Even though it’s celebrating a half-century, the MGB is still a common sight if you look hard enough. Syd Enever’s answer to affordable sports car motoring sold in colossal numbers with well over 500.000 units trundling out of the South Oxfordshire plant in Abingdon before the sad and well-publicised factory shutdown in 1980. The smaller Midget also sold in massive numbers but, for me, the MGB is the better bet by simply having more cubics under the bonnet, a cockpit that doesn’t require a shoehorn to enter and styling that still makes a grown man gaze awhile.
Many will remark that MGBs are too commonplace to be regarded as a serious classic car, but I would disagree on that score – they are very much a serious classic in every sense of the word for various reasons. The MGB to the sports car scene in 1962 was everything like the Mini was to the populace in 1959. It put Joe public behind the wheel of a car they thought they could never afford and, in the modern world, its aftermarket support puts many of today’s cars to shame.
Carpets, seat trims, door handles, engines, pedal rubbers – even brand new, complete body shells are off the peg and, above all, affordable. Are you a socialite? Well, should you wish to embrace the owners’ community to the hilt, you can join either the MG Car Club or the MG Owners’ Club – its all there readily available and some of the club events are genuinely good fun too. However, there is one key factor which makes MGB ownership so very different to other classic sports car ownership and that is cost.
Take, for exanple, a Jaguar E-Type – pretty as they are, an overheated engine will cost you thousands to put right whereas an overheating MGB driver pulls to the side of the road, whips out the thermos flask, gives it 20 minutes to calm down, adds a splash of water and tries again. Snapped the door handle on your Ferrari 400? Frenzied calls will locate one with a three figure bill, do the same on a ‘B and the MG Owners’ Club will post one out same day for less than the price of a meal for one.
Get down to oily bits and, again, the MGB is a shining example of laughable simplicity. The 1798cc BMC B-Series may be as technologically advanced as conker but it’s as tough as a schoolyard ‘sixer’ too. All the routine servicing requires nothing more than an old washing up bowl and some rusty AF tools – trust me, it’s that simple. Setting the valve clearances with a trusty 0.13 feeler blade is one of the most satisfying jobs you could imagine and the slightly offbeat tappetty burble on tick over makes you feel so nostalgic.
Out on the road, the MGB holds its own rather well, too. The brakes, when in good order, are more than up to the job of anchoring while the bottom end torque of the engine keeps up with modern traffic. Flick in the Laycock overdrive and cruising becomes fairly relaxed and, providing your right foot is sensible, fuel economy is agreeable. The stubby gear lever slots in and out of the ranges with a superbly defined snick while the rorty exhaust makes you forget there is barely 95bhp under the long, curved bonnet.
Take your pick ,as Michael Miles once told us, between the sleek-looking GT or the achingly pretty roadster. The GT has the edge on space though, being able to take two passengers in the rear – albeit in the foetal position. Chrome bumper or rubber bumper, the choice is yours and MG even supplied an automatic option, though these are very rare cars indeed. There seems to be no real standard on price either but, as a rule of thumb, £1000 will get you a rough useable example whereas a car ten times more will probably be ten times better than anything that ever came down the production line.
There’s even a soul-stirring V8 version, identifiable from a distance by the pretty alloy wheels, but the standard 1.8 MGB is the perfect way of gaining a solid foothold on the classic car ladder without starting a divorce or selling a kidney to pay for it. Rust and bodges are really the only killers and be wary of the partially restored car – take a man in the know, buy the best example you can afford, steer clear of rogue traders passing off old tat as a flawed diamond and have some classic English fun – it’s all so amazingly affordable. All you require is a tool box and the phone number of chap who can weld!
Your mother wouldn’t like it? Actually, I wouldn’t bet on that!