Classic MG: The MGB, MGB GT and MGB GT V8
The Classic MGB Arrives
The 1962 London Motor Show was to see the launch of an all new MG, the MGB. Designed to replace the ageing MGA the classic MGB was not only five inches shorter than its predecessor but had more interior space in to the bargain. The old B-series 4-cylinder from the MGA was bored out yet further to take it from 1622cc to 1798cc, and while the power gain was minimal there was a healthy gain in torque.
It also undercut its rivals on price coming in at £690 whereas a Triumph TR4 was £750 and the bigger and faster Austin-Healey 3000 cost £895. In 1963 nearly 28,000 cars had been built with the vast majority going to North America and everyone considered the classic MGB a great success. This success was added to when in 1965 MG released the coupé version, the MGB GT. The car gained 200lbs in weight but benefited from better aerodynamics than a convertible could deliver. The stiffer bodyshell also improved the handling.
Throughout the classic MGB's life it was always quoted at 95 bhp in British spec but the performance always seemed below par for me to consider that an accurate figure. Although motoring magazines often got quite widely varying performance figures with 0-60 mph times varying by a couple of seconds and top speed by as much as 5 mph from one car to the next. A good one would do 0-60 mph in around 11.5 with just over the ton as a top speed, coupés usually being a couple of mph faster than convertibles. A poor version wouldn't crack the ton and could only struggle to 60 mph in around 13 seconds (and sometimes slower). By comparison a Ford Escort Mkll 1600 Sport in the UK markets was quoted at 83-88 bhp depending on whose figures you choose to believe and could do sub-11 second 0-60 mph times with a top speed of around 102 mph.
MGB GT V8
American models would no doubt become even slower over the years as the additional weight of safety bumpers was added and additional emmissions equipement ate away at the power.
In late 1967 revisions to both models saw an improved manual gearbox, electrics and an automatic option being offered.
Then in 1973 the classic MGB GT V8 was allowed in to the wild. Fitted with what was known in the UK as the Rover 3528cc V8, originally known as the Buick 215, and used to power many Rover, MG and British Leyland models over the years including the Range Rover it moved the MGB up a class. It was only ever available in the coupe and packed a whopping 80% more torque than the 1798cc engine. Performance improved to a top speed around 125 mph with 0-60 mph in 8 seconds. It was also a fairly easy engine to modify (if you could afford the fuel consumption). The Blackpool-built TVRs used a 5-litre version of the engine with 350 bhp in the TVR Griffith 500 some years later and even the last of the old-style Range Rovers had a 4.6-litre 225 bhp version of the engine. MG never exported this model to the USA, strange really as the land of the V8 would have been its natural home.
Its main criticisms were that it looked just like the standard MGB GT apart from the V8 badges and wasn't 'special' enough. That and the fact it hit the markets at the same time as Syria and Egypt attacked Israel which led to oil shortages and big hikes in fuel costs, with prices in the UK virtually doubling. It lead to less than 2,600 of the V8 model being built before production was ended.
Through the 1970s the classic MGBs got heavier and slower due to Californian legislation and emission laws, dropping 20 bhp on the 1798cc engine. The chrome bumpers had to be replaced with ugly large rubber 'safety' bumpers which added around 70lb in weight and forced MG to raise the ride height of the car by one and a half inches for the bumpers to comply with legislation requirements. This messed up the handling which took a few more years for MG to iron out but by now the writing was on the wall for the aging MG.
With newer cars like the first of the Golf GTIs coming along and taking the old 'fast Ford' trick of a hot engine in a saloon car (like the Lotus Cortinas and the RS Escorts) a step further the MGBs were looking old and slow. British Leyland also claimed to be losing £900 on every car built so in 1980 not only was the classic MGB dropped the whole MG marque was wound up and the famous Abingdon factory was closed, despite a vociferous campaign by MG fanatics. And that was it, with 400,000 convertibles and 125,000 coupes being produced over eighteen years.
The people looking for an investment buy the very first classic MGBs as they had the original 1798cc engine with the three-bearing crankshaft, scarcity value pushes the price of these early cars up. The later models with stronger five-bearing crank are both cheaper and a better bet for people who actually want to drive the car everyday. The V8 models are the most fun if you can find one although there are many, many after-market conversions around, on both coupes and convertibles. There is a thriving owners club and most parts are available to the extent you can virtually build yourself a brand-new MGB if you want, and can afford, to.
The 1798cc B-series can be tuned, or there are an assortment of big-bore kits avilable, or longer-stroke cranks, and supercharger kits. But the cost of them usually means just slotting the V8 in is as cheap to do. As the old saying goes: 'Performance costs - how fast can you afford to go?'
MG Owners' Club
- MG MGB Bodyshells - Being Assembled by British Motor Heritage
Photos of MG MGB Body Construction
- British Motor Heritage\'s 1964 FIA-spec MGB Race Car
BMH demonstrates their new MGB Competition Bodyshell and Rollcage
- MG Cars Enthusiasts\' Club
The MG web site and car club for MG Enthusiasts world wide
A Phoneix Rises
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