In the late 1940s, American soldiers serving in Europe had acquired a taste for the small, light and stylish cars they saw on European roads, and as they returned stateside, a number of them brought those cars home with them. Among the most popular of these sporty new imports were from the tiny English manufacturer MG. Americans had fallen for the charming little TC, which would lead to sales that were previously unseen in the marque’s history. The T-Series inspired a new wave of enthusiasts who fully established the marque in the hearts of American sports car fans. In 1950, the spindly and decidedly pre-war TC gave way to the much improved TD which was wider, roomier and offered more stable handling thanks to its smaller wheels, independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering. The engine was the same 1,250 c.c. XPAG four-cylinder carried over from the TC, its 55 horsepower giving leisurely straight line performance, but returning an enjoyable and sprightly drive when the road got twisty.
With sports cars rapidly gaining in popularity, cars like the Triumph TR2, Austin Healey 100 and Corvette made the traditionally-styled TD look rather dated. The aftermarket industry was growing as owners personalized their cars to stand out from the crowd. A number of independent designers and hop-up shops began using fiberglass to make new bodies for a wide array of chassis. Fiberglass was inexpensive, forgiving to work with and capable of being formed into virtually any shape possible. A number of enthusiasts turned to these aftermarket companies to source stylish new bodywork to keep their sporty cars looking fresh. A few, such as the young David Hawks of Los Angeles, went so far as to build their own personal interpretation of the perfect sports car.
Our featured car is David Hawks’ creation; the 1955 Hawk-MG Special, a 1952 MG TD wearing a one-off fiberglass body designed and built by David and his father, the famous Hollywood director Howard Hawks. The story of this car is nearly as intriguing as the gorgeous, Ferrari-like styling. It begins with the 1952 film “Monkey Business” starring Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers and Charles Coburn. The film was directed by Howard Hawks and the MG, then a standard TD, was featured is several scenes. After filming had wrapped, Howard Hawks acquired the car and offered it to his son David. But David would have none of it. He had seen a new Ferrari parked on the showroom floor of a Beverly Hills sports car dealer, and his heart was set on the svelte Italian beauty.
We can only imagine the conversation that took place when David refused the offer of a nearly-new car from his father, but a father-son “compromise” was ultimately reached and young David took possession of the MG. As part of the deal, a new body for the TD would be designed fitted to the chassis so David could have the Ferrari looks without the expense. So, using resources at the movie studio, a small team consisting of David and Howard Hawks, one of David’s friends and some prop builders got to work constructing a new body out of fiberglass.
Starting with a drawing, the team made a wood and plaster buck, which they used to refine the shape. A female mold was built on top of it, and the body was built up inside that mold using fiberglass cloth. The team was skilled enough to add additional layers of matting in high-stress areas, and the body (minus the aluminum hood) was built in one piece. The finished body was a gorgeous creation – one that gracefully combined the best elements of the Touring and Vignale styles of the Ferrari 166 Barchetta. The front end features a lovely egg-crate grille, while the slab-sided simple flanks are dotted with Vignale-esque oval port holes. The body has no doors, which keeps the body very rigid and gives it a clean look – with flanks that invoke the Touring-built Barchetta. Even special enamel Hawk badges were made for the front and rear body.
David Hawks enjoyed the car for a while, but just like many of us in our exuberant youth, he soon tired of it and moved on to something more modern. But subsequent owners recognized the aesthetic beauty, remarkably high quality construction, and historical importance of the car and ensured its story lived on. The most notable of those enthusiasts was Gene Ponder of Texas, who kept a large collection of important sports and GT cars from the 1930s through the 1960s. He had a love for Ferraris as well as for MGs, so he was naturally attracted to the Hawk MG. Ponder restored the car in 2007, enlisting the help of David Hawks to fine tune the details.
Today, the Hawk MG remains in beautiful condition. Repainted in Romany Red as original, the paint is beautiful and the car features many fine details such as Lucas Tri-Bar headlamps, polished alloy grille and port-hole vents, and a set of sparkling Borrani wire wheels shod with period-correct Michelin radials complete the look. The interior is trimmed in new tan leather, and floors lined in German squareweave carpet, maintaining a wonderful period feel.
Performance lives up to the looks thanks to the 1,250cc XPAG engine which was fully rebuilt by Ponder, and fitted with a period Marshall Rootes-type supercharger. The engine is beautifully detailed with a polished alloy valve cover, polished and detailed blower, and period correct fittings. Louvered alloy inner fenders show the attention to detail given the construction of the Hawk. The chassis mechanicals are all MG TD, and have been highly detailed to match the sparkle of the beautiful coachwork.
This unique and stylish special is a fascinating example of what could be done in period with some desire, a bit of creativity and the help of a professional Hollywood studio prop department! This wonderful car is loaded with character and a charming history; sure to be a welcome sight on any driving event or concours.