Time now for an affordable British sports car in our series of blogs looking at classics in detail.
The MGB offered stylish, typically British classic car fun for those who didn’t have the cash for more extravagant motors. It opened up sporty motoring to many more people and here we look at just why it was such a success. If you are in the market for one yourself, check out our cars for sale
Predictably enough, the MGB was launched
to replace the MGA, in 1962. It was innovative at that time, given that it had a monocoque rather than a body sat on a frame structure used in older cars, notably the rival Triumph TR
That said, other components were somewhat older – brakes and suspension came from the MGA
and the engine dated back to 1947. But the lightweight design meant that it was cheaper to produce and stronger overall – and so an affordable sports car was born. It initially came as a roadster with a 1.8-litre engine good for 60mph in 11 seconds.
It was also an innovator as regards safety, being one of the first cars to have a crumple zone to protect the driver and front passenger. Later, a hard-top GT model was to come, along with the MGC, which featured a six-cylinder engine – and a bonnet with a bump to accommodate it.
The soft-top roadster became popular quickly, thanks to being a pure two-seater with plenty of space for the driver and passenger and a reasonable boot for your luggage. It was lively and fun to drive and cheap to buy.
Five years into its life it got a better gearbox and other upgrades to make it an altogether more modern car. It suited the 1960s down to the ground and appealed to those who wanted to have enjoyable days out with the wind in their hair, but wanted to keep it British at the same time.
The standard MGB was really more about having a good time than it was about pure performance. The 1.8-litre engine was more of a functional thing than a beast. But, for those who wanted the grunt, their prayers were answered in 1973.
MG began offering the hardtop GT with the evergreen 3.5-litre V8 engine, first fitted to the Rover P5B and used in countless other vehicles, including the original Range Rover.
Derived from the American Buick V8, it was the lightest mass-production V8 in the world, which was ideal for a sports car like the MGB – it weighed 40kg less than the 1.8 engine by virtue of its aluminium block and heads.
The engine shaved a considerable chunk off of the standard car’s 60mph time, hitting the milestone in 7.7 seconds.
For much the same reason that it was a commercial success, the MGB has always been used in motorsport. During its time in production, it saw good results in events like the Monte Carlo Rally, as well as in circuit events such as the Guards 1,000 miles race at Brands Hatch and endurance events at tracks like the Nurburgring.
It also took category wins at events like the Targa Florio and Spa 1,000. Today it remains a popular attraction among classic racers as a cheap way to get on the track, featuring at events around the UK and beyond every weekend.
Later years, the USA, death and a modern rebirth. As things started to get tricky at what was now British Leyland – with crippling strikes and dodgy build quality a regular occurrence, the life of the MGB went into decline. From 1974 models bound for the USA had to have rubber bumpers instead of chrome ones to meet safety legislation, which did no favours for the MGB’s looks.
The rubber bumper model also replaced the chrome one in the UK and, although not deemed as desirable as the older cars, rubber bumper versions are abundantly available at cheap prices to this day for those looking for their first classic. At the end of the 1970s the MGB was in its final throes. Limited edition models began in 1979 – they are valuable today – and the last roadster rolled off the production line at Abingdon in 1980, 18 years after the first.
Work had begun on a successor many years before, but British Leyland’s woes meant that the death of the MGB was also the death of the Abingdon factory and the model was never directly replaced.
However, MG, owned by Rover at the time, resurrected the MGB body shell in 1992 to produce the RV8, a limited edition with a 3.9-litre version of the V8 engine. It made 60mph in 5.9 seconds – just 2,000 were produced, making it highly valuable to collectors today.
In all, 523,836 variants of the MGB and MGC were sold.