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Introduction to the MGB range of sportscars.

Top view of an MGB Roadster
Along with the Morris Minor and the Mini, the MGB is perhaps the most frequently spotted vehicle at classic vehicle events in the UK, and has been for some time. Ease of maintenance, excellent parts supply, and a ready supply of cars on the market all help to keep the GT and Roadster a popular choice for someone looking to enjoy the 'classic' motoring experience, without the headache of running a more obscure old car, with the issues of parts supply and readily available information that often come hand in hand with running so many older cars.

The MGB Roadster of 1962.

The MGB followed in the footsteps of the curvy MGA of the 1950s, and built on this successful formula. The B series engine would be carried over from the old car, although no twin-cam MGB was to feature in the B's sales catalogue of 1962. By 1965 both a fixed head coupe (GT) and convertible (Roadster) would be offered, although it was the open car that made its debut in 1962.

Both variants were powered by the rugged all-iron 1798cc version of the B series, an engine that featured in so many contemporary BMC cars, with varying capacities and levels of tune. Big change over the outgoing model was the method of construction - the MGA featured a separate chassis, a throwback to the old way of building cars. The MGB featured a monocoque bodyshell, that is the body and 'chassis' combined as one unit. Tooling costs were lower, whilst strength (and therefore structural rigidity, often a bone of contention with classic convertibles) was improved over the older car. Early MGB engines had a three bearing crankshaft, with a five bearing version taking over just a couple of years into production of the roadster (1964). A removable steel hardtop was also available, popular with winter drivers.

Debut of the MGB GT in 1965.

With sales of the two seater MGB roadster doing very nicely, especially in the US which
was such an important market for MG, it was time to launch the GT. Many people yearned to own a roadster, but needed a more practical and usable interior space, especially for families, hence the GT.

The fixed head 'B' offered extra headroom, a 2+2 seating arrangement, and a quieter driving experience which was more condusive to longer distance motoring. Access to the rear boot area was via a hinged rear hatch. The rear seating was not overly generous, so only really suitable for children, but an improvement over the tighter roadster cabin if there was a need to carry a third or fourth passenger.

Mechanically, the MGB GT was much as for the roadster. The bodyshell received a myriad of alterations though, more than a quick glance might suggest. The screen is taller, and the screen pillars of totally different design. The rear panelwork and scuttle were altered in detail also. With an identical engine specification to the roadster, but a few extra pounds thanks to the fixed roof, the GT's performance was not quite a match for the open car in a sprint, although most drivers who picked the GT put practicality before a few tenths of a second on acceleration. The more streamlined shape of the MGB GT did though give it a slightly higher top speed.

The Mk2 MGB of 1967.

In 1967, the MGB range received a mild make-over. First gear now had synchromesh on it, and the ratios received
A line up of roadsters
a tweak. Lazy drivers (outside of the US anyway) could opt for an automatic gearbox, although most people preferred to stir the cogs themselves, which was more in keeping with the sporty attitude of the 'B'. The early cars came with pressed steel wheels as standard, featuring circular holes. Wire wheels were a popular option, both then and now.

In 1969 the Rostyle wheel was introduced on the MGB, giving a more practical (ie easier to keep clean) alternative to the spoked variety. This year would also seem the demise of the all-chrome grille, replaced with a recessed black affair. The British Leyland influence was beginning to make itself felt, although these minor revisions were just the beginning of BL's involvement with the evolution of the MGB range.

The Mk3 arrives in 1972.

It could be argued that the 1970s was not altogether a halcyon time for the MGB, and for the other old BMC marques too. By 1972 the MGB had been in existence for 10 years. Rather than replace it with a new model altogether, a raft of changes were made to keep the MGB design 'fresh' in the public eye, and also maintain the car's conformance with ever-changing, and ever more stringent, US safety requirements. 1972 saw a revised dashboard introduced, small beer when compared to the changes wrought on the car in 1974, with the introduction of the 'rubber bumper' cars.

Gone were the slim and attractive chrome bumpers fore and aft, to be replaced with chunky rubber bumpers. The ride height of the 'B' was also raised, again to keep the MGB in line with US dictats regarding headlamp position relative to the road surface. Although doing nothing for the looks or handling of the Roadster and GT, the bumpers were effective. In the early 1980s a neighbour owned a mid blue MGB GT. She wasn't known for her observational skills when behind the wheel, and one day she rocketed out of her driveway, straight into the front wing of my father's Volvo 144. The Volvo required a new wing, whereas the 'B's bumper was barely damaged, just a few chinks where pieces of Volvo indicator lens had implanted themselves in the rubbery-ness.

As mentioned, the handling of the MGB suffered as a result of the ride height increase (cheaper than re-designing the car properly). BL weren't finished with their cost-cutting attempts though, and in 1975 the front anti-roll bar, a standard fitment up til this point, was now an extra-cost extra, further impairing the handling of what was becoming an increasingly wobbly sports car. A few years later a rear anti-roll bar would become standard equipment, but by this time the poor old 'B' was looking very out of date.

Of course it wasn't just MG that suffered at the hands of the BL bean counters - the Triumph Spitfire went through a similar design evolution. It too was launched in '62 and went through various revisions and cheapening attempts, soldiering on (just) in to the 1980s. Production of the MGB in all its forms came to a halt in 1980, by which time the basic design had been on the market for 18 years. For many years the rubber bumper cars were very much in the shadow of the earlier, chrome-bumper MGBs, but now offer the most affordable route to MG ownership and make for very usable daily drivers. Some later cars have been converted to chrome bumper specification, and have had their suspension lowered, thus improving both handling and (to most people's eyes) the looks.

The six cylinder MGC.

Many enthusiasts were tempted by the 'B's blend of practicality and sportiness, but yearned for a bit more grunt. The basic 1800cc did the job, but could never be regarded as a sparkling performer, especially when compared to the exotic all-aluminium twin cam engines found under the bonnet of many Italian cars back then. The revvy motorcycle-inspired engine under the bonnet of the Honda S800 also made most British sportscars look decidedly 'old hat'. The fact that Triumph also introduced their six cylinder fastback GT6 models, highlighted the need for a higher-performance version of the MGB.

In 1967 MG introduced the MGC, again in both fixed head GT and roadster forms. Under the raised bonnet profile sat a six cylinder engine of 2,911cc, endowing the MGC with a useful lump of urge, albeit with the trade-off of a much heavier engine hung out at the front. This engine would be known as the C series, and also see service under the sizeable bonnet of the Austin 3 litre models.

Visually only the revised profile of the (aluminium) bonnet and some badging at the rear gave the game away. Acceleration from the 145bhp engine was much stronger than with the 'B', with a top speed now nudging 120mph. The underbonnet structure was significantly modified in order to accomodate the longer C series block, and modifications were required to the front suspension to keep things in order. Despite this, press reception to the new car was mixed - they enthused about the performance benefits, but were less overwhelmed by the front-heavy driving characteristics that the new engine had brought along.

It could be argued that the MGC GT made the most sense, giving the GT concept a useful amount of power, better suiting long distance touring, rather than thrashing around the back lanes, the natural home of a roadster. Production ended just two years after the 'C's launch, the final cars selling in 1969 and 1970. Despite being waist-deep in the mire that was BL cost-cutting, MG weren't finished with the idea of producing a quick 'B', and in 1973 their next hotrod came on stream.

The MGB GT V8.

In '73, the production V8 engined car made its first appearance, available only as a GT. However MG had been beaten to the market with a V8 MGB, thanks to the efforts of a Ken Costello, who was already marketing a V8 engined car from 1972, available as a GT and roadster. The Costello V8 could nudge 130mph, the emphasis of the Costello car was much more on acceleration, whereas the factory GT, which had been in gestation since 1970/71, would be more of a long-legged machine, using a softer-tuned version of the ex-Buick V8 engine.

Power from the factory MGB GT V8 would be slightly down on the old MGC, but there was a handy 193lb ft of torque on tap, endowing the V8 with a top speed of 125mph, and excellent driving characteristics, the 3.5 V8 unit actually being lighter than the MGB's iron 4 cylinder engine. This weight saving avoided the inherent problems encountered with the 'C', with its weighty six cylinder unit. Production of the V8 GT continued until 1976, by which time over 2,500 examples had been built (RHD V8s only were sold).

The MGB re-born - the RV8.

Production of the standard MGB ended in 1980, but interest in the car would continue unabated, thanks to large numbers of enthusiasts keeping their old cars on the road. In the following years the MG badge would be affixed to warmed-over versions of Austin Rover saloons and hatchbacks, but as far as most people were concerned, the MGB was history, as was the market for mass-produced two seater sports cars.

The arrival of the two seater Mazda MX5 in 1989 turned the market on its head, and caught nearly all the other mainstream car manufacturers napping. MX5s were selling like hot cakes, and Austin Rover (as BL had morphed into) wanted a piece of the action. In 1995 they would launch the all-new 2 seater MGF, but something was needed in the interim, to re-awaken potential sportscar buyers to the history of open-top MGs, and pave the way for the F.

Amazingly, A-R's solution was to dust down the MGB roadster design of 1962 and give it a '90s facelift, fitting the car with a V8 for the first time (the factory V8 of the early 1970s being GTs only), and clothing the structure in mildly re-worked panelwork. Despite the tucks and tweaks, there was no hiding the ancient ancestry of the basic car, with cart springs and drum brakes at the rear still in evidence. The RV8 was only ever intended to be a low-volume sportscar, one reason why investment in this new variation was pegged to a modest level.

Many enthusiasts shook their collective heads at the idea of paying modern-day prices for a 30+ year old design, when a fully restored original 'B', or a car converted to V8 power, could be bought for much less. Despite these reservations, 2000 or so were built, many going to Japan where all things British were much in demand. By the time the MGF came on stream a couple of years later, the marque was back in the public consciousness as a producer of two seater sportscars. The final RV8 was built in 1995, some 33 years after the basic MGB first saw light of day.

White rubber bumper MGB

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