MG EX181

I think we all have a framework in our heads when we hear certain things about a car.

An engine under 2.0-litres, for instance: probably slow. Hybrid drivetrain: eco-crap. 1960s American: V8, rear drive, handles like a pool chair. Anything French: what were they on?

You get it. 

One of mine is that I'm not all that interested in British carmakers—there are too many extremes. I'm in awe of Britain's comprehensive collection of cars, automotive personalities, race tracks, and clubs. But British cars leave me, generally, cold.

For every BRM V16 Grand Prix car there are 10,000 Rover CityRovers. For every Bristol Fighter there are 100,000 Austin 1800s—known as the Landcrab.

You can spend money on a brand new, high tech Bowler EXR S sports SUV, or a Vauxhall Maloo sports truck, or a Ford S-Max MPV with a 240 horsepower EcoBoost engine.

But the country's top-selling cars are tiny hatchbacks, led by the Ford Fiesta. I don't get it.

You rarely see such extremes in any country, where you're just as likely to happen upon a club for the Sunbeam Venezia as a club for the Bedford Bambi. Even Aston Martin: from the anointed gods of automotive styling came the ruler straight and  usually hated Lagonda sedan. 

All of this is to say that I suppose it's not surprising that if you go far enough back into the history of Morris Garages, the now ignored Chinese-owned ex-British carmaker, you'd find a story of how they topped 200 mph in an insane streamlined land speed record car.

Because there are several videos you can watch on the car (there's a link to one via British Pathé below), I won't take up too much of your time on this one. (Except to say how awesome it is…)

This aluminum spaceship is built around its 1.5-litre, MGA-sourced twin cam engine. With the magic of chemical engineering taking root in society, its fuel must have seemed like a wonder: it was an engineered—and very toxic—mix of methanol, nitrobenzene, acetone, and sulphuric ether.

There was a Shorrocks eccentric vane supercharger bolted on to take advantage of the more potent fuel, along with other hot rod tricks. With 290 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, the streamlined design first hit 227 mph, then 245 mph (394 km/h) at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Shit, I almost forgot: Stirling Moss was driving. Remember when I said that the EX181 was built around its engine? I meant that literally. A block sitting smack dab in the middle of the chassis meant that poor 'ol Moss was left to drive with his feet dangling in front of the front tires, with a coffee mug's worth of ground clearance beneath his heels and just 50 mm (2 inches) between the pedals and nose.

MG returned two years later in 1959 with an uprated engine—now 300 horsepower—and then-Ferrari F1 driver Phil Hill. A new record was set at 410 km/h (254 mph). If you watch the British Pathé video you'll see that Phil Hill was around for the 1957 attempt—and was referred to by the narrator as "an American driver" without saying his name.

Those familiar with MG will know that an 'EX' model denotes an experimental machine, with many of the company's various works racing and test prototypes carrying an EX-name. 

EX181 was actually the last of the company's three streamlined designs; one day I'll have to tell you the story of A. T. Goldie Gardner…