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MGB Published: 20th Nov 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Few cars are born as instant classics meaning they suffer the slings and arrows of the motoring press through their production life. Were they right or wrong in retrospect of the MGB?

The history of the evergreen MGB makes fascinating reading for a variety of reasons thanks to its 18 year production run which lived through the rise and fall of not only this classic, but also epitomising the decline of its maker and the British car industry in general.

How the car was viewed and judged over two decades by the British motoring press also mirrored similar changing times and attitudes on how cars were reported in print. Apart from the acerbic monthly Car magazine, road tests were pretty reverential to the car manufacturers. Indeed, the weeklies even submitted them for ‘approval’ before they went to publication, hence the toned down if barbed criticisms you can detect when reading mainstream road tests (both in magazines and newspapers) up right to the late 1970s. Few cars highlighted this juxtaposition more than the MGB.

Launched in 1962 as the much needed replacement for the MGA, things naturally started off nicely enough, the car lauded for its clean looks and fair practicality. “No car can hope to please everybody and design compromises are very apparent in the MGB” crowed Motor who went to say that the new MG suits “any age from 17 to 77”. Its verdict was, “A delightful modern sports car with a marked bias towards the grand touring character”.

Rival Autocar broadly agreed: “One thinks of the MGB as an open two-seater grand touring car free from the harshness, barbarity or creature discomforts normally associated with sports cars”.

When the GT came along in late ’65 Autocar hinted at the newcomer’s “upper middle class” standing due to its style and quality, complementing that “No concentration is needed to aim the car” and reckoned that “it should be suitable for the woman driver who appreciates a chic line.”

Note here ‘she’ is the owner of this £998 lovely as the same test commented that the passenger door, once locked from the outside, cannot be overridden from inside; “anxious girlfriends take note”, it warned… By the same token Motor said the new GT “has been achieved without any lessening in virility or sacrifice of the traditional MG virtues”. PC apparently wasn’t around back then…

By 1971, and with the design staying much the same for a decade, save for a dubious facelift by ex-Ford designers, the roadster was dubbed in a Motor road test as the “establishment sports car where many fanatics regard any change as an effrontery”, neatly pussy-footing around the fact that many coupés – none more so than the Capri – could now out gun this ageing sports car. Not so complimentary were others such as Car who was now calling the MG, “long in the tooth and an uninspiring car today” around the same time. Others were quick to follow and agree…

As expected, when the rubber bumper models came along the press had a field day and the general opinion was now that the MGB should have been put to the sword years ago and as Practical Motorist (a spanner and socket DIY magazine if ever there was one-ed) put it, “The car is ruined… pity they didn’t just leave us with our memories”. This comment wasn’t in the actual road test – it was in the editor’s Comment page!

Autocar could hold back no longer after it revealed in its 1975 test of the £2133 Roadster (now only £233 cheaper than a TR6!), a British Leyland insider expected the MGB “to soldier on as it is”. Summing up – after sampling the new raised height handling which displayed “alarming notable increase in roll oversteer… even under public road conditions” – it wrote, “It’s obvious that “a new B is needed now, more than ever before” and slated BL for hoisting American safety standards on the European market cars.

However, amazingly, the mellowing MGB was quietly gaining a new lease of life and showing its true classic potential even back in 1975 because Car back-tracked by remarking: “Strangely enough, through the noise and crudity of it all there is still a certain charm about the car”. Three years later, and the same magazine ran a special feature on sports car classics worth owning and it’s amusing to find that, on the one hand, it was praising the MGB as a classic – “Sensible sports car with pleasant nature” – but in its famous ‘Good, Bad and Ugly’ buyer’s guide section to brand new cars, just 20 pages later, the same model was being labelled as “so old, so tired”!

In perhaps the final road test of the MGB to be conducted (Autocar, July 1977) the report started thus.”In many ways it symbolises all that is best and worst about British cars”, citing long overdue alterations such as not requiring the ignition key to open the glovebox – after 14 years of pleading – and a relocated overdrive control which didn’t now require needing both hands to operate the gear lever and the overdrive switch!

“The GT’s acceleration (timed at 0-60 in 14 seconds-ed) must now rate as slow, even by family car standards… the pleasure has come from the MGB’s taut and predictable reactions” had the weekly comparing the evergreen MG to a famous London summer sporting event. “Like Wimbledon, the MGB seems to have become part of the British sporting tradition.”

In its final verdict, testers of that weekly said that the BGT was “reminiscent of the facelift of an ageing film star – they cannot hide all the cracks” after remarking that, with the new TR7 on sale, it’s “strictly a minority taste”. However, this conveniently overlooked the fact that the previous year was one of the MGB’s best ever for sales… Another test opined “It’s the kind of car that people buy because it’s reliable, good value for money and fun to own”. But that’s always been the way with every MGB whatever its age – despite whatever you may have read elsewhere.

They said it

Reviews of the MGB up to 1971 were generally positive as its performance was above average family saloon standard but the lack of continual development saw the sports car become out paced and out classed by many ordinary GTs and coupés during the 70s. The Autocar test of the r/b roadster with its horrid handling was the tipping point for the normally polite press reporters

A bit of a showstopper yet with the common touch

One reason Nigel Hughes bought this 1979 MGB was to partake in shows such as his local Classic on the Common in Hertfordshire. A tidy rubber bumper model, bought for £4600, says Nigel, “I’m thoroughly enjoying the car. We’ve been out three or four times a week in it and we’ve also done another four classic shows after Harpenden. The car’s very popular – maybe because of the colour (Vermilion). I’m doing minor jobs on it and actually still learning about the car’s features. I’ve totally lost interest in modern cars but I totally love this little MG”.


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