The ex-Luis Fontès 1933 MG J4 Midget

Registration no. TV 8371

Chassis no. J4005

Here we are proud to be able to offer one of the rarest, most effective and evocative of pre-War British competition cars one of only 9 MG J4s built during 1933, making it the rarest of all pre War competition MGs and undoubtedly one of the most sort after, hence the J4 often being referred to as the “Baby K3”.

The racing J4 ‘Midget’ was produced as a replacement for the C-Type which had been proven too fast for its (and the drivers) own good. Supercharging the C type made it an extremely quick car but limitations of the braking system caused its demise. There was every intention of making the J4 racer go even faster. As a result new brake gear had to be developed for the J4 which resulted in it being fitted with a far more effective 12"  braking system, this was coupled with modified J2 chassis frame and axles, the excellent 4-speed ENV ‘crash’ C type gearbox  was carried over. The body was door-less with a functional elegance to it. A new type of split track rod end steering was employed which alleviated the common problem of 'kickback' associated with normal systems. This split link system was adopted on all MG racing cars in 1933/34 including the K series cars. The J4 was supercharged using a Powerplus No.7 blower (the larger No.8 was offered as an option for those seeking even more power), the power unit was in full racing specification and carried all the latest developments as standard. There were in fact only nine J4s produced, making it the rarest of all competition MGs with cost probably being a limiting factor as it had a selling price of £495.  

As already described the J4 was a very fast car and throughout the 1933 racing season put up staggering performances for a car of its size, with Hugh Hamilton performing truly heroically  in his car. Including easily winning his class and mixing it with the full blown Grand Prix cars in the Eifelrennen, coming heartbreakingly close to beating the legendary Nuvolari in the Tourist Trophy and a freak crash only prevented him from embarrassing the Works Tipo B Alfa Romeos at Brno in the same year. J4s raced and rallied successfully throughout the world the Menier Team even running one in the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1934 and as late as the mid-1950s David Piper was still embarrassing much larger and more modern cars in contemporary British club racing.

Chassis number J4005 offered here commenced build in MGs racing department on 15/3/33, being sold through C.H. Truman & Co of Nottingham to the special order of Luis Fontes. Luis Fontès' father was a Brazilian shipping tycoon and his mother British. In 1933 he inherited his father's considerable fortune. Although hard to believe given his studious appearance, behind the wheel Fontes turned into an incredibly competitive driver. He hired an Alfa Romeo 8c Monza for the 1935 International Trophy as his MG had an engine failure and sensationally went on to win the race. Later he bought the Alfa and entered it in a few events. His greatest moment was his 1935 Le Mans 24-hour race victory in a Lagonda with Hawker test pilot Johnny Hindmarsh. At the outbreak of War Fontes joined the RAF, flying for the Air Transport Auxiliary, and flying a Wellington bomber he was killed in a crash in Llysworney, Glamorgan 1940.

Fontes appearances with J4005 were typically fiery being highly competitive but rarely finishing a race between 1933 and 35. These included appearances in the RAC Tourist Trophy at Ards, Donington Park and Southport Sand Races, whilst ‘005’ was leant to A. Todd to run in the 1934 Bol d’Or 24 hour race at Montlhery. In between racing engagements Fontes used the J4 as his everyday car.

Following his victory in the International Trophy and acquisition of the 8C Monza the J4 was sold to J. Hewson in 1936. Hewson replaced the Powerplus supercharger with a more modern Marshall and achieved a second place at Brooklands that year, whilst Hewson entered the car for R. Fairey later in the year who achieved a third at the same circuit. Following Hewson’s ownership the car passed into the hands of A.K. Malcolm in 1938, being next seen advertised by Valenti Motors in Glasgow, from whom it was bought by American Air Force servicemen Gene Alcott in 1944 who took it back to the US with him in 1945.

The car subsequently passed to Francis Grant briefly before being sold to Otto Linton of Pennsylvania in late 1945. Linton ran ‘005’ at the 1948 Watkins Glen Grand Prix- the first post War road race held on US soil and at Langhorne Speedway in 1948 (see photos on file). In 1952 the car passed to William Park, then onto David Woodland in 1957 then rapidly to Howard Byron in the same year, who used the car briefly before putting it into storage. In February of 1971 Byron advertised ‘005’ in the New York Times and it was rapidly snapped up by collector Garry Schonwald, who passed the car onto Gerry Goguen almost straight away. Goguen was for many years the leading collector of MG cars in the US, housing the very best of every model in his own private museum.

By this point the ravages of time had caught up with ‘005’ and it was in need of restoration, with the original cylinder block missing (it is believed to survive fitted to a J3). But despite this and still being fitted with a Marshall supercharger was still a fundamentally very correct and un-messed about with car- see images on file of the car as purchased. The completeness and originality of the car as bought by Goguen was outlined to the current owner in an e mail from Goguen’s then mechanic Chris Nowlan, which is on file. Goguen embarked upon a meticulous restoration (see photographs on file) with much work carried out by UK J4 guru Colin Tieche, including the sourcing of a correct and ultra-rare original J4 cylinder block. Goguen’s restoration was assisted greatly by the discovering in France of a box of original J4 spares supplied by the Abingdon Competition Department for the Menier Teams Le Mans attempt with their J4 (J4008). This fascinating artefact which is offered with the car today, contained an ultra-rare Powerplus No.8 supercharger making this one of the very few J4s fitted with an original correct type supercharger. Whilst ‘005’ was in pieces it was viewed by several of the UKs leading pre War MG experts who despite being unable to find a chassis number stamping on the frame (several other original J4s did not have stamped chassis frames) found the car to be very correct. During this restoration the decision was made to replace the rather battered but fundamentally still very solid original body with an entirely new one built to the correct pattern. Fortunately, the original body panels and virtually all of the ash frame was retained and are still with the car today, allowing a new owner to reunite the original coachwork with the car should they so wish.

Following completion of this restoration ‘005’ remained on display in Goguen’s museum little used for many years, until he made the decision to sell the car in 2001 to the current owner. A connoisseur of the finest competition MGs he considered the J4 alongside the K3 to be the best car ever built by the company and had wanted to own an excellent example for many years. On ‘005’s arrival to the UK it was sent straight to marque specialist James Gunn (who had known the car for many years) to be inspected, there it was found to be fundamentally still in very good order, but having been standing for so many years it was decided  on a complete strip down and check-over (see photographs on file). During this process all involved were impressed by the level of originality on the car and the generally fine state of all mechanical aspects.

Since completion of this work the J4 has been cherished in the owners private collection. As part of this the car was taken over to the 2004 Le Mans Classic with the French MG Car Club and took part in the Triple M Registers visit to the Ards TT Circuit in North Ireland in 2016. More general use has been confined to occasional blasts on local roads, during which ‘005’ has been found to be as exhilarating a performer as Fontes no doubt found the car in the 1930s.

As an example of one of the rarest and most potent of pre-war competition MGs the opportunity to acquire a J4 is rare enough. But in 'J4 005' we proudly offer a car campaigned by a truly rising-star Le Mans 24-hour race winning British driver. MG 'J4 005' is perfectly eligible for the modern world's most prestigious Historic motoring events and – exactly as in period - is poised to punch above its weight.

John Polson