Sports car projects : Aston MGB

The Aston MGB

The Aston-MGB as launched to the press in June 1980: William Towns created a very effective makeover of the existing car, given that there were no significant changes made to the car (beyond the use of an MGB GT windscreen and surround).
The Aston-MGB as launched to the press in June 1980: William Towns created a very effective makeover of the existing car, given that there were no significant changes made to the car (beyond the use of an MGB GT windscreen and surround).

The 10th September 1979 became known as “Black Monday” among MG enthusiasts around the world, because it was the date that BL finally went public with their plans to shut the Abingdon factory, after fifty successful years of sports car production. Shockwaves reverberated around the industry, and it did not take long for several influential enthusiasts to band together and formulate a plan, with which to buy the factory and (they hoped) the MG badge from BL.

By October 1979, the consortium, which comprised of Alan Curtis (chairman of Aston Martin), David Wickens (BCA), Peter Cadbury, Lord George-Brown and the Norwest construction group went public with their plans to save Abingdon. The consortium had at least £30 million at their disposal, with which to buy Abingdon – but they made it clear that going into talks with BL, they wanted to acquire the rights to the MG marque name and the MGB. The reasoning was quite simple – with the factory, the car and the name, they could continue production… there would be no interregnum between BL’s disposal and their taking over of MG

With these plans very much in mind, Curtis went into what can only be described as a battle with BL in order to settle. However, there was what can only be described as a huge stumbling block; and that was the fact that BL wanted to keep the rights to the MG name, and in fact, were tentatively developing their own replacement for the MGB, closely based on the TR7. However, Curtis was adamant that he would be able to gain the marque name and the car (as well as the factory) and had already started work on the company’s own revised MGB.

However, the negotiations dragged on, and finally in April 1980, a deal between the two parties had seemingly been reached. BL agreed that they would sell the Abingdon factory to the consortium, along with the rights to use (but not own) the MG name. The £30 million funding that Aston Martin used in their negotiations with BL, however, now proved a little more elusive – Aston Martin was embroiled in its own financial problems thanks exchange rates (that ironically were a reason cited by BL for the closure of Abingdon). The global recession also meant that some of the financial backers that were initially keen at the end of 1979 were not in a position to make good their promises…

Undeterred, Aston Martin showed it William Towns facelifted MGB to the press in June 1980, stating that it was their intention to launch this at the ’81 model.

Unfortunately, BL closed negotiations at this point, losing patience with the consortium, thanks to their inability to commit financially. That proved to be a black day in BL’s history, because it committed the company to closing Abingdon for good, after selling it off.

During the negotiations, BL formulated its own plans to save Abingdon, which revolved setting up a special vehicles operation there… they came to nothing, and were dropped during the Aston Martin negotiations; probably because of the Aston Martin negotiations.

 Front view was an improvement on the "factory" MGB...
Front view was an improvement on the "factory" MGB...
Keith Adams


  1. I worked at AM in the 80s. I’d bet the white haired technician is Ken Daniels. Ken would have been in the team that build the Bulldog, streached Lagonada saloons and the Tickford Taxi. He undoubtley had a had in the buildig the first Tickfrod Capri and Frazer Metro too.

  2. Even though they did not have money for a rebody, along with a Rover V8 the Aston MGB could have done with a complete rebody along the lines of stillborn 2-seater coupe “junior” Britol Blenheim/Jaguar XJ-like clay mock-up that was in MG: The Untold Story (p 147).

  3. This restyle was a little heavy handed and inadequate- Town’s creations tend to be very ‘hit and miss’. The RV8 was a much more convincing effort- albeit for probably much more development costs, and at a time when classic 60’s designs were beginning to seem fresh and pure, rather than in the early 80s when the MG B was clearly a dinosaur.

    It would have been interesting to have seen how far they’d have got with MG as a ‘stand alone’ marque given the notoriously frailty of British sports car companies on the rough seas of international commerce.

  4. FWIW in roughly the same period that the MGC was then under development and Donald Healey outright rejected the idea of the next Big Healey being a badged-engineered MGC, Aston Martin built a 151 hp 2.5 DOHC 4-cylinder engine (under Project DP208 originally commissioned by Volvo) based on their 3.7 DOHC 6-cylinder with a view of selling to other carmakers and even being tested in an Austin-Healey Sprite as well as a Volvo P1800 before it was abandoned (due to its height).

    Would have been interesting to see how an earlier 60s Aston MGB (or “Aston Martin Atom”) would have fared with such an engine, especially if they were able to develop the engine further (once the 3.7 6-cylinder was uprated to 4.0) along similar lines to the later Porsche 944/968.

  5. Another interesting engine would have been an Aston Martin V6 derived from a thoroughly-developed version of the mid-1950s all-alloy 4-cam 4.5-litre Lagonda DP100 V12 that was originally intended to power the post-war Lagonda Rapide, which could have indirectly replaced both the 2.5 (plus possible 2.7) DOHC 4-cylinder and 3.7-4.0 DOHC 6-cylinder engines.

    There was also the William Towns sketches of a proposed family of Stage II Aston MGB derivatives, which basically featured a new modernized body based on an MGB floorpan.

  6. I agree with the previous comments that this update wasn’t sufficient and came across a little heavy handed. There were always two issues I had with the MGB – the poor body tolerances and the B Series engine and its planned successor, the O Series, not being ideal for the hardened sports car enthusiast who wanted to drive it properly.

    Reading from other sources how these cars were assembled is quite cringing. For example, using crow bars and blocks of wood to act as temporary aids to enable the dashboard to be fitted, The complicated fitment of the front windscreen. It wasn’t exactly a quality made product if assembly line workers were constantly having to improvise to enable aspects of its assembly to be completed.

    Then there’s the leaf-sprung rear suspension which was archaic by the early 1980s, while the long-stroke B Series and O Series engines were never noted for their willingness to rev or sound eager. As the Alfa Romeo Spider highlighted, the heart of a good driving experience is an engine that thrives on being revved. Even now I see MGBs being driven in a more relaxed fashion, with the drivers lazily short-shifting to take advantage of the healthy low end torque on offer. It comes across as being one league off becoming a fully fledged automatic!

    With the advent of cheaper and dynamically better cars from Japan in the mid 1980s together with further updates to the Alfa Romeo Spider, which already had a more enticing recipe, the MGB was going to struggle without major engineering updates.

    Then again, if you’re looking purely at cosmetic updates, the more specialist company of Porsche could show us what was possible based on what they had delivered with the 911. Colour-coding the bodyside waistline and headlamp bezels, together with having a new colour-coded ‘loop’ door handle design would have been a start…

    • While it is mentioned the MGB could have been significantly improved from the outset, to what degree could it have both matched or even exceeded the Alfa Romeo Spider and Fiat 124 Sports Spider in terms of updates?

      And would the resulting improved MGB have been good enough to remain in production beyond 1980 compared to say a newer MGB replacement from EX234, Marina-derived Project Condor and ADO77-based sportscar proposal to the TR7/Broadside-based MG?

      Fwiw it appears aspects of William Town’s Stage II Aston MGB derivatives were allegedly carried over to the Towns styled successors to the earlier Michelotti Reliant Scimitar SS1.

  7. The demise of the MGB opened the doors to the Japanese to try their hand at making sports cars. In 1986 Toyota launched the MR2, which was based on the Toyota Corolla, and developed a decent following, but it was the Mazda MX3 that really captured the spirit of the two seater sports car. It even resembled a British sports car and offered good performance for a reasonable price and became a big earner for Mazda. I’m sure when the MX3 was being developed, the engineers listened to recordings of classic British sports car ezhaust notes to amke the car sound like an MG.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The cars : MGB development history | AROnline: The UNOFFICIAL Austin-Rover Web Resource
  2. For sale : One off MGB/Aston Martin prototype | AROnline

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