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MGB GT vs Volvo P1800

MGB GT vs Volvo P1800 Published: 10th Jun 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MGB GT vs Volvo P1800

What The Experts Say...

According to Kevin Price of the Volvo Owners’ Club, the ES will always trail the original; “You can buy an 1800ES for around half the price of an equivalent Coupé,” he says and further advises that because of their lower values and interest, owners have historically been less inclined to spend time and money on them. Another dislike of the ES was its fake wood interior trim so don’t be surprised to find it stripped out in preference to the earlier style. What hasn’t already been said about the MGB? Roadsters are the most liked, but the GT is more usable and even rubber bumpers are coming into their own.

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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Both Volvo and MG provided a sports car for all the family to enjoy – and they’re pretty similar under the skin. But which car hatches a plan with you?

Who invented the sportshatch? Many feel Reliant’s Scimitar GTE most identified and launched a new market filling the need for a practical Grand Tourer that meant motorists needn’t wave sports car enjoyment good-bye once a family beckoned. But, of course, what about the MGB GT that predated Tamworth’s effort three years earlier? Or was the instigator of the ‘third way’ in fact, Aston Martin of all people with its DB2/4?

Perhaps they all should be applauded for introducing an extra door that added a new dimension to sports drivers, who needed more space and versatility than a saloon could provide but not enough to warrant a true estate.

Volvo saw a third door as the best way to prolong the life of its aging P1800 coupé 45 years ago; ideal for a Saint with mouths to feed. Cast unashamedly in the mould of the Scimitar GTE, the odd looking ES gained the unfortunate knickname of ‘Snow White’s hearse’ although we can quite never gather why (answers on a postcard please-ed).

What’s the price of pragmatism though? Due to its looks, the ES isn’t worth anything like as much as the coupé that spawned it which makes them better value. The same can be said about the MGB GT against the more favoured soft top. In terms of mechanical layout the MG and the Volvo are broadly similar with a simplicity, that dates back to the 1950s that if nothing else at least ensures rugged reliability as well as easy DIY care. But as a common sense classic what’s the saintlier?



In terms of choice the MG wins hands down. Apart from the 1800cc MGB GT, which ran for 15 years, there’s also the six-cylinder MGC of which some 4500 were made albeit in two short years before the MGB GTV8 replaced it in 1973. However, despite giving MG fans what they yearned for, again, success was also short lived and the car was culled after just 36 months and a miserable 2500 sales. But, unlike the MGC, it wasn’t so much the car that was at fault but more the circumstances when it finally surfaced, slap bang in the middle of the energy crisis.

The 1800ES also only lasted two years, although a respectable 8000 found happy homes, in spite of a price tag in the UK where the £2400 asked got you a new E-type 2+2! It was the last incarnation of the faithful 1800 and sported 2-litre fuel injected power for 130bhp.

The MGB sadly never enjoyed continued development and really withered on the vine over the years, none more so when rubber bumpers, a raised ride height and detuned engines for 1975, saw the car become a shadow of its former self and while a hasty rethink for 1977 (a reintroduction of the anti-roll bars along with revised steering) put back most of what was lost, these models are the cheapest route to MGB ownership. Those big black bumpers did nothing for the GT’s classy looks that still impresses with its purity of clean uncluttered lines.

The ES is a bit of an oddball; on the one hand it was a clever and cost effective way to update the graceful, if dated, styling of the Volvo for the new decade, but its slim roofline and massive side glass treatment does give it a hearse-like look something the Scimitar GTE avoided even though their styles are quite similar.

Coupés are becoming hot property and heavenly ones can break the 20K barrier. Lack of popularity means that the ES is generally a third cheaper so represent tempting value at £8000 for a nice one. BGTs will always trail those of the Roadsters; rubber bumper Bs are the best bargains and £2000 can still buy a respectable runner as opposed to £7-8000 for a very tidy chrome bumper Mk2/ Mk3. Up until a few years ago the MGC and, strangely, the BGT V8 sold for not much more than a regular MGB but they are distancing themselves from the 1.8, particularly the reborn six-cylinder MGC.



There’s fair familiarity to these cars that springs from their 1950’s design. The MG boasts a sharper rack and pinion steering but the Volvo’s suspension is far more advanced, featuring telescopic damping, coil springs and a rear Panhard rod to locate the rear axle. All engines are old school overhead valvers that impress with their low speed pull rather than high rev refinement. Transmissions are four-speeds, supplemented by overdrive when not already standard (only the MGB and MGC can be had as an automatic. Is it not surprising then that they feel not dissimilar to drive?

The Volvo definitely has the edge on performance mind, as its 130bhp 2-litre is more a competitor to the MGC or V8 and a good one, in proper tune, remains a very pleasing performer. Handling feels like that of the MGB, and their characteristic traits are similar meaning lots of understeer and roll when pushed but the ‘rear end’ is stuck down better on the Swede. The Volvo sports disc brakes all round and highly praised in their day they were too. The Swede’s standard overdrive works only on top gear but cuts down the revs dramatically and overall, the ES is a superior cruiser to the MGB, having lower noise levels as well as a nicer ride. Where all 1800s were criticised, even when contemporary, was for the heavy stodgy steering and poor visibility due to dated high scuttles and slim glass areas but the ES is far better than the Coupé.

In this regard, the MGB is a lovely and quite airy compact 2+2 that’s a cinch to drive and park. It’s not as refined as the Volvo but has a sportier character characterised by a snappier gear change, rortier engine sounds and a firmer seat-of-the-pants ride, that’s arguably too firm on the V8.

If comfort is fairly important, then look at a rubber bumper car – you’ll note the difference but handling suffers accordingly.

More was expected of the MGC not least because for all its added power those added horses were sleepy ones, albeit great for plodding and touring (and well suited to automatic transmission, as a fair few are).

The much slated handling isn’t as bad as was first written about once running on modern radials with the correct tyre pressures although the engine always feels sleepy. The BGT V8 was dubbed a baby Aston and is fine performer with better handling thanks to that light V8, plus is not unduly thirstier than an MGB. Where all MGBs fall down is with their engine and wind noise making even the legal limit pretty tedious (with or without overdrive), so in this respect the Volvo hides its age better.



There’s not a better brand for owning and running and it’s one of the main reasons why the MGB remains popular. All that you need in terms of parts and help (including brand new Heritage bodyshells) is only a phone call or click away with an army of specialists on hand to service, repair and sell them. There’s always a strong market for MGBs, although values of the four cylinder variants has been stagnating the past few years, simply due to their weight of numbers rather than lack of interest.

Despite an excellent owners’ club and good specialist back up, naturally the Swede can’t match the Brit for ownership ease but, on the other hand, the 1800ES isn’t a hard classic to keep sweet mechanically because there’s fair commonality with later Volvos – the real difficulty lies in its special body and trim parts which, by nature, are expensive, especially the wings. Both cars are known rotters, but the Volvo’s body is more complex and dearer to properly put right.

The larger Volvo is by far the roomier and improvement over the old Coupé and the MG which also boasted fold-flat rear seating even though a low roof line means that the luggage bay is correspondingly slim and restrictive.

The BGT was never designed to take van-like loads but its load bay is surprisingly sensibly designed and its astonishing what you can cram in. The Volvo retaliates with a proper rear seat that can take adults at a squeeze where the MG’s flat perch is only acceptable for small children – dedicated to classics.

And The Winner Is...

In common sense terms the MGB GT wins hands down. There’s loads around and at prices to suit all budgets, its Simple-Simon running gear is a DIY dream and if the standard car doesn’t satisfy you, there’s no shortage of tuning and personalising parts to make yours a Queen B. The ES remains an acquired taste. Its never caught on as a classic like the original 1800 Coupé and that’s unlikely to change so will always be the cheaper substitute. You get a sense of persistently being asked “Oh, why didn’t you get the Coupé?” Will that start to annoy you because the ES has its own merits…

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