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MGB vs Triumph TR4

MGB vs Triumph TR4 Published: 11th Nov 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

With less than 800 TR4s around against a staggering some 20,000 MGBs quoted by howmanyleft, the Abingdon classic is naturally easier to source. Nigel Guild of Former Glory estimates he’s “probably sold 2000+” since starting out in 1986 and confident there’s always a market for them as, despite a period of stability, values are on the rise, albeit only for top ones and with so many always on sale you can and should be picky. There’s no shortage of the well restored cars that are up for sale at up to half of what they cost to renovate by their owners.

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If these two car makers were football teams, their rivalry would be the motoring equivalent of City vs United. So what side are you on?

Despite being all part of a big happy family (that’s British Leyland to you) MG and Triumph were fierce in-house rivals and it was never more so when it came to their sports cars. The TR4 and MGB both evolved from a long, illustrious line of sportsters, and both were introduced around the same time, in the early 60s.

These sub-Big Healey sports cars were made to look antediluvian, when compared to the likes of the elegant and modernist Lotus Elan and Alfa Spider (see our features in this issue!). However, both cars have stood the test of time well and their simplicity has become one of the reasons why they remain so loved today, with the Triumph perceived as the more hard core, ‘manly’ sportster, in contrast with their smaller siblings where the Spitfire is seen as the prettier if petite alternative to the macho Midget. It’s down to personal preference – surely?

Which one to buy?

A choice of headgear

Both are essentially roadsters, naturally, but what splits the Triumph and MG is the choice of other alternative headgear. With the MG there was the factory option of the excellent hatchback GT, which was one of the first sport hatches. Add a sliding sunroof, and many did, and you still have ‘roadster’ but with saloon practicality. Triumph didn’t officially offer a fastback TR4, leaving it to specialist coachbuilders such as Dove, but what Canley did provide for the TR4 was a novel optional and equally excellent Surrey top, where the rear windscreen was fixed – a clever semi-roadster feature that strangely rarely figured on the later TR5 and wasn’t an option on the TR6.

This hardtop was easily preferable and quicker to use than the timeconsuming framed hood, employed by both badges, although the MGB did change to a far preferable conventional folding type in the 1970s – but none can match the simplicity of the type found on MX-5s and MGFs if this is important point to you.

MGBs are strictly two-seaters and it’s an often overlooked fact that the TR4 was actually a tight 2+2 roadster albeit only with the hood down. On the MGB GT, the folding rear seat could accommodate two small children or an adult laying uncomfortably sideways, but it’s hardly a pleasant experience for either. With both launched in the early 1960s, the MGB remained in production the longest, right up to 1980. While the car received scant development after 1977, worth mentioning, it’s to the car’s credit that the B always looked good – even when those horrid rubber bumpers were tacked on and the ride height crudely raised. The Triumph looks the more muscular sports car – there’s little argument here – and perhaps the more classical. Inside there’s not much in it. The wood veneer dash on the TR4A certainly lifted the Triumph’s previous austere appearance; the MGB started off well enough but fell behind the times in the 1970s, although it, arguably, sports the more comfortable and civilised cockpit.

Ah yes the TR4A, the softer option for 1965 thanks to its saloon-derived independent rear end that also saw service on the later six-cylinder TRs. It improves the comfort – to MGB levels – although adds 100lb to the car’s weight and doesn’t improve the car’s handling; in fact, competition drivers prefer the older simpler set up although that’s not to say that this model’s handling can’t match the earlier car.

What’s the best to drive?

Raw fun rules over refinement

The similar performance of this brace of Brits continues once you take one for a spin (not in the strictest sense, mind). Both enjoy that charming old-school sports car feel that’s an experience to savour on a sunny weekend drive, where ultimate pace and Grand Prix grip comes second to an overall feel-good factor.

In terms of out-and-out speed, there’s a smidgen of daylight between them however. With its bigger, beefier 2.1-litre engine, and 132lbft against the B-Series’ 110lbft of pulling torque, the Triumph is notably the lustier, plus has almost 10bhp advantage, too. In a Motor road test of the (heavier) TR4A in ’65, it spurted to 60 in a respectable 10.9 seconds – that’s almost two seconds to the good of the MG and on par with a typical out-ofsorts TR6! That said, the MGB, thanks to its flexible nature, feels brisker than meaningless stopwatch figures suggests and besides, the performance of both cars are now more determined by their condition than anything else.

Do you red-line your classic these days anyway? If so, you’ll be delighted to know that there’s shed loads of turning parts and expertise to make this pair of brisk Brits faster than you’re ever likely to want or need.

Overdrive is seen as essential on both cars (optional, except on mid 70’s MGBs when it was made standard) and, with the TR4, you actually gain in effect a seven-speed gearbox, since this electric gear is available on all cogs, apart from first! Whether or not you use the overdrive so avidly is debatable, but it certainly ensures there’s always a right gear for the Triumph, unlike the MG which has always suffered from a chasm between second and third cogs, thankfully mostly masked by the engine’s lusty nature. If you’re after an auto, the MG is the default choice although there’s not that many left of them.

Where the MGB claws some of the deficit back is in the handling department. Neither corner or hold the road like a MX-5, but the MGB can be regarded as the more faithful and predictable as it rolls from understeer to oversteer at modest speeds even when new.

Arguments will probably eternally rage about whether the 2000 saloon’s independent rear end – but due to the TR’s more limited ground clearance not half as effective – fitted to the TR4A is an advantage over the TR4. Some say it is better, with more rear end grip even at the expense of the infamous ‘Triumph twitch’ as the driveshafts ‘lock-up’ for a split second plus the later car rides that much better. Others reckon the simpler rear end set up appeals to the hardcore enthusiast who likes to hang the tail out or envisages track days or competition driving.

What lets the Triumph down – and always has done due to its construction – is the considerable chassis flex and scuttle shake with the resultant creaks and rattles that are part and parcel of the design. The ‘monocoqued’ MGB holds no such vices, although handling suffered in 1974, when the suspension was crudely jacked up to meet US crash laws.

Perhaps their yesteryear experience is part of the pleasure of driving one as it’s a world away from today’s modern front-wheel drive repmobile? Include in that undue noise, draughts and so on or else the MX-5 is more your set of sportier soft top…


Owning and running

Nothing in it

Again, it’s virtually a dead heat. Thanks to the excellent club and aftermarket specialist support, few classic sportsters are as easy to maintain, or restore, as this pair. Anything from a humble widget to a new bodyshell (in the case of the MG) sit on the shelves, meaning a nut-and-bolt restoration is feasible. Few sports classics are as orthodox and DIY-friendly as this duo.

The Triumph’s engine features replaceable bore liners, making an engine overhaul fairly easy. On the other hand, there’s considerably more B-Series units about, so it’s really swings and roundabouts. Given the MG’s much longer production run, there’s more second-hand stuff knocking about, so the prices can prove appreciably lower.

And The Winner Is...

At risk of severe splinters where you really don’t want them, Classic Motoring wishes to do a spot of fence sitting! These super sports cars are so closely matched in every department that it really does boil down to personal preference and what badge you wish to wear, unless you specifically want a GT, where it’s virtually a done deal with the MG. Despite the historic rivalry, there are probably a lot of owners who have flitted between the two cars and can see the strengths and weaknesses in each. In the end they both make cracking choice. But it’s your call!

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