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MGB

MGB Published: 12th Jul 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MGB

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 3880 x W 1520mm
  • Spares situation: Superb
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Unsurpassed
  • Appreciating asset?: Barely
  • Good buy or good-bye?: You really can’t go wrong here
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Common sense sports car that makes a fantastic first classic because it’s fun yet practical and so easy to own thanks to specialist back up. Always value, but with so many on sale you should be picky

Everybody should own an MGB! Until Mazda’s MX-5 overtook it, admittedly a fair few years back, this MG was the world’s best selling sports car and it’s not difficult to see why they became so popular; ever since the MGA replacement was unveiled 55 years ago, either brand new, second-hand or as a classic, all models have been affordable, immensely usable and super easy to own.

Such virtues haven’t diminished at all during half a century, indeed in certain ways, MGBs are more desirable than ever care of the car’s straightforward mechanicals, superb parts availability and low running costs, plus there are masses to choose from to suit all types of enthusiast and budgets. The worker B is supported by some of the best classic car clubs and specialists around – no wonder this roadster or fastback GT remains the ultimate common sense classic sportsters that won’t sting you.

History

1959 The MGB idea began as project EX205, but by the 1962 British Motor Show the car made its début looking rather different than the original sketches.

1962 By MG standards, the new B was the company’s most modern effort yet even though the (now 96bhp and 1798cc capacity) B-Series engine and the suspension were based on MGA hardware 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 first used on the Magnette ZA. BRG paint option by December.

1963 Relocated horns and improved seat cushions fitted while the suspension was revised featuring slightly softer rear springs together with new bump stops.

1964 Initially, the engine’s crankshaft ran on just three main bearings, but from October a smoother, if slightly less responsive, five bearing unit was fitted (taken from the new 1800 saloon) with a standard oil cooler, and a 74 degrees thermostat. The rev counter was changed from mechanical to electric drive. Also, the door handles were replaced by a more conventional design making pull-handled MGBs most desirable.
1965 In March the fuel tank grew to 12 gallons while that October, the still extremely attractive GT arrived; a stylish hatch that was a true mini 2+2 GT. Mechanically, the ‘poor man’s Aston’ (as it was dubbed) also boasted a front anti-roll bar, stiffer springs and wider rims over the Roadster.

1966 Modified wiring, new improved exhaust design and by November the soft top also gained the front anti-roll bar and all boasted new brake hoses this year.

1967 Outwardly unchanged, the MkII sported a fully synchronised gearbox along with a new overdrive while the Roadster gains the GT’s rear axle. There’s a change to negative earth electrics and an alternator instead of dynamo charging. An automatic gearbox also became available – but self-shifting MGBs are very rare now although not sought after either.

1968 New brake pad material specified along with altered rear wheel cylinders to suit. Heater now standard at long last.

1969 MkII saw facelift with a recessed matt black nose (known as the Mustang look) and metal bonnets. It wasn’t a major success, but the rest of the improvements, such as a refreshed cabin including better, reclining seats were. A hard top was made available along with tinted glass option and an ashtray is now standard – wow!

1970 Brake servo becomes an option in Feb yet already modified with 7/8in bore by May… Engine rocker cover now sadly shouts BL not MG and a new hood designed by Michelotti is fitted.

1971 MkIII, reverts to a traditional grille along with more detailed interior tweaks such as a centre console, modified handbrake lever and optional headrests.

1972 Another major facelift sees the return of the traditional MG grille for 1973 models plus a new reversing light design. BGT sports new, slightly higher front springs (we don’t know why either…).

1973 Smart cross hatch grille style now complemented by matt back wipers and new-style badging. Inside are a host of revisions such as seat facings (GT), revised heater controls and new steering wheel. Mechanically, the GT gains the soon-to-be-launched V8’s front anti-roll bar.

1974 Biggest change was the raised suspension height to appease US legislation which now also included rubber bumpers. The anti-roll bars were deleted (the GT kept the front one, however). Other changes included a spin-on oil filter, proper 12 volt electrics, V8-style dias and a new wheel jack design – yes, really!

1975 Minor modifications includes a 13lb/ft specification radiator cap, V8 brake hoses and – at last – standard fitment of overdrive. Below body panels now painted matt black.

1976 Traditional lead loading of the bodies is now dropped. Mechanically, a lot goes on: a major suspension and steering rethink sees revised spring rates, return of anti-roll bars, V8 wheel hubs and a new lower ratio steering enabling a smaller wheel to be fitted. Cooling is aided by an electric fan. Cosmetic changes sees Morris Marina switchgear and Triumph dials. Triumph overdrive switch location atop of the gear lever is adopted.

1977 onwards: dual circuit brakes, new exhaust and tinted glass on GT, better carpets… and even a glove box that didn’t now need a key to operate! For 1979 the car received altered wiring and door speakers to accept optional stereo, the instrument faces were standardised and special alloy wheels, as seen on US cars, now optional, sitting on 185/70x14 tyres.

1980 Rear fog lamps were fitted under the bumper. In the United States, 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.

Driving and press comments

Even when new, the MGB was hardly a fast and exhilarating sports car and as the years rolled on it was positively sluggish by the time the car bowed out of service. But, on the other hand, the unit is so lusty that it feels brisker than it really is plus sounds great with that characteristic lumpy idle and distinct burble from the B-Series engine.

It’s much the same when it comes to the handling; hardly fast yet fun but with a more roll than the MGA due to a suspension that was 25 per cent softer. What the car lacks in grip and pose it makes up for in terms of predictability, controllability and accessibility so everybody can handle an MGB plus suitable mods can make one handle particularly well.

Rubber-bumper cars are the most refined although the raised ride height doesn’t do the car’s handling any favours which has always been a bit mushy.

Many ordinary family saloons could easily out-handle what one famous rally driver dubbed ‘a two-seat Morris Oxford’ in its day. There again, the late, great Roger Clark was a Ford man…

As a tourer the MGB fares much better. Higher cruising is spoiled by excessive engine and wind noise so overdrive and (what MGB hasn’t got it?) is essential for today’s roads, cutting revs at the legal limit to under 4000rpm; up to 30mpg if in good tune and driven sensibly, too. The cabin is roomy and the hatchback, with its foldaway rear seats, makes a daily driver and small kids’ school run special. Add a fabric sunroof and you have virtually all the benefits of an MGB roadster.

How the press viewed MGBs changed over its long production run. At launch it was lauded for those clean looks and practicality. By 1971 and with the car much the same, it was dubbed in a road test by weekly Motor as the “establishment sports car where many fanatics regard any change as an effrontery.” Autocar, testing an auto version around the same time was surprised how little effect it had on the car’s character.

However, others such as the ever critical Car, was now loudly calling the MG, “long in the tooth”. As you’d expect, when the rubber-bumper cars came along the Press had a field day and the general opinion was that the dear old MGB should have been put out to graze several years beforehand.

Autocar criticised the rubber-bumper revise but reckoned the gear change was still “a true sports car shift” and overdrive third was now “a superb ratio” and despite the car’s increasing number of faults had to admit that, “Like Wimbledon the MGB seems to have become part of the British sporting tradition”. Practical Motorist, on the other hand, said it wished BL had killed the car off and just left us all with the earlier happy memories. But 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”.
We couldn’t agree more!

Values and marketplace

One of the best things about the MGB is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy one. Values have more or less flat-lined over the past five years and the cheapest MGB you’ll buy is a rubber-bumpered GT where a fair runner will cost you less than £1500 but it’ll need work to keep it going, which is why you’re better off spending £2500 instead for something really nice.

A decent rubber-bumpered roadster sets you back around £3000 while an equivalent chrome-bumpered car is worth £1000 more at least while buzzing chrome bumper MGBs (roadsters or GT) sell for around £6-£8000; don’t buy the first one you see as there’s usually something a bit better waiting in the wings and at a price that suits you.

Advice from MG experts Former Glory given to us a few years back still holds true today and that is that chrome bumper cars will always hold the most desirability and value (to the tune of £2-£3000 on average) and why many rubber-bumper cars are duly converted (don’t pay over the odds for one though). While the ‘pull-handle’ cars have the most classic appeal it’s mostly reckoned that the MkII are the best all rounders boasting a better gearbox, hood and brakes.

Just how bad are rubber-bumper cars? Not as half as dire as folklore would have it, if truth be told. Yes, the handling is more roly-poly and the looks remain controversial but you can convert to chrome or fit racing Sebring-style kits if it bothers you so much. Rubber-bumper cars sport a nicer ride (unless lowered as many have been), are easier to get in and out of (ideal for us older enthusiasts) and do enjoy a much improved cabin environment. Why not try one?

Improvements

You can fill this issue with info on how to give a B more sting (see last month’s issue for fuller details – back copies available-ed) – it’s really a case of how far you want to go and how much you wish to spend.

One of the most worthwhile upgrades is overdrive if not already fitted – most MGBs already have it. As you can’t just bolt an overdrive unit onto the back of the ’box, why not opt for a MX-5 five-speed conversion, which also offers far more acceptable intermediate ratios, especially the jump from 2nd to 3rd and a great gear change? Go to our products page for more info on this latest tweak.

The handling can be transformed if you have the inclination and cash. Lever arm dampers can be swapped over to modern to telescopics, but the ride will be made harder – and that means very hard.

To really sharpen the handling, it’s worth fitting 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 fit the MGR V8’s front axle and gain much improved brakes at the same time. Best of all is MGOC’s Evolution3 front axle conversion. But be warned, both are costly swaps that you may not recoup when selling. MGBs were designed to run on crossply tyres and while the strong castor angles which were part of the geometry settings result in arrow straight stability, it does make the steering very heavy. To lighten the tiller without going over to power steering (although there are several kits around, including EZ’s proven electric one) castor alternation kits to make the MGB acceptable for today’s radials are cheap at £75 (try Frontline Developments).

So, finally on to the engine. While the B-Series is no powerhouse, it has oodles of torque and a shame to lose it. Gas-flowed head and better exhaust with re-jetted SU carbs (or a single Weber carb) plus electronic ignition will suffice for many and give up to 110bhp – enough to make it fun and yet remain tractable, reliable and fairly economical. The modern way to go is to fit tuned 2-litre engines from the likes of MGOC, Oselli and Moss at various prices starting just over £2000.

What To Look For

Engine

  • Parts interchangeability is good and thanks to its bulletproof design and build, the B-series will happily cover 130,000 miles between rebuilds.
  • Never quiet, tappet noise is always 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 signifies a rebuild – or the oil pump is on its way out.
  • High oil consumption includes worn valve guides and stem seals. Check for a puff of smoke when you apply the throttle after the over-run. 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.
  • If the engine misfires it could be because the heater valve, positioned directly over the distributor, is leaking. The simple cure is to fit a new valve, but much worse, the misfiring could be because the cylinder head has cracked between the spark plugs.

Running gear

  • 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 some £50 a side.
  • The front wishbone bushes also perish and collapse. Fit V8 items if new ones are due, and reckon on up to three hours per side to fit 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 fix 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. New parabolic types give nicer ride.

Transmission

  • There were three different transmissions fitted to the 1.8-litre B. Rarest is the three-speed automatic; just 1737 were made, and few survive. That leaves the manual transmissions, either three-synchro or four-synchro. Because these generally last around the same mileage as the engine, the two rebuilds are often done together. Swapping from one manual gearbox to another isn’t possible without also substituting the flywheel, backplate and starter motor, while bodywork mods are needed, too.
  • Don’t be surprised if a three-synchro gearbox is noisy in first and reverse gears. It’s something that most owners live with until the gearbox is rebuilt.
  • Clutch problems are common, usually centred around the carbon fibre release bearing breaking up. So if there’s vibration through the pedal and a screeching noise, start looking for £350 to fix 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.
  • 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 filter inside the overdrive unit hasn’t been cleaned out every 30,000 miles or so. 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.

Body and chassis

  • There are plenty of places where you’re likely to find rot, and chances of bodged repairs are high. You can buy a Heritage bodyshell, a mix of the panels used throughout two decades of years of MGB production – so it will always vary. Early heritage reshelled cars weren’t well built and even now, panels have to be fettled to fit to some degree. New ones cost around nine grand – plus fitting and spraying.
  • One of the most common rot spots are the 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 first, at worst meaning a two grand repair bill.
  • Because the sills can be tricky to repair, there are various bodges that are regularly tried. The first is to fit a cover sill. The second is the use of a stainless steel over-sill, which looks pretty – but also masks potential big problems. The final bodge is for the outer sill to be repaired. Take a look from underneath and see that everything lines up properly. Tip: if the doors clip hood or the B post (GT), then they’ve probably been badly fitted and require refitting.
  • 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 a chrome bumpered B has had new front wings, ensure they are of the same pattern – in November 1968 the sidelights were moved, for example.
  • 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 floorpans are okay.
  • If you’re looking at a GT, make sure that the doubleskinned tailgate isn’t rotten and whether drop-top or fixedhead, analyse the scuttle where it meets the base of the windscreen. The final part to check is the bottom of each door.

General

  • Thanks to brilliant parts supply, few cars are as easy to repair as an MGB and that goes for a full on restoration, too. However, given the costs involved, let alone labour time and hassle, it can be cheaper to buy a model already done as there’s plenty around at excellent prices. It’s up to you.
  • On the other hand, there’s loads of badly restored and bodged Bs on the block that are going to be veritable money pits so be picky when buying – again there’s no shortage of choice.
  • 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 freely available. And even though most stuff can be bought brand new, there’s no shortage of second hand pieces around if you’re on a tight budget.
  • Up to 1974 a pair of six-volt batteries were fitted – 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.
  • Don’t dismiss a rubber-bumper car as they have their merits and are usefully cheaper. Many are converted to chrome but it doesn’t add to a car’s value. You can see W and even X-reg examples.

 

Three Of A Kind

Sunbeam Alpine
Sunbeam Alpine
Regularly regarded as the softer option to the MGB, and certainly the TR4, the Sunbeam offers a level of comfort and refinement those rivals both lack. Yet this fin-tailed roadster is just as sporting and as user-friendly as the MGB, roomier and some are 2+2s. Rarer, cheaper than a MGB or TR4, they make an ideal choice if you’ve had your fill of MGs and Triumphs but not ready for an MX-5! Spares supply, while not as good, is no problem.
MGF
MGF
A good many MGB owners have traded up to MG’s modern replacement, the MGF. It offers similar sleep easy specialist and spares support, boasts an active owners’ club and can be remarkable value for money. A good MGF also drives brilliantly thanks to a zesty 16-valve engine and secure mid-engined handling but many are in poor shape and not worth owning. Will the MGF be as popular as the B in years to come?
Triumph TR4
Triumph TR4
This was arguably the closest match to the MGB when contemporary, and it’s also now brilliantly supported by clubs and specialists, plus is as easy to work on and restore. Maintenance and upgrades are similarly straightforward but the separate chassis means corrosion is less likely to be a worry as on an MG. That said good TR4s can sell for a lot more than an equivalent MGB, almost to TR6 values.

Verdict

MGB is the sports car equivalent to the Mini insofar that it’s been around for so long that everybody knew someone who owned this inoffensive, happy-go-lucky sports car.

Everybody should own an MGB at some point and if you haven’t done already, why not now? They are easy to keep or sell on – but we reckon that you’ll have such fun during your ownership, it’s likely to convert you to classics for good. After all, it helped start the classic movement on its way.



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