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MGB Published: 16th Jan 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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They say the MGB is the most pragmatic classic sports you can own. But is it fun to drive? We dispel over half a century of myths…

Apart from their timeless classy looks, one of the first things you notice about MGBs is just how small they actually are and yet it’s big brother to the Midget. Yet this doesn’t correspond to a similar cramped cockpit and the seat travel is ample unless you’re very tall or portly. The MG’s compact dimensions mean it’s such an easy car to place on the road and park up in a lockup and still leave enough space to open doors or work on the car – try that in a new Ford Fiesta!

The MGB is possibly the best known classic British sports car but, yet even when contemporary, was seen as a bit soft and slow. The late great rallying legend Roger Clark once described it as a ‘two-door Morris Oxford’ but there again, he did drive for Ford at the time! However, those of a certain age will remember that the MGB was fair and squarely derided in the later years of its life because by the mid 70s, the car’s performance was easily overtaken by the most mundane of family saloons.

Classic is different to contemporary however, so how does the MGB stack up 55 years since its launch in 1962?

On the move

There’s little mistaking that B-Series burble or the lumpiness at idle that even well tuned cars display changing to a rorty rasp on the move. Unlike classics of similar eras, the MGB doesn’t feel that vintage when sitting behind the wheel. The driving position is comfortable and the controls easy to fathom. Before 1970, the press were slating the dash for its antiquated rotary controls but they’re all the rage now …

A well known criticism was the gap between the pedals so hindering ‘heel and toeing’ but we wonder how many drivers (unless the gearbox synchros are failing) practise this art still anyway. Bending the throttle lever a tad or fitting an extension (best try an MG specialist) usually does the trick.

Driving this MG calls for little ‘old car’ experience, and is a classic that’s simple and quick to master and unlike certain rivals, such as a TR, isn’t overly heavy to pilot, making it a great choice if other friends or family members are intending to drive it.

Performance wasn’t earth-shattering in its day so don’t expect neck-snapping acceleration but even a standard car (a bit of a rarity these days) copes okay with modern traffic well chiefly thanks to the famous low-rev torque that’s a characteristic of the 1798cc BMC engine and a welcome antidote to today’s multivalve screamers. A good MGB should pick up well and prove responsive on the open road.

A lot is still said about the ratio ‘gap’ that exists when changing up to third via a crisp if notch gearchange, but the gulf of engine torque masks this quite well and is only noticeable when ‘giving it some’.

The B is at its best when touring though. The ride is agreeable and quite comfortable on the higher riding rubber-bumper cars, while flicking in overdrive allows reasonably restful 3300rpm cruising at the legal limit; sadly excessive noise on all variants from other sources means that any faster becomes a bit wearing but all told, your first drive in a B should be pleasing enough.

Round the corners

When the MGB was launched in 1962, the press praised its handling and ride but unsurprisingly, 18 years later and after negligible further development, it became a different story when the car was culled.

It’s no MX-5 that’s for sure but the MGB isn’t as bad as it was painted out to be, either. Yes it can’t keep up with a Mondeo towing a caravan but the fun comes from such lowly limits where the MG’s sheer faithfulness and predictability keeps you safe, a point rightly emphasised in a 1972 track test: “Anyone who gets himself into real trouble in a ‘B’ is more than usually silly.”

Basically, the B understeers before the rear end takes over, but advanced warnings via the seat of your pants and the steering provide ample time to correct; pure vintage style sports car traits in other words.

It’s not quite so fast or fool-proof on rubber-bumper cars which can be quite unnerving with their wallowy nature, – hardly surprising considering given that the ride was raised by a massive 1.5 inches and the essential anti-roll bars deleted. Post 1976 cars were largely corrected although the end result was still not as sporty as chrome bumper models. One benefit of post ’76 MGBs however is their lighter steering due to a reduced ratio rack although the tiller only becomes a chore if a smaller sports steering wheel is fitted, to gain needed leg room. Power steering kits are available plus there’s the cheaper option of altering the castor geometry so it’s that more suited for modern tyres. It’s just one of the many enhancements available to MGB owners along with a host of performance upgrades and many at surprisingly little cost.

Go or no go?

So, after this test drive, is the MGB your sort of classic sports car? If you demand serious performance and g-force cornering, then look elsewhere. On the other hand, if vintage-style life and laughs in the slow lane is what you most desire, then few classics provide it as well in safety or with so much pragmatic pleasure.


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