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50 years ago MG introduced one of the most practical sports cars ever made. And the MGB GT’s advantages over the Roadster are as appealing now as back in 1965

Strange isn’t it that, back in the 1960s, as soon as a carmaker introduced a convertible sports car, it couldn’t wait to put a tin lid on it. This was usually not just a removable hardtop but more likely a proper fastback, to turn a roadster into a more upmarket and far more practical GT.

The reason was simple. The car makers realised that, one day, the typical enthusiast would outgrow their fun but impractical two-seater soft top as they got older, got married and started to raise a family. But, MG reasoned, why should respectability be a byword for boring?

As soon as the MGB hit the showrooms in 1962, Abingdon was well down the road in finalising the GT offshoot that was introduced three years later, beating arch rival Triumph by 12 months with its posher fast-backed Spitfire, better known as the GT6. Both became known as a ‘poor man’s GT’, despite their expensive price tags, but this was not in a negative way. In the case of the GT6 it was the beginner’s E-type due to its similar sleek looks, while the chunkier looking but equally head turning MG was likened to the Aston DB2/4, which was one of the original intentions; ideal for somebody who needed more versatility and civility than their old MG TF or MGA gave.


Unbelievably, the MGB GT turns 50 this year and, over the half century it has evolved from being middle-class family man transport, to become one of the most likeable classics you could wish for – perhaps for the same practical reasons when it was new. Yet the MGB GT wasn’t always so universally loved.

At launch it seemed that MG had hit upon a winner. The Pininfarina modified MGB was blessed with a beautifully proportioned style that has become timeless. In fact even the advent of rubber bumpers in the mid-1970s couldn’t completely ruin those great looks.

But there was more to this fastback MGB than a pretty face. The rear hatch provided useful carrying capacity, while the longer body resulted in an occasional rear bench seat for children or masochistic adults. Suddenly, here was a proper sports car that could also cope with the school run and other domestic duties so there was no need for a dull saloon or, Heaven forbid, a commercial-derived estate. Add a fabric sun roof, as many did, and you could really have your cake and eat it. What more could an enthusiast want from a car?


As popular as the MGB and the GT quickly became, the car had its critics. The design was hardly high tech even for the early 1960s and, while overall performance was good, the MG’s speed was being matched by an increasing number of mundane saloons once hotted up. Cars like Ford’s Cortina GT, with its Cosworth-designed camshaft, gas-flowed cylinder head and twin choke Weber 28/36 carb, for example. The once humble fleet and family car became somewhat sportier and easily matched real sports cars like the MGB and Triumph TR4 for pace, but also provided practicality, four proper seats and saloon car running costs.

Invariably, because this new breed of super saloons weren’t actual sports cars by association, their respective insurance groupings weren’t quite as high either as a traditional sports car.

By the mid-1960s, MG knew it needed to perk up the MGB to keep it competitive and, with the old Austin-Healey being discontinued, tried to kill two birds with one stone with its six-cylinder MGC. Yet, far from providing the B with more sting, the lazy nature of the new Morris-designed engine turned the once youthful MG into something of an old man’s car. Launched in 1967, it was killed off around the time a certain saloon car dressed and dolled up in sexier clothes almost single-handedly killed off the affordable sports car in the UK.


The sheer success of the Mustang prompted Ford to try a similar trick in Europe, with the Capri. Based upon the proven Corsair/Cortina chassis, the striking new coupé shape meant that, not only did the GT versions put many sports cars to shame (and fairly slaughtered them in 3-litre V6 guise), but provided those who would never previously entertain the thought of a sportster or GT a chance to live the dream in nothing more exotic than a 1300L.

As a result cars like the MGB GT and Triumph’s GT6 started to look out of place by the decade’s end, and British Leyland recognised this when it introduced the new Morris Marina and offered it with

MGB power in 1.8TC Coupé and saloon guises. Yet the old timer was still selling well, especially in the all-important US market, which was all that mattered. So, it was no surprise that when forced to revise the car for the impending 1975 US crash regulations (BL had given up and dropped the poor selling GT6 by then), cash-starved MG gave the Home and European markets scant thought by lumbering every loyal buyer with ungainly new Bayflex rubber bumpers. The factory also raised the ride height in the crudest way possible, therefore ruining one of the MGB’s few remaining qualities. The press, who had previously treated this much-loved car maker with kid gloves, could hold back no longer. Many thought that the car should be put out of its misery yet the MGB had one of its best sales years ever in ’76!


Or be careful what you wish for? About the same time the ill-starred MGC was dropped, an enterprising engineer and ace Mini racer called Ken Costello did the sensible thing and dropped in Rover’s evergreen Buick-derived V8. Surely British Leyland would follow suit and make the BGT a genuine cut-price Aston?

Yet it took BL five years to launch its own MGB V8, in 1973, and in GT form only, by which time car design had moved on and this ‘Queen B’, despite its prodigious performance even from the lower tuned Range Rover engine used, felt positively antique because MG wasn’t allowed to update areas that badly needed modernising by now, such as the chassis and interior.

Costing as much as a Scimitar GTE, Triumph Stag, plus £500 dearer than a Capri 3.0 GXL as well as the 1.8 MGB, the new V8 was too expensive for what it was – even staunch MG fans could see that. Throw in the Energy Crisis and rocketing fuel prices that year and the (surprisingly quite frugal) V8 only lasted for three years, and was comprehensively outsold by the severely slated MGC. This was a grave injustice to what could have been one of the best MGs ever, something Austin Rover proved two decades later with the bespoke RV8.

One wonders how long the MGB would have remained in production if the MG company wasn’t killed off in 1980, and it’s ironic that the prestigious marque the MGB GT was so favourably compared to, Aston Martin, almost secured a deal to save Abingdon in the 11th hour.


The end of MG in 1980 didn’t signal the end of this sports car, but rather ushered a new beginning for the car – as a ‘modern classic’. And it’s in this new life that the car has become one of the world’s best loved collectibles.

Its much touted failings when it was still in production now became part of the MG’s considerable charms. Best of all, the case for the GT seems as compelling now as it was back in 1965. It’s still a highly attractive, classy yet classless fastback that’s extremely practical and usable, even as a daily driver. And, best of all, back up from specialists and owners’ clubs is second to none. One road test remarked as far back as 1971 that the MGB GT wasn’t so much a sports car but was now part of the establishment, and to mess with its design was almost an affront to the 125,621 happy owners, who, as the saying goes, are always right.


By ’65 the sixties were in full swing but it was also a troubled year with the war in Vietnam raging. Here’s some of the highlights…

Vietnam took on a new twist as US combat units were deployed after it became apparent the south Vietnam government was losing the battle against the communist Viet Cong. Despite increased US involvement the war would last another 10 years.

It wasn’t only Asian war raging at this time as India was in conflict with Pakistan over the status of Jammu and Kashmir, which shared borders with both India and West Pakistan. Similar hostilities first surfaced after India gained independence in 1947.

Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs escapes from Wandsworth Prison, former British boxing champ Freddie Mills is found shot dead in his car and child murderers Brady and Hindley are caught and arrested that autumn.

The Beatles second movie Help! is released and in September Thunderbirds is shown on ITV for kids of all ages. Also on TV that year was utterance of the four letter word f*ck by theatre critic Kenneth Tynan. Corgi releases the 007 DB5 toy.

In January, Sir Winston Churchill, who led the country during WW2, passed away aged 90 after suffering a stroke. Thousands attend his state funeral where after three days of lying-in-state, 321,000 filed past his coffin.

In sport, Jim Clark wins his second F1 title plus creates history by winning the Indianapolis 500, a feat Graham Hill achieves a year later. Sir Stanley Matthews plays his last First Division football match at the age of 50. Liverpool beat Leeds to win the FA Cup.

When The Car Was The Star

The Roadster was invariably the pick for the silver screen, although you’re bound to have seen the GT used in some plot as the hero’s chosen set of wheels. Where the BGT has really become a TV talking point, though, is on those ‘let’s do up a classic for a quick quid’ programmes such as Wheeler Dealers and, most recently, Classic Car Rescue. However the less said about the latter and the episode on ‘restoring’ a BGT (or was it two?), the better…

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