CAR STORIES: THE B-RILLIANT MGB
Ask any non-enthusiast to think of a classic car and the chances are they'll summon to mind one of two cars: the Jaguar E Type or the MGB. 40 years after the humble B went out of production, it remains the quintessential 'classic car', a no-nonsense staple of classic car shows and pub car parks in summer. And with good reason: it's really, really good.
First, Some History
In the late 1950s Oxfordshire's MG car company was riding high. It had developed a string of successful small sports cars, culminating in the svelte MGA, that had proved extremely popular 'across the pond' in America. But the A was long in the tooth by the late 50s and based on old 'separate chassis' technology. MG desperately needed a new, advanced model and in 1962 it launched one, the B.
Thankfully more time and effort had gone into the engineering and development of the B than the marketing department spent on devising its new name. The new car used a monocoque body, which did away with the separate chassis and made the car stiffer and safer. The body was designed using new fangled aerodynamic techniques so it looked sleek and modern. Under the skin things were a little less thrilling - the B made do with a live rear axle, the 1800cc 90 bhp engine from a Morris saloon and steering and suspension largely borrowed from the parts bin of MG's then owner, British Motor Corporate.
The convertible 'roadster' was launched in 1962 to a rapturous reception from the world's press and car buyers. It may have been dynamically outclassed by its European rivals like the Alfa Romeo Spider, but the B was very clearly a big step forward from the A. And for buyers who wanted a robust, reliable, durable and simple, fun sports car, it clearly delivered.
The B was an immediate sales success, leading to MG launching a coupe version designed by Pininfarina in 1965. So clever and integrated was this design that it looked like the B was originally designed as a coupe and convertible from the outset.
After this flurry of activity, MG's design team deserved a rest. It got one, but unfortunately it was a very long one. There were no new MG models after the B and, aside from the launch of the 6 cylinder MGC in 1967 and the MGB GT V8 in 1973, the only major change to the car came in 1974 when the ride height was raised and rubber bumpers replaced the chrome ones in order to meet US safety regulations. The C was a short lived version that borrowed the 3 litre straight six engine from the Austin Healey 3000. Designed to bridge the gap between the B and the recently departed Healey, it failed dismally, the heavy engine blunting the B's already questionable handling and adding little in the way of performance.
The V8 GT was a much more successful transformation. The addition of the 3.5 litre Rover engine turned the B GT into a mini E Type. Unfortunately it was a case of too little too late: by 1973 the B GT was up against more modern rivals like the Capri and, despite the lighter V8 engine giving the car better handling and performance than the standard B, production ended in 1976.
Production ended in 1980, when the B gave way to the Triumph TR7 (which was originally intended to have a MG version), although the B's story didn't quite end there. Plans to shift production to Aston Martin with a mildly reworked car eventually stalled after one car was built, but B production restarted in 1992 with the V8 engined MG RV8, which featured a heavily revised convertible shell with a Rover V8 engine and lots of wood and leather. A little short of 2,000 were sold, mostly in Japan.
Our MGB GT
Over the years we've run several MGBs on our fleet, including chrome and rubber bumper convertibles and coupes. But it is the chrome BGT coupe that had endured. That's because we think - and customers seem to agree - that the GT brings something different that the B roadster doesn't quite manage. Lovely as the convertible it, it's simply outclassed by contemporary sports cars like our Alfa Romeo Spider, while modern classics like our Mazda MX5 and BMW Z3 simply run rings around it.
Instead the B GT is in a class of its own. Rather than aiming purely for sporting fun, it guns for a more GT take on fun driving. And it does it really well. The B GT is often the car that surprises customers, one they expect little of but find it delivers character and enjoyment in spades.
Our BGT is a 1971 model and one of the very rare 'fish mouth' versions, from a short period in the early 70s when MG tried to modernise the B by fitting a recessed grille, apparently modelled on the contemporary Ford Mustang. The idea wasn't a huge success so they quickly went back to the familiar grille design.
The car is finished in black metallic with a black interior. It has a manual gearbox with the desirable option of overdrive. The engine is the standard 1800cc four cylinder one and we've resisted the temptation to upgrade it as we prefer our hire cars to be standard.
This car has been on our fleet since 2015 and covered around 30,000 miles in that time. As with many of our cars, it has been used extensively on TV, including the BBC's Antiques Road Trip and has received a lot of investment to keep it reliable and in good condition for hire. This includes a full respray just after we bought it - it is due in our workshop for another respray during winter 2021/22 - and a new interior and carpets. We rebuilt the engine in 2019 and the car received significant bodywork improvements in 2021 totalling over £5,000. Also during 2021 the carburettors were rebuilt.
You can drive this car by the hour, day or weekend or as part of our multi-car Road Trips. Click here to find out more.
Graham Eason, Great Driving Days. 01527 893733