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MGB

Published: 5th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • 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.
  • From 1970, bonnets were made of steel and rust at both front and rear corners. Prior to this they were aluminium, and are more likely to be dented as a result.
  • Rust in the boot floor usually extends to the rear spring hangers and chassis legs underneath and repair is an involved job.
  • Rust in the front bulkhead is not easy to repair properly, and might ignite dreams of a (dear) replacement Heritage shell.
  • 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.
  • Mechanical problems should not be a worry, so long as you cost the repairs and factor this into the price. Perhaps the only exception is the early three-synchro gearbox, for which parts are getting scarce. Converting to a later foursynchro box requires major body modifications.
  • Interior trim is all available and reasonably cheap, although a full retrim can still soak up the best part of a grand.
  • Avoid serious competition modifications for regular use, but telescopic damper conversions and uprated anti-roll bars improve the ride and the handling a good deal.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 3/5

    Not fast but adequate in the real world; handling antiquated fun

  • Usability: 4/5

    Probably one of the most user-friendly classics you can buy

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    As simple as an old bike and DIY is well within most capabilities

  • Owning: 4/5

    Couldn’t be easier or cheaper with vast specialist back up

  • Value: 4/5

    Usually good but with so many still around be choosy

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We all know the MGB – or do we? Just what is this most popular of classics like to drive, run and own? Our test team has the answers...

The MGB is a remarkable car. Just consider the statistics: production began at the start of the 1960s and lasted for an amazing 18 years before it finally bowed out in 1980 and, in that time, no fewer than 386,961 Roadsters left the famous Abingdon lines. After the factory closed, the MGB fuelled the growth of a remarkable industry geared solely towards maintaining, improving and recreating the breed.

Some still sneer at the MGB claiming that it’s boring, but that’s just tripe. The MGB deserves to be on the shopping list for anybody who is looking for a practical, affordable and stylish sports car.

Which model to buy?

For a car that was in production for over three decades, the MGB and the MGB GT (which we’re covering in a couple of months time) changed remarkably little throughout its lifetime. 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 – but they have their benefits, not least more comfortable high speed driving. Post-1977 cars were better to drive thanks to the reintroduction of anti-roll bars, but few of the earlier 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.

Given the choice, most people would plump for the early all-chrome grille, with the chrome-and-honeycomb affair from late 1972 running a close second. The gaping-mouth 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 1970s palette of oranges, reds, browns and beiges.

Behind the wheel?

It has to be said that overdrive makes the MGB

First impressions are that the MGB is a typical sports car of the character building kind. Climbing in is a trifle undignified for anybody over 40 years old, 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. But 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 those cold calculating figures are virtually meaningless in the real world where that lusty B-Series and it’s lorry load of low speed pull makes it seem zestier than it really is and more than able to mix it with moderns in the cut an thrust of real world driving.

Even these days, a stock MGB is adequate but there are almost unlimited tuning modifications available thanks to the popularity of historic racing.

Handling is 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 teethcrunching 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 leisurely 3000rpm at 60mph and still only around 4000rpm at 80mph, which makes light work of long distances.

In contrast, four-speeders are too fussy, but one really worthy mod is the wellknown five-speed conversion kit based on the Ford Sierra gearbox. Apart from a restful gait, the intermediates are better suited and sort out the ‘gap’ between second and third to make even more of the B-Series unit’s generous low rev torque.

The steering is obviously heavier than that of a modern car, but it’s containable, especially if you fit modified caster kits which make allowances for modern rubber and reduce steering effort. Mind you, the benefit of the standard set up, developed on crossply tyres, is that the car runs arrow straight.

The standard brakes are perfectly adequate, although early cars do require a firm shove on the pedal. If that unnerves you, then the servos fitted from 1974 onwards lighten the load and this can be retro fitted. Better pads are an easy upgrade and vented discs are a bolt-on replacement for added stopping power, but even in a standard car you’re likely to lock up the front wheels before the anchors run out of bite – modern, stickier rubber could be all you need for improved confidence and many cars have this already.

The daily option?

MGs are cheap and easy enough to be a daily driver

Travelling with the roof up is reasonably civilised at speed and visibility is good, too, but only if the plastic rear screen is clear – driving one where you can see nothing out the back will unnerve anyone except lorry drivers who are used to it. The meagre heater should be able to keep your feet warm when cruising al fresco at 50-60mph, but pressing on at higher speeds will have the air whipping through the cabin faster than the heater can warm it. It will still manage to keep the screen clear, but especially in winter you’ll need to make your own arrangements when it comes to personal comfort – lots of layers and a warm hat will do the trick!

Fitting a removable hardtop (£200-300 secondhand) in winter will give you a glass rear window and cut down on wind noise, but there will be no going spontaneously topless on those glorious winter days when the sky is as blue as the frost is crisp! It might take a few miles before you can push in the manual choke, but once warmed up a well-sorted MGB will be as docile in the stop-start of the commuter crawl as it is on the open roads you bought it for, while its handy compact size makes it cinch to park.

The MGB is such a popular classic because, quite simply, it’s so easy to use. It’s cheap enough to consider as a daily driver, and it doesn’t arouse the same kind of green-eyed reaction from pedestrians that a Porsche or Jaguar can. Everything you ever need to keep a B running sweetly is freely available – the supply is so good that you can buy everything you need to rebuild a complete wreck and cut throat competition ensures that parts are always excellent value.

Ease of ownership?

The slightly-antiquated running gear is perfect for regular use, too. 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 better-than-new condition. The parts are readily available and little is beyond the capability of the competent DIY mechanic.

That said, with so many still around around, it can be considerably cheaper to buy one that somebody else has already lavished time and money on, although you are then taking a gamble on the quality of their work – or miss the fun and frustration of doing it yourself!

But it would be wrong to think that you could buy a decent example and use it everyday with the same lack of attention that most owners lavish on a new car. Ask yourself whether you feel comfortable peering under the bonnet, whether you know what a grease gun is and how to use it! Although anybody can service a B, it will be more maintenance-intensive than a modern car.

Engines can be modified to run on unleaded petrol, which is one less thing to worry about. But oil and filter changes every 6000 miles, valve clearances that need measuring every 12,000 and contact breaker base plates that need lubricating to keep the timing spot-on all go with the territory of running a classic.

Timelines

1962

Production starts in May of the MGB, a monocoque successor to the separate-chassis MGA. Official launch takes place in September. Engine is new 1798cc stretch of the B-sSeries engine with three main bearings and four-speed gearbox.

1963

Factory hardtop is available by the start of the year, with overdrive joining the options list later.

1964

1965

Pull-out door handles are changed for push-button items on safety grounds. Stylish GT fastback production begins

1967

June/July the stronger and quieter axle first seen on GT now fitted on the roadster. MkII MGB arrives that November, with a new all-synchro gearbox developed for the MGC. Wider transmission tunnel needed to accommodate this.

1969

The 1970 model year arrives with a ‘Ford style’ recessed matt black grille, squarer and bolder rear lights and vinyl seat faces instead of leather.

1970

The 1971 model year changes include a new design of folding hood.

1971

Late in the year, the MkIII is sneaked in with few mods such as safety switches.

1972

October sees the unveiling of the 1973 model year MGB. Unpopular recessed grille is replaced by the original chrome surround married to a black plastic

1974

September sees the arrival of black plastic bumpers and a raised ride height of over an inch to comply with legislation in the crucial North American market. Anti-roll bar is omitted to save weight.

1975

Overdrive becomes standard from June. Jubilee GT with V8 wheels released.

1977

Raft of improvements include dual circuit brakes, new anti-roll bars and a lower-geared steering rack. Interior revisions include the provision of striped 'deck-chair' fabric for the seats and an overdrive switch moved to the more logical position of the gearstick knob. Final 'British Leyland' badge disappears in December.

1980

After frantic moves to save MG, last car is produced at Abingdon, and factory is sold.

1988

First Heritage bodyshell is unveiled in April which sparks a thriving industry in MGB

1992

First MG RV8 is shown to the public, based on a Heritage MGB shell with styling tweaks, Rover's V8 engine and new suspension set up.

We Reckon...

If you're after hot hatch pace and handling then look to the likes of an MX-5 because the MGB was deemed dated even when new. But some of us look for different things from a classic and there isn’t a more userfriendly sports car around – plus they’re easy-peasy to maintain and repair. B’s are more than a classic car, they have become a way of life and perhaps if you've never owned one then it’s time you started living!



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