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Rubber Fetish Published: 4th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


Fast Facts

  • Best model: Any that’s well-priced and okay
  • Worst model: Anything overpriced
  • Budget buy: GT
  • OK for unleaded?: Should be, but additives useful
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): (mm): L2020 x W 1524
  • Spares situation: Brilliant
  • Club support: As good as you will fi nd
  • Appreciating asset?: Not really
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Yes – for sheer value
Raised ride height did handling no favours but the softer MG is far better suited to motorways Raised ride height did handling no favours but the softer MG is far better suited to motorways
Still no boot mat and you can see re-sited electric fuel pump. Check fl oor for rot and rusty GT tailgates Still no boot mat and you can see re-sited electric fuel pump. Check fl oor for rot and rusty GT tailgates
Revamped dash uses Triumph dials and overdrive switch - much better than earlier cars but naff jazzy trim! Revamped dash uses Triumph dials and overdrive switch - much better than earlier cars but naff jazzy trim!
Ancient B-Series is tough and easily tuned for more pep but later emission controlled units prone to pinking/running on Ancient B-Series is tough and easily tuned for more pep but later emission controlled units prone to pinking/running on
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It’s the B many reckon should be binned, yet they offer benefits that are largely overlooked. Isn’t it time you considered this bargain-priced MGB?

Pros & Cons

Value for money, good specs, improved ride
Spoiled handling, less performance, status?

Ever outstayed your welcome? (Frequently-ed.) Well in automotive terms, the MGB had by the time the glam rock era began. Instead of becoming a Radio 2 fan and bowing out gracefully once stringent US crash laws came into force, British Leyland did its own ‘Ten Years Younger’ programme, albeit on a penny-pinching budget, and dolled the old girl up. The result was akin to making your granny wear a mini skirt. But BL even made her wear rubber, hiked up the hemline further and forced her to see out the Punk Rock era as the worst turned out MGB ever. But is this really still the case? True, these rubber bumper cars drove even worse then the aging original, but now almost three decades on rubber bumper Bs are bouncing back as the bargain sportster. Read why one may be the best MGB for you!


Although antiquated after a ‘bakers’ dozen’ years of production the MGB was still a decent money-spinner for British Leyland, especially in the US. But to meet ever stringent US crash laws for 1975, the 13 year-old design needed serious redeveloping and crash-proof bumpers. Sadly the BL money pot was empty so MG engineers, who traditionally prided themselves on their skills, had to bodge it by simply jacking up the rideheight by a whopping 1.5inches to bring the front bumper height to the required level and re-cambering the rear springs to suit! The anti-roll bars were deleted on the Roadster for some obscure reason, magnifying the problem, but GT-type seven leaf rear springs were fi tted as some compensation.

The bumpers were designed by Harris Mann; the bloke who styled the Allegro, Princess and TR7 - but he did a decent job on the MG even if they did extend the car’s length by a staggering fi ve inches. Sadly paint technology didn’t allow effective colour-coding back then which would have improved matter no end. It wasn’t all bad news though, as there were some benefi ts. The electrics were altered to accept a proper 12-volt battery, the electric petrol pump was relocated from its underside position to the boot area (so you didn’t need to crawl underneath anymore to thump it when it played up-ed?) and MGB GTV8 instruments were now fi tted. By September ’75, the body panels below the bumpers were sprayed in black to tidy up appearances, while in ’76, a rather neat GT badge was designed to fi t by the rear windows to mask a body moulding seam. Hi tech the changes they were not, but the biggest improvement occurred that September for ’77 model year cars. At last MG did something to put some sting back in the B with the refi tting of both front and rear anti-roll bars for the Roadster (along with older six leaf rear springs) and GT in conjunction with a slightly lower steering ratio to allow a smaller steering wheel to be used (3.5 instead of 2.9 lock to-lock). By and large the revisions put back what was lost and the adoption of an electric cooling fan saved a couple of welcome bhp too, although the 1.8 was always rated at around 95bhp (84bhp nett). Also new was moving the dash-mounted overdrive switch to a neater gear lever top location (Triumph thinking here) so you didn’t need to use both hands to swap cogs anymore…

The dashboard was redesigned with a more modern appearance, plus improved heater controls, better quality carpets and even a glove box that you didn’t need a key to operate - well, it only took 15 years to alter! The new look deckchair cloth upholstery is not to all tastes; strangely the Yanks, who you would have thought would have loved that garish style, retained the simpler plastic trim… Roadsters also benefi ted from a better hood with a zip-out rear window, while tinted glass adorned the GT. With the B in the autumn of its life, the changes from here on were few and minimal. For 1979 the car received altered wiring and standard door speakers to accept an optional stereo, the instrument faces were standardised and special alloy wheels - as seen on US cars – were made an option, sitting on 185/70 x14 tyres. In 1980 rear fog lamps were fitted under the bumper. Around this time, the ‘advanced’ O-Series engine (which was always planned for the MG ever since the 1960s – but ultimately found its way into Itals and Princesses!), was fi nally tried out by MG’s own engineers. In turbo form it made 160bhp. If only…the US, the very last MGB was bought by Henry Ford II of all people, which speaks volume for the B! But for fellow true B lovers the big news must be the arrival of the Heritage bodyshell in 1988 – a move ensuring that no matter how rotten your MGB became, it was never going to be beyond saving.


The B without a sting was how everybody viewed these rubber bumper cars. Original ’75 model year cars lacked any kind of chassis tweak to compensate for that extra 1.5inches ground clearance and quite frankly they were not nice cars even when new. By the 1970s, the MG was already being outclassed by the likes of the Capri and the changes ruined the car’s already dated handling and roadholding abilities. Make no mistake, hoisting the suspension seriously impaired the B’s handling, making the MG wallow and roll excessively and lurch into sloppy oversteer. That hasty revise for ’77 using thicker anti-roll bars together with a slightly lower geared steering to lighten the heavy tiller improved matters considerably. Where the MGB has always appealed was not in the car’s speed but in its responses although at the dawn of the hot hatch, the MGB was becoming seriously outdated. Those bumpers also added a hefty 70lb to the MGB’s weight meaning, along with further emis-sion-led strangulation to the venerable B-Series lump, more performance drop-off. Road tests at the time had a BGT struggling to 60mph in 14 seconds and barely topping the ton, but that impressive low speed pulling torque remained largely untouched and it is still this MG’s real saving grace on modern roads, along with a switch-like gearchange (it needs to be used freely due to the wide gap between second and third) that now – at last – has the overdrive switch relocated to the top of the gearknob. So what? Well it means that you don’t have to use both hands to work those handy six ratios any more!

Hey, rubber bumper MGBs aren’t all bad you know. While the handling suffers the ride certainly improved and they cruise better as a result. Another area they score over their earlier ‘superiors’ is in the cockpit, which was steadily improved right until the 1981 demise. The changes were small but welcome all the same and in GT guise this MG still makes a delightful tourer for enthusiasts with young families, while the added ride height certainly makes entry an egress easier for the elderly. Try one and compare to earlier B’s - you may like it.

What To Look For

  • The beauty of owning a B is the fantastic back up and support available from specialists and clubs. Almost every part you’ll ever need – right down to a gear lever knob – is available either new or used. As a starter classic you couldn’t wish for a better car; as a fi ne period yet serious sports car it also excels.
  • The B’s monocoque can be ruined by rust, and there are plenty of places where you’re likely to fi nd rot; bodged repairs are also likely. But if the worst happens and the ‘shell really is beyond economical repair, you can buy a Heritage bodyshell.
  • Although a Heritage shell starts at £4200, you’ll also have to fork out for paint and if you’re going to do the job properly you’ll also buy new brakes, steering, suspension, electrics and trim for the interior and exterior. Before you know it that’s another £4-5000.
  • The sills rot and are prime fodder for bodge merchants, because repairing them properly is a convoluted process and for the best results the front and rear wing sections (below the trim strip) need to be cut off. The alternative is to unbolt the front wings rather than cut the lower portion off, but on a roadster you fi rst have to take the windscreen surround off to do this.
  • Because the sills can be tricky to repair properly, there are various bodges that are regularly tried. The fi rst is to fi t a cover sill, which just hides the problem. The second is the use of a stainless steel over-sill, which looks very pretty – but also masks potential big problems. These over sills are often used legitimately as well, so don’t assume the car’s a bad one just because they’re fi tted.
  • The fi nal bodge is for the outer sill to be repaired (probably badly) with the metal underneath left to dissolve. To be certain you’re not buying a pup, take a look from underneath and see that everything lines up properly. If the door window clips the rear post, then that’s a sign of poorly fitted sills.
  • Structural rust is commonplace. Look for soft inner wings; press the panel in the engine bay as a quick check and while you are there, inspect the chassis where the steering rack is located. This can stress crack. Unless you know MGBs, this can be missed – even by MOT testers - but repair panels are now available.
  • Check the back of the front inner wheelarches, by fi rst removing the front wheels. This will allow you to see if the box section that’s positioned at the top is still there – it collects mud and rots away if it isn’t cleaned regularly, and repairing it is very tricky.
  • Inspect the general condition of the wheel arches, especially the rear of both the front and rear panels, which are especially vulnerable. Be wary of plastic wheelarch liners, which may hide rot – but if the car looks cherished they’re probably there for all the right reasons.
  • If the car has had new front wings and it’s now got chrome bumpers, make sure the wings are of the same pattern – in November 1968 the sidelights were moved, and you could end up buying a car with odd wings, although it’s not especially noticeable.
  • While you’re checking the rear wheelarches, take a look at the spring hangers, which may well be rotten. Which is easily overlooked. Make sure it’s intact by checking from underneath and also make sure the fl oorpans are in good order - there’s a good chance they won’t be.  Scrutinise the wings, including the wheel arch lip sections and lower edges. Look along the car’s fl anks, ensuring that the gaps between adjoining panels are uniform (many badly restored cars won’t be).
  • Because the top of the fuel tank is corrugated to strengthen it, water collects between the top of the tank and the underside of the boot fl oor, where it’s attached. So if you can smell fuel, assume the tank has perforated and needs replacing at around £50 plus fi tting. Roadster and GT fuel tanks are interchangeable.
  • If you’re looking at a GT, make sure that the double-skinned tailgate isn’t rotten and whether drop-top or fi xed head, analyse the scuttle where it meets the base of the windscreen. If it’s rusty here it’ll mean taking the windscreen surround off (on a roadster) to fi x it properly. The fi nal bodywork part to check is the bottom of each door. Although door skins are available for £20 it’s normally more cost-effective to buy a whole new door at £160 because getting the new skin to fi t properly is so involved.
  • Swapping those rubber bumpers (that add 70lb to the car’s weight) isn’t a simple job as there’s some fairly major bodywork surgery involved. It can be costly too if a professional does it; £1500 at least.
  • The B-Series engine isn’t normally all that quiet, with tappet noise evident even when set up properly. With the engine at tickover there should be 15-25psi oil pressure and at 3000rpm this should rise to 50-65psi. Anything less means the crankshaft is worn – which means an engine rebuild - or the oil pump is on its way out.
  • High oil consumption is often down to the crankcase breather pipes being blocked, causing oil to be sucked into the cylinders. The plastic oil fi ller cap is a consumable item that needs to be replaced every 12,000 miles as it contains the breather for the crankcase. Other reasons for high oil consumption include the valve guides and stem seals being worn.
  • If the engine isn’t burning the lubricant, it’s probably leaking it. First places to check are the front and rear crankshaft seals, and replacing the latter means removing the engine fi rst. Also look at the tappet chest side covers behind the exhaust manifold.
  • If the engine misfi res it could be because the heater valve, positioned directly over the distributor, is leaking. The only cure is to fi t a new valve, but much worse, the misfi ring could be because the cast iron cylinder head has cracked between the spark plugs, allowing coolant to leak out.
  • These later emission-strangled engines are prone to running on and ‘pinking’ under load, so don’t be overly concerned about this unless it is really bad.
  • Clutch problems are common, usually centred around the carbon fi bre release bearing breaking up. If the clutch is ridden in traffi c, 3000 miles is all a bearing might manage, but it’s now possible to buy an uprated unit. So if there’s a vibration through the pedal and a screeching noise, start looking for £350 to fi x it.
  • Also make sure the pedal isn’t spongy. If it is, the hydraulics are on their way out and you’ll have to spend £85 on new master and slave cylinders – don’t be tempted to just replace the seals as it’s a false economy.
  • Overdrive is virtually essential. It doesn’t really give problems, although the electrics can play up and the oil level can fall below the minimum, both of which will stop it working.
  • If there’s any vibration coming from the driveline when you take the car for a test drive, it’s probably because one or both of the propshaft U/Js has worn. Replacement is easy, and you don’t need to pay more than £60 for a reconditioned propshaft
  • .
  • The MGB’s simple suspension set up doesn’t generally give problems, except for the kingpins wearing. Unless they’re greased every 3000 miles they’ll wear, so make sure they’re in good order. Jack the front of the car up and try rocking the wheel at the top and bottom while somebody applies the footbrake. If there’s any movement detectable at all, the kingpins will need replacing at £45 each plus fi tting, which normally take a couple of hours for each side.
  • The front wishbone bushes also perish and collapse, but a visual check is all that’s needed to see what state they’re in. Fit V8 items if new ones are due, at £1.50 each (£6 a set), and reckon on up to three hours per side to fi t them.
  • Ensure too that the shock absorbers are sound and not leaking, the rear springs are unbroken and haven’t settled and that the bump stops are still in place. Has a lowering kit or mod been already fi tted?
  • Wire wheels or steel rims? By the time the rubber bumper B was launched, the car wore steel Ro-Style sports wheels. You can still fi t wires although you have to change the hubs over and in some cases even the rear axle assembly. If your B has wire wheels already retro-fi tted, are they okay? ‘Pinging’ with a pencil is a good quick check for looseness - if they are slack then usually they have to be overhauled rather than simply tightened. Splines wear too remember, and a new wire wheel can cost around £300, with a complete conversion between £1500-2000 depending where you shop.
  • According to some, rubber bumper MGBs’ handling can deteriorate quicker so you need to keep the dampers and bushes in tip top order or the already lowly roadholding limits will further suffer.
  • You’ll need to drive the car before buying, and if it seems that there’s rear wheel steering it’ll be because the U-bolts and rubber bushes which locate the rear axle have come loose or corroded. But it’s cheap to fi x with the kit of parts costing just £15.
  • Lever arm dampers were fi tted front and rear, which are notorious for leaking. If you’re not worried about originality it’s possible to swap to telescopics, but the ride will be harder. To really sharpen up the handling it’s worth fi tting uprated front and rear anti-roll bars, which will transform the car’s dynamics for just £100 or so. Make sure the entire rear tyre is visible - if it disappears under the wheelarch the springs need replacing at £35 per side plus a couple of hours each side to do the job.
  • Servo-assisted brakes were fi tted from 1973. If it feels like there’s no assistance, it’s because the seals have gone on the servo, allowing the brake fl uid to be sucked into the engine and burned. If the original master cylinder is fi tted it’ll need doing before long - check its external condition to gauge what state it’s in internally or look at the brake pedal to see if there’s fl uid leaking down it. Getting the servo rebuilt isn’t really worthwhile, so count on paying £150 for a new unit.
  • All the trim is available, but if it all needs replacing the cost of it can add up quickly. A new hood plus fi tting will set you back £120 upwards depending on material. A set of new seat covers costs £200 for leather or £120 for vinyl, and carpet sets cost anywhere between £50 and £150. Similarly the exterior trim is all obtainable, although new windscreen surrounds aren’t. But it is possible to buy reconditioned: at £260.



Three Of A Kind

Triumph TR7
Triumph TR7
Like the later MGB, the rubber bumpered TR7 is still seen as a backwater classic but - like its Abingdon rival - has real value on its side, plus they drive much better than they look with secure handling and a very civilised cockpit. Convertibles have the best looks of course, but the original coupe is slowly catching on. Could become the best budget buy for 2008.
Alfa Romeo Spider
Alfa Romeo Spider
Original Spiders are sexy and superb, but like the MGB, old age saw it lose its lovely Latin looks too US decreed rubber bumpers and detuned engines. Thankfully a lot of the early character remains in the S3 and S4 cars and, with cars remaining in production until 1993, there’s a fair chance of getting a good rot free one, although spares aren’t as plentiful as you’d imagine.
Fiat X1/9
Fiat X1/9
This is the car both MG and Triumph should have made… Thoroughly up to date at the time and still modern in feel, the mid-engine Fiat is more like a baby Ferrari with classic mid-ship handling; only moderate straight line pace lets it down. Not well built plus they usually rot like mad, but a good one can still be purchased cheaply and it’s certainly one that will appreciate over time.


MGBs still hold a lot of charm and there’s no reason to believe that rubber bumper variants are any less alluring - especially after carrying out some well-chosen mods and improvements. In its July 1977 test Autocar summed up the ageing MGB GT by saying it remained a pleasant to drive and easy to maintain car with classically sporting lines and predictable handling. We heartily agree, and they can’t be that bad because the old timer enjoyed its best ever sales in the UK that same year! And just look at the prices these least liked models still sell for. Try one.

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