- Best model: Roadster
- Worst model: Automatic
- Budget buy: GT
- OK for unleaded?: No
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 3880x W 1520mm
- Spares situation: Very good
- DIY ease?: Like an MGB
- Club support: Unsurpassed
- Appreciating asset?: Very much so
- Good buy or good-bye?: An MGB for lazy touring
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Lazy and lumbering… most enthusiasts wouldn’t give the MGC the time of day when new. Now they are richly coveted – so what’s changed their view?
Pros & Cons
Unloved for too long, because of its poor handling and lazy engine, the MGC is now regarded as one of the best British GT sports cars of the 1960s you can buy and own. But, is this justifi ed? Everybody makes mistakes and, as classic cars go, the MGC is a prime example. When launched back in 1967 it was heavily slated for its cumbersome nature, general laziness and lack of sports car feel. As a result only 8999 were made. Did MG get it wrong? Well apparently BLMC, as it was then, made a cock up with the tyre pressures on the road test cars and that’s where the car gained its poor reputation and one that stuck for four decades. Did the motoring media get it wrong, because now the MGC is highly respected for all the things it was criticised for back in ’67! It’s all in the past and best left there – today the MGC is one of the most coveted of MGBs, selling for considerably more than the V8s MG and Austin-Rover turned out afterwards, yet is almost as easy to run as a normal MGB.
Long before the MGB was launched, MG had thoughts about making a six-pot sports car along the lines of the Big Healey. There’s much debate as to whether or not the MGC was ever intended to be a replacement for the big Austin-Healey though. The offi cial line is that it’s just a coincidence that the Austin ceased production around the time ADO 52 was launched – an explanation that’s generally accepted by the way. Although, and to MG’s engineering credit, it looks much the same car, substituting the B-Series engine for the 2912cc straight-six of the MGC meant much more than merely removing one and fi tting the other. For starters, the unit was rather taller than was ideal, so a revised bonnet was essential for clearance. The fl oorpans 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.
The development team settled on longitudinal torsion bars with telescopic shock absorbers, running back to a central crossmember. As the fl oorpans had to being redesigned, the opportunity was also 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 fi tted, offering 3.5 turns between locks, instead of the B’s tighter 2.9. To fi nish things off dynamically, the wheels grew an inch in diameter if not width to become 15 inch items and also raise ground clearance. While the engine actually was the same in cubic capacity as the Healey unit, it wasn’t the same one. Rather this was a newly designed unit that was also fi tted to the new Austin 3-litre saloon, albeit in a softer tune. The six pot was part Australian (known as Blue Streak), part C Series that was developed by Morris with a beefi er seven bearing crankshaft. Though two inches shorter than the Austin ‘six’ it still weighed 210lb more than the hardly featherweight B-Series. The result was still 145bhp (which was slightly less than the old Healey unit!) but with a useful 170lbft of torque. The MGC 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. The MGB with six pot sting was accused of being a major disappointment, with stodgy handling, lifeless steering and strong understeer compared to the MGB, which even in ’67 hardly ranked as the world’s best handling car. Despite a competitive price for the roadster (in 1967, £1163 with overdrive), buyers stayed away preferring instead to spend an extra £25 on the old Healey, before it was dropped. Despite some 9000 made (which dwarfs the number of MGB GT V8s sold), MG gave up with the C after just two years and the fi nal cars rolled out of Abingdon in August 1969. With large stocks of unsold cars to shift, it made more sense to admit defeat and some cars hung around in showrooms until early 1971. Changes to the car were few, the most signifi cant being the lowering of the overall gearing, along with a closer ratio gearbox to give the car more urgency, in 1968, along with reclining seats and some detail changes. London dealer University Motors bought the last batch of MGCs and sold them as specials, some with 175bhp engines thanks to Downton, that legendary BMC tuner who made the Cooper S.
This is where it all falls apart, so the bar-room pundits would have you believe still. In reality, things aren’t necessarily as bad as you might think; listen to all those self-appointed experts and you’d think the MGC still suffers from shocking understeer, remains disappointingly slow and sleepy and is generally a mediocre classic all round. The truth is somewhat different – as long as the car has been set up properly at least. Incorrect tyre pressures were the root cause of the poor handling back in 1967 and those who have been in the know for a long time have been proved right on this. Another critical factor to check is that the tyres are up to the job, as original cars featured nothing wider than spindly 165-section tyres which the MGB ran on. This car demands 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. That said, compared with the MGB there’s an extra 210lb in the nose, which doesn’t help the dynamics at all, and it’s true that the MGC is not as agile and predictable as an MGB. The press had a lot to say about it. “Enthusiasts familiar with the masculine behaviour of the Austin-Healey 3000 may find the performance of the new car disappointing,” said Motor, adding that the clumsy heavy nature of the MGC “… rather discourages the kind of hard cornering a sports car fan is likely to indulge in”. However, it conceded that the MGC was better sprung and better balanced than an MGB, especially at higher speeds.
Even the MGC’s biggest fans have to admit that the C’s forte is its relaxed easy-going cruising attitude, where vertigo-inducing (up to 27mph/1000rpm) gearing sees the magic touring ton with the six-pot engine turning over at a less than 4000rpm. It’s not a fast car, even back in ’67 the pace was only middling. The 0-60mph time was stop-watched at ten seconds and the MG was all maxed out at 118mph – slightly slower than the old Healey. The engine’s inherent laziness and reluctance to rev wasn’t compensated by its torque below 3000rpm either, when the force of 170lbft had yet to came into play.
The best thing about the MGC is that prices fall in line with its later V8 replacement – and this means strong value for money. Predictably, roadsters are worth signifi cantly more than GTs. While a project GT that’s complete can be bought for £2000 or so, an equivalent roadster is more like £3500. Similarly, a decent GT makes a worthy £5000 while a roadster is closer to £7000. Valuing the best cars is tricky; superb open-topped Cs are offi cially worth around £10.000 but really top cars have been known to sell for the thick end of £20,000 or more.
Tuning parts for the MGC were around, although not that popular, and are coveted today – ditto the run out University Motors specials. Engine mods can see around 175bhp but it’s the suspensionthat really needs upgrading with better damping and you can convert to telescopics. Add better anti roll bars and you’re almost there. Modern, wider radials (185 section) are a must, but steering effort will be higher, so don’t go for too small a steering wheel as a result. Thankfully, a power steering kit has recently been developed, not cheap but worth considering. Gearbox ratios varied during production as did differential ratios while a limited slip diff was one of the numerous options when new (although this will increase understeer unless this is dailled out fi rst). 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 later unit, while C’s with overdrive got a lower driven 3.7:1 unit. The MGB is already quite well served with twin 1.75 SUs; it’s attention to the Weslake 12 port cylinder head’s breathing that pays dividends along with better extraction (manifold and system). Fit electronic ignition too.
What To Look For
- If you are a stickler for originality then check your MGC well, as it may have MGB parts fi tted. The excellent owners clubs and specialists 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.
- 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 C. It’s generally a long-lived unit. 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’s the gearbox that’s the C’s weakest spot, as it’s not up to the job of transmitting 150bhp. The fi rst thing to go is 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 on the test drive.
- Gearbox ratios varied during production, with early non-overdrive cars having the same spec as the B. Cars with overdrive featured a closeratio gearbox, but part-way through production, all cars were fi tted with this unit.
- Diff ratios 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 cars having a 3.3:1 unit. However, during production this was changed, so autos and non-overdrive cars got the 3.3 unit while overdrive got a 3.7:1 unit.
- The C’s monocoque can be seriously weakened by rust, and there are plenty of places where you’re likely to fi nd rot; bodged repairs are also likely. Although 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.
- 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 legion. 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 pretty – but also masks potential 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 take look from underneath.
- Next 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.
- 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. Next to the offside hanger is the battery tray (chrome-bumper cars have one each side), which is easily overlooked.
- 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 and rot away. 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 won all, analyse the scuttle where it meets the base of the windscreen. If it’s rusty here it’llmean 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. Door skins are available.
- If there’s any vibration coming from the driveline it’s probably because the propshaft U/Js are worn. Replacement is easy.
- The C’s simple suspension set up doesn’t generally give problems, except for the kingpins wearing unless they’re greased every 3000 miles. Jack the front of the car up and try rocking the wheel at the top and bottom while somebody applies the footbrake.
- The front wishbone bushes also perish and collapse, but a visual check is all that’s needed. 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.
- Rear wheel steering? It’ll be because the U-bolts and rubber bushes locating the rear axle are loose or corroded; a £15 job.
- Lever arm dampers are fi tted 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 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.
- If it feels like there’s no brake assistance, it’s because the seals have gone 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.
- 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 and worn splines.
- All the trim is available, but if it all needs replacing the cost of it can add up very quickly. A new hood plus fi tting 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 – but it is possible to buy reconditioned units on an exchange basis at £260.
Three Of A Kind
MGB V8sSecond stab at making a faster MGB, instigated by Ken Costello, just as MGC died. Factory effort and better developed, but comes in lower Range Rover tune, plus is a GT only. Car sold worse than MGC, and is therefore rarer, but prices lag. MGR of 1990s is good take of modernising the MGB and the 190bhp V8 is well quick. Amazingly, the RV8 is no dearer to buy than a V8, or even a normal MGB for that matter.
Triumph TR5/6This rival came from in-house Triumph, around the same time, with the six-pot and 2.5-litres, plus fuel injection, for 150bhp. Much more rapid and eager than MGC but handling is as antiquated. TR6 launched soon after with squarer styling; it’s much more popular buttop TR5s now sell for serious money. PI system can be made reliable and virtually all you need to restore a TR is available.
Austin-Healey 3000Flashback more than 50 years and the Big Healey was the MGC of its day – and the car has certainly remained better loved than the MGC. There are three versions of the 3000, all improved and refi ned as the years went on, although there’s no escaping its vintage feel which is notable over the newer MG. Big Healeys appeal to traditionalists, as continual rising values amply prove.
The C is still a much underrated and misunderstood classic. As one MG club magazine put it, the MGC is for people who are comfortable in their own skin with nothing to prove, and we couldn’t put it better ourselves.