This is arguably the most famous prewar MG in America. Originally one of three in Captain George Eyston’s “Dancing Daughters” female class-winning team for Le Mans in 1935, its engine was subsequently updated from 847cc PA to 939cc PB specification for trials work as part of the works’ “Cream Crackers” team, and then sold by the factory to American sports car racer Miles Collier. The sales price included a new Marshall supercharger which was fitted by MG. The car was named Leonidis, perhaps after the Spartan king who battled the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C.
Road racing was a dim memory in America until the Collier brothers – Miles, Sam and Barron – began competing with their friends on the driveways of Overlook, the Collier family estate in Pocantico Hills, New York. From these teenage events utilizing motorized buckboards, the Automobile Racing Club of America was born in 1934. Driving foreign sports cars or backyard specials, the early members gathered like-minded enthusiasts from Chicago to Boston. In order to supply the equipment for this new club racing, Miles and Sam Collier became the first MG agents in the United States. In a similar vein, ARCA president George Rand operated a garage for European sports cars in New York City. The ARCA badge was designed by Bill Mitchell, later styling chief for General Motors, who was then working for the Collier advertising companies. Until Pearl Harbor, the club staged more than a dozen major races at venues ranging from the Mt. Washington toll road to the 1940 New York World’s Fair.
Leonidis was a regular on the ARCA circuit, where it raced unscathed despite Miles Collier’s spirited driving style. In 1937, however, a shunt with a taxi in New York City totaled its coachwork. Seeing the opportunity to make a contender for overall victories, Miles had ARCA enthusiast John Oliveau design the aerodynamic body you see here. In 1938 Miles and Leonidis won outright the ARCA’s “Round the Houses” race at Alexandria Bay. The year following, at the wheel of Leonidis, Miles became the first American in a decade to race at Le Mans. At the eight-hour mark, while leading in class, a ruptured fuel tank ended the team’s race. Miles’ last victory in Leonidis was at Bridgehampton in 1950, four years prior to his death.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Most race cars were non-competitive after their first campaign — the 1927 Vauxhall was competitive for 23 years (1927–1950) and you can see it in person. Learn more