The cars : MGB (ADO23) development story

The MGB development story is an interesting one. It is probably the world’s best-loved classic car – and, if you’re looking for a weekend toy, you’ve probably already considered one.

However, we take a contemporary view of the legendary sports car, and trace its long history to the point at which it slipped out of view in 1980.

B is for Bestseller – MGB development story

To this day, the products of BMC (later British Leyland) are regarded with mixed emotions – most of them not being particularly flattering to the company. On the one hand, people openly deride such products as the Austin Allegro and Maxi while, on the other, cars like the Range Rover and Mini are still regarded with great fondness and respect.

The MGB sits somewhere between these two extremes, being regarded with great warmth and a sense of nostalgia by MG enthusiasts, especially those who have owned one, while elitists in car circles tend to dismiss it for its mechanical crudeness.

The facts tend to suggest that more people belong to the former group than to the latter: during the car’s long production life (1962-1980), over half a million MGBs rolled out of Abingdon’s factory gates. Unlike many of BMC’s contemporary products, it was also a great success in the US and Europe, where its mechanical simplicity, good looks, low price and honest charm were seen as assets.

Genesis of the MGB

Back in the late 1950s, the MGB had been conceived by MG’s Chief Engineer, Syd Enever, to replace the beautiful MGA which was suffering from a drop-off in sales.

The MGA was clearly losing out to the newly launched MG Midget (a badge-engineered Austin-Healey Sprite), but it was also painfully obvious by this time that new rivals such as the Sunbeam Alpine and Triumph TR4A were proving to be very stiff competition.

The MGA was still more than competitive in terms of its performance and handling, but its bone-shaking ride was thrown into sharp relief by the newer rivals: while boasting performance and roadholding on a par with the MGA’s, they could also offer a degree of comfort and civility that was alien to the MG.

Replacing the MGA

So, during the MGB’s development, the emphasis was placed on retaining the driver appeal of the MGA, while adding an element of comfort and accommodation that had been denied to owners of the older car. The MGB would have a lot to live up to – the MGA was quite simply the most successful sports car of its time, with over 100,000 having been produced by 1962.

The MGB would also prove to be a success – though the extent of its success must have surprised everyone, not least the management at Abingdon at the time. The basic mechanical make-up of the MGB remained pretty much as before, but the structure was completely new. For the first time on an MG roadster (discounting the badge-engineered Midget), the bodyshell was an immensely strong monocoque, very effectively styled by MG’s Don Hayter, with assistance from Pininfarina.

The front suspension and rack and pinion steering were carried over from the MGA, the whole assembly being mounted on a detachable crossmember. Of course, by 1962, this componentry was rather long in the tooth, being derived from that of the 1947 MG YA saloon, which was itself effectively a pre-war design. Not that this mattered, because the set-up had proven to be a delight in the MGA and continued to be so when installed in the MGB.

Under the skin of the MGB

For the rear suspension, various kinds of coil spring arrangements were tried, but in the end the old enemy of cost management won the day, and the traditional arrangement of a live rear axle, sprung and located by simple leaf springs, was employed.

This somewhat agricultural solution was deemed to offer the best overall compromise between cost and effectiveness. The springing rates were much softer than the MGA’s, in order to achieve the comfort and civility the Engineers were chasing.

The MGA’s B-Series engine was enlarged from 1622cc to 1798cc for use in the MGB, and thus provided enough power to offset the extra weight of the heavier monocoque structure. In fact, with a suitable increase in torque as well, the MGB proved to be usefully quicker than its predecessor.

A successful launch

So, at the 1962 London Motor Show, MG wheeled out the new car to considerable praise – and, as they had with the MGA before it, the company made sure that marketing and sales emphasis was placed firmly on the US market. The UK press lauded the car: Motor magazine, for instance, commented that the MGB was a ‘delightful modern sports car with a marked bias towards the ‘grand touring’ character · a pleasure to drive.’

In those days, car magazines tended to be a little more circumspect in their language than they are today but, reading between the lines, it would appear that the road testers saw it more as an inexpensive GT roadster than an out-and-out sports car.

And so it was that the MGB’s long and successful career as the quintessential Englishman’s sports car was born.

Continuous development for the MGB

Although the MGB’s appearance changed little during its long production run, like its stablemate the Mini, the car benefited from a continuous development programme, designed to ensure that it remained not only saleable but competitive.

In 1965, the MGB engine received the five-bearing crank bottom end that had been introduced for the ADO17 saloon cars, which made it slightly more drivable, if a little slower.

Three years after its launch, the MGB was still seen as a highly desirable car: Motor magazine continued to shower praise on the little roadster, citing its ability to cruise ‘effortlessly around the 100mph mark’, still legal on the M1 in these pre-speed restriction days.

The gorgeous coupe emerges

The new to 1965 MGB GT shows off its elegant Pininfarina-designed roofline...
The new to 1965 MGB GT shows off its elegant Pininfarina-designed roofline…

Late that year, the most significant addition to the MG range thus far was made. The MGB GT was a closed coupe version of the roadster, styled in part by Pininfarina – no doubt as a result of their close work with BMC on the range of family cars.

Mechanical changes were limited to the addition of a front anti-roll bar and Salisbury-type rear axle (items which would become standard on the roadster in November 1966 and July 1967 respectively). Okay, so the GT’s rear seats were really only suitable for the smallest of children, but luggage capacity and versatility were vastly improved over the roadster’s.

The GT version of the MGB was certainly seen as a useful upward extension of the range and was justifiably viewed as a ‘poor man’s Aston Martin’, with its handsome styling and excellent (for the time) ride and handling characteristics. However, as always, time was catching up with the MGB and what were seen as quirks back in 1962 – such as the oddly spaced gear ratios, non-sychromesh first gear and optional interior heater – were being viewed as seriously irksome by 1966.

Expanding the range

At the same time, the MGC was launched, in an attempt by BMC to fill the gap in their range left by the demise of the Austin-Healey 3000. (A Healey prototype of the MGC was also prepared, incorporating a bold-looking Healey grille, but was dropped when Donald Healey vetoed the plan, feeling that the ‘C was not a suitable car to be badge-engineered.) This, the first of two attempts by MG to market higher-powered versions of the MGB, was doomed to failure, due to the unsuitability of its engine.

The engine chosen for the MGC was the BMC C-Series, as found in the Austin 3 Litre. What set this application out as being a failure from the start was that the seven-bearing-crank engine was lugubrious in the extreme, being decidedly unwilling to rev.

Moreover, because it was such a heavy, straight-six power unit, it upset the weight distribution of the little car, making it an understeerer of the most determined kind; to make matters worse, the Press cars given to road testers had incorrectly inflated tyres that exaggerated the fault.

Now, it would seem that Abingdon were given incorrect dimensions for the C-Series engine – an amazing mistake, all told – and the planned redesign failed to a degree because of this oversight by Longbridge. So, not an ideal recipe for a sports car, even if it was meant to be a tourer rather than a sportster. Like its Austin 3 Litre cousin, this unsuccessful MG remained in production for only two years, with a total production run of just over 9000.

MGB gets the BLMC look

In 1969, further improvements were made to the MGB, but the cosmetic changes managed to upset the purists, who found the bold looking, recessed plastic grille an affront to the memory of its chrome predecessor. This was the first ‘Leylandised’ MG, but whereas British Leyland merely offered cosmetic improvements, Japanese car producer Nissan offered something completely new – and better – when they launched the similarly priced Datsun 240Z sports car in America.

This car moved the game on significantly, offering Goertz-inspired styling and Austin-Healey 3000 levels of performance. MG had no answer to this new threat and, as a result, the Datsun 240Z became the fastest-selling sports car in US history.

In fact, in order to meet the ever-tightening federal emission laws, later MGBs were sold in detoxed form and could only muster 82bhp from their ‘clean’ B-Series engines, which saddled the car with less-than-adequate performance (0-60mph in 18seconds and 90mph maximum speed).

How to replace the MGB?

Needless to say, British Leyland politics began to bite, and the company’s management team, led by ex-Triumph man Donald Stokes, began to make their presence felt. The problems were deep-rooted, as the company had no ‘clean’ four-pot engine to use in the MGB – a laughable situation when one considers that BMC had as much notice of these impending laws as any other car company.

Obviously, throughout the 1960s, BMC had been concentrating on expanding its capacity and becoming a world leader in the car producing stakes, but the MGB was a massive export success for them, and to take their eye off the ball in their biggest market was a criminal mistake.

Although these mistakes were attributable to the management team of a previous regime, Stokes nevertheless compounded the problems by making new mistakes of his own. The first of these came in 1968, when he pulled the plug on the development of a replacement for the MGB, the EX234 – a pretty, front-engined car styled by Pininfarina (as were most of the successful BMC products).

The arrival of the Corporate Sports Car

In 1970, when British Leyland embarked on the development of a new, corporate sports car, tailored as much for export markets as for the UK, it was decided that it would use a Triumph engine and be designed by Austin’s Head of Styling, Harris Mann. This car, the TR7, would live for barely six years, compared with the MGB’s run of eighteen years.

When the first major reorganisation of British Leyland was undertaken in 1971, the company’s car producers were split up into Austin-Morris and the Specialist Car Division (Jaguar, Rover and Triumph).

It can only have come as a major blow to the MG management at Abingdon that they were not incorporated in the latter division: unlike Triumph, who produced a range that included medium-sized saloons, MG produced only sports cars at this time, surely giving them “specialist” status? Not in Donald Stokes’ eyes, it seems.

Adding a V8 to the MGB…

A 1972 Ken Costello MGB V8 conversion, as tested by AUTOCAR in May 1972. British Leyland wasn't best pleased with the conversion, but had already decided to build its own version. Note the bonnet bulge. (Picture: Ian Nicholls)
A 1972 Ken Costello MGB V8 conversion, as tested by Autocar in May 1972. British Leyland wasn’t best pleased with the conversion, but had already decided to build its own version. Note the bonnet bulge. (Picture: Ian Nicholls)

Be that as it may, the MGB continued to be produced in large numbers during and after the Stokes years, but as an Austin-Morris offshoot, MG was now neglected in the most blatant way. No replacement for the MGB was forthcoming, and development of the existing car was limited to keeping it appealing in the marketplace and profitable for the company.

One such development came in response to the strong demand for a more powerful MGB, a demand that the MGC had failed so spectacularly to meet. Independent tuning firms, particularly that of Ken Costello, had long since been making a tidy living by fitting Rover V8 engines into the MGB.

In retrospect it seems amazing that after the 1968 merger which saw MG and Rover become part of the same company, it still took five years to get a V8-engined MGB into production, in the form of the MGB GT V8 (a roadster version was never officially produced).

The MGB GT V8: sports car go…

Unlike the C-Series engine of the standard MGC, Rover’s Buick-based aluminium V8 was a compact and light unit, perfectly suited to its sports car role. Performance was excellent (0-60mph in 8.5 seconds, 125mph maximum speed), certainly enough to see off the all-conquering Datsun 240Z, but due to the kind of mismanagement that was rife within the company, the GT V8 was never sold in the US – surely a monstrously bad decision.

Somewhat questionably, BLMC also chose to install the low-compression version of the V8 engine, which delivered 137bhp, as opposed to the more acceptable 143bhp of the premium version, as found in the Rover P6B. Furthermore, the car was launched just as the effects of the 1973 Oil Crisis began to bite deeply – any V8-powered car was going to be seen as a bad thing when the national speed limit had been dropped to 50mph and petrol queues were once more a fact of life.

Still, things could get worse – and worse they got the following year, when British Leyland rolled out the ‘federalised’ version of the MkII MGB, resplendent with huge, 5mph-impact absorbing rubber bumpers and raised ride height to comply with the new US impact laws. It wasn’t until 1977 that the MGB was once again made to handle well, when rear anti-roll bars were fitted in order to counteract the effects of the raised ride height.

Dropped after less than two years

The MGB GT V8 is often viewed as the optimum MGB (to date), with its smooth, torquey engine and excellent road manners. The 3.5-litre engine truly felt at home in this car, which makes it all the more surprising to learn that it took five years from the formation of BLMC for this car to enter production.

A year later, the V8 model was quietly dropped – there was simply no demand for it in the UK, and the Ford Capri 3000 did everything the MGB GT V8 could do, but at a lower cost and with much greater practicality and, arguably, better styling. Moreover, supplies of the ex-Buick engine were tight in the run-up to the launch of the Rover SD1, so the new executive saloon would have to take precedence over the MGB.

The final insult for MG with regard to the V8 model came when the Oxfordshire police force (Abingdon is in their manor) stopped using it in favour of the V6-engined Ford Capri. In the end, 2591 V8s were sold, but this figure could – and should – have been much, much higher. If only the GT V8 had been launched back in 1967, instead of the MGC…

MGB: the decline begins

By the end of the Seventies, the MGB was being compared with some very competent sports cars.
By the end of the 1970s, the MGB was being compared with some very competent sports cars

After that, the MGB, along with the Midget, was left to wither and die. As What Car? magazine concluded in its 1979 road test of the MGB GT, ‘The MGB has long been the butt of countless saloon-bar jokes and the object of derision in the motoring press. We feel, nevertheless, that it has appeals besides those of tradition and its much-vaunted period charm – it is cheap to buy and run and is surprisingly comfortable for two people even though time has clearly passed it by in terms of performance and interior design.’ So obviously, the MG’s charms were not lost, even in the face of the increasingly sophisticated opposition.

When the UK economy suffered the ravages of an international recession and terrible inflation in the mid-to-late 1970s, the exchange rates brought about such pressure that it became impossible to sell UK-manufactured cars in the US at a reasonable price and still make a profit.

Of course, the US prices of MGs had to be kept at a reasonable level in order to maintain sales, but BL claimed that, as a result of the currency crisis that followed the election of the Conservative Government in 1979, they were losing £900 on each MGB sold in America. It is debatable whether this figure was strictly true, because of internal component sharing, but it was nevertheless used as an argument to justify the actions that BL’s Chairman and Managing Director, Michael Edwardes, felt were necessary.

Letting it whither on the vine

A 1978 press photograph: This MGB GT incorporated polyurethane bumpers and British Leyland badges, which were despised by MG purists worldwide. This profile view shows just how clean the Pininfarina-modified GT design looked, and why this version was still justifiably popular, even after the launch of the Triumph TR7.
A 1978 press photograph: this MGB GT incorporated polyurethane bumpers and British Leyland badges, which were despised by MG purists worldwide. This profile view shows just how clean the Pininfarina-modified GT design looked, and why this version was still justifiably popular, even after the launch of the Triumph TR7
Late model MGB GT interior shows a no-nonsense approach... the stripy seats were very much of their time
Late model MGB GT interior shows a no-nonsense approach… The stripy seats were very much of their time

In fact, Edwardes would prove to be as guilty of misunderstanding MG as Stokes had been before him. MG had been forced to lose a major part of its identity under Derek Whittaker and, although Edwardes was conscious of this, he refused to include Abingdon or the MG marque in any future BL policy documents.

This had a predictable effect on the already demoralised Abingdon workforce, who always felt that since the advent of the Ryder Report and the subsequent appearance of Triumph as the corporate sports car marque, their own factory’s days were numbered.

It therefore came as no surprise, with all that was going wrong within BL at the time, that Michael Edwardes made the decision to close the Abingdon factory, thereby bringing to a halt the production of all MG cars.

Closing Abingdon

A sad day: The 23rd October 1980 and the last MGB roadster comes off the production line. Flanking the car are on the left Syd Enever and John Thornley.
A sad day: 23 October 1980 and the last MGB roadster comes off the production line. Flanking the car are on the left Syd Enever and John Thornley

Actually, the announcement of closure was subject to another unbelievably insensitive and badly timed decision. September 1979 marked the 50th anniversary of MG Cars, and BL celebrated the event very publicly, lauding the company for all its achievements, such as the successes at Le Mans, sales in the US and the fantastic industrial relations enjoyed by the Abingdon workforce.

The residents of Abingdon saw celebrations the like of which they had never seen before, including the flying-in of 150 US MG dealers and their families – invited in recognition of their outstanding achievements in selling the car across the Atlantic.

The week-long celebration culminated on Sunday, 9 September in a carnival through the streets of Abingdon, and was rightly viewed as a grand event that managed to lift the spirits of all involved with MG at the time.

A case of terrible timing

The very next day, Edwardes made public the plans for BL to close the MG factory by June 1980, and to stop production of the MGB and Midget. Vague promises were made regarding the future of the marque but, in essence, the workers and their families were given a right-royal kick in the teeth by the management that they had served so well, unlike their counterparts in Cowley, Longbridge, Solihull and Speke.

Michael Edwardes has since stated that his one main regret while running BL was to underestimate totally the strength of feeling associated with MG and his handling of the factory’s closure. This may be so – and, for Edwardes to admit to any mistake, must be seen as a rare event – but it does not excuse the absolute humiliation that the MG workforce suffered at his hands: the basic lack of briefing by advisers is something that should not have been allowed to happen, when he was responsible for the running of such a large and important company.

One can only assume that, in planning the date of the closure announcement, the American head of Jaguar-Rover-Triumph (JRT), William Pratt-Thompson, pencilled in 10 September while blissfully unaware of the celebrations due to be held on the previous day. This probably came about because MG had only been brought into the JRT fold in July 1979 and Pratt-Thompson had not been fully briefed on the MG situation at this point.

Aston-MGB: the failed revival

Aston-Martin MGB? This makeover of the MGB was sympathetically completed and shown to the press by the consortium that intended to take over the company and continue where BL left off. Minor changes gave the MGB a more up-to-date appearance, and its O-series power unit was an interesting choice, as MG had initially embarked on the development of this engine at Abingdon many years before.
Aston-Martin MGB? This makeover of the MGB was sympathetically completed and shown to the press by the consortium that intended to take over the company and continue where BL left off. Minor changes gave the MGB a more up-to-date appearance, and its O-Series power unit was an interesting choice, as MG had initially embarked on the development of this engine at Abingdon many years before

A consortium of businessmen, led by Alan Curtis of Aston Martin Lagonda, negotiated with BL in order to buy the Abingdon factory and the MG marque – they actually got as far as issuing pictures of their facelifted MGB prototype and talking of future model plans.

Curtis had begun dealing with BL in October 1979, but the lengthy talks had proven unsatisfactory – it all looked rather forlorn. Edwardes himself had doubts about the ability of this group to raise the required £30 million in order to buy the facility – and the MG name – from BL.

These plans were scuppered when BL management suddenly recognised the value of the brand and restricted the sale to the production facility alone, which of course would have left Curtis with nothing but an outmoded factory. The deal quickly fell through after that and the factory was left to become derelict – a sad end to the Abingdon story. As events transpired, Aston Martin Lagonda soon fell into their own financial crisis and nearly went bankrupt.

Conclusion: the mistreated, honourable car

These were bad years for BL, and especially so for their sports cars, exacerbated by the neglect of MG, the failure of the Triumph Stag and TR7, and the company’s inability to launch a direct replacement for the Jaguar E-type. However, what makes the MGB story all the more lamentable is the fact that Leyland had an undoubted success on its hands, a car that gave the entire company a higher profile in the world’s biggest car market; yet a succession of ‘dynamic’ managers allowed the car – and the marque – to die.

So, who were the culprits? Well, the BMC management, because it was looking elsewhere (at how to achieve their ambition to grow into a million-a-year company); Stokes, because of his Triumph bias and his misunderstanding of the sports car market; and Edwardes, because he saw sports cars as being frivolous, and a side-issue to running a car company (although it has to be acknowledged that he inherited a mess from his predecessors).

However, MG did not quite die, but was left on life support until the arrival of the new MG RV8 in 1992.

The RV8 was developed by Rover Special Products, using the new Heritage produced shells and Rover V8 engines.
The RV8 was developed by Rover Special Products, using the new Heritage produced shells and Rover V8 engines

With thanks to David Jacobs for his contributions to this article.
Proofed by Declan Berridge

Keith Adams


  1. First time I have ever heard it suggested that the Capri had better styling than the BGT !! Those of us who were around at the time would have guffawed uncontrollably at this idea . That having been said, the later attempt at the Capri was much better looking than the 1969 idea

  2. As someone that has owned several MGBs over the years, the earliest being a 1966, and the last was a 1978 anniversary edition. I have enjoyed everyone of them.

    It would be nice if some company, picked up all the molds so that anyone wanting to own a classic sports car could buy it and restore it to original looks, if not to function.

    Are there any records showing where the 9000 MGC cars were sold?

    I must agree with Christopher Story, I’ve owned both brands in that time and there is no way I would consider a Capri in the same class as an MGB.

  3. While reading up on many of the engines that were trialled in the MGB from the 2.0 O-Series and 2.4 B-Series 6-cylinder to the Daimler or Coventry Climax V8s, why wasn’t the 1750-2600cc E-Series engines ever considered as a replacement to the aging B-Series engines?

  4. MG died through neglect. By the late seventies even a 1.6 Cortina could keep up with an MGB and the car range was seen as very old fashioned and unable to compete with cars like the Fiat X 1/9 and bigger engined Capris. Ideally the MGB should have been totally refreshed in the mid seventies with a five speed gearbox and an E series engine and the Midget given a hike in power.

    • I’m afraid you need to thank Mr King and his SD1 for that. Part of the ADO77 project was an MGB replacement. But the SD1 ate all the money, the ADO77 was mothballed, morphed into TM2, then quietly died. With it went the proposed Austin, Morris, Triumph, and MG, derivatives that would have come of the common platform.

      • As interesting as the Aussie E6 Marinas or alleged Triumph V8-engined version?

        In all seriousness if the 2.5-litre Daimler V8 was indeed considered for the Marina, why was it considered over the Rover V8 and why did they not enlarge the Daimler V8 to an updated 3-litre version (given the 4.5-litre V8 was uprated to 5-litres for potential use by Jaguar)?

        Also what prevented the Daimler V8 from being used in the MGB given it was considered at one point before the Rover V8 became the obvious choice?

        Were such a thing possible it would have been interesting seeing the Daimler V8 be used for the Triumph TR6, Triumph Dolomite or even the Triumph Stag (so the Triumph V8 could be properly developed into something resembling the related Saab V8).

        • I’m afraid you’d really need to find one of the powertrain guys to answer you. From what I recall, there was there was an internal issue with Marina intruding into what was perceived as Rover markets with a bigger, faster, product. Maybe that was the reason?

          • Possibly. Perhaps the 3.5 Rover V8 would have been available for non-Rover models had Rover produced the 4.0-4.4+ Rover V8s (with Quad-Cams, Multi-valves and Fuel-Injection) intended for the P8?

            The only other potential V8 alternatives would either be a hypothetical E-V8 or another V8 design derived from Alec Issigonis’s all-alloy 3.5 Alvis V8 for the Alvis TA/350 project (albeit properly developed at BMC).

  5. We recently purchased a 1980 MG MGB made in late 1979 by BL Cars, England. Does anyone know how we could go about finding out how many were produced that year?

  6. Hi, very interesting history. I’ve just purchased an MGB Roadster, first registered May 1970, am loving it but it is in need of a lot of attention. I’m confused though because I’m told it should have headrests and it hasn’t. I bought some chrome alloy window winders and then found it needed the plastic ones to fit the mechanism. I’m kind of wondering what’s going on have I bought a duff car or is it that in 1970 there where a number of changes to detail that I’m bumping up against?? Is there any particular feature that would confirm what year car I have and that would steer my restoration choice of parts.

  7. Since Austin-Healey and even Aston-Martin versions of the MGB/MGC were considered at various points in the MGB’s production run, would an MGB/MG-derived car have ever worked as a Jensen with similar styling to the Jensen Interceptor (prior to the Jensen-Healey)?

    Jensen did develop the Jensen 504 prototype, which remarkably resembled the later MGA (otherwise unknown whether the two projects were related or used similar components).

  8. I know the Austin A40 Sports had it’s body built by Jensen, & their cars at the time looked liked a scaled up version, complete with a 3993cc “D” series engine.

  9. Richard16378

    Perhaps an MGC-derived Jensen Junior-Interceptor could have been widened by 6-inches for either large inline-4 or inline-6 engines, similar to what was done to get the Rolls-Royce FB60 Inline-6 into the Austin-Healey 3000?

    Since both the MGB/MGC and Austin-Healey 3000 shared the same width prior to the latter being widened by 6-inches to the Austin-Healey / Rolls-Healey 4000.

    Compared to the existing C-Series engined MGC, the FB60-powered Junior-Interceptor would gain 25+ hp and shed 100lbs on the engine alone.

    The FB60 would have been a mere 30lbs heavier than the C-Series had the latter received its weight loss target of 175lbs instead of only losing 45lbs

  10. Agreed though the C-Series engine did have potential to become a lighter more powerful engine, if not quite reaching the same heights as a 268-300+ hp Twin-Cam version of the Rolls-Royce FB60 engine in terms of power.

  11. The MGA was replaced after 7 years with a largely new replacement

    Sadly much BMC’s model range from the mid 60s fossilised. Imagine if instead of the Maxi and E series engine (which wasn’t needed) they’d done a Marina type car with better (but still conventional) suspension, upgraded the B series engine to make it US compatible, then produced a new MGD from this conventional platform…

    • Largely agree with the B-Series converted to Fuel-Injected 1.6-2.0-litre B-OHC units (before the tooling was completely worn out), while also featuring either all-independent conventional suspension or hydrolastic / hydragas suspension.

      • A conventional but more modern RWD platform would have been a very useful asset to BMC in the late 60s, say coils all round with a better located live axle. Maybe the replacement for the MGB GT could have been made a bit bigger than the roadster, to provide of a rival to the Capri and 240Z as well.

        Incidentally, would the E6 have fitted in the MGB?

        • Perhaps the modern RWD platform could be have also been downscaled to spawn Escort and sub-Escort variants to compliment the Issiginois FWD trio.

          Thereby allowing the latter to take Issigonis’s space efficiency to its logical conclusion by spawning hatchbacks from the outset, enabling BMC to feature profitable RWD saloon options for people scared off by the complexities of FWD as well as to eat into the sales of the RWD competition and compensate for the initial lack of money the FWD trio made.

          Basically somewhat similar to what Fiat (RWD) and Autobianchi (FWD) did with Morris playing the role of Fiat and Austin being a much more mainstream equivalent of Autobianchi.

          Not sure how to feel about making an MGB replacement into a larger Capri / 240Z rival, can see the the logic on the one hand yet the current MGB (along with other BMC cars) has a not fully exploited appeal as a potential production restomod car akin to the recently discontinued Land Rover Defender (think MG RV8 GT with better suspension).

          Quite like the idea of MG developing a small RWD rival to the Toyota AE86, where that leaves EX234, ADO34-36 or ADO21 is another matter.

          It is definitely strange that an E6 MGB was never considered whereas the Aussie Marina featured a 2.6 E6 variant, maybe the 2.2 E6 was viewed as pointless given it would have likely been heavier and underpowered compared to a 2.0 B-Series / B-OHC / O-Series? With only the 2.4-2.6 E6 engines having any potential in terms of power.

          • To me, if you have a 2 seater roadster, then create a fixed head 2+2 fastback version, which was a big success, it seems logical to make the replacement fastback version a bit longer, to make it the related “practical” version, and a better rival to the Capri (launched in January 69).

            I don’t know how well the tall E6 would have fitted, but to me it’s a sign of the weird planning of the era that you’d introduce a new range of engines, but not replace the B series engine in any of the existing cars!

          • The MG fastback 4-seater Capri rival does not have to necessarily be conceived as a direct MGB GT replacement though, especially if the Marina type cars spawn MG Magnette saloon variants from which such a car could be developed from (as well as coexist alongside related 2-seater convertible / coupe and 2+2 coupe MGB replacements).

            Aside from the related 1.6 S-Series (compared to the 1.6 B-Series / 1.7 O-Series) and 2.6 (along with prototype 2.4) E6 engines, cannot really see the point of the E-Series since the A-Series and B-Series engines proved in retrospect to have plenty of life left (and further unexploited potential).

            Sure the E-Series was intended to replace the A/B/C-Series engines (and potentially capable of spawning 3-cylinder and V8 variants), however it was poorly executed with no possibility for developing 2-litre E4 / 3-litre E6 engines, while the 1.3 E4 could not compete with the 1275cc A-Series.

            BMC would probably have been better off further developing the A/B/C-Series engines or at least replacing the C-Series with the Duncan Stuart designed narrow-angle V6.

  12. The answer to Nate’s query about using the Daimler V8 in the MGB is almost certainly that the Daimler is significantly wider than either the Rover or the Stag V8 was. Unfortunately I have now sold my MGB so cannot go and measure , but the Daimler is much wider than the other V8s at the top because of its hemispherical heads and cross pushrod arrangement and is quite a tight squeeze even in the Jaguar mark 2 bodyshell ( the exhaust manifolds are the limiting factor ) . I have examples of both the Daimler and the Rover so I can measure them if anyone is interested

    • Definitely interested, curious to how much extra width it would have entailed had the Daimler V8 been considered for the MGB or Big Healey compared to the Rover V8 as well as the Roll-Royce FB60 (the latter requiring an extra 6-inches in width).

  13. In the Marina, the E 1.750 had both weight and power advantages over the 1.8 B. The E6 would definitely have been more powerful, and the weight penalty would have been fairly marginal. The benefits compared to a 2 LT O/B might not be so clear cut, but there was no such engine to put in to the B until the late 70s while the E6 could have gone in much earlier. The E4 in the late 60’s and the E6 by 1970.

    • An earlier 106 hp 1998cc B-Series prototype engine dating back to 1964-1965 (though have read of much earlier 2-litre B-Series units) was produced by BMC engine-man Stan Johnson that featured siamesed cylinder bores and offset conrods in order to use the existing 1.2/1.5-litre cylinder block, yet BMC in their “wisdom” did not considered it a clever enough update of the original B-Series engine to warrant serious consideration.

      A prototype 2.0 B-OHC meanwhile put out around 112-115 hp, while the 2.0 O-Series was capable of putting out 127 hp and even belatedly intended for the MGB at one point until it was abandoned. Both the 2.0 B-Series and 2.0 B-OHC were roughly equivalent to the 2.2 E6 engine in terms of power, with fuel-injection for the former two even possibility allowing for further power increases.

      A Downton-tuned 106+ hp 1750cc E4 might have worked for the MGB when compared to the existing 1.8 B-Series (and even matching the 2.0 B-Series), though such an engine (along with a 1.6) would have been more suited for EX234. It was also not capable of being reliably bored out to beyond 1803cc at most and the MGB (along with arguably ADO17) lost out in latter years due to the lack of a full 2-litre engine.

      The E6 meanwhile was not capable of being bored out beyond 2.6-2.7-litres despite allegedly having scope for as much as 3050cc (though cannot find a valid source to verify whether the latter is true), with tuning by Downton would have certainly helping matters yet doubt it would have made the 2.2 E6 a a superior alternative to the 2-litre O/M/T-Series engines.

  14. IIRC The B-series was approved for use in the USA, & mechanics there weren’t used to working on OHC engines, which might explain why it wasn’t replaced in the MGB.

  15. A sad case of a car being left to die, with a workforce that never went on strike, while millions were wasted on the TR7 in a factory that was so strike prone British Leyland had to close it down. I often wonder if instead of the Triumph TR7, British Leyland ploughed the money into upgrading the MGB, which had a bigger following in America. An E6 MGB, as has been pointed out above, could have been a very nice car with a useful hike in power.

    • The B was to have been replaced by MG28. This died along with the rest of ADO77, after the SD1 disaster. At that point, MG sports cars were effectively finished.

      • Was MG28 the codename the MG version of ADO77 was developed under prior to being canned or are you referring to the ADO28 Marina-based Condor project?

        • I’ve no real knowledge of Condor, it was before my time. I was referring to the ADO77 based product. There were intended to be several products on the ADO77 platform, MG28 was one of them.

          • I see, aside from the MG28 MGB replacement what other products were to be based on the ADO77 platform aside from the Marina and smaller MG Midget replacements (the latter both mentioned in the ADO77 article)?

  16. Not sure how accurate Don Hayter’s book is as in it he mentions a heavy 2-litre “Austin” engine presumably the inline-4 C-Series project, yet a hypothetical C-Series inline-4 would either weigh roughly the same as the existing 1.8 B-Series in original form (with both still slightly heavier compared to the Rover V8) or be significantly lighter in both revised C-Series (20kg lighter) and revised C-Series original weight target (80kg lighter) forms.

    Understand it is not always the case that creating a smaller engine derived from a larger engine would mean the resulting engine is significantly lighter, since the 2-cylinder A-Series prototype unit for example was only said to have been 30lb lighter then the existing 4-cylinder engine.

    Yet it was possible for the 2-litre inline-4 C-Series prototype unit to be put on a similar weight reduction program as the larger revised C-Series 6-cylinder engine.

    Not sure though where the B-Series 6-cylinder “Blue Streak” engine stands though as some say it was heavier then the C-Series, while others say it was significantly lighter and more compact.

  17. By the late seventies, the MGB was seriously outclassed, Fiat’s very attractive answer, the X 1/9, was stealing sales it was far more modern and faster, then there was internal competition from the TR7, and sports coupes from Ford, Opel, Datsun and Toyota were both faster and sometimes cheaper. 100 mph by 1978 just wasn’t good enough for the market, considering a 2 litre Capri did 108 mph and the TR7 could do 113 flat out.

    • The internal competition from the TR7 could have been reduced to some degree had the EX234 (or a TR7/ADO21-styled equivalent) been approved given it was conceived as a midway replacement for both the MGB and Midget (plus Spitfire).

      There still would have been the issue of the EX234 and TR7 featuring 2-litre 4-cylinder O-Series and Slant-4 engines respectively, though that could be resolved with the adoption of the E-Series 4-cylinder engines (or BL could resolve things in a more convoluted way by having EX234 instead feature 1.5 Triumph SC and 1.7 O-Series units above the 1.3 A-Series).

      • Problem was by the late seventies, MG was producing old fashioned cars with poor performance and ruined styling. The TR7 at least looked up to date, its top speed of 113 mph was very good for 1979, and quality was coming good. I still reckon if the Rover V8 was fitted as an option over here and the 2 litre version gained fuel injection, this would have been the way forward.

        • That may have been the case though in the same way Bullet became the TR7 after adopting the Harris Mann styling, EX234 could have also received a similar restyle / rebody and be repurposed as a Midget / Spitfire replacement.

          Agree with the TR7 featuring the Rover V8 as an option from the outset along with the 2-litre adopting fuel-injection, though wonder whether the latter in 105-127 hp form (or to be more generous roughly 135-150 hp via fuel-injection) would have really been a rung above a 105-127+ hp 2-litre O-Series powered EX234 compared to a TR7 featuring a production version of the 120-170 hp 2204cc twin-cam 16-valve fuel-injected P6-derived engine.

          At least a TR7 with the 2204cc twin-cam 16-valve P6-derived unit would have reduced overlap with a production O-Series powered EX234 in terms of both displacement and power, unlike the 2-litre Slant-4 despite Saab developing distantly related 2.1-2.3-litre Slant-4s.

      • Nate, as much as you know I agree about optimising E-series, I doubt if it could ever have been used in a sportscar. Even in bored-out form as the works 1.915 cc (or a related 2 liter E4, if that could have been built reliably in production form), it would have been very much undersquare c.q. longstroke, so a relatively low-revving engine because of high pistonspeeds. Furthermore, I assume neither E-series nor the Slant 4 could have been produced in sufficient numbers to cater for all BLMC’s needs without considerabel additional investment.
        Wouldn’t you theferore agree that optimal rationalisation in the short to medium term would have been optimising both, E-series for Austin-Morris (plus E6 for some Rovers and perhaps Triumphs) and Slant 4 for the specialist division, thereby avoiding the need to develop O-series and PE164/166, and eventually replacing them both with one new engine family of 4s and 6s (plus possibly 3s, 5s and 8s)?

        • If the E-Series became BL’s version of the VW EA827 as some believe it could have become (albeit with major redesigns early on during development and minus the displacement limitations) then of course (despite it leading to the survival of the A-Series), however am not a fan of existing the E-Series beyond the potential of a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder / 2.4-litre 6-cylinder and do not believe the E-Series as it is could adequately replace every engine even if scaled up and down (e.g. 1.2 3-cylinder, 1.6 4-cylinder, 2.0 5-cylinder, 2.4 6-cylinder and 3.2 V8).

          As for the Triumph Slant-4, for all its unexploited potential it is quite telling that Triumph were actually considering replacing it with a 4-cylinder version of PE146/PE166 during the SD2 project.

          Would probably go for the following engine rationalisation as things currently stand.

          A-Series – South African spec with 970-1275cc and OHC
          E-Series – 1.6-1.75-litre 4-cylinder and 2.4-2.6-litre 6-cylinder ideally S-Series spec with Downton tuning and dieselized variants (would see if further stretch was available for 1.8 4-cylinder and 2.7 6-cylinder)
          O-Series – 1.8-2.0-litre 4-cylinder and 2.7-3.0-litre 6-cylinder (lower displacement versions dependent on if 1797cc E-Series and related 6-cylinder is a failure)
          Rover V8 – includes 2.8-litre Redcap and dieselized variants along with if necessary a V6

          The Triumph PE164/166’s role is replaced by E-Series and O-Series 6-cylinder engines, meanwhile the 2-litre O-Series supersedes the 2-litre Slant-4 as was even considered during the TR7 production run (as well as during the Broadside project).

          While hardly ideal it seems to make the most sense and one could even argue for the E-Series to be stillborn in favor of an O-Series 4/6-cylinder with displacements of 1.6-2.0 and 2.4-3.0, rationalizing down the engines to 3 (with the Rover V8 spawning V6 variants for FWD applications in event the O6 cannot be used for FWD).

          • Ah, what IF E-series would have been stillborn 🙂

            First: my assumption with most of my What if’s is that we consider them from the moment of BLMC’s formation, early in 1968. At that time the engine itself had been signed off for production and its factory would have been mostly completed, tooling ordered. That is a lot of money to be stillborn, so propably not a realistic option.

            However, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose it would indeed have been stillborn. Then the basic midsized engine options would have been reduced to two: Slant Four and B. The latter was proven but getting old and in need of updating. Also, its tooling was wearing, as BL found out later when new tooling had to be ordered for the O-series.
            The former was a modern design with a lot of potential, as proven later by Saab. It wasn’t cheap, but that had probably to do (at least in part) with the limited numbers in which it was produced, making the fixed costs per unit rather high.

            What if BL had NOT ordered E-series tooling yet? Then they could have accelerated optimisation of Slant 4 in cooperation with Saab, as suggested by you elsewhere, perhaps in 1.6 and 2.0 liter 4s and related 2.4 and 3.0 Slant 6s (as well as a 4.0 V8), and ordered tooling to produce it in the required numbers at Cofton Hackett. Then it might have achieved economies of scale, neither O-series nor PE would have been needed and resources could have been used to develop an additional small engine (3 and 4 cylinder) to eventually succeed A-series.

            One question: would Slant 4 have fitted sideways in FWD cars? Any thoughts on that??

          • Apparently the Slant-4 was mounted transversely in the 9000 (which was a wide car) and was later significantly redesigned so it could fit into the 900 NG, which likely explains why the Slant-4 never powered the Lancia Delta-derived Saab 600.

            There are questions as to whether the Slant-4 could be converted to diesel (unlike the O-Series) and allegedly the Saab H engine adopted improvements BL could not afford to implement, also the engine was only designed as a Slant-4 / V8 with the development of a Slant-6 likely to prove quite costly compared to a 90-degree V6.

            Have doubts Triumph could properly exploit the potential of the Slant-4 / V8 in the same way Saab managed to do, even if they collaborated with Saab there is a lack of 6-cylinder and diesel variants.

            All things considered, prefer the 4 engine options despite it being less then ideal though a properly developed EA827-style E-Series would have reduced the engine options down to 2 along with the A-Series (despite EA827-derived 3-cylinder petrols and diesels being tested in Wartburgs – 1191cc petrol and Trabants – 1103cc diesel).

            While the A-Series itself could have been replaced by properly developed (K-Series precursor) EA111-style Issigonis 9X engines.

            Maybe an independent Leyland Motors composed of Triumph and Jaguar / Daimler that collaborates with Saab would allow the Slant-4 / V8 to truly shine, especially given Jaguar’s own issues with developing a suitable V8 (and reluctance to use / develop the Daimler V8).

            Otherwise cannot see the Slant-4 being a suitable engine to adopt across the BL range compared to the O-Series (despite the latter being forced to carry over the B-Series crankshaft), so will have to agree to disagree.

          • Sorry for the delay, but you made some good points again about Slant 6 and diesels. Agree to disagree, I’ll return to my first ideas then, to spend the money available not on enlarging production capacity of either engine, but on improving both E-series (for Austins and Morrises, in 4 and 6 cylinder versions, possibly a 5 and diesels as well) and Slant 4 for Triumphs and Rovers. Development would in my vision have happened in a common BLMC Powertrain Department that would have been set up early in 1968, to -efficiently- get the best from all available expertise, regardless where the starting point came form, and to end tribal wars as soon as possbible…

  18. The real big shame was the lack of success and bad timing for the MGB V8, which was a real bruiser of a car and gave the MGB a real lift in performance.

    • Would have to agree, perhaps the MGB would have benefited from a 2.8-litre Redcap version of the Rover V8 without having to be significantly detuned as was the case with the existing MGB V8 and Triumph TR8.

      It is fascinating how many engines could have powered the MGB from 2-litre B / B-OHC, 2.4+ “Blue Streak” 6-cylinder B-Series, 2-litre C-Series 4-cylinder, properly-develop C-Series 6-cylinder (instead of what went into the MGC), narrow angle 2-litre V4 / 3-litre V6 and whatever the Healeys wanted to power their Austin-Healey version of the MGC (e.g. Big Healey 100-derived 2.5 D-Series twin-cam 4-cylinder, 2.4 “Blue Streak” or 2.5 Coventry Climax CFA V8).

      • They ended up being stuck with an elderly B series engine that the rest of British Leyland pensioned off in 1978. I’m sure there were so many better engines that could have been used, as has been pointed out above, but by then. MG was considered marginal and not part of Edwardes survival plan. You have to realise Leyland needed to capture the mass market back from Ford and this was more important.

        • The list of possible engines extends from during the MGB’s development up to them trying to get the O-Series MGB into production by which point it was indeed too late.

          Do not see the needs of MG with the MGB and the rest of the mainstream car range as being mutually exclusive, at minimum the B-Series could have grown straight from a 1.6 to a 2-litre in the early-1960s instead of to a 1.8 B-Series and the mainstream cars from BMC to BL onwards would have certainly benefited from a 2-litre B-Series (especially when the Cortina grew to a 2-litre with the mk3).

          Admittingly some of the engines would have only limited applicability to certain cars and in a few instances could have appeared much earlier, yet a few of the engines do have value in being utilized for mainstream cars.

  19. Aside from a 5-speed gearbox (planned for the unbuilt O-Series version and later used in the RV8). One of the things the MGB could have benefited from would be independent rear suspension via Coil Spring with Watts Linkage, understand the Watts Linkage was dropped on grounds of cost in favour of the cheaper Panhard Rod that turned out to be too-short and prompted them to revert back to a more MGA type rear-suspension arrangement.

    Would have also been worthwhile seeing such a suspension arrangement fitted to an alternate mk3/mk4 Magnette in order to atomize costs (albeit using an Oxford Series III-based Farina B as a starting point).

    • I always wondered why they left it as it was. Could they not re-engineered the back end at a later date? Instead we got the EX234 project. Doesn’t make sense why just after you launch your new model do you go and plan to spend millions on replacing it, when all it needed was improving? I think BMC showed how clueless they were, as they left bread and butter models to go on but wasted loads on replacing the Healey and mg range without delivering them.

      If the EX234 had an Austin champ back end adapted with hydrolastic, why could they not done that for the B? Or why could the live axle sorted it with a proper designed panhard rod, which Frontline have done with the LE50?

      • Cannot Say. Possibly some combination of cost constraints and time of the project vs what was available in the cupboard (e.g. the too short Panhard Rod), the growing influence of Issigonis (after Gerald Palmer left) as well as the senseless neglect of MG by higher-ups at a time when they needed to improve their presence at the higher end of the market (and had no other marques with suitable brand recognition in export markets)?

        Perhaps the people at MG were initially unsure about hydrolastic prior to EX234 or did not have time to properly explore it during the MGB project in the rush to get the car into production?

        The extra cost of the Coil Spring with Watts linkage or properly-designed Frontline-style Panhard Rod for the rear suspension during development, together with at minimum a 2-litre B-Series would have definitely improved matters for the MGB.

  20. Been reading Oliver Winterbottoms book,A life in car design. In there is his bertone Concorso Grifo d’Oro silver prize winning drawing, which would have been perfect as a new mg. It looks like a cross between a Datsun 240z and a Maxda RX7, and was in 66, after BMC had “merged” with Jaguar. Another missed opportunity.

    • Also have Oliver Winterbottom’s book, perhaps his proposal could have been used to rebody a production EX234 or less likely a rebodied MGC (with redeveloped platform) to both give it a suitable look for the 70s as well as help differentiate it (in the case of the latter)?

      It is also interesting to note the long production lives of the styling and platforms for both the Z-Car (S30 to Z31) and Mazda F platform had up to the late-80s to early-90s, the latter even served as the basis for the Mazda MX-5’s NA / NB platforms from the late-80s to mid-00s.

      There is no certainty the EX234 platform possessed similar capability of a long production run beyond being inevitability converted to Hydragas or opting for a more conventional all-independent suspension layout (possibly like the later MG TF from MG F), yet it could have given the company a suitable front-engined RWD platform for a small sportscar.

      • With jag on board we could have had a daimler 2.5 v8, using the winterbottom style and revised b platform with independent suspension, it could have given BL the car to take on the z cars in the US

        • Based on a picture of the B-derived MG-Daimler in Brian Long’s Daimler V8 S.P 250: New Edition book on the Daimler SP 250 V8 as well as another coloured image in David Knowles’s MG V8 Volume 8 book (some online pages from the books can be found on Google under “MGB Daimler V8 51A”), it would have had an even bigger bonnet bulge than the MGC along with other compromises and practicalities that would have made it an unviable alternative to a Rover V8 powered MGB V8.

  21. Here in the USA the girl who lived across the street bought a new green MGB in 1979. Every morning she would go out and try and start the car and it wouldn’t start. It was towed to the dealer and brought back. Still the same problem. This went on for about 3 months and she got rid of it and bought a Volvo. That car started every morning for her

  22. One thing this story misses is Jacques Coune. The Belgium coach builder who launched a coupe version of the MG in 1964, and was said to have influenced Alec Issigonis into developing the GT. There was even discussions between Issigonis and Coune around his conversion. Coune was a very interesting character, a former racing driver and co founder of the Ecurie Nationale Belgiue F1 team, he also created a model based on the MGB roadster, as well as a one off model called the Gemini which looked like a mini e type.

  23. Interesting to read about the ‘bone-shaking ride was thrown into sharp relief by the newer rivals’ of the MGA. Having driven a fair number of MBGs and now owning an MGA I can’t honestly say the B rides any better than the A which was a surprise. Even more surprising when you consider the similarity in suspension and that they use the same steering rack is how much lighter the steering is in the earlier car. The 1800 engine of he B does give a significant advantage over the 1500 engine of the A as does the overdrive. Where the B really does score over the A is the ease of entry, the A has very narrow doors and getting in and out of it is not that easy, especially if the original steering wheel is present, the B has much bigger doors and so hopping in and out is easy enough. Then there is the space once you are in the car, the B does have a lot more space, when the roof is down that’s not so much of an issue but when the hood is up the A is quiet claustrophobic. As a usable car the B is a big improvement just for the last two reasons alone and it has a much larger boot. However for a car to take down a country A/B road with the top down the A has it

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