Miles Collier's 1935 MG PA/PB-type
Special named "Leonidis"


(America's most famous MG racecar -- SN# PA-1667)


"Leonidis" at Pebble Beach

Just by the appearance of certain cars you know there's a tale to be told. In this case, the story behind the uniquely bodied little MG named "Leonidis" is as interesting as its appearance is beautiful.

Built and race-prepared by the factory in 1935, this car (PA-1667) is one of three MG PAs entered by Captain George Eyston for Le Mans, where his "all-girl" team won their class. In July 1935, the three cars were converted to trials' specification for the "Three Musketeers" team. This conversion included increasing the engine size from 847cc to the PB capacity of 939cc and changing the Le Mans livery of British Racing Green to MG's contemporary racing colors of cream and brown, more commonly known as "Cream and Crackers."

Two months later the cars' specifications were slightly modified for high-speed trails at Brooklands. In October the factory sold the three MGs with American Miles Collier becoming the first private owner of PA-1667. Before the car was shipped stateside, Collier instructed the factory's competition department to make a few modifications, including the installment of a Marshall supercharger of the type originally designed for pressurizing aircraft cabins.

Naming the MG "Leonidis" (and the origins of this name remain uncertain to this day), Miles Collier raced the car in Automobile Racing Club of America's events that took place primarily in the New England area. Miles and his brothers, Barron and Sam, were the founding members of the ARCA, which had its modest beginnings in 1934.

Leonidis was a regular with ARCA until early 1937, when Collier had an incident with a NYC taxi that effectively destroyed the car's body. Seizing the opportunity to upgrade the MG, Collier called upon his friend and fellow ARCA member John Oliveau to design and construct a new body. Working for Grumman Aircraft Company at the time, Oliveau used the industry's current construction techniques and aerodynamic practices to excellent effect. To this day, Leonidis still wears this aircraft-influenced creation.

Back on the ARCA circuit, Collier and his rejuvenated MG continued the good fight and in 1938's third running of Alexandria Bay's "Round the Houses" race, Miles and Leonidis scored an overall victory. For 1939 the campaign became a bit more ambitious.

One of the less publicized goals of the ARCA was to take their colors aboard to represent America in competition. Collier began preparing Leonidis for Le Mans. Recruiting Oliveau as team manager and LeRoy Kramer Jr. (ARCA's Chicago R.E.) as co-driver, the adventurous group set sail for France. Leonidis went to the line at Le Mans reflecting the meticulous preparation that characterized the men involved. With every fitting wired, taped and shellacked, every nut pinned and the dashboard's plating lamp-blacked to prevent reflections, Leonidis was ready for its second outing at Le Mans. It was also the first time an American raced at Le Mans in a decade.

After the race's frenzied initial laps, Collier and Leonidis settled into a pace that abused neither car nor driver. Leading their class by a comfortable margin, everything was going smoothly until late in the seventh hour, when the car pitted for fuel 30-minutes ahead of the scheduled stop. Topped up, Leonidis rejoined the race only to return to the pits two laps later. It was discovered the fuel tank had split, signaling the battle's end.

When he returned home from Le Mans in 1939, Miles Collier reluctantly sold Leonidis to help defray the cost of his adventure. But it would not be the last time he time he would ever drive his car.

 

The new owner of Leonidis, Tom Dewart, a member of the ARCA, kept the little MG as busy as ever in the club's events. In 1940 both Leonidis and ARCA enjoyed their most active season, but with the gathering dark clouds of war, ARCA's best year became its last. After the war several efforts were made to reactivate the ARCA, but it was to no avail. However, in 1944, a spark from these efforts did kindle the formation of a fledgling group called the Sports Car Club of America. Miles Collier and a number of former ARCA members became important factors during the formative years of SCCA's endeavors in resurrecting road racing in America.

 

Leonidis' next documented appearance was at Bridgehampton in 1950. Don Millager, who now owned the MG, contacted Miles Collier and asked if he would like to drive his old friend. Drawing from a hat to determine grid positions—-a common practice in those days—-resulted in Collier being gridded in last place. Nevertheless, as if in a celebratory display of the car and driver reunion, Collier and Leonidis carved through the field in masterful form and won the race. Sadly, this was the last time Miles Collier drove Leonidis, as he passed away four years later, a victim of polio.

Apparently the early '50s were hard on Leonidis, because shortly following Miles' death, his wife bought the car in baskets. Brother Sam—-tragically killed at Watkins Glen in 1950 while leading the Grand Prix in Briggs Cunningham's Ferrari 166 Spyder-—had a son who expressed an interest in racing the MG. After being rebuilt, Leonidis was loaned to Dick Collier, who ran the car in early '60s with the Vintage Sports Car Club of America. The little MG was once again enjoying its intended purpose in New England.

Unfortunately, by the mid-sixties Leonidis was once again in baskets, but a second resurrection was accomplished by Candy Poole of Glastonbury, Conn., with Del's Autobody of Locust Valley, Long Island doing the body repair. Once rebuilt, the car was then donated to Austin Clark for display in his Long Island Automotive Museum.

Now married to William Reed of Palm Beach, Florida, the former Mrs. Miles Collier regained ownership of Leonidis in 1984. Because of the MG's role in the automotive heritage of the family, in 1985 Mrs. Reed underwrote a major restoration project to return Leonidis to its former pre-war glory. Her son, Miles C. Collier, became the strawboss of this lengthy and exacting process.

The bodywork was entrusted to Dick Troutman of Costa Mesa, Calif., with Jim Toensing, also of Costa Mesa and the person responsible for the mechanical health of the Cunningham Collection, handling the restoration of the MG's working parts. Meanwhile, son Miles conducted exhaustive research to ensure every detail of his father's car was faithfully restored to its 1937 configuration. As a tribute to Troutman's talents, the only new body panel is the firewall--and this was only reluctantly replaced when the puzzle of sorting out the numerous holes gained from years of competition proved unsolvable. Toensing's contributions are also impressive, and even though he considers the Marshall supercharger a piece of junk, it was restored to its precise original specification.

The restoration was completed early in 1987 and the car was then taken to Moroso Motorsports Park to run at the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association's "Spring Fling." With his mother in attendance, the second generation Miles drove Leonidis around and around the track. While only the Collier's can fully appreciate the true value of having this member of the family returned to its rightful home, this story will also have special meaning to anyone who has ever named a favorite car. Leonidis now resides in the Collier Automotive Museum in Naples, Florida.

 

Leonidis as displayed at the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

 

 



Questions on the images or content of website? e-mail Mark

The images and text contained within this site are Copyright 1994 - 2007 Mark Savory
(unless otherwise indicated)
All rights reserved