Practical classics
Practical classics
Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

MGB

MGB Published: 17th Oct 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MGB
MGB
MGB
MGB
MGB
MGB
MGB
MGB
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

Why not own a...?MGB

When it comes to a common sense classic, few cars can match let alone top the evergreen MGB. Largely ridiculed for it being out of date before its demise after an incredible 18 year production run, some still sneer at the common MGB but this car deserves to be on the shopping list for anybody who is looking for a practical, affordable and stylish classic sports car.

Model choice

For a car that was in production for over three decades, the MGB changed remarkably little throughout its long lifetime – which many regarded a major minus point when contemporary. The biggest visual alteration came with the introduction of plastic bumpers for 1975-model year. These are often slated not just for their looks but also their sullied handling due to a whopping 1.5inches added to the ride height – but they have their benefits, not least more comfort and lower worth. Post-1977 cars were better to drive thanks to the reintroduction of anti-roll bars, but few of the earlier roly-poly cars will still be running unmodified anyway.

All rubber-bumper cars are considerably cheaper to buy, more resilient to knocks and slightly easier for occupants with aching joints to get in and out of. Creature comforts were better with later cars, too, and they’re much better high speed cruisers.

Of the earlier chrome-bumper Bs, few people go looking for one model or another and the decision usually comes down to the best car they can find for their budget. Having said that, early three-bearing cars with the pull door handles are probably too rare and agricultural to be considered as a daily driver, and any B lacking overdrive is an effort on long hauls.

For daily driving duties, you can’t beat a BGT. It’s a 2+2 (barely just admittedly) with a handy hatch for supermarket duties. Add a fabric sunroof, as many have, you and literally enjoy the best of both worlds and those looks have stood the test of time remarkably well – it remains a pretty classy classic.

Given the choice, most people would plump for the early all-chrome grille, with the chrome-andhoneycomb affair from late 1972 running a close second. The gapingmouth recessed grille does have a period charm, though (designed by ex-Ford staff who were wooed to the Midlands!) particularly when allied to a body colour chosen from the usual 1970’s palette of oranges, reds, browns and beiges.

 

Behind the wheel

First impressions are that the MGB is a typical 60’s sports car of the character-building kind.Climbing in is a trifle undignified for anybody over 40 years old (rubber-bumper car better), and once ensconced behind the wheel you sit with your behind seemingly inches above the road and your legs stretched almost horizontally out in front.

However, you’ll soon notice that this is not the cramped cabin of lesser rivals like the Spitfire or Midget. In an age when modern cars are designed ever more closely around a mythical average driver, those who are more vertically endowed than others will still find enough room for their bonce when the roof is up.

The MGB was a decent, rather than scorching performer in its day. Sadly, that day in the sun was decades ago and now most modern shopping trolleys will be able to out-perform it on paper.

Yet such cold figures are virtually meaningless in the real world where that lusty B-Series, with its lorry load of low speed pull, makes it seem zestier than it is and more than able to mix it with moderns in the cut-and-thrust of real world driving. Even in today’s fast pace, a stock MGB is an entirely adequate performer but there are almost unlimited tuning modifications around for those wanting a bit more.

Handling is probably another matter – it’s not what the MGB does but how it does it. The ride is a little bouncy, but this is the inevitable consequence of classic suspension in a car that is both low and light – and one that can be exacerbated by careless uprating.

The driving experience is fun rather than teeth-crunching though, and it’s all very controllable if you carry too much speed into a corner. Predictable understeer switches to exploitable oversteer at what seems like absurdly low grip levels on standard tyres – but that’s half the fun. Predictability is the MG’s forte and a few well known mods can push the limits higher without denying driver feedback.

It has to be said that overdrive makes the MGB. On A roads and motorways the engine will be spinning at a relatively leisurely 3000rpm at 60mph and still only around 4000rpm at 80mph, so making light and economical work of long distances. In contrast, the fourspeeders feel far too fussy, but one really worthy mod is the well-known five-speed conversion kit, initially based on the Ford Sierra Type 9 gearbox, and now latterly (due to dwindling supplies) a slightly more expensive (£2400) Mazda MX-5 alternative (try vistesse-ltd.com).

Apart from a restful gait, the intermediates are better suited and plug the ‘gap’ between second and third to make even more of the B-Series unit’s low rev nature.

The MG’s steering is obviously heavier than that of a modern, but it’s containable, especially if you fit modified caster kits which make allowances for modern rubber and reduce steering effort. The standard brakes are perfectly adequate mind, although early cars sans servo do require a firmer shove on the pedal.

If that unnerves you, then the servos fitted from 1974 onwards can be retro fitted. Better disc pads are an easy upgrade and vented discs are an easy bolt-on replacement for added stopping power; adding modern, stickier tyres could be all you need for improved confidence and pace and many cars feature this already.

Travelling with the roof up is reasonably civilised at speed and visibility is good, tool removable hardtop (£200-£300 second-hand) in winter will give you all the all round protection you need and the heaters are adequate. Best of all, there’s a wealth of gear around to make the interior as welcoming as any Jag.

 

What to pay

Nigel Guild of Former Glory modestly estimates he has “probably sold 2000+” MGBs since he started out from home in 1986 and highly confident that there will always be a market for the chrome-bumpered MGBs. Fully aware of what some other specialists are asking for theirs, Nigel says that he prefers to keep his prices “reasonable” which is another reason why business is always healthy. Having said that, despite a period of stability, values are on the rise albeit only for really good ones and with so many always on sale you can – and should – be pretty picky.

There’s a model to suit every pocket but always buy the best you can within your budget and it’s better to break the bank to get something special than consider an average example (and many are) to ‘do up’ because you’ll always end up spending more and still end up with an inferior car. There’s no shortage of the well restored cars that are up for sale at up to half of what they cost to renovate, their owners probably making theirs good again more as a labour of love than financial gain.

MGBs which make the most are pull-hand roadsters and the least are rubber-bumper GTs with the 1969 ‘Mustang nose’ facelifts trailing the traditional looking replacement in late ’72. Ignoring concours cars which can well fetch up to £20,000 or more, between half and two-thirds this is ample to secure something worth having. GTs can be worth 50-75 per cent of an equivalent roadster while for the price of average chrome car you can have the pick of the rubberbumper cars where entirely decent runners are easy £3000 buys.

Originality probably counts more with ’top end’ cars although most MGBs features’ modifications to some degree to make them drive better but a £3000 five-speed gearbox conversion shouldn’t make any car that much more valuable, so don’t pay over the odds for upgrades (even V8 or K Series engine swaps) which may be a matter of taste anyway.

 

Making one better

This is one of the easiest yet most difficult topics to cover as there’s almost limitless scope here, from simple road-related improvements to full competition conversions, with everything you need readily available off the shelf – the problem is choosing the right mods for your personal needs so speak to a specialist.

Generally, it’s the handling and brakes that require priority attention; uprated dampers and springs (modern telescopics are best all round even if they harden the ride) along with poly bushes is the first step, but if the funds allow then the MGR V8 axle with its double wishbone suspension set up is the ultimate as is MGOC’s Evolution 3 alternative.

Brakes can be upgraded from simple performance pads (EBC) to larger vented discs – on rears too if you feel the car needs them – most don’t. One chassis mod that’s worthwhile on any car is to fit a caster kit to reduce steering effort as the MGB was originally designed to run on cross-ply tyres. Rubber-bumper MGBs’ handling can deteriorate quicker than chrome cars so you need to keep the dampers and bushes in tip top order. Lowering kits are the first mod and basic kits are cheap.

The B-Series can produce a lot more power and be enlarged up to an even lustier 2.1-litres, although better breathing with improved head and camshaft can work wonders on standard 1.8s, too to eke out 100bhp.

Five-speed ‘boxes which not only allows a long legged gait, although there nothing wrong with the overdrive set up if you make more use of ‘overdrive 3rd’.

 

Maintenance matters

The old school running gear means there’s nothing complex under that timeless skin that a normal toolkit and a Haynes manual can’t cope with. As we’ve already noted, it’s quite possible to buy a wreck of an MGB and restore it at home to betterthan- new condition.

All the parts you may require are readily available and little is beyond the capability and ken of the typical competent DIY mechanic. Or if you’re not that way inclined there’s an army of MG specialists around to help although to be honest, any regular small town workshop will probably cope okay so long as they know how to set the tappets and gap c.b. points!

A grease gun is vital as there’s no shortage of lubing points to attend to regularly and that’s a good thing as it prolongs the life of the components, especially steering and suspension assemblies. Not only is second to none spare supply a given but there’s also considerable interchangeability with other MGs and BMC models.

Even more regular maintenance should be given to the bodywork to keep the dreaded rot at bay. Again, supplies are excellent and this includes brand new BMH bodyshells, which are of much better quality than previously, to the point where a BMH reshell can be considered a good thing when buying which was not always the case.

It’s a pricey exercise, mind with Roadster shells priced at £9310 and GT’s some £700 dearer. Add fettling and painting and you’re looking at the thick end of £15,000 – and that’s if you do the reassembling afterwards. You can buy a concours car for that outlay!

 

Verdict

With the exception of the Mazda MX-5 that’s considered ‘the new MGB’, the MG is the most sensible classic sports car on the block, albeit hardly the most exclusive. Don’t let that bother you a jot because the B is a classic everybody should own at one point in their lives and they make starter choices where their low cost, simplicity and excellent support from specialist and clubs will have you hooked on classics for ever. Just take your time and have a look at a good number to find the one that suits you and your budget best.

 

Buying tips

 

1. General

The beauty of owning a B is the fantastic back up and support available from specialists and clubs. Almost every part you’ll ever need – right down to a gear lever knob – is available either new or used. It’s also a super simple car to work on and maintain at home. As a starter classic you couldn’t wish for a better car.

Try a few out as standards can vary. Specialists are the best places to look and go for lengthy test drives. Better still, why not hire one for a weekend to really test the worker B out?

You can quite easily convert a rubber-bumper B back to earlier spec. Dedicated conversion kits cost around £1700 fitted; it isn’t simply a straight off and on fit, but you can do it for a lot less using used parts. It doesn’t make a later B worth ‘chrome money’. Interior trim is all available and reasonably cheap, although a full retrim can still soak up the best part of a grand.

2. Body

The deciding factor is always the condition of the body, the hidden structure as well as the outer panels. Front wings are bolt-on items that cost less than £300 new, but rear wings are more difficult to repair as they are welded on.

Rust in the boot floor usually extends to the rear spring hangers and chassis legs underneath and repair is a highly involved job. Front bulkheads are not easy to repair properly either.

Fancy shiny cover sills (look for poor seams where the ends tuck behind the wings) and plated castle rails (the U-shaped channel under the floor just inboard of the sills) are both bad news, suggesting major rot has been covered up rather than properly repaired.

3. Engine

The evergreen B-Series power unit is tough and tolerant, but watch for piston/ring/cylinder bore wear (excessive smoking from the exhaust when accelerating hard). Check also for low oil pressure – you need to be seeing gauge readings of at least 50psi at normal road speeds, with the engine fully warmed up.

Rumbling bumbling Bs are not unknown (indicating crankshaft/ bearing wear). By contrast it is not unusual, nor usually especially serious, to find that the valve train is more than a little rattly. This is due normally to excessive valve clearance gaps, and/or wear in the rocker shaft/bushes itself. Be more concerned about any heavier knocking from the camshaft region, audible at tickover – due to a worn shaft and followers.

4. Transmission

They are as robust: problems are usually restricted to weak synchromesh, leaking oil seals and rumbling gearbox/ final drive bearings – the latter which soldier on for ages it has to be said. See that the overdrive kicks in and out crisply and smoothly – most here are normally electrical.

5. Running gear

Front suspension incorporates king pins and bushes, plus threaded fulcrums, and regular lubrication is demanded for long life. Check for wear by raising and attempting to rock the wheels in and out. Excessive trunnion movement signifies wear.

Ensure too that the shock absorbers are sound and not leaking, the rear springs are unbroken and haven’t settled and that the suspension bump stops are still in place. Has a lowering kit or mod been already fitted to either a chrome or R/B car?



User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Subscribe