The MGB is a reliable, understated, practical, economical, and fun quintessentially English sports car. It can also be a little boring and old-fashioned at times, which is another reason it’s quintessentially English. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never fallen in love with the MGB in the way I have loved some other cars. I can’t quite bring myself to believe the MGB is a cool car. Yet the MGB is a huge success story, the biggest selling British sports car ever.
Introduced in 1962 the B is a two-door, two-seat, soft-top, sports car with the engine at the front, four-speed manual gearbox in the middle, (with optional overdrive), and a live axle at the back. In looks and construction it was modern for the time. The monocoque construction was very modern for 1962 ~ strong, light and with built-in crash protection. Yet, the monocoque still harks back to the old days because there large are longitudinal chassis rails welded to the bodyshell. Belt and braces, very English.
The best I think I can say about the MGB’s appearance is ‘inoffensive.’ It was designed in-house, when an external car design studio may have had a lot to offer, and resulted in something a little less bland.
As far as the drive train is concerned, well it’s antediluvian. The B series engine was lifted out of the 1955 MGA, and bored out to 1,798cc, which gave the MGB some 95 bhp at a leisurely 5,400 rpm. USA specification cars came with a strangulated 65 bhp lump.
There were two major revisions to the MGB a potential owner needs to consider. Firstly the engine. That B series cast-iron lump originally came with only 3 main crankshaft-bearings, which is less than ideal. In a 5 main bearing block was introduced, and given a choice, this is what you want. Then in late 1974 the grotesque, and very unpopular, rubber-bumpered version of the B was introduced in response to California’s Ralf Nader inspired road safety campaigns. Unless you want to do major work to lower the suspension and take off the ugly black appendages, do not buy one of these cars.
The MGB is a fairly practical car, but if you want real practicality and having a convertible isn’t at the top of your list, then you could seriously think about the MGB GT (what a great name for a car….???). It’s better looking than the soft-top, has more luggage space, and was a hatchback before anyone came up with the term ‘hatchback’. If you really must have sun and practicality, then try and find an MGB GT with a dealer-fitted full-length sunroof by someone like Webasto. Around 125,000 MGB GT were sold. I’ll publish a separate post on the MGB GT.
Right from the start it was obvious that the MGB could use more power, and someone had the ‘brilliant’ idea of sticking a big heavy iron six in the front to create the, inherently flawed, 2,912 cc MGC, (which was actually intended to replace the Austin~Healey 3000). Only 8,999 of these nose-heavy brutes were ever made, so this is now a seriously expensive car. You would have to be insane to try and drive one of these fast on an English country road. I think you would have to be insane to buy one.
In 1970 a garage owner named Ken Costello stuck a Buick / Rover all aluminium 3,528 cc 137 bhp V8 in the front of an MGB GT, to create the legendary MGB GT V8. Despite the clunky name this is a seriously desirable car. Sadly only 2, 591 were produced by MG between 1973 and 1976. A final development using the V8 engine was the MG RV8, (and for my American friends this was not a RV in your sense of the term). Good luck finding an RV8, and congratulations if you can afford it.
Tuning and ‘personalising’ and MGB offers the keen mechanic endless opportunities. There are a plethora of firms offering parts and specialist tuning services. The MGB can be turned into a seriously fast car ~ it did well at Le Mans. All one has to decide is how much you want / need originality, against how much you want a car that looks and drives really well.
From 1962 to 1980 some 387,000 MGB roadsters were made, so it isn’t exactly a rare car, even though 87% were exported. You can expect to pay above £10,000 for a decent example. And, you can consider an MGB as a pretty good investment. If you’re considering buying an MGB, first join one of the owners’ clubs. You want an example with all it’s paperwork intact. Rubber bumpered versions may look OK, but beware of hidden crash damage and rust behind those black appendages. Rubber bumpered cars are a lot cheaper than the chrome bumpered cars. Look for bodged repairs and rust in the sills, which are structurally crucial, (beware of oversills, hiding rot underneath). If you can see any bodywork rust at all, walk away unless you are prepared to do a major structural rebuild. A good test is to jack up the car using the original jacking points, if the door gaps open up at the top, then the car is bending because it’s rotten underneath. The suspension needs regular maintenance, and if this hasn’t been done it’s likely that much of it will need replacing.
The good news is that you can buy just about everything you need to make an MGB from scratch, including brand new bodyshells. (about £10,000) Personally, if I wanted an MGB, I’d look for a rubber bumpered heap of junk and rebuild the thing to my own standards and specification. I would have £500 in my pocket and expect to have the thing trucked back to my workshop.
A long road trip in an MGB? Magical, you can cruise or hustle along, but make certain to take your tool-kit along with you.