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Perfect for Pragmatists Published: 18th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


Fast Facts

  • Best model: Chrome-bumper roadster
  • Worst model: Rubber-bumper GT
  • Budget buy: Rubber-bumper roadster
  • OK for unleaded?: No
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 3880x W 1520
  • Spares situation: Superb
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Unsurpassed
  • Appreciating asset?: Barely
  • Good buy or good-bye?: You really can’t go wrong here
Cabin is roomy and cosy – easily modernised too Cabin is roomy and cosy – easily modernised too
Engine is venerable B-Series; rugged, while easy to maintain and tune Engine is venerable B-Series; rugged, while easy to maintain and tune
Rubber bumper spoil looks and handling but great value Rubber bumper spoil looks and handling but great value
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No classic sports shouts so much common sense as the MGB – but they’re also great fun too

Pros & Cons

Cheap to buy and run, great club and specialist support, easy to upgrade
They’re everywhere, lots of badly restored cars around, leisurely performance

Until the Mazda MX-5 overtook it several years ago, the MGB was the world’s best selling sports car. And it’s easy to see why; ever since the car was unveiled in 1962, it’s been affordable, usable and incredibly easy to own. Over almost half a century those attributes haven’t diminished in the slightest – in some ways, they’re more applicable and enhanced than ever. With its straightforward mechanicals, superb parts availability and low running costs, this is one of the most usable classics around, and there are masses to choose from. So while you’ll never stand out at a classic car show with an MGB, you will fi nd the ownership experience more painless than for some other classics – especially other twoseater sports cars. The MGB is also supported by some top clubs, so if you’re after a classic that’ll boost your social life too, then look no further.


The A had been such a success for MG that it had to be replaced with something that was a genuine step forward. Something that was easier to live with, easier to drive and easier to build. And that’s just what happened, which means that when it comes to buying a practical classic, the MGB is right there at the top of the list. The MGB began in 1959 as project EX205, but by the 1962 British Motor Show the car had made its debut. Priced at £949, the B was powered by a 96bhp 1798cc B-Series engine and the suspension was based on that fi tted tothe MGA to keep development costs down. The biggest change was the ditching of the chassis that had served MG before the war in favour of the new-fangled monocoque idea. At fi rst the engine had just three main bearings, but from October 1964 a smoother if slightly less responsive fi ve bearing unit was fi tted with an oil cooler, while the rev counter was changed from mechanical to electric. Also the pull door handle were replaced by a more conventional design making the ‘pull’ handled MGBs highly desirable due to rarity. In March 1965 the fuel tank grew to 12 gallons while that October the still extremely attractive GT arrived, a stylish hatch that was a true mini Grand Tourer, as long as there weren’t more than two wanting to travel (in some discomfort). Mechanically the ‘poor man’s Aston’ as it was dubbed boasted a front anti-roll bar, stiffer springs and wider rims, but by November ’66 the roadster gained the front anti-roll bar.

Although outwardly the MGB didn’t change much, in October 1967 a MkII version arrived, with a fully synchronised gearbox, a change to negative earth electrics and an alternator instead of a dynamo. A month later an automatic gearbox became available – but slush box-equipped Bs are now very rare and not sought after. Two years later the MkII was facelifted with a recessed matt black nose (known as the Mustang look). It wasn’t a success but the rest of the improvements, such as a revamped interior including better, reclining seats were. Another two years on and the Mk III surfaced, reverting to a traditional grille along with more cabin tweaks. The rubber-bumpered B replaced the chromebumpered model in October 1974 – a move not celebrated by many, but one which – thanks to US crash test laws – produced a much more usable car that’s far more comfortable in everyday use.

Refi nement improved but the raised ride height, done so unbelievably crudely, didn’t help the already dated handling one little bit. MG quickly had to rethink matters and re-fi tted the anti-roll bars as well as altered the steering soon after. Although the rubber bumper cars are much derided there were compensations along the way. A proper 12-volt battery was fi tted replacing the weary old twin six volt set up, the electric petrol pump was relocated from its underside position to the boot area and nicer GTV8 instruments were now used. By September ’75, the body panels below the bumpers were sprayed in black to tidy up appearances while in ’76, a neat GT badge was fi tted by the rear windows to mask a body moulding seam. At last MG did something to put some sting back in the B for 1977 by the refi tting of both front and rear anti-roll bars in conjunction with a slightly lower steering ratio, allowing a smaller steering wheel to be used (3.5 turns instead of 2.9 lock-to-lock) for added comfort and legroom. An electric cooling fan saved a couple of welcome bhp and reduced the mechanical thrash of the now ancient engine.Moving the dash-mounted overdrive switch to a saner, safer gear lever top location came not a moment too soon plus the dashboard was redesigned with a more modern look, better heater controls, tinted glass on the GTs, better quality carpets… and even a glove box that
didn’t now need a key to operate!

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 fi tted under the bumper. In the US, the very last MGB was bought by Henry Ford II, would you believe! The last MGB was put together on 22nd October 1980, the last 1000 cars being special edition LE models. In 1992 the car was revived as the V8-powered RV8, of which 1982 were made within a three-year lifespan. But for classic B lovers the big news must be the arrival of the Heritage bodyshell in 1988 – a move which ensured that no matter how rotten your B became, it was never going to be beyond saving.


There are lots of factors that affect how an MGB drives, such as how well maintained it is, whether or not it’s had any upgrades, whether it’s open or closed and also what engine is fi tted. As you’d expect, the 1.8-litre B-Series unit provides a very different driving experience from the 3-litre ‘six’ and the 3.5-litre V8. The B-Series never offered that much urge even when new while emission laws made it sluggish by the time the car bowed out. But on the other hand the unit is so torquefi lled that you’ll still enjoy the drive because it has a lot of low speed guts making it feel brisker than it really is plus sounds great with that characteristic lumpy idle and distinct burble. Rubber-bumper cars are the most refi ned of the lot, but the raised ride height doesn’t do the car’s handling any favours which has always been a bit soft and many ordinary saloons could out-handle what one famous rally driver dubbed ‘a two-seater Morris Oxford’. There again, the late great Roger Clark was a Ford man…

Where the MG scored was not in its out-andout grip but sheer predictability where you can a lot of fun at 30 or 50. Higher cruising is spoiled by excessive engine and wind noise; overdrive and (what MGB hasn’t got it?) is essential for today’s roads, cutting revs at the legal limit to comfortably under 4000rpm. Up to 30mpg isn’t pie-in-the-sky if in good tune and driven sensibly. How the press viewed the MGB changed over its long production run. When it was fi rst launched it was lauded for its clean looks and fair practicality. By 1971 and with the car much the same, it was dubbed in a road test by Motor as the “establishment sports car where many fanatics regard any change as an effrontery.”

But others such as Car was now calling the MG, “long in the tooth and an uninspiring car today” around the same time. Of course when the rubber bumper cars came along the Press had a fi eld day and the general opinion was that it should have been put to the sword years ago. However, the car was showing its classic potential even back in 1975 because Car said: “Strangely enough, through the noise and crudity of it all there is still a certain charm about the car”. Of course, there still is – perhaps more so because despite its faults the MGB is so easy to live with. Also, the MGB, especially the extremely practical and versatile GT, can still happily cut it as a totally viable daily driver even in standard trim. The rear seat is just about okay for small children and tolerably comfortable. Add a fabric sun roof and you have nearly all the benefi ts of an MGB roadster, but for all the family.


One of the best things about the MGB is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a good one. The cheapest B you’ll buy is a rubber-bumpered GT. A runner will cost you less than £1000 but it’ll need work to keep it going, which is why you’re better off spending £1500 at least instead. A running rubber-bumpered roadster will set you back around £2000 while an equivalent chrome-bumpered example is £1000 more. The most valuable – and desirable – B is a chromebumpered roadster, perferably a ‘pull handle’ model. Top price for one of these or a car that’s just been built around a Heritage shell is around £13,000. The thing about an MGB is that there’s loads around which will keep prices sane and give buyers choice. Never buy the fi rst one you see as there’s usually something better in the wings.


You can write a book on how to give your B more sting – and there’s plenty around so that’s really your fi rst step when deciding upon modifi cations. One of the most worthwhile upgrades is overdrive if not already fi tted – most MGBs already have it. But you can’t just bolt an overdrive unit onto the back of the existing gearbox, so why not opt for a Ford Sierra fi ve-speed conversion, which at around £1500 (as a complete kit) also offers far more acceptable intermediate ratios? The handling can be transformed if you have the inclination and cash. 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 – and that means very hard indeed. 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 around £100 or you can go the whole hog and fi t the MGR V8 front axle and gain much improved brakes at the same time. But be warned, it’s a costly swap… MGBs were designed to run on crossplies and while the strong castor angles result in arrow straight stability, it does make the steering very heavy. To usefully lighten the steering there are castor alternation kits which make the car more acceptable for today’s radials.

Okay, so now on to the engine. While the B-Series is no powerhouse, it has oodles of torque and it’s a shame to lose that for typical road use. A good gas fl owed head and better exhaust with re-jetted SU carbs (or a single Weber) plus electronic ignition will suffi ce for many and give up to 110bhp – enough to make it fun and remain tractable, reliable and economical. The engine can be bored out to just under 2-litres and enhance the torque characteristics even further. If you don’t want to go V8, the K-Series and T-Series four pot engines can be fi tted fairly easily.

What To Look For

  • All MGBs had a 1798cc B-series engine. That means parts interchangeability is good and thanks to its bulletproof design and build, the B-series will happily cover 130,000 miles between rebuilds.
  • MGB engines aren’t 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 signifi es an engine rebuild – or the oil pump is on its way out.
  • Although you probably won’t get the chance to check oil consumption, if a lot is being consumed it may be because the crankcase breather pipes are 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. Check for a puff of smoke when you apply the throttle after the over-run – if you see one it’s time for a rebuilt cylinder head. If the engine isn’t burning the lubricant, it’s probably leaking. First places to check are the front and rear crankshaft seals, and replacing the latter means removing the engine. Also look at the tappet chest side covers behind the exhaust manifold.
  • If the engine misfires 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 cylinder head has cracked between the spark plugs. But as points and timing settings go out of tune very easily it could be that these just need to be reset.
  • There were three different transmissions fi tted to the 1.8-litre B. Rarest is the three-speed automatic; just 1737 were made, and few have survived. That leaves the manual transmissions, in either three-synchro or four-synchro fl avours. Because these generally last around the same mileage as the engine, the two rebuilds are often done together.
  • Swapping from one manual ‘box to another isn’t possible without also swapping the fl ywheel, backplate and starter motor, while bodywork mods are needed too.
  • Don’t be surprised if a three-syncro gearbox is noisy in first and reverse. It’s something that most owners live with until the gearbox is rebuilt, which is usually done because the synchromesh has started to give up.
  • Clutch problems are common, usually centred around the carbon fibre 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 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.
  • Few chrome-bumpered Bs lack overdrive, and it was standard on rubber-bumper cars. It’s reliable but the electrics can play up and the oil level can fall below the minimum, both of which stop it working. Similarly, if the oil fi lter inside the overdrive unit hasn’t been cleaned out every 30,000 miles or so, the overdrive will stop engaging.
  • You can’t just bolt an overdrive unit onto the back of the existing gearbox; the whole gearbox needs to be replaced for one with an overdrive unit.
  • Vibration in the driveline is probably because the propshaft U/Js has worn. You don’t need to pay more than £60 for a reconditioned propshaft.
  • The MGB’s suspension doesn’t generally give problems, except for the kingpins wearing. Jack the front of the car up and rock the wheel at the top and bottom while somebody applies the footbrake. Any detectable movement means the kingpins need replacing at £45 each.
  • The front wishbone bushes also perish and collapse. 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.
  • 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 costing just £15.
  • Lever arm dampers are notorious for leaking. Ensure all the rear tyre is visible – if it disappears under the wheelarch then the spring needs replacing at £35 per side.
  • There are plenty of places where you’re likely to fi nd rot, and chances of bodged repairs are high. You can buy a Heritage bodyshell, a mix of the panels used throughout 18 years of MGB production – so it will always vary. Early reshelled cars weren’t well built – even now, panels have to be fettled to fi t.
  • One of the most common rot spots are the multipanelled complex sill structures, which are prime fodder for bodge merchants. That’s because repairing them properly is a convoluted process and ideally the front and rear wing sections (below the trim strip) need to be cut off.
  • Because the sills can be tricky to repair, there are various bodges that are regularly tried. The fi rst is to fi t a cover sill. The second is the use of a stainless steel over-sill, which looks pretty – but also masks potential big problems. The fi nal bodge is for the outer sill to be repaired. Take a look from underneath and see that everything lines up properly. Tip: if doors clip hood or the B post (GT) then they’veprobably been badly fitted.
  • Next check the back of the front inner wheelarches, by removing the wheels. Also check the general condition of the wheelarches, especially the rear of both the front and rear panels, which are especially vulnerable.
  • If its has had new front wings and chrome bumpered, ensure they are of the same pattern – in November ‘68 the sidelights were moved.
  • Take a look at the spring hangers, which might be rotten. Next to the offside hanger is the battery tray (chrome-bumper cars have one each side), and also make sure the fl oorpans are okay.
  • 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 wind screen. The fi nal part to check is the bottom of each door.
  • All the trim is available. A set of new seat covers costs £200 for leather or £120 for vinyl, and carpet sets cost £50-£150. Similarly the exterior trim is all available. And even though most stuff is available new, there’s no shortage of second hand pieces around if you’re on a budget.
  • Up to 1974 a pair of six-volt batteries were fi tted – after this date a 12-volt unit was installed. Although neither system generally gives problems, there can be earthing glitches. Six-volt cars suffer from duff batteries all too easily if the car isn’t used regularly, as they drain each other.

Three Of A Kind

Alfa Romeo Spider
Alfa Romeo Spider
One of the most beautiful affordable sports cars ever devised, the Alfa Spider is a relatively complicated beast that’s much more sophisticated and far harder to restore properly than an MGB. But drive one and you’ll see why Alfa has the reputation that it does with a driving experience no MGB ever could match.
Sunbeam Alpine
Sunbeam Alpine
Offering many of the attributes of the MGB, but in a package that’s a lot more unusual, the Alpine’s rarity means it’s less well supported in terms of parts availability, but it’s still easy to keep one going. DIY is easy too while the Alpine is also cheap. None of the fi ve variants is a ball of fi re – but then the MGB is no scorcher either.
Triumph TR4
Triumph TR4
This is arguably the closest match to the MGB, as it’s also brilliantly supported by clubs and specialists, and as easy to work on. Maintenance and upgrades are straightforward and the sepaate chassis means corrosion is less likely to be structural. A more macho machine to look and drive, the Surrey top is excellent but there no 2+2 GT.


There’s no doubt about it – the MGB is the most sensible classic sports car of them all. As simple and low cost as a Morris Minor to keep with a superb club and spares support, not only does the evergreen MGB make a great starter classic but it can also double up as a dependable daily driver that’s more than up to the task for today’s cut and thrust – and provide great fun with it. Add some of the raft of affordable upgrades that have been developed and it’s hard to argue against the MGB. Even after almost 50 years.

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