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Published: 27th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


Then & Now

As we’ve said, BMC’s own competitions department led the way, with the likes of Roger Enever (his dad Sid designed it!), Paddy Hopkirk, Andrew Hedges, Alan Hutcheson and John Rhodes taking racing honours in the early days. The Morley twin, Don and Erle, Tony Fall and Timo Makinen were rally drivers behind the wheel. BL Special Tuning was the place to go back in the sixties for upgrades, with the Abingdon centre even producing its own technical sheets and booklets explaining just what to do to make your B go faster and handle better. These sometimes come up at autojumbles – grab one if you can. In those days the other big names were Downton Engineering, Janspeed, and Oselli. Sadly only the last still exists in anything like its original guise, but many of the people who supplied parts are still around, like Piper and Kent cams and Manifl ow exhaust systems. Brown and Gammons is big name from slightly later days still going strong. The MGB tuners didn’t forget they needed to make the car go around corners. Special Tuning had various anti-roll bars to help matters and could also supply uprated damping, but with shock absorbers of the lever arm type they could only go so far. Now you can get tubular damper kits that make all the difference. But what’s the modern marvel of the MGB? First off, you can still buy all the bits you’ll ever need to give that old four-pot motor some decent horsepower (see below) and, secondly, there’s British Motor Heritage. BMH are the clever guys at Oxford who, using original tooling, will still make you a complete bodyshell. Starting from £5875, incl. VAT, you can purchase the basis that, with a combination of old and new, will allow you to build your own – rust free – classic sports car with just the specifi cation you want. What could be better?

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Which classics still have the potential to get up and go today? Paul Davies remembers the cars, the people… and how to make a classic hot car!

Let’s face it. On paper, and straight out of the doors of the historic factory at Abingdon, the MGB didn’t really have much going for it. Heavy, and with only 95bhp from the already ancient BMC‘B’ series engine it wasn’t exactly a stormer, and the ‘proper’ door handles and wind up windows didn’t exactly shout ‘sports car’ to the man brought up on the iconic MGA it replaced. But it was an outstanding success. Over an 18 years production run over half a million roadster and GT versions were manufactured, and now – 30 years after production ceased – it’s almost as popular as ever. This is in no small way to the fact that you can buy nearly every part needed to restore, maintain, and modify, it – including a complete bodyshell. As the fi rst unitary construction sports car (ie: no separate chassis) from the British Motor Corporation, as it was then, the MGB broke new ground. It looked good, but underneath was just the result of a raiding party on the BMC spares box. Independent front suspension, a live rear axle, and disc front/drum rear brakes just like the MGA, was coupled to a 1798cc version of the company’s four-cylinder engine and a four speed gearbox that lacked synchromesh on fi rst was not cutting edge stuff, even for 1962. The MGB’s factory motorsport career was short (it was all over by 1967 when the Mini gained momentum) but it carried on for years in private hands. In fact, it’s still going today as a regular in historic motor sport. Perhaps because it’s easily tweaked and there’s so much available, right now it’s looking a more exciting prospect than it did nearly 50 years ago!

Get One Now

An MGB Can be made to handle really well

With 512,112 manufactured you can be sure there’s no shortage, even now. The earlier the car, the more valuable it is – very original, top notch, pull door handle models (pre-’65) can command up to £15,000, the last-model cars of ‘74-on (increased ride height and rubber bumpers) will go for half this fi gure. You can get a nice re-shelled car for around £10k which all means that restoring an MGB is a labour of love rather than fi nancial sense.

Under the skin

The four-cylinder BMC ‘B’ unit started life at 1489cc in a whole series of guises for Austin, Morris, Wolseley and Riley cars as well as in the MGA. Capacities increased to 1558cc and 1622cc before ending up at the 1798cc of the MGB, but they’re all basically the same with cast iron block and cast iron five (two inlet, three exhaust) port head. The 95bhp output was mainly down to the use of twin 1 1/2ins Sus. The crankshaft had just three main bearings until the introduction of the fi ve-bearing unit in late 1964, engine number pre-fi x 18GB. Initially racers preferred the three bearing (less friction, higher rpm) unit but the fi ve bearing crank is a better investment. In simple terms, the later the block the tougher it is. Nevertheless it’s a sturdy old lump that reponds well to orthodox tuning and there’s better tuning gear around for it than when the MGB was contemporary. However those with an eye on authenticity should look out for period tuning products from the likes of Downton, Oselli, Janspeed, British Leyland Special Tuning to name a few at the autojumbles and eBay. The B-Series is torque laden and you can make the engine larger. The 80.26mm bore of the 1.8-litre is pretty near the maximum, but 1995cc is possible by offset boring the block to take 84.44mm pistons – or even 2.1-litres at a push. Biggest gains for the B engine come from careful working of the cylinder head: re-shaping and equalising of the combustion chambers, fi tting bigger (1.69ins inlet, 1.44ins exhaust) valves, and matching and gas flowing the ports. Compression ratio can go to 9.5:1 for a fast road engine, 10.5:1 for competition. After the headwork must come a exhaust manifold, with long centre branch (the one that exhausts two cylinders) primary pipe, and then a revised camshaft. BL Special Tuning haits own cam range (par t numbers CEH 714, 770, 863 and 862) which are still available from specialists such as Piper and Kent, but now the game has moved on somewhat. Modifi cations to the ignition curve will needed at this stage. A pair of big (1 3/4ins) SU carbs or a single 45DCOE Weber will only be of use if the head has been modifi ed and the camshaft upgraded. So, what’s it all worth? A well modded standard (ie: same valves, carbs and cam) will give round 105bhp, a big-valve head and fast road cam and extractor exhaust adds a further 10-15bhp, whilst a race cam and big carbs will push output to around 130bhp, which gives the old thing a fair turn of speed. Full race engines, on a Weber, are good for just about 150bhp but perhaps too fussy for road use. If you fancy the idea of supercharging, then MOSS can also offer a kit which can offer around 40 per cent boost to engine output. The idea isvery attractive, but do not prepare to waste your money – over £2000 – if your engine is not up to the extra stresses and strains. In the twilight production years of the MGB, plans were in place to replace that venerable engine with versions of the much newer singleoverhead- cam O-Series. These ideas came to nought, although some of the work on the turbocharged O-Series was later put to use in the Turbo versions of the Montego and Maestro.

Handling the power

A standard MGB can tax its chassis so any hotting up is going to need some upgrading of the suspension and brakes. Improvements can be wrought by investing in uprated anti-roll bars. For everyday road use, the standard set-up of old-fashioned Armstrong lever-arm dampers are okay. Avoid some of the cheaper ‘reconditioned’ lever arm shockers, though – if sticking with this type of deisgn, it is better to invest in the new ones available from companies like MOSS, Brown & Gammons and the MGOC Spares Shop. A popular conversion is to swap to conventional telescopic shock absorbers – a cheaper proposition at the rear than at the front – where the lever arm uni t doubles up as the upper part of the wishbone. The standard factoryspec two-par t rubber bushes fi tted to the front wishbones of all MGBs – bar the V8 – are an absolute abomination, and these should be ditched in favour of the single-part V8-type bushes. The set-up came in for a lot of review and clever redesign for the MG RV8 of 1992-1995 and so for the ultimate in MGB suspension upgrades, you could do worse than look at the more modern single-leaf rear springs available from specialists. The key improvement on the RV8 however was to the front, and thanks to British Motor Heritage, a wide range of RV8-based kits are available that allow vastly improved front suspension to be simply bolted in to your MGB; very dear but effective. If you own the later rubber bumper Bs then before any mods are carried out you must lower the ride height to earlier levels thanks to the law of physics … If you are going to make your MGB faster, it’simperative that you mod the stoppers. There are some exotic kits available for upgrading toall-round discs, but these are not really needed unless you are a very hard driver. The cheapest and traditional option is to go for harder brake pads but do have a look at the possibility of upgrading from the standard discs to the drilled or grooved discs which are available at a reasonable cost premium. Anything more exotic will usually involve changing the whole disc and calliper set-up. The standard MGB wheels and tyres are typically fourteen inch diameter on weedy 4.5 or fi ve inch wide rims with slim 165SR 14 rubber, but the latter are nowadays usually superseded by the relatively more commonplace 185/70 HR14 size, which has the same rolling radius and therefore gives no problems with overall gearing and minimal risk of fouling of the wheel arches. MOSS’ up-rated overdrive with stronger springs and up-rated lining material for just over £400 which is designed to be able to cope with track use. The Ford Sierra fi ve-speed gearbox can be fi tted easily with a special kit.

How Did It Drive?

Good and solid but hardly exciting. I actually drove a B before I owned (and restored) an A, but even now I remember the earlier car felt more like a ‘real’ sports car. Unkindly, I told friends the MGB was “just like a twincarb Morris Oxford”. Okay that’s cruel I admit, but in bog-standard (as we used to say) form, it was soft and uninspiring. True, with decent leak-free hood it was comfortable and civilised compared with the A, but there was something lacking. But then, when I worked for Hot Car and Cars & Car Conversions, I began to get my hands on well-tweaked B’s – chalk and cheese! Of course that was then and this is now but even today the MG’s old school, easiy tuned handling is part of the charm plus there’s a still a hack of a lot you can to give an old B some sting.

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