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Best of Enemies Published: 4th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


What The Experts Say...

Instead of seeking the slightly biased views of marque specialists, we went to a few independents instead. Brian Chant, of Unicorn and latterly DVCA auctions, reckons TR prices are on the up, whereas MGB values have stagnated. Gary Dickens of Thornfalcon Classics prefers the better riding MGB “so long as it’s a pre ‘70 car with the ‘right’ exhaust note.” Bryan Andrews of Yorkshire-based Bocking Garage admits that, up until a couple of years ago, he wouldn’t have entertained an MGB over a TR4, which he says is still rising in value. That was until he used a BGT long term, which has just been sold. Bryan now drives a V8 version, which he is reluctant to part with…

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If these two car makers were football teams, their rivalry would be the motoring equivalent of City vs United, Spurs vs Arsenal, Celtic against Rangers; The Canley vs Abingdon competition, if not hatred, is just as tribal; and so are the owners! The TR4 and MGB evolved from a long, illustrious line of sportsters, and both were introduced around the same time, in the early 60s. Back then, they were just the thing for the young, fairly prosperous enthusiast, who today would be buying a hot hatch or an MX-5. These sub-Big Healey sports cars were made to look antediluvian, when compared to the likes of the elegant and modernist Lotus Elan. However, both cars have stood the test of time well and their simplicity has become one of the reasons why they are so popular today, as classics. So, what team should you choose to support?

Which one to buy?

A choice of headgear

Both are roadsters, naturally, but what split the Triumph and MG is the choice of alternative headgear. With the MG there was the option of the excellent hatchback GT, which was one of the fi rst sport hatches. Add a 60s sunroof, and many did, and you have a quasi-roadster with saloon practicality. Triumph didn’t officially offer a TR4 coupe, leaving it to specialist coachbuilders such as Dove, but what Canley did provide for the TR4 was a novel optional Surrey top, where the rear windscreen was fi xed – a clever semi-roadster feature that strangely rarely fi gured on the later TR5 and wasn’t an option on the TR6. This hardtop was certainly preferable and quicker to use than the time-consuming framed hood, employed by both badges, although the MGB did change to a conventional folding type in the 1970s. It’s an often overlooked fact that the TR4 was actually a tight 2+2 roadster (albeit only with the hood folded), whereas the MGB was only a treat for two. On the MGB GT, the folding rear seat could accommodate two small children or an adult laying uncomfortably sideways, but it’s hardly a pleasant experience for either. With both launched in the early 60s, the MGB remained in production the longest, right up to 1980. While the car received scant further development after 1975, it’s to the car’s credit that it always looked good – even when those horrid rubber bumpers were grafted on. The Triumph looks the more muscular, and perhaps the more classical. Is it better looking than the squarer-cut TR6? Well, that’s debatable, but the earlier TR certainly looks the more distinctive. Inside there’s not much in it. The wood veneer dash on the TR4A certainly lifted the Triumph’s previous austere appearance; the MGB started off well but fell behind the times in the 1970s, although it arguably sports the more comfortable and civilised cockpit.

What’s the best to drive?

Shaken or stirred?

The similar performance of this brace of Brits continues once you take one for a spin. Both have that charming old-school sports car feel that’s a delight on a sunny drive, where ultimate pace is secondary to an overall feel-good factor. In terms of pure speed, there’s some daylight however. With is bigger, beefier 2.1-litre engine, and 132.5lbft against the B-Series’110lbft pulling torque, the Triumph is notably the lustier, plus has almost 10bhp advantage, too. In a Motor road test of the (heavier) TR4A in ’65, it spurted to 60 in a respectable 10.9 seconds – that’s almost two seconds to the good of the MGB and on par with an average out-of-sorts TR6! Overdrive is seen as essential on both cars (optional, except on mid 70s MGBs when it was made standard) and, with the TR4, you actually gain in effect a seven-speed gearbox, since o/d is available on all cogs, apart from fi rst! Whether or not you use the overdrive so avidly is debatable, but there’s always a right gear for the Triumph, unlike the MG which has always suffered from a yawning gap between second and third cogs, thankfully masked by the engine’s lusty nature. Where the MGB claws some advantage back is in the handling department. Neither corner or hold the road brilliantly by today’s MX-5 standards, but the MGB is the more faithful and predictable. Arguments rage about whether the independent rear end (taken from the Triumph 2000, but due to the TR’s more limited ground clearance not as effective) fi tted to the TR4A is an advantage over the TR4. Some say it is better, with more rear end grip, plus riding much better. Others reckon the simpler rear end set up appeals to the hardcore enthusiast who likes to hang the tail out. What lets the Triumph down – and always has done is the considerable chassis fl ex and scuttle shake, plus the infamous spline lock-up induced twitch on the TR4A model, caused by the simple driveshaft couplings. The basic MGB has no such vices, although the handling severely suffered in 1974, when the suspension was crudely jacked up to meet US crash laws (considerably improved for 1976, thankfully). Perhaps their yesteryear driving experience is part of the pleasure? For many it has to be, otherwise go for that MX-5! If not, then the MGB and TR4 can be considerably improved with some proven club accepted modifications, without spoiling the their inherent character.

Owning and running

Nothing in it

Again, it’s almost a dead heat. Thanks to the excellent club and aftermarket specialist support, few classic sportsters are as easy to maintain, or restore, as this pair. Anything from a humble widget to a new bodyshell (in the case of the MG; only later TR6 shells are available for the Triumph range) are on the shelves, meaning a nut-and-bolt restoration is feasible. Few sports classics are as orthodox and DIY-friendly as this duo. The Triumph features replaceable bore liners, making an engine overhaul fairly easy. On the other hand, there’s considerably more B-Series units about, so it’s really swings and roundabouts. Given the MG’s much longer production run, there’s more second-hand stuff knocking about, so the prices can prove appreciably lower.

And The Winner Is...

We bet that you’re assuming the result will end in a draw. And, guess what, we won’t disappoint you! It’s not a case of sitting on the fence, either. These cars are so closely matched that it really does come down to personal preference, unless you specifi cally want a GT, where it’s vir tually a done deal with the MG. Despite the historic rivalry, there are probably a lot of owners who have fl itted between the two cars and can see the strengths and weaknesses in each. In the end they both make cracking classics. The choice is yours.

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