At this anniversary of the legendry Andrew Hedges passing, I thought it would be nice to enlighten some as to just how influential he had been with the MG marque and then with UPD and the Unipower GT. I think you will see he was a very much 'old-school' and his quest for excitement helped forge his relationship with the other like minded personalities at Unipower, such as Tim Powell and Piers Weld-Forester.
Born on the 16th September 1935 in South Moreton, Oxfordshire in England, Andrew was generally recognized as the BMC Abingdon Works’ most successful post-war driver, Andrew Hedges died on October 1st, 2005 in Bahrain, from where he had pursued business interests in minerals exploration in the Middle East, Australia and Singapore.
Perhaps it was a fortuitous alignment of the planets that Andrew was born not far from Abingdon. His family's local butcher business must have been quite successful, since after attending a private school, Andrew went to Cambridge University and was later commissioned into the British Army, to the prestigious Household Cavalry. Although he served his time in the family business, and also tried his hand at car sales in London, this was still the era of the talented amateur, and Andrew was plainly attracted to the world of high speed and high risk. He moved to Switzerland and became a member of the British bob-sleigh team, competing first in World Championship events, and then representing his country in the 1964 Olympics.
However, he had already been dabbling in motorsport, successfully racing an Austin A40 and, more suspiciously, a Sebring Sprite. This earned him an invitation to join the Abingdon Works entry for EAO-Mont the 12 hour race at Sebring in 1962, co-driving with no less than Jack Sears. The car was an MGA, and although the Mk 2 was already available, it was decided to enter a Mark 1 with the 1588cc engine to remain in the more favourable under- 1600cc Class. Interestingly, it was a twin-cam chassis with the 4-wheel disc brakes and centre-lock wheels! Andrew and Jack Sears finished second in Class, thus launching Andrew into a seven-year career in International racing and rallying with Competitions Department at Abingdon, not to mention drives with Jaguar at Monza, the now iconic Ford GT 40 at Sebring and Daytona, Porsche and Ferrari GTO on the Targa Florio and with a Healey SR at Le Mans.
Returning to the Abingdon story, Andrew became closely associated with the Jacobs Midgets and was instrumental in the great success of these remarkable little cars. Andrew Hedges was a regular driver for Jacobs up till 1964, including the International 1000km race at the Nurburgring where the two Midgets finished first and second in Class, the highest placed British competitors. From 1965 on, Abingdon entered the now ex-Jacobs Midgets in numerous events, perhaps most famously at Sebring that year when Andrew and Roger Mac soundly defeated the Triumph Works Spitfires for the Class win. 1965 also marked the first Abingdon Works drive for one Paddy Hopkirk (who had escaped from Triumph!). Paddy and Andrew took a Jacobs Midget to the Targa Florio and finished a remarkable 11th overall and second in class only to a locally owned Abarth Simca.
It was in 1964 that Andrew represented Great Britain in the two-man and four-man Bobsleigh Team in the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
Andrew’s talents were also exercised in Abingdon’s new weapon in both racing and rallying internationally, the MGB. A single MGB was entered for Le Mans in 1963, 1964 and 1965 and on each occasion the cars finished well and in 1964 Andrew Hedges was teamed with Paddy Hopkirk were they finished 19th overall out of 55 starters and 2nd in Class at an average speed of 99.9 mph! Andrew and Paddy were teamed again in 1965 and finished 11th overall and second in Class to a Porsche whose engine blew up on it’s final lap! The MGB was arguably the last true production car to compete at Le Mans.
In 1966, Andrew Hedges ran a quite extraordinary series of long-distance events in the MGB. At Sebring in March, with the most powerful engine yet developed, 138bhp from a 2-liter block, Hopkirk and Hedges were again together, but the new engine threw a rod. In April, Andrew was teamed with John Handley for the Targa Florio finishing second in Class to Makinen and Rhodes in their MGB. In July, it was Mugello, where with Ron Widdows coming 3rd in the GT category. But in August came surely one of Andrew’s, and Abingdon’s, finest post-war results when he won the Marathon de la Route at the Nurburgring outright. For those not familiar with this adventure, the Marathon really was a marathon …. an 84 hour race, run, if you please, with two drivers taking 7½ hour rotations, Andrew’s partner being the Belgian ace Julien Vernaeve. After some amazing misadventures too numerous to detail here, the winning MGB covered 5,620 miles, defeating various exotica including Ferrari in the process.
But the year was far from over! In September, Andrew, teamed with Julien again, was at the ‘Ring again for “only” a 1000km race (the car was retired ) and then at Spa’s 1000km where they captured 1st in Class in the GT category. In October, for one more 1000km event this time at Monthlhery, Andrew and Julien were 3rd in Class behind the MGB of Alec Poole and Roger Enever.
The 1967 season opening was memorable in that the MGB GT scored it’s first significant international finish, winning the Sports Prototype 2 to 3 litre class, and a creditable 12th overall at the Sebring 12 hour event. Drivers? Who else but Hopkirk and Hedges! However, it had become clear that with changing rules and corporate goals (the advent of British Leyland was nigh) another more competitive car was needed. The answer was the wonderfully brutal MGC GTS, which actually was conceived as a rally competitor. The first outing for the MGC in competition was in 1967, at the Targa Florio, driven by Hopkirk and Makinen with a 2-litre MGB engine since the MGC had not yet been homologated. Hedges and Alec Poole were at the same event in an MGB but crashed. After the MGC went into production, the GTS could be officially entered for Sebring in 1968, where Hopkirk and Hedges ran flawlessly to finish 10th overall and 3rd in the prototype class (this time behind a couple of Porsches). Hedges and Hopkirk were back in the Hedges MGB GT at the Targa Florio in May, where the two secured a 2nd in the GT Class, 12th overall. The 84-hour Marathon at the 'Ring' was next on the schedule, and two GTS cars were entered, one with the now-priceless alloy block. Unfortunately, this one overheated, but Hedges, now with the luxury of two co-drivers in Tony Fall and Julien again, kept going strongly in third overall until braking problems and the required repairs, slowed them down. After 6,000 miles, the car finished 6th overall, only 10 miles behind the leading Porsche. The GTS had one more outing at Sebring, and Andrew with Paddy Hopkirk finished 15th overall.
At this point, history comes to a full stop with the closure of Competitions Department, bringing to an untimely end MG’s post-war Works-supported rallying and racing programmes.
However, his employment at Universal Power Drives (UPD) as a Sales Manager and subsequent responsibility for the Unipower GT sales when his good friend Tim Powell took on the manufacture, was to ultimately lead to him racing the Unipower’s in International races, notably the Targa Florio in 1969, when his huge experience enabled them to qualify 2nd in class and well up with 2-litr competitors.
Reflecting on Andrew Hedges’ International race and rally career with “Comps Department”, as well as his racing exploits with other manufacturers, it is versatility, resourcefulness and extraordinary physical endurance that is the hallmark of the top drivers of his era. It remains in sharp contrast with the specialisation found in modern international motorsport. Drivers such as Andrew Hedges exhibited a range of talents of which we can only remain in awe and admiration. Andrew was the most successful of the Works drivers; together with many others he brought worldwide recognition to British sports cars in general, and MG in particular.
My huge thanks to Martin Ingall for the MG period history