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MGB GT vs Volvo P1800

Simple Simons Published: 8th Nov 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MGB GT vs Volvo P1800

What The Experts Say...

Surrey-based MGB specialist Croydon Classics says interest in GTs has jumped dramatically in the past year and accounts for around half its business. The reason is put down to its usability, practicality (some owners want to use them as daily drivers) and as much as anything else, good value for money. East Anglian-based Amazon Cars is the leading Volvo expert and says the P1800 makes a super daily driver thanks to its practicality and durability. Spares supply isn’t as good as MG but generally fine although body parts are dear. Best model is the 2-litre P1800 before it went to fuel injection says Amazon. Failing this, a pre ‘68 car is the next pick and the Jensen-builds will have a future cachet about them.

MGB GT vs Volvo P1800
MGB GT vs Volvo P1800
MGB GT vs Volvo P1800
MGB GT vs Volvo P1800
MGB GT vs Volvo P1800
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We all know the Volvo P1800 as The Saint’s trusty grand tourer in the famous TV series, but an MGB GT would have served him equally well. Would Simon Templar’s choice be as easy today, now that both are classics?

You may not think it, but the Volvo P1800 and the MGB GT have a fair bit in common. Both remain high style coupes that were launched in the early 60s, as sexier offshoots from staid family saloons that used easy-to-fix mechanicals – common sense coupes, in fact. When new, the P1800 was almost double the price of the MG, but today you can pick either up at similar prices. In football, England rarely puts one over on Sweden – is it the same on the road?


The P1800 was really the ‘Capri’ of its time (launched before the Ford), providing sports car looks and performance, but retaining saloon car pragmatism, in this case the excellent Volvo Amazon.

Strictly speaking, the MG isn’t a two-seater Morris Oxford, as it was famously referred to by rallying legend the late Roger Clark, although they share a lot in design and mechanicals.

These cars are all about looks, so the actual choice has to be a personal one. Both have stood the test of time well, especially the neat and compact MG, which looks as good as it ever did. The P1800 perhaps looks the more dated, but that’s not a criticism.

Excluding the MG Roadster, although there are some P1800 convertibles about, you are stuck with a tin roof. There’s only ever been one B GT style but the P1800 changed in the early 1970s, from a coupe to a handy sports-hatch, more like the Scimitar GTE than MGB GT. As one rival mag recently, cleverly remarked, it’s ideal for Simon Templar with a young family!

It has to be said, you either like its hearse-like looks, or you don’t, and values seem to fl uctuate when the car frequently comes in and out of fashion.

Both are utterly orthodox in make-up, featuring a 1.8-litre engine of similar output, fed by twin carbs via a normal four-speed gearbox (optional overdrive) to the rear. The difference is that, whereas the Volvo was updated over the years, with a 2-litre engine and fuel injection, the poor old MG was starved of much needed development.

Either of the pair are quite cramped in the back – the Volvo feeling the less airy, and both benefit from a fabric folding sunroof. In fact, you rarely see the MG without this, and it certainly enhances both cars when fitted.

Price-wise they are fairly similar, with the Volvo still the dearer bet, no doubt the car’s rarity aiding this. Expect to pay around £4000 for a fair example, a price that will get you a considerably better fettled MG.

In terms of values, the Swede is more in line with the MGC or GT V8, although to be fair, later cars did boast 130bhp, so it’s a fair equal in terms of their performance.


It should come as no surprise that, given their similar design and age, the pair drive fairly similarly, with a classic 60’s feel, especially when it comes to the handling.

Of the pair we’d say that the MG is that bit more predictable, although the Volvo has the higher cornering speeds, but frankly there’s not much in it. In terms of outright fun, then, probably we’d give it to the MGB GT, although their driving quality is entirely dependent on their condition. On both cars, the old fashioned steering is tolerable (the MG’s rack and pinion is sharper) and if you wish you can add electronic power steering.

Cheaper option on the MG include steering correctors for the car’s castor angles, which were set with cross-ply tyres in mind. As a tourer, the P1800 has the edge. It’s the faster car, especially in perky 2-litre guise, and rides a lot better. What’s more, the car is far more refined at speed, and quieter. Excessive wind noise, when loitering at the legal limit, has always been a problem in the BGT. We’d add that the Volvo scores with nicer seats and at least some vestige of ergonomics, although to some the slap-happy approach of the MG’s cockpit is all part of the charm and it feels that bit airier in the back.

In 1800cc guise, there’s little to split the pair, even though the Volvo boasted some 108bhp, but it became much peppier when it gained 2-litres and pretty quick in later 130bhp fuel injected guise. You can, of course, fit a later 2.3 unit from the later 140, for added grunt, if desired. Economy-wise, a typical MGB will be proved a little bit easier on the wallet, although the difference is slight as most boast overdrive. But an out-of-sorts fuel injected P1800 will drink the stuff just like a poorly TR6, plus cost the same to repair although the Bosch set up is trustworthy.


No prizes for guessing the winner of this section because there are few classics which are as easy and cost effective to keep on the road as an MGB. Ignoring the fact that the engine and gearbox have to come out as one, for a clutch change, it’s a DIY dream, and everything you are ever likely to need is available off the shelf. What’s more, there’s an MG specialist in every county.

The Volvo P1800 is no less difficult to keep sweet at home, the stumbling block is less access to spares although, compared to some other classics, supply is pretty good.

The mechanicals were shared by the Amazon and the 140 ranges and there’s fair scope for uprating (speak to Amazon Cars). The biggest stumbling block is body parts which, while not in the hen’s teeth category, can be extremely expensive (check out those front wings for starters). ES rear body are rarer and that glass is pricey to replace.

In comparison, with an MGB you can buy anything from a simple widget to an entire bodyshell, new or second-hand. And, nothing beats the MG badge for club support, of course. If reliability is essential for your classic motoring (who likes breaking down?) then you couldn’t have come across a happier couple. One famous Volvo in the US has reached 300,000 miles with sneering ease and MGBs just keep going on and on – there’s a lot to be said for simple classics isn’t there!

In terms of a future investment (a horrid term for classics, which should be used for enjoyment above all else), the P1800 has to be the cannier bet. There are considerably less around in the UK, and good ones are starting to make tidy sums.

And The Winner Is...

There’s no outright winner here because both cars have their own merits and the choice is more a personal preference. The rear hatch of the MG gives it more versatility, and the style is timeless, but a Volvo P1800 gets you noticed. In logical terms, the Brit has to be the more sensible buy, but this time we’d go for the Volvo, simply because it’s a bit rarer, rather than better.

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