had a link to a page on the site asking about the 250,000th MGB and I provided a contact email address. The subject came up in 2009 in the North American MBG Register’s publication The MG Driver. And several forum conversations cropped up in the MG Experience web site. I added a post in the blog I kept up for a few years asking about the GT. Nothing came of any of it.

In 2020, I was contacted by email by Tony Wilson stating that it was he that we chatted with at BCF 2000 and we would be welcome to visit at a time convenient for us all. Then the pandemic roared through our lives, upending anything like normality. The visit would have to wait.

This year, we began the email conversation anew and set a date where we would finally be able to see this potentially historic MG. Being from Missouri, mild skepticism is part of my being. After all, more than a few MGBs have been offered for sale as being THE 250,000th car when in fact the original selling dealer had applied a promotional badge set celebrating that production milestone and they were available to anyone who asked for them.

The day visit had arrived and it was absolutely pouring down rain. Tony had recently retired from a career associated with Sears, Roebuck & Co as a hometown store operator and service technician. He moved from Mobile to his home in Lucedale, Mississippi and that was where the car had also been moved to just a few days before my brother, Alan and I visited.

Following Tony’s directions, we arrived at his ware-house without a hitch and he was there to greet us. Stepping inside and out of the rain, we were treat-ed to the sight of a Blaze Orange MGB/GT with a hand lettered plywood placard proclaiming this car to be the 250,000th MGB built.

We took it all in for a moment, walking around this historic car and giving it the usual condition look over that all British car enthusiasts unconsciously perform when seeing an old car for the first time.

The years in covered storage prevented serious rot from setting in. The hatch shows some rust-through under the window, and the boot floor and driver’s side floor have some perforation. A quick look at the sills showed no obvious evidence of corrosion. This GT is on Rostyle wheels and they displayed the usual surface corrosion. The interior is tatty. The carpets are mostly missing and the “Abingdon Pillow” dashboard has the expected cracks in it. With the exception of the windshield, the glass appears to be original to the car. It was a well-equipped car at the time with both overdrive and an AM-FM radio.

The driver’s door frame-mounted data plate gave a production date of May, 1971 and the production serial number showed it to be car number 250000. The dash top serial number plate carried the same number.

Tony then opened up a file of paperwork that came with the GT that had documents such as the BL press release, license plate receipts listing William L. Newton as the owner and a bill of sale transfer-ring the car to Tony Wilson in 1984. This is the real deal. And it has been in our back yard since 1971.

In addition to his first 1971 MGB/GT and the 250k MGB/GT, Tony has a 1972 MG Midget, painted in BL’s Bracken Orange, and it is in fine condition. I’ve sent him an invitation to join SABCC and maybe—just maybe—we could have the special MGB/GT on display at our 2023 British Car Festival.

Tony is unsure of the future plans for the historic MGB. He would like to restore it and with his recent retirement he says he has time, but he wants to be cautious since he understands the significance of it. But, there really isn’t any hurry. It’s been safe in his care for almost forty years.

A big thank you to Rodney and the South Alabama British Car Club for allowing us to share this article.