Motoring mystery on Salisbury Plain

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The remains of a 1932 MG J2 have been found on Salisbury Plain. The 3D model show the remains in situ. (Image: Wessex Archaeology/Jaimie Wilson)

Archaeologists working on Salisbury Plain are used to unearthing enigmatic remains, thanks to the area’s rich array of prehistoric ritual sites. Wessex Archaeology’s work at Larkhill (see CA 326 and 328) has turned up a more unexpected discovery, however: the remains of a 1932 MG J2 car.

The vehicle was found in a former WWII artillery position, during investigations that Wessex has been undertaking through WYG, on behalf of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.

‘This find was a real surprise,’ said Damien Campbell-Bell from Wessex Archaeology. ‘This particular MG J2 is pretty rare: it was one of only 2,083 of the model ever made. When it was new in 1932, it had a top speed of 65mph and would have cost £199 – in the 1930s, the average annual salary was £200 and a three-bedroom house cost around £350, so the car’s owner was clearly very wealthy.’

This restored MG J2 suggests what the car may have looked like in good repair. (Image: Wessex Archaeology/Jaimie Wilson)

‘We only know of one owner of the car with the serial number J2192 – a Mr J H Howard of Retford, from July 1934 – though it is likely that it had other owners,’ he added. ‘We can tell from the tyre pattern that the car was probably in use until the early 1960s, at which point it seems to have been buried here. Many cars were patched up during the 1950s to keep them running, and this MG J2 is no different. The engine next to the car is not from an MG – it was fitted by welding extra brackets to the chassis – and there is also evidence of lots of common bodged repairs. We think that the car had been dismantled, presumably for repair by a local soldier, but was then seemingly abandoned. Exactly why this happened we cannot be sure, but the introduction of the MOT test in 1960 was the end for many cars that had been kept going in this way. It may be that the introduction of the MOT also sentenced this MG J2 to the grave.’

The team has created a 3D model of the car that shows how it was found on the site. It can be viewed at models/3716227a03c94535a4f4257192565e0a.

‘The MG is a particularly exciting find in that it shows the unrecorded side to life on an Army camp, including the unofficial “pool cars” available to troops, as well as the slightly dodgy method of disposal by dumping it in a disused weapons pit,’ said Martin Brown, Principal Archaeologist at WYG. ‘As a buried artefact it almost conforms to the urban myths of buried tanks, aircraft, and equipment one hears about on Salisbury Plain.’

This article was published in CA 332

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