John Thornley – MG Leader & Hall of Fame Inductee

John Thornley, OBE was one of the founders of the MG Car Club and served as its first Secretary. Later, he went on to become Director and General Manager of the MG Car Company. John Thornley will be inducted into the British Sports Car Hall of Fame in ceremonies on June 2, 2017.

John Thornley - Header

John Thornley’s first MG was an M-Type he bought in 1930, and soon after he met with two other enthusiasts and formed the MG Car Club. John went to Abingdon and managed to get Cecil Kimber to authorize the MG logo for the club’s badge. He was at this time an accountant in London, but he then persuaded Kimber to give him an office at the MG Factory to run the fledgling MGCC and he moved to Abingdon. However, another part of the job at MG was as assistant to the service manager, John Temple, who was shortly afterward appointed competitions manager, and John thus inherited the Service Manager’s position.

John Thornley with MG Designer Syd Enever and Race Driver Stirling Moss
John Thornley with MG Designer Syd Enever and Racing Driver Stirling Moss

Serving in the army during the war, Thornley attained the rank of Lt. Colonel and returned to Abingdon in 1945, where he became Sales and Service Manager for MG. He was involved deeply in all aspects of the competition and record-breaking efforts of the Octagon. In 1952 he was appointed General Manager. MG was now headed by a no-nonsense enthusiast who battled against the corporate hierarchy of BMC and later BL. He handpicked his staff and jollied them along with his sense of humor into vast achievements which no other small auto factory could ever have dreamed of.

Mr MG by Peter ThornleyThornely envisaged the MGB and saw into production the MGB GT, the “poor man’s E-Type” as he put it, and many other MG successes achieved against the odds. He remained convinced to the end that the Triumph “suits” who gained control of BLMC were responsible for the ultimate demise of the MG in 1980. During his tenure as head of the company, the MG Factory became the world’s largest producer of sports cars. Even when in retirement, Thornely still retained a great interest in MG and he was outraged at the decision to close the MG factory and personally wrote to MG dealers around the world to request their support to protest the closure.

John Thornley’s book Maintaining The Breed: The Saga of MG Racing Cars is out of print, but you can still easily obtained used copies on Amazon and eBay. The book focuses primarily on the competition history of MG but also relates how those competition developments fed back into the production cars. There is also a biography of Thornley, written by his son Peter Thornley, titled simply Mr. MG.

Below is a short video from the MG Cars Channel featuring a short interview with Thornley where he talks about his book and his days at MG.

Sadly, Thornley passed away in 1994 but he left behind an enduring legacy. His work with the MG Car Company and work with the MG Car Club and later simple ambassadorship and good nature have influenced generations.

I would like to the MG Car Channel for the video and Moss Motoring for the bulk of this biography.

Note: British Sports Car Hall of Fame LogoThis is part of an ongoing series focusing on the 23 individuals who will be inducted into the British Sports Car Hall of Fame in ceremonies on June 2nd, 2017, at the Hall of Fame in Petersburg, VA.

Michael Carnell
Editor at Just British

Michael Carnell is the editor and founder of the Just British Online Motoring Magazine. As a lifelong British car enthusiast, he has owned or driven British cars of all ages from Austins and MGs to Jaguars and Triumphs. He currently owns a 1966 Vanden Plas Princess 1100 and a 1977 MGB. But there is always room for more - no matter what his wife says.