- Best model: Roadster
- Worst model: Automatic
- Budget buy: GT
- OK for unleaded?: No
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): mm L 3880 x W 1520
- Spares situation: Very good
- DIY ease?: Like an MGB really
- Club support: Unsurpassed
- Appreciating asset?: At long last
- Good buy or good-bye?: Bumbling but also brilliant?
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Big-engined MGB with emphasis on a lazy touring. Lacks handling agility of 1.8 yet has endearing qualities of its own that are now appreciated as prices show
Did MG get it wrong or was it the fault of the horrid press? That’s always the question posed by the MGC. Designed to replace the Big Healey with a similar six-pot engine, it was a sales flop with only 8999 made, the MGC’s reputation sullied as soon as it left the production line 50 years ago.
The press, who like many enthusiasts were itching for a buzzier B since the ’62 launch, fairly slated the new car as soon as it reached the first corner in the road.
History shows that BLMC, as it was back then, made a huge cock up with the tyre pressure settings on the road test cars, resulting in terminal understeer and that’s where the MGC gained its poor reputation from. And it’s one that stuck for most of the car’s 50 year life…
Thankfully, it’s all in the past because today the MGC is one of the most coveted of the MGB family yet is as easy to run as a normal MGB although can cost double to put in your garage.
MG had eyes on making a six-pot sports car along the lines of the Healey before the MGB was launched. Was the MGC a replacement for the Austin? The official line is that it’s just pure coincidence the MG came out just as the Big Healey drove off into the sunset…
1967 Although it looks much the same car, under that familiar skin were a lot of changes. The front floorpans had to be redesigned because due to the fact that B’s beefy crossmember had to be swapped for a smaller, less sturdy item.
This in turn meant that the front suspension also had to be changed to longitudinal torsion bars with telescopic shock absorbers – a useful advance.
Although the B’s engine bay was accommodating enough the (larger) radiator was moved forward eight inches while the taller engine necessitated in a quite nice power bulge. Because of the considerable extra weight over the front axle, the wheels grew to become 15 inchers.
While the engine was the same in cubic capacity as the Healey unit, it was totally new being part Australian (known as Blue Streak), in design that was further developed by Morris. Even with a beefier seven bearing crankshaft the block was two inches shorter than the Austin ‘six’ bit it still weighed 210lb more than the old B-Series!
The MGC was launched in roadster and GT forms at the London Motor Show costing £1163 with overdrive, £25 less than the Healey which ran in parallel for a short time.
1968 This year saw the only significant changes to the car, majoring on revising the gearing to improve acceleration for ‘69 models. A closer ratio gearbox was also employed for similar reasons and reclining seats were now fitted but the bonnet was changed from alloy to steel.
1969 Despite the 9000 made, which certainly dwarfs the number of MGB GT V8s sold, MG gave up with the C after just two years and the final cars rolled out of Abingdon that sunny September, the last car being a Primrose Yellow GT after HRH Prince Charles received one for his 21st Birthday. However, large stocks of unsold cars meant that buyers could have one until early 197. University Motors took 200 and tuned them with Downton (of Cooper S fame) tuned engines.
Driving and press comments
In reality, things aren’t necessarily as bad as you been led to believe all these years. Granted, the MGC does feel lazy and more ponderous than the B but set up properly, it’s really quite nice, especially if running on modern 185 section tyres over the original 165 although that added 210lb up front will always result in to understeer when pushed. The less direct steering fitted to the six pot (3.5 turns lock-to-lock against the B’s more direct 2.9) to lighten the helm highlights the point.
That big slow spinning six never gave the car the verve of the Healey but the MG’s forte has always been its relaxed easy-going attitude. Gearing of up to an extremely lofty 27mph/1000rpm sees the engine turning over at less than 4000rpm @ 100mph.
It’s not fast, even by ’67 standards; 0-60mph stop-watched at ten seconds and the MG was all cried out at 118mph but the 170lbft of torque largely compensates and economy is only slightly inferior to an MGB.
The press had a lot to say – mostly negative but started off positive. Autocar’s first drive in Oct ’67 said that the car smoothness was “really impressive, adding it seemed “extremely fast indeed with terrific response to the throttle.” A later full road test saw a change of opinion.
“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 MGC’s clumsy nature “… rather discourages the kind of hard cornering a sports car fan is likely to indulge in”. However, the weekly conceded it was better sprung and balanced than an MGB, at higher speeds.
Autocar took a similar view remarking the MG lacked that special Abingdon touch. It was more appreciative of the car as a GT in automatic form in 1968 (of which just 120 were made), finding the performance mostly unaffected by the (quite abrupt), self shifter and with the gearing still relatively high at 22mph@1000rpm, still ideal for touring.
It also thought the handling wasn’t as understeer-prone. “This automatic C more nearly succeeds in what it sets out to achieve than does the open sports car”, was Autocar’s verdict in late ’68.
Values and marketplace
The curious thing about MGB values is that they are remarkably similar irrespective of model and an MGC needn’t be appreciably dearer to buy over either the 1.8 MGB or an MGB GT V8. Naturally, roadsters are worth significantly more than GTs by around £2000-£3000. A decent GT makes a worthy £6000-£7000 while a roadster is closer to £9000. Autos don’t seem to detract from today’s values. Cracking Cs are five figures and £20,000 isn’t unknown.
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 175-185bhp but it’s the suspension that really needs upgrading with better damping.
Modern, wider radials (185 section) are a must but steering effort will be significantly 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 well worth considering. Poly bushing is advised while MG Motorsport markets three types of anti-roll bar for around £120 and uprated torsion bars. At the rear telescopics can be substituted for around £200 although they worsen the ride as do uprated parabolic leaf springs – although the latter are desirable. The ultimate is a sophisticated five link conversion from Frontline Developments (01235 832632) but you’re looking at well over £1500 for it.
Better breathing, that’s what this engine needs. Sports air filters and exhaust from MG Motorsport plus a Downton-style exhaust manifold ekes out another 10-15bhp. The engine is already well served with twin 1.75 SUs which can be rejetted although it performs much better on an £1800 triple Weber DCOE set up after attention to the Weslake 12 port cylinder head (MG Motorsport has various stages available). Fit an electronic ignition on all. More detailed tuning involves a racier camshaft and lightening the flywheel, both of which really help the engine to rev happier.
What To Look For
- It’s the gearbox that’s the C’s weakest spot, as it’s not up to the job. 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 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 close-ratio gearbox, but part-way through production, all cars were fitted with this unit.
- 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.
- 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 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 used.
- 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. The biggest weak spot is the piston rings. Rocker shafts also have a habit of wearing badly, so listen out for a really clattery top end. Oil pressure should be in excess of 40lbft.
- The C’s simple suspension set up doesn’t generally give problems, except for the kingpins wearing. Front wishbone bushes perish and collapse, fit V8 items if new ones are due. The torsion bars are quite durable but check for wear and the ride height.
- 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.
- MGB set up at the rear. Make sure all the tyre is visible – if not springs needs replacing but the C always had a bit of a nose up stance.
Body and chassis
- Although MGB Heritage shells are available, those for the MGC are not and unlikely to surface. You can get a lot of the panels though apart from inner wings.
- The sills rot and are prime fodder for bodge merchants, as 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. To be certain you’re not buying a pup take a look from underneath and see that everything lines up properly.
- 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 condition of the wheelarches, especially the rear of both the front and rear panels, which are vulnerable. While you’re checking here take a look at the spring hangers, which might be rotten.
- Because the top of the fuel tank is corrugated to strengthen it, water collects where it’s attached.
Three Of A Kind
MGB GT V8 & MG RV8Second stab at making a faster MGB was instigated by Ken Costello just as MGC died with Rover V8 power. Factory effort the better developed, but comes in lower Range Rover tune and is GT only. Car sold worse than MGC so rarer but prices lag. MGR of 1990s is good take of modernising the MGB where appropriate and its 190bhp V8 is well quick. Amazingly, RV8s are fine value despite their rarity.
Triumph TR5/6In-house rival Triumph launched a similar car around the same time with the six-pot TR5; 2.5-litres with fuel injection for 150bhp. Much more rapid and eager than MGC but handling as antiquated. TR6 launched soon after with squarer styling but it’s much more popular. PI system can be made reliable and virtually all you need to restore one is available. TR6 still strong value but TR5 prices are soaring out of reach.
Austin-healey 3000Austin’s Big Healey was the MGC of its day and the car certainly remained better loved than the MG which was designed to replace it. There are three versions of the 3000, all improved and refined as the years went on although there’s no escaping its vintage feel which is notable over the newer alternative. Appeals to traditionalists as their rising values prove – but you won’t lose on a good one.
Time to give the C another chance? Half a century’s development has turned this lumbering, lazy B into something quite special and in the main they cost little or no more than an ordinary MGB to run and restore.
And yes the car can be made to handle too. MGCs have really turned the corner…
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