Midland Garage Services, (MGS Engineering Co)
Rugby Road, Leamington Spa
This is a very brief historical note on a small motor engineering company that once existed in Leamington Spa. Midland Garage Services, almost always known by the acronym MGS, was located on the Rugby Road and situated very near to St Mark’s Church. Its exact position can be determined today by some relatively modern housing infill, built possibly some thirty or more years ago. The first reference to the Midland Garage Service Depot occurs in Kelly’s Warwick and Leamington Directory for 1934. The proprietor was given as S. Booth.
Right – An Austin 7 cylinder block and ancillary equipment – J F Willock
As the name implies the company was set up to provide various engineering services to local garages. The actual services provided included motor cylinder re-boring and honing, and the supply of appropriate oversize replacement pistons and piston rings. Additionally, crankshaft re-grinding was also undertaken, together with the supply of new Vandervell or Glacier type bearing shells or appropriate white/metal/babit bearings.
It seems unbelievable today that less than sixty years ago automobile engine’s needed re-boring and honing after comparatively little usage – perhaps as low as thirty thousand miles or so. This can be attributed in the main to the materials being used in engine construction at that time, and the relatively unsophisticated lubricating oils then available. Years ago, engine lubricating oils had to be drained off and changed seasonally to permit a transition from summer to winter motoring, and vice-versa. Today, with the benefits of superior design and better materials, together with complex multi-grade oils, the need for cylinder re-boring and crankshaft regrinding has been almost totally eliminated. Many gasoline engines today regularly exceed 150,000 miles and diesel engines significantly more.
The MGS factory building itself was a single storey brick structure, forming approximately three sides of a square. The other side of the square comprised private lock-up garages, probably for the use of residents in the Rugby Road area. A large open space existed in the centre. The small office building faced the Rugby Road and access to the site was obtained through a gated portal in a largish wall. The machine shop had a (wooden?) trussed roof, probably sheeted with corrugated asbestos panels. The interior walls were whitewashed. An old-fashioned cast-iron stove with flue-pipe stood in the centre of the workshop. On this stove always stood a pail of very hot water for hand washing purposes, the consistency of the liquid, the author recalls, looked decidedly unhygienic! Perhaps the contents were never changed!
From the author’s slightly hazy recollections of some sixty years ago, there were a number of belt driven centre lathes, but whether these were driven from line-shafting or individually powered by electric motors is not remembered. The workshop, the author recalls, also housed an archaic looking Lapointe Broaching machine – for what purpose the author is unsure. There were numerous portable boring machines that could be bolted to the cylinder heads of engine blocks to perform the re-boring operation. Re-boring could be performed on cylinder blocks or with the engine in-situ. After re-boring a honing operation was carried out using a portable honing machine. Honing comprises using specially mounted sprung loaded stones to sweep the bore of the cylinder in a particular motion to produce a fine cross-hatched patterned finish to the internal surfaces. Honing actually performs two main functions; the production of a geometrically accurate cylinder bore, free of any boring tool marks, etc, and secondly the formation of a cross-hatched finish conducive to oil retention. Honing patterns can be altered to suit specific requirements. Cylinders were usually re-bored in specific increments, usually + 0.025/0.030”. Oversize pistons and piston rings were then supplied as part of the MGS service package.
In 1959 Kelly’s records that the MGS Engineering Co. was owned by RA Booth. By the mid-1960s it was probably becoming self-evident that cylinder re-boring was almost a superfluous activity, and the last entry for MGS appears in Kelly’s Directory for 1967. The author remembers visiting MGS on several occasions probably about this time helping his father to make a sort of inventory of the engineering items.
Two stalwarts of the company were Mr Walter Man, who presided over the engineering workshop side of the business, and Miss Marjorie Goodman who dealt with the clerical aspects. The author considered Miss Goodman knew more about pistons and piston rings that any other woman on the planet! Mr Man and Miss Goodman both had immaculate Austin Sevens in which they travelled extensively, particularly to North Wales.
The author remembers many odd bits and pieces about MGS; the multitudinous empty tins of dog & cat food incongruously placed on the horizontal roof beams, perhaps over many years, the piles of tremendously interesting Hoyt Notched Ingot magazines, the technical literature by Hepworth and Grandage and Wellworthy Limited, both piston and piston ring manufacturers, the aroma of a real engineering works and the pail of not too clean hot water on the stove! Happy days!
J F Willock © June 2022
- Kelly’s Directories for Warwick and Leamington Spa for the years 1934 & 1967