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What is an MGC?
It’s a six-cylinder development of the MGB that was built for a mere two years, with all of 8999 examples being produced. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the model reaching the marketplace, but it’s one of the most frequently forgotten - as well as under-rated - classics around. If you like your Bs rare and faster than usual, this could be the derivative for you, especially, unlike the V8, as you can buy it in GT or roadster forms.
There’s much debate as to whether or not the C was ever intended to be a replacement for the Austin Healey. The official line is that it’s just a coincidence that the big Healey ceased production around the time the C was launched – a line that’s generally accepted. Substituting the MGB’s B series engine for the 2912cc straight-six of the C meant much more than merely removing one and fitting the other. For starters, the unit was rather taller than was ideal, so a revised bonnet was essential for clearance. The floorpans forward of the car’s centre also had to be redesigned, because the B’s beefy crossmember had to be swapped for a smaller, less sturdy item. As a result, the front suspension also had to be changed, so the loads could be fed into the car’s structure in a different area. The development team settled on longitudinal torsion bars, running back to a central crossmember.
As the floorpans were being redesigned, the opportunity was taken to widen them so an automatic transmission could be accommodated. At the same time, the radiator was moved forward eight inches, as well as being increased in size. Because of the extra weight over the front wheels, a less direct steering rack was fitted, offering 3.5 turns between locks instead of the B’s tighter 2.9. To finish things off dynamically, the wheels grew an inch in diameter to become 15 inch items. The C was launched in both roadster and GT forms in October 1967, but it was greeted with little in the way of enthusiasm by the motoring press. It was accused of being a big disappointment, with stodgy handling, lifeless steering and strong understeer. Despite a competitive price for the roadster, of £1102 in 1967, buyers stayed away. They preferred instead to spend an extra £24 on a Healey, so MG gave up with the C; the final cars were made in August 1969. With large stocks of unsold cars to shift, it made more sense to admit defeat - some cars hung around in showrooms until early 1971. Changes to the car were few, the most significant being the lowering of the gearing to give the car more urgency in 1968 along with reclining seats. London dealer University Motors bought the last batch and sold them as specials, some with 175bhp thanks to Downton – the tuner who made the Cooper S.
This is where it all falls apart so the bar-room pundits would have you believe. In reality, things aren’t necessarily as bad as you might think; listen to all those selfappointed experts and you’d think the C suffers from shocking understeer, is deathly slow and sleepy and is a nasty classic all round. The truth is somewhat different - as long as the car has been set up properly. The key thing to check is that the tyres are up to the job, as original cars featured nothing wider than 165-section tyres. The car needs 185-section rubber at the very least, or in the bends the front runs out of grip too early, thanks to the extra weight of that six-cylinder lump. Compared with the MGB there’s an extra 209lb in the nose, which doesn’t help the dynamics, but it isn’t a complete disaster either, even if it’s not as agile as an MGB. The C’s forte is relaxed easy-going cruising where vertigo-inducing (up to 27mph/1000rpm) gearing sees the ton at under 4000rpm.
Predictably, roadsters are worth significantly more than GTs, and carry hefty premiums. While a project GT that’s complete can be bought for £1000 or so, an equivalent roadster is more like £2000. Similarly, a decent GT is £3750 while a roadster is closer to £6000. Valuing the best cars is tricky; superb open-topped Cs are officially worth around £7000 with open-topped editions £9500. However, superb cars have been known to sell for £15k and over.
What To Look For
- Although the C’s engine is based on the Austin 3-Litre unit, they’re not the same. The valves, springs and sump are unique to the MGC. It’s generally a long-lived unit; even once it’s started to wear the powerplant will keep on going, but just get ever noisier and smokier. The upward facing oil filter causes lube to drain away leading to cold start clatter and sluggish oil pressure. Many disregard the standard radiator cooling cowl when fitting an electric fan - don’t as it helps airflow and lack of leads to overheating…
- The biggest weak spot is the piston rings, which can wear quickly. Oil being burned is the symptom; once this occurs you’re going to have to undertake a bottom-end rebuild.
- Rocker shafts also have a habit of wearing badly, so listen out for a really clattery top end; don’t assume it’s just a question of the valves needing adjustment. It could even be a worn camshaft.
- It’s the gearbox that’s the C’s weakest spot, as it’s not up to the job of transmitting almost 150bhp. The first thing to go is usually the layshaft bearings, resulting in the shaft dropping and putting pressure on the cogs. If things have started to go awry, it’ll be obvious from the whining on a drive.
- Gearbox ratios varied during production, with early non-overdrive cars having the same spec as the B. Cars with overdrive featured a sturdier close-ratio gearbox, but during 1968, all cars were fitted with this unit.
- Diff ratios also varied, and while the back axle looks the same as the B’s, the internals are different. Non-overdrive cars featured a 3.07:1 ratio, with overdrive and automatic examples having a 3.3:1 unit. However, during 1968 this was changed so autos and non-overdrive cars got the 3.3 unit while C’s with overdrive got a 3.7:1 unit. Have they been changed?
- The C’s monocoque can be seriously weakened by rust, and there are plenty of places where you’re likely to find rot; bodged repairs are also likely. Sadly while MGB Heritage shells are available, those for the MGC are not. You can get a lot of the panels though, but for a complete rebuild, remember that 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. But with decent metal and the chance to rustproof the car from new with modern chemicals at least you can put together a car which will in theory last indefinitely.
- The sills rot badly and dear to replace and so are prime fodder for bodge merchants, as 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 first 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 first is to fit 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 fitted. The final 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. Doors snagging body is a giveaway.
- Next check the back of the front inner wheelarches, by first 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.
- Check the general condition of the wheelarches, 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.
- While you’re checking the rear wheelarches take a look at the spring hangers, which might be rotten to the core. Next to the offside hanger is the battery tray, which is easily overlooked. Make sure it’s intact by checking from underneath and also make sure the floorpans are in good order - there’s a good chance they won’t be as the original underseal doesn’t do a very good job due to it cracking and peeling off.
- 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 floor, where it’s attached. So if you can smell fuel assume the tank has perforated and needs replacing, at around £50 plus fitting. Roadster and GT fuel tanks are interchangeable by the way.
- If you’re looking at a GT, make sure that the double-skinned tailgate isn’t rotten and whether drop top or fixedhead, 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 fix it properly. The final 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. Remember MGCs use post 1968 MGB items.
- 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 C’s front suspension set up is completely different to the MGB, featuring torsion bars, not unlike the E-Type, yet is pretty simple. The assembly can be adjusted to compensate for wear although a full overhaul can cost around £200 (use sportier V8 bushes for the wishbones). King pins wear if not greased every 3000 miles and cost £45 a side to fix.
- 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 fix with the kit of parts costing just £15.
- Lever arm dampers are fitted at the rear, and they’re notorious for leaking. If you’re not worried about originality it’s possible to swap to telescopics, but the ride - which is better than an MGB incidentally - will be harder. Make sure all the rear tyre is visible - if it disappears under the wheelarch the springs needs replacing at £35 per side plus a couple of hours each side to do the job. Thicker anti-roll cars are available but can make the MGC unpredictable on the limit say the experts.
- If it feels like there’s no brake assistance, it’s because the servo has had it. Getting the servo rebuilt is difficult as Girling parts are no longer available so it will have to be a recon unit - or try Past Parts of Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk. If the original master cylinder is fitted 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 fluid leaking down it.
- MGC buyers had the choice of pressed steel or wire wheels when the cars were new. In the case of the latter, check for broken, loose or rusty spokes. Also the wheels can quickly go out of balance so if such wheels are on the car, make sure that all the spokes are in good shape and that the splines aren’t worn by jacking up the car and trying to turn the wheel backwards and forwards. It helps if somebody can hold the footbrake on for you, which will make any wear in the splines obvious.
- All the trim is available, but if it all needs replacing the cost of it can add up very quickly. A new hood plus fitting will set you back £120 upwards depending on what material you want. 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 available, although new windscreen surrounds aren’t. It is possible to buy recon units on an exchange basis at a reasonable £260. Save for no replacement bodies being available, general parts availability is as good as an MGB.
- If you are a stickler for originality then check your MGC buy over well as it may have MGB parts fitted. The excellent owners clubs and specilaists can tell you what to look for; the differences are minimal but converting an MGB into a C is virtually impossible due to bespoke chassis.
- Tuning parts for the MGC were around, although not that popular, and are coveted today - ditto the run out University Motors specials. Engine mods could see around 175bhp but it’s the suspension that really needs upgrading. Modern, wider radials are a start but steering effort will be significant so don’t go for too small a steering wheel.
The C is a much underrated and misunderstood classic. Keep it completely standard and you’ll never get the best out of one as there was clearly room for improvement when they came out of the factory. But incorporate sympathetic upgrades and the car can be transformed into a genuine mile-munching cruiser that’s as easy to own as an MGB. As one club mag recently put it, the MGC is for people who are comfortable in their own skin with nothing to prove. Hear, hear.
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