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MGB (Rubber bumper)

CAPITAL A Published: 5th Aug 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MGB (Rubber bumper)

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Twin-cam roadster
  • Worst model: 1500
  • Budget buy: Any coupé
  • OK for unleaded?: No
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3962x W1473mm
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: Simplicity itself
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes
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Super stylish MG that mixes vintage with classic brilliantly. Sedate performance but always fun to drive. Good value still and backed by unbeatable specialist and club support.

If you were asked to name the prettiest cars of all time, the chances are that among a glut of Pininfarina-styled Ferraris you’d have the MGA, one of the best-looking cars ever to come out of Britain. Launched nearly 60 years ago, the MGA picked up the baton from the ageing TF, a car whose pre-war roots were all too clear. With its swoopy styling and all-new 1489cc B-Series engine (taken from the new Magnette saloon), the A wasn’t all show with no go, while a new chassis meant the handling and ride were top-notch back then, too.

Indeed, for a car that’s close to celebrating its 60th birthday, the MGA is so good dynamically that it’s easy to forget just how old its design is. But the A isn’t just a pretty face; it’s an easy classic to own as well.

That MG badge means there’s a whole army of specialists out there just waiting to help, while there’s excellent club support on hand too. But while there’s lots of support available, if you’re considering taking on a project, make sure that you know what you’re getting into; these cars have a more complex construction than you might think.


1955 The MGA is launched in 1500 Roadster form – a road going application of an older racing concept to replace the ancient T-Series although superstructure is basically the same. It’s powered by a 1489cc B-Series engine, there are drum brakes all round and a four-speed manual gearbox is employed. 1956 There’s also now a coupé version offered; once again MG had come up trumps with a superb design (using a Morris Oxford screen it’s claimed), but these closed cars aren’t nearly as sought after as their opentopped equivalents.

1958 The Twin-Cam debuts in Roadster and Coupé forms. Power comes from a strengthened B-Series block with an advanced aluminium twin-cam head, good for over 100bhp. The Twin-Cam is great to drive and fast, but engine piston-burning problems in period did the car’s reputation no favours at all; it was killed off after just two years, with barely 2000 examples sold and their rarity ensures sky-high prices. 1959 The MGA 1600 MkI is announced, in both roadster and coupé forms. Replacing the 1500 edition, there are now disc brakes at the front and a 1588cc powerplant. 1960 To save itself from the Twin Cam debacle the De Luxe uses the Twin Cam’s chassis, with disc brakes all round but a stock engine, and it’s now the most sought after A after the Twin Cam.

1961 The final edition of the MGA appears, the MkII. Offered as a roadster or coupé and in standard or De Luxe specifications, a 1622cc engine yields 86bhp while a raised back axle ratio gives more relaxed cruising. The model lasts just a year though, with the A killed off in 1962, replaced by the MGB, which some still say is the lesser car.


Compared with modern sports cars, the MGA isn’t especially quick; while the Twin Cam is good for 115mph, the standard models are all in at 100mph or so, while 0-60mph typically takes a hardly sporty 15 seconds depending upon model. But looking at figures on paper doesn’t even start to give an accurate picture of how much fun the A genuinely is.

If you were able to drive an MGA blindfolded, and asked to guess the car’s vintage, the chances are you’d be out by a good 20 years. The key to the A’s great dynamics is the fitment of a steering rack; most of its contemporaries were still using a box instead, and the precision with which the MG changes direction is way ahead as a result.

However, while the steering is superb, the ancient suspension system isn’t so impressive; a few sympathetic upgrades (see separate panel) are worthwhile and will make the entire driving experience significantly better.

In period, Autocar was clearly smitten by the A’s prowess. When its testers got their hands on an early 1500, they commented: “There is no feeling at the end of a hard day that the driver has been doing most of the work. Long, winding hillside roads are a joy to traverse; the car rockets to the top in third gear, and this gear is also extremely useful for overtaking other traffic and for town use”.

The prose continued: “The roadholding and steering are of a high order. Even with the tyre pressures set for fast driving there was no feeling of discomfort or pattering when on pavé and other poor surfaces. Fast cornering was a joy, the driver being able to position the car exactly where he wanted, and exit from a corner is also very satisfactory. Control is helped at all speeds by the excellent driving position”.

Nowadays the driving position is seen as something that takes some getting used to, as the seats aren’t especially supportive. But everything else that Autocar found in period still rings true and while there’s little to choose between the various non-Twin Cam derivatives in terms of outright performance, the 1600 MkII features a higher-ratio back axle which provides more relaxed cruising; track down one of the De Luxe models and you also get the all-round disc brakes of the Twin Cam. While rear discs aren’t really necessary, they’re worth having at the front – but until 1959 there were drums all round; even if you don’t drive the car especially hard, it’s worth fitting discs.


Over the past few years MGA values have risen steadily, to the point where you now need at least £,000-£4000 just to buy a project coupé – if you want a roadster instead you’ll need to spend between £4000 and £6000.

These cars are tricky to restore though, so projects are best avoided unless you’ve got plenty of skills and experience. As a result you’re better off going for a car that’s up and running; a usable coupé costs £5000-£10,000 while an equivalent roadster is £8000-£12,500. For these prices you can’t expect anything special though; just something that has an MoT but which will need a bit of tidying and some maintenance when the next MoT is due.

If you want a really superb roadster you can easily pay £20,000 for it; roadsters fetch around 25 per cent less, so for £15,000 you could have a really decent closed MGA. The problem is, restoring a coupé costs around 30 per cent more than a roadster because of the extra complexity – yet it’s worth significantly less. As a result, you need to be especially careful when buying a fixed-head, although there are some good cars out there. Indeed, coupé values have risen recently, but 90 per cent of buyers still want an open-topped car.

The most desirable A of all though is the Twin Cam, the best open examples of which are now fetching around £25,000 – maybe a bit more if it’s truly exceptional.

Again, the coupés are worth around 25 per cent less, while average examples are £16,000-£18,000 for a drophead and around £12,000-£14,000 for a fixedhead.

Crucially though, you need to be very careful when buying any average MGA; you might pick up a genuinely decent 1500 roadster for £12,000, but you’re more likely to end up with a car that needs significant work, even though it looks good.


If you’re buying an early MGA, one of the most worthwhile upgrades is to fit the disc brakes of a later car, although in all honesty the drum brakes are fine if you’re an leisurely driver. If you prefer to drive the car a bit harder, to go with the brakes it may be worth fitting harder AM4/AM8 linings as well as firming up the suspension, although the standard set-up provides a good ride/handling balance as the A is fairly comfortable with its factory settings. If you want something a bit more sophisticated, you could always fit one of Hoyle Engineering’s double-wishbone kits. Priced at £795 (front) and £1795 (rear) they give the chassis a new dimension although it’s too exotic for most folks and only worth doing if contemplating a high tune engine.

The B-Series engine is easy to upgrade of course and it’s worth doing so as the chassis can easily handle a bit more power and torque. Swapping to the MGB (three-bearing) engine takes you straight to a 1.8-litre displacement, with further tuning options possible, such as better carburation, big valve, gas fl owed heads and so on or supercharging; this is a £3000 upgrade that works well on any B-Series unit for some 30 per cent more go.

For more relaxed cruising it’s possible to fit a Ford Sierra five-speed gearbox. With more even spaced ratios than the MGA’s transmission, plus an extra one for relaxed cruising, it works brilliantly but the conversion costs around £1500. Because overdrive was never offered on the A, the only alternative is to fit an overdrive ‘box from the B, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

What To Look For


Of the 101,082 MGAs built, fewer than 6000 were sold in the UK, while over 80,000 crossed the Atlantic. Converting from left to right-hand drive is easy but dashboards and RHD steering racks are scarce; serviceable used racks are upwards of £700.

Incorrect trim parts and non-original mechanical components are common. MGB engines and seats are often fitted.

It’s usually better to salvage original parts rather than fit new, as the fit is often better – although mazak components such as the windscreen grab handles and vents on the shroud are tricky to reclaim, so you’re usually better off buying these new.

Lucas electrics were fitted throughout, and all parts are available to revive even the most tired A; instruments, switchgear, lighting and looms can all be replaced. Not all As were sold with a heater, but you can buy the bits to fit one; you’ll pay around
£500 for all the parts.


The sills and A-posts are the areas most likely to be rusty; all panels are available, but repairs are involved, so expect a specialist to charge at least £1750 per side. Wings also corrode; replacements are available but making them fit is difficult, so you’re better off repairing what’s there already.

Other key rot areas include the door bottoms and boot floor, while the bonnet, boot lid and doors are aluminium over a steel frame, with a wooden stiffener in the bonnet and boot lid, to prevent dents.

Although the chassis is strong, a hard knock will distort it. The key areas to check are the front and rear chassis legs, the former running under the car
from the engine bay.


The signs of a tired B-Series engine are classic; blue oil smoke while accelerating belies worn piston rings and/or cylinder bores. There should be 50-60psi on the oil pressure gauge at 3000rpm.

Oil leaks common; the scroll oil thrower on the back of the crank is potentially costly to put right. But, it’s possible to fit a seal conversion for around £200.

The twin-cam is an altogether different beast – and expensive to revive. For example, a B-Series water pump costs £30, but a Twin Cam item is £500; engine is sorted of its piston burning issues now but a full rebuild is extremely expensive, as are heads.

Three Of A Kind

You’ll have to search hard to fi nd a good one of these, as rust has claimed most of them. Find a good one and you’ll delight in the free-revving twin-cam, excellent roadholding and those delicious lines. The Giulietta (1954-62) got a 1290cc engine, while the Giulia (1962-65) had a 1570cc unit.
There have been many Plus 4s over the years; this one was current between 1950 and 1969. With Triumph TR engines giving up to 120bhp you can expect up to 120mph. But these early Plus 4s are now rare in the UK and rarely come up for sale, so be prepared to wait, or settle for a later car.
The sidescreen TRs offer character and usability while club and specialist support are superb. But most of all they offer masses of fun, especially where breathed-on cars are concerned; tuning the TR is simplicity itself. The TR3 got more power and front discs, so it’s even more usable than the TR2.


While its successor the MGB is often regarded as being the easiest classic sports car to own, thanks to the amount of club and specialist support available, the MGA isn’t far behind. DIY maintenance is generally no problem and parts availability is superb, so if you fancy something a bit more unusual than a B and your pockets are deep enough to be able to afford a good one, we’d suggest the A is well worth a closer look.

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