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MGB

MGB Published: 20th May 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MGB

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Any if well-priced and okay
  • Worst model: Anything overpriced
  • Budget buy: GT
  • OK for unleaded?: Should be, additives useful
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L2020 x W1524mm
  • Spares situation: Brilliant
  • Club support: As good as you will find
  • Appreciating asset?: Not really
  • Good buy or good-bye?: For sheer value, absolutely
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Much maligned version of the MGB which, from price, boasts many hidden benefits. Typical MG support from specialists and owners’ clubs making a rubber bumper B a great starter classic

September 1974 was a black time for MG, in more ways than one. It was the date when those infamous Bayflex black bumpers were tacked on both the B and Midget, along with raised ride heights, to appease North American safety laws (protecting pedestrians).

The result, as we all know, was the ruination of two of the best and most loved British sports cars, with the poor old B coming off the worst. Fast forward 44 years and the stigma of a rubber bumper B is as strong as ever. But should it be?

True, these rubber bumper cars looked and drove worse than the chromed classic but you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s time to stop erasing a rubber bumper MGB from your thoughts as a cheap classic worth owning.

History

1974 Revised MGB (and the Midget) launched, universally receiving the crash protection safety mods demanded for the US market. Visually identified by rubber bumpers (well, 90 per cent polyurethane Marley foam – Bayflex 90 – to be precise) designed by Allegro/TR7 stylist Harris Mann extending car’s length by more than five inches. The ride height is crudely increased by 1.5 inches to fall in line with the MGB GTV8 which, incidentally, also gained rubber bumpers, even though it was never sold in the United States! Compensations included a proper 12-volt battery supply, relocated electric fuel pump from its vulnerable underside position to the boot area and GTV8 instruments now fitted.

1975 Overdrive is made standard, V8 brake hoses adopted and a 13/lb rad cap specified. Body panels below the bumpers were sprayed in black to tidy up appearances while in ’76, a neat GT badge was fitted by the rear windows to mask the original body moulding seam. To mark MG’s 50th, special Jubilee cars are marketed in British Racing Green with gold striping topped by V8 wheels.

1976/77 For 1977 model year cars, a rethink to the suspension saw front and rear anti-roll bars roll reinstated in conjunction with older-type six leaf rear springs, V8 hubs plus a slightly lower steering ratio, allowing a smaller steering wheel to be used (3.5 turns instead of 2.9 lock-to-lock) for added comfort and legroom. Other alterations included an electric cooling fan saving a few bhp while also reducing the mechanical thrash of the B-Series. An interior fresh for good measure included deck chairlike trim, moving the dash-mounted overdrive switch to a saner, safer gear lever top location plus the dashboard was redesigned, tinted glass on the GTs, better quality carpets, better hood with convenient zip-out rear window.… And even a glove box that didn’t now need a key to operate – 15 years after the B’s introduction!

1979 Altered wiring and standard door speakers to accept an optional stereo incorporated, instrument faces standardised and special alloy wheels, as seen on US cars, now made an optional extra, sitting on fatter 185/70x14 tyres.

1980 Rear fog lamps fitted under the bumper with the last MGB put together on 22nd October 1980, the last 1000 cars being special edition LE models, complete with front chin spoiler and special Pewter and Bronze body colours. Ironically, the front engine cross-member was altered, to accept the arrival of the long awaited O Series engine that never materialised. In the US, the very last MGB was bought by Henry Ford II – would you believe!

Driving and press comments

We know just what you’re thinking – just how inferior is a rubber bumper MGB compared to the earlier chrome cars? Well, to be honest, not that much. Yes, the handling isn’t as precise, even on the revised ’77 models, but all MGBs feel their age in standard form anyway and a wise owner would be well to uprate the springs and dampers come renewal time. But unmodified rubber bumper cars, thanks to higher ground clearance and different springing, are far more comfortable and less harsh on long trips plus are easier to get in and out of – an important point for many more mature owners. The dashboard on the facelift ’77 cars is not so old fashioned, with better switchgear, plus a laminated windscreen is standard. Other benefits include overdrive that you don’t need two hands to activate (gear lever on the left, flick switch on the right) and re-aligned pedals which at long last allow proper heel-and-toeing for the average shod man and woman.

The lower steering ratio from 1977, with more than three turns lock to lock, together with a weaker castor setting, may be not so sporty perhaps as the original but it results in a significantly lighter action.

Performance-wise, with the added 60lb weight due to those bumpers and a slight detuning of the engine (smaller valved head), the car is found severely wanting on paper but in practice the low rev pull of the B-Series compensates and this engine is easily uprated anyway, as many are.

Road tests at the time had the heavier GT struggle up to 60 in 14 seconds and while the B-Series engine is torquey, later emission-strangled units could display unwanted flat spots and pinking, plus running-on when switched off; an owner could well junk all that ‘clean living’ kit and revert to earlier tune and enjoy better, stronger performance.

“Still enjoyable but needs improvement” Autocar said, in its April 1975 test on the £2195 Roadster, remarking that the changes (repacking the front cross-member, new springs along with the deletion of the original anti-roll bars on the Roadster) resulted in an “alarming noticeable increases in roll oversteer” and the car was “somewhat twitchy, even under public road conditions”. The weekly’s verdict was “it’s obvious that the MGB more than ever needs some redesign”.

The quick suspension rethink worked to some degree: “The pleasure has come from its taut and predictable reactions,” said Autocar again in July 1977 (and that’s always been the way with every MGB) on the inflationary £3576 GT but generally the Press had a field day and the general opinion was that it should have been put to the sword years ago. That may well be – although it was enjoying its best ever sales! Importantly, the MG’s classic potential was beggining to shine through even back in 1975 because the usually critical Car remarked: “Strangely enough, through the noise and crudity of it all there is still a certain charm about the car” but if anything, it was left to the DIY magazine Practical Motorist to be the most scathing of them all, disliking its handling and saying that it would rather have seen the car killed off and left us all with happy memories of earlier times instead.

Despite the r/b faults and quirks, any MGB is super easy to live with and own. The extremely practical and versatile GT can still happily cut it as a totally viable daily driver, or second car, even in standard trim although few are left stock. Along with the likes of the Morris Minor and the Mini, there can’t be an easier or more suitable classic to put to regular or even daily use. The rear seat is just about okay for small children and tolerably comfortable. Add a fabric sun roof and you have nearly all the benefits of an MGB roadster, but for all the family to enjoy. And DIY servicing is a doddle if laborious as there are still grease nipples galore to attend to regularly, but at least this ensures long component life.

Values and the marketplace

Rubber bumper MGBs remain super cheap to buy and probably always will be due to the lack of popularity. You can still pick up a fair example for around £3500, say £4500 for nice ones and £7500 upwards for a Queen B; only a peach or a special edition will clear ten grand and that’s for a Roadster – GTs are worth typically 50 per cent less. When you consider what chrome cars sell for… what price do you place on vanity?

Nigel Guild of Former Glory probably sells more MGBs each year than anybody else in the UK. He commented to us a while back: “It’s the chrome bumpered cars that everyone wants, which means that rubberbumpered editions can be quite hard to sell. As a result, they’re a lot more affordable than chrome models so they make a great introduction to B ownership”.

Chrome converts cost £625-£700 using nut and bolt kits with another £60-70 for the suspension lowering bits that must be fitted due the lighter weight of chrome bumpers. Not a simple swap (typical specialist charge is £3000 all in inc painting). Don’t also jump to the conclusion your cunning plan will increase the value because specialists say that while they look like a B should, they’re still a r/b and valued accordingly. Also kits in have all but dried up – see News pages!

Improvements

You can write a book on how to give your B more sting – and there’s loads so that’s really your first step when deciding upon mods as even a standard car has enough poke for today’s cut and thrust and running on good tyres handles and brakes acceptably within its lowly limits.

The handling can be raised to, or beyond, chrome bumper levels if you have the inclination and cash, but actually lowering the suspension isn’t as simple as it sounds if you want it done properly, plus we’re informed that modifying a r/b MGB differs to earlier chrome car so seek expert advice before you start spannering.

Lever arm dampers were fitted front and rear, which are notorious for leaking. If you’re not worried about originality it’s a good ploy to swap to telescopics (kits from £240), but the ride will suffer. To really sharpen up the handling it’s worth going for better anti-roll bars, which will transform the car’s dynamics for around £100; at the other end of the scale, a coil over front suspension plus five link rear suspension kit amounts to almost £3000 – the price of many cars. There’s variety of brake mods to complement the improved cornering speed.

While the B-Series is no powerhouse, it has oodles of torque and it’s a shame to lose that. A good gas flowed head and better exhaust with re-jetted SU carbs (or a single Weber) plus electronic ignition will suffice for many and give up to 110bhp.

If you don’t want to go V8, the K-Series and T-Series four pot engines can be fitted fairly easily although the easiest ‘fix’ is to buy a reconditioned and tuned engine from the likes of MGOC or MOSS at around £2300- £2800 respectively for a 2.0 Stage II unit, which is plenty powerful for the majority.

Standardised for 1975, the bulk of Bs have overdrive already which works as well as five-speed, although both the Ford Type 9 and now the Mazda MX-5 transmission both sport better ratios so it’s your choice but expect to pay as much as £2700 for the Vitesse kit although that includes a brand new Mazda ’box or under £1900 for the Ford alternative from the MGOC (fitting kits sans ’box £1020).

What To Look For

General

  • Thanks to brilliant parts supply, few cars are as easy to repair as an MGB and that goes for a full on restoration, too. However, given the costs involved, let alone labour time and hassle, it can be cheaper to buy a model already done as there’s plenty around at excellent prices. It’s up to you.
  • On the other hand, there’s loads of badly restored and bodged Bs on the block that are going to be veritable money pits so be picky when buying – again there’s no shortage of choice.
  • All the trim is available. A set of new seat covers costs £200 for leather or £120 for vinyl, and carpet sets cost £50-£150. Similarly, the exterior trim is freely available. And even though most stuff can be bought brand new, there’s no shortage of second hand pieces around if you’re on a tight budget.
  • Many have been converted to chrome although it doesn’t add to a car’s value. This must be done in conjunction with lowering the suspension height

Engine

  • Parts interchangeability is good and thanks to its bulletproof design and build, the B-series will happily cover 130,000 miles between rebuilds.
  • Never quiet, tappet noise is always evident even when set up properly. With the engine at tickover there should be 15-25psi oil pressure and at 3000rpm this should rise to 50-65psi. Anything less means the crankshaft is worn – which signifies a rebuild – or the oil pump is on its way out.
  • High oil consumption includes worn valve guides and stem seals. Check for a puff of smoke when you apply the throttle after the over-run. If the engine isn’t burning the lubricant, it’s probably leaking. First places to check are the front and rear crankshaft seals, and replacing the latter means removing the engine. Also look at the tappet chest side covers.
  • If the engine misfires it could be because the heater valve, positioned directly over the distributor, is leaking. The simple cure is to fit a new valve, but much worse, the misfiring could be because the cylinder head has cracked between the spark plugs.
  • Talking of cylinder heads, bear in mind that from 1974 the engine was slightly detuned with smaller head valves to meet US emission levels. Has a normal earlier head been substituted?

Running gear

  • The MGB’s suspension doesn’t generally give problems, except for the kingpins wearing. Jack the front of the car up and rock the wheel at the top and bottom while somebody applies the footbrake. Any detectable movement means the kingpins need replacing at not more than £50 a side.
  • The front wishbone bushes also perish and collapse. Fit V8 items if new ones are due, and reckon on up to three hours per side to fit them.
  • If it seems that there’s rear wheel steering it’ll be because the U-bolts and rubber bushes which locate the rear axle have come loose or corroded. But it’s cheap to fix costing under £20.
  • Lever arm dampers are notorious for leaking. Ensure all the rear tyre is visible – if it disappears under the wheelarch then the spring needs replacing at £35 per side. New parabolic types give nicer ride.

Transmission

  • Don’t be surprised if a gearbox is noisy in first and reverse gears. It’s something that most owners live with until the gearbox is rebuilt although they can soldier on in this manner for years.
  • Clutch problems are common, and it’s usually centred around the carbon fibre release bearing breaking up due to age. So if there’s vibration through the pedal and a screeching noise, start looking for £350 to fix it as engine has to come out as well.
  • Also make sure the pedal isn’t spongy under load. If it is, the hydraulics are on their way out and you’ll have to spend £85 on new master and slave cylinders, but it can also be due to the hydraulic pipes swelling under pressure due to sheer age. Have someone operate the pedal while you check the pipe.
  • Few rubber-bumpered Bs lack overdrive. It’s reliable but the electrics can play up and the oil level can fall below the minimum, both of which stop it working properly. Similarly, the oil filter inside the overdrive should be cleaned out every 30,000 miles or so – but many aren’t. You can’t just bolt an overdrive unit onto the back of the existing gearbox mind; the whole gearbox needs to be replaced for one with an overdrive unit so think five-speeds instead.
  • In fact, has a five-speed been fitted and do you like it given the price premium being asked? Apart from an overdrive ‘top’ the intermediates are better.

Body and chassis

  • There are plenty of places where you’re likely to find rot, and chances of bodged repairs are high. You can buy a Heritage bodyshell, a mix of the panels used throughout two decades of years of MGB production – so it will always vary. Early heritage reshelled cars weren’t well built and even now, panels have to be fettled to fit to some degree. New ones cost some nine grand – plus fitting and spraying.
  • One of the most common rot spots are the complex sill structures, which are prime fodder for bodge merchants. That’s because repairing them properly is a convoluted process and ideally the front and rear wing sections (below the trim strip) need to be cut off first, at worst meaning a two grand repair bill.
  • Because the sills can be tricky to repair, there are various bodges that are regularly tried. The first is to fit a cover sill. The second is the use of a stainless steel over-sill, which looks pretty – but also masks potential big problems. The final bodge is for the outer sill to be repaired. Take a look from underneath and see that everything lines up properly. Tip: if the doors clip hood or the B post (GT), then they’ve probably been badly fitted and require refitting.
  • Check the back of the front inner wheelarches, by removing the wheels. Also check the general condition of the wheelarches, especially the rear of both the front and rear panels, which are especially vulnerable.
  • Take a look at the spring hangers, which might be rotten. Next to the offside hanger is the battery tray (chrome bumper cars have one each side), and also make sure the floorpans are okay.
  • If you’re looking at a GT, make sure that the doubleskinned tailgate isn’t rotten and whether drop-top or fixedhead, analyse the scuttle where it meets the base of the windscreen. The final part to check is the bottom of each door.
  • There are many chrome conversion kits on the market but quality varies as does the fitting as some body amendments are required. Has it been done right as many DIY jobs haven’t.

Three Of A Kind

Fiat X1/9
Fiat X1/9
This is the car both MG and Triumph should have made… Thoroughly up to date at the time and still modern in feel, the mid-engine Fiat is more like a baby Ferrari with classic mid-ship handling; only moderate straight line pace lets it down. Not well built plus they usually rot like mad, but a good one can still be purchased reasonably cheaply although prices are on the march and not before time.
MGF/TF
MGF/TF
Another cheap as chips MG, but this one really handles and is bloody quick point-to point too thanks to a design that apes the aforementioned Fiat. A good one (but there’s a lot of bad ’uns about) is real hoot to drive and makes excellent daily drivers thanks to civilised cockpit and good hood but it’s a shame a GT sports hatch never materialised. Typical MG support; plenty around so choose with care.
Triumph TR7
Triumph TR7
Like the later MGB, the rubber bumpered TR7 is still seen as a backwater classic but - like its Abingdon rival - has value on its side, plus they drive much better than they look with secure handling and a very civilised cockpit. Convertibles have the best looks of course, but the original coupé is fast catching on – especially ‘solid roof’ models. Could become one of the wisest buys for 2018.

Verdict

It’s time to give rubber bumper MGBs their due. They still offer all that’s good about this MG but at bargain prices. As a starter classic – or just a cheapie to daily drive in – they take some beating so don’t erase the thought of owning a rubber bumper. In fact, we see them as a badge of honour to wear with pride because owning a rubber bumper MGB is nothing to be ashamed about.



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