Who needs 1001hp and 16 cylinders to reach insane speeds when you can do it with just four cylinders and 300hp? Meet the 1959 MG EX181, a high-speed experimental car that rivals the more modern Bugatti Veyron.
Back in the late 1950s, MG set out to chase land speed records. It did it with a modified version of the MGA’s twin cam engine. Starting with a measly 68hp, they strapped on a massive supercharger and rammed 32psi of boost down its throat, mixed up a batch of 86 per cent methanol laced with nitrobenzene, acetone and sulfuric ether.
From there, the little 1.5-litre engine churned out an impressive 300 hp (223kW).
But it’s not just the power output that made this vehicle memorable. It all came down to the slippery profile. The EX181 was based on a heavily modified MGA chassis.
With a sleek shape achieved by narrowing the rear track width, its coefficient of drag was just 0.12.
Those numbers might not really mean a whole lot but to give you a little insight, the most aerodynamic production car at present, the Mercedes-Benz EQS, can only manage a 0.20 coefficient.
With such low drag, the MG EX181 needed a mere 29hp to reach 100mph (161km/h), showcasing its exceptional aerodynamic design.
The remarkable record-setting run took place at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA, a renowned location for land speed record attempts due to its expansive flat surface. According to driver Phil Hill, who set a record of 409km/h (254mph), it didn’t even slow down much when letting off the throttle.
If you think this car looks familiar, it actually set two separate records in different classes.
The MG EX181, as driven by Hill, had a slightly larger engine with a displacement of 1506cc, placing it in a category for engines between 1501 and 2000cc.
The record for Class F, which encompassed engines under 1500cc, was set in 1957 by legendary driver Stirling Moss, who piloted the same MG EX181 with a 1500cc engine. During that historic run, Moss achieved an impressive speed of 245mph (395km/h).
This little speed demon manages an incredible 1.35km/h (0.84mph) for every horsepower it puts out, leaving modern supercars in the dust. For comparison, the Bugatti Veyron struggles with just 0.37km/h (0.23mph) per horsepower.
The MG EX181 is a testament to what can be achieved when your sole focus is using every bit of power at your disposal to going fast. Who needs big engines and gobs of horsepower when you have efficiency and a brilliant design on your side?
The ’59 MG EX181 proves true speed is not just about brawn! To this day, the EX181 is still the fastest MG ever made.