Blog : What’s so bad about rubber bumpers?

I’ve been pondering this very issue for some time. It seems that a fair number of MG enthusiasts have taken the time and gone to the trouble of removing their rubber bumpers and replacing them with the chrome ones found on the earlier ‘Bs…

I can understand the issue of styling purity and brand values, but did the later ones look that bad? They give the MGB something of a more modern appearance, whilst giving some protection from errant Tesco trolleys. The rubber bumper MGs also seem to have a very integrated style, which is no mean feat given that these bumpers were attached some 13 years after the original launch.

They give the MGB something of a more modern appearance, while giving some protection from errant Tesco trolleys…

Gerry McGovern, I reckon, agrees with me, as his MGF obviously drew on this car for its frontal styling, and not the earlier chrome bumper models. The same with the gorgeous looking MG RV8 – it is a reworking in styling terms, of the Seventies MG. So are the rubber bumpers really that bad?

I suspect that there’s an element of negativity with these cars, which stems from the raised ride height, which interfered with the roadholding of the original. Marque fans blamed all of the MGB’s ills on what happened at the facelift – so much so that the bumpers became a symbol of all that went wrong with the MGB during the dark decade.

And that’s a shame, because – as I said – it really does not look too bad at all with these bumpers attached. It could have been a hell of a lot worse – take a look at the Federalised Fiat 124 Spider or Fiat X1/9 to see what I mean about how badly bumpers could be integrated into a design.

So, MG owners, don’t decry your safety bumpers, rejoice in them – and, if any chrome bumper-owning MG owner gives you grief about them, simply challenge them to a car park fight: car on car!

Keith Adams

42 Comments

  1. The bigger issue is the raised suspension height and thus CofG that accompanied their introduction, although in fairness they were a follow on from Leylands first and very much bodged refresh with the recessed plastic grill (the one where they did not modify the bonnet tooling and so left the little bump in the lip that originally acted as a fairing to the MG badge at the top of the chrome grill).

    However like almost all facelifts they do not improve the original, whilst the freshness when first in the market, initially appeals, time is rarely kind and when they are classics, the facelift more often than not looks like something conceived through use of a branch of Halfords.

    There are exceptions, the Alfa 166 facelift corrected what was later admitted by Alfa as a originally bodged job caused by using scale models to sign off the original nose design and the Jaguar Xj6/12 Series 3 revised roof line looks so right you wonder why it was not like that in the first place. But they are very much the exception.

      • Funnily enough, the original designer’s drawings of the first XF look just like the facelift car; it seems that the round inserts to the lights and flutes were added at the last moment, perhaps as a last minute decision to add a styling link to the older cars.
        As it was such an utter break with the past, it would probably have made some sense to do that (and fix it later), even if it did spoil the purity of the design.

  2. Yesterday i saw “The Client” (1994, Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones) on TV. Here Regina „Reggie“ Love (Susan Sarandon) drives such a rubber bumper MGB. I find, it looked really good.

  3. I love the Rubber Bumpers. When you think of it, the chrome bumpers in a shunt went against another cars chrome bumpers a hard landing. You have to look after them and keep them polished for once they go dull they are very hard to get the shine back. Also the raised suspension gives you protection against speed bumps and countless times in a supermarket car park cars drive up to raised kerb and bang goes the front spoiler. The late B had dual circuit brakes another safety item. I like the dashboard of the late B. One thing I have done to mine is to convert the column stalks to American ones. I own two Metros and when driving the B I keep putting the wiper’s on instead of the indicators and then visa versa when getting back into the Metro so now the B has like all modern cars with the indicators on the left side. This is a very easy conversion that can be put back to original in half an hour as you do not have to alter the wiring or drill holes etc.

  4. Further to my reply Intact is the best. Converting back to Chrome bumpers is like giving your car a dose of Botox it’s best to stick with what you are born with. Have you seen the Chrome Bumpers that these converters are using? the fit of both ends is awful are they made in China?

  5. Logic would dictate that all car bumpers are at the same height, and all have rubber inserts. Think of the number of times one car touches another in tight parking spaces. But in the car world, as is shown time and again, style is seen as more important than logic.

    • Painting rubber bumpers, if they are not perfectly prepared, is very difficult. Normally you don’t get them as shiny as the metal parts of the bodywork. You need a different type of paint, and in the end you will always see the difference, Bumpers, that are intended for painting, have a different surface. And even if you get a convincing result in the beginning, after some years they start to look bad. So it is better, to keep them as black as possible…

      • IIRC MG originally wanted painted / body-coloured rubber bumpers and were said to have found a way to prevent the painted / body-coloured bumpers from fading though were forced to settle for black rubber bumpers due to cost and time.

  6. I think its partly an issue of what came before. So people look at and remember the chrome bumper version, esp with its chrome grille and that’s set in the mind as an original MGB. If MGB had always had rubber or plastic bumpers like RV8 no-one would bat an eyelid as they do look fine. But pretty chrome bumpers whether they be on MGB or Alfa spider do hark back to an earlier time and will usually be rightly or wrongly more sought after

  7. I have a chrome bumper MGB roadster. Sometimes I consider buying a rubber bumper MGB GT to go with it. Some colours go with the black bumpers better than others. However, I would only consider a late rubber bumper car with the duel circuit brakes and direct servo plus the revised radiator and oil cooler arrangement. Those were all worthwhile improvements. Not keen on the deck chair seat fabric. That would have to go.

  8. Like many facelifts on cars, initially they are disliked because people are so used to seeing the outgoing model and have an affection for it. However when one gets used to seeing the facelft in greater numbers (in this case rubber bumpers), it grows on you.

  9. I think the MGB bumpers weren’t to bad as they really were neatly integrated into the design of the car, but the Midgets were just awful!. As Nate put on earlier the MGB ones painted don’t look bad, sort of reminiscent to a TVR S. I think the worst thing is the ride height – it just makes the car look stupid.

    A couple of weekends ago I was attaching Wheeler Dealers (the new ones with Ant) and they did a 2002tii (a car I still love because of my Uncle having one), and the horrid American big bumpers were removed and it was given Euro spec chrome ones – it’s not just MGS getting this treatment.

  10. This is just wrong. Seems to be a lot of “well they weren’t as bad as X,Y,or Zs federal bumpers” going on here.That doesn’t mean they were good. Far from it. I think we’ve got kind used to them over the last 40 odd years and they don’t shock like they used to. Still awful though.

  11. I owned a MGB with rubber bumpers and I thought It looked pretty good especially in the strong bright colours that were available in the mid late 70s such as the yellow, vermillion, and in my case, the pageant blue. In fact, the clever design of the front bumper was such, that if you had never seen the earlier chrome bumper versions, you would have thought the car was originally designed this way.

  12. Was there a reason why non US MGs had to have the rubber bumpers? After all non USA Spitfires kept their chrome bumpers until the end

  13. I remember seeing a new one, so must have been 74/75 I would have been 9 or 10 and I absolutely loved the look of the rubber bumpers so new and modern looking and how I hated my Dads dated old Cortina after that.

  14. It was a bodge to an increasingly tired and dated car, that was done on the cheap. More weight, higher centre of gravity, all fitted to a car that even by the 70’s had obsolete suspension and an ageing engine. So the problem isn’t so much the bumpers but the fact the car got worse with the facelift, not better.

    As for comparing it with the MGF, ridiculous. The modern body coloured bumpers on the MGF look far better. It doesn’t have that look of being given a fat lip after being punched in the face, that you get with the 70’s bumpers.

    Also an MGF with working suspension would blow a MGB into the weeds. It is a vastly superior car and costs far less to own at the moment. I would have one over a B any day.

    • Yes, the car got worse but the bumpers were definitely a problem. What had been one of the prettiest cars on the road was defaced. I’d rather have seen it go out of production than suffer that fate. And then came it’s successor, the TR7. Although it was actually designed to look like that!

    • To be fair the MGB could have received all-independent suspension and even a more potent engine during its development had circumstances been different, though even its development was done on the cheap to its detriment.

      Whether it would have improved things for the MGB by the 1970s and been a suitable starting point for a rebodied/facelifted model (as was originally envisaged for ADO76 with a Michelotti rebody) or rubber-bumper model (ideally painted/body-coloured), instead of leaving it exposed as an increasingly tired and dated car against more sophisticated rivals like the Alfa Romeo Spider And Fiat 124 Sport Spider (that both had similarly long production runs) is another matter.

      In hindsight both the MGB and Midget should have both been replaced by the EX234 prototype. It could have easily slotted below the TR7, its hydrolastic suspension could have easily been upgraded to hydragas and its platform would have been a better starting point for a more modern rebody/facelift or few to help prolong its production life in a similar manner to other sportscar rivals (with EX234’s ideally being spread out to other models).

  15. The rubber bumpers were indeed “a cheap solution” for meeting American bumper height and 1975’s five mile-per-hour, front and rear, crash requirements. Realistically there was little else MG could do, as power was going down due to ever-increasing American emission standards, more air getting under the car because of the extra height… It just wasn’t worth throwing more money at an ageing design that was gradually going down in sales popularity, whilst going up in height…

    Personally I disagree with those on this blog who think the rubber bumpers are jolly nice, and oh so practical. Talk about rationalising! The chrome-bumpered MGBs of the sixties will always be more valuable in the collector market, because of their original purity of line and non-strangled performance. In North America, even the 1973 and 1974 MGBs that hadn’t been raised yet, are worth less than the ’60s variants, because of some emission control and having partial rubber over-riders–in ’73–and bigger/full rubber over-riders in ’74. Purity of line triumphs in the end. I should know, as my ’69 Series II E Type OTS will always be worth less than a Series I, because despite being a more refined version of the same car, it has a few changes in detail, including non-covered headlamps, that the collector car world cannot and will never forgive…

    • To add to America’s woes, they introduced the awful 55 mph speed limit in 1974, which lived on well past the two energy crises, and was always a deterrent to owning a powerful car, even if many police forces were quite lenient in enforcing it, although some were the opposite and enforced it heavily. The 55 mph speed limit, emissions controls, energy shortages and recessions all conspired to hurt the market for fast cars in America for many years. Even something like a Mustang V8 struggled to better 100 mph during the 1979 energy crisis.

  16. I think Edwardes wrote that due to exchange rate £:$ every MG sold in USA lost money, also the rubber bumper issue, since MG production was tuned to the USA market for LHD , lighting, suspension including ride height, emissions hardware, ie a big list of adaptions and differences from UK specification, surely it would possible for Abingdon to build to UK specification with the attractive lines of the chrome bumpers and standard ride height. 1978 to 80 I worked at a company where there was a whole department of 6 who all owned and restored MGs and Sprites, they were all convinced Abingdon was being sabotaged to justify closure

    • @ cyclist, this would have meant more expense, making two different versions of the MGB, and the UK market was losing interest in MG by 1979. I think Edwardes wanted to phase out MG in favour of the much newer Triumph TR7, which he considered a better bet than the elderly MG models, but inevitably this went when a strong pound and a recession hit sales. A shame as the car had come good with an excellent V8 version for the American market,and a convertible, and the reliability issues had been beaten by 1980.

  17. Better question is whats right with them? Each to their own, but I always preferred the Oxford coupe or cabrio with chrome bumpers.

  18. What is fascinating is the amount of interest this topic has raised. I had both chrome bumpered ( early 1964 ) later mark 111 as they were called ( mid 1973 ) and rubber bumpered ( 1978 ) . All were very capable , could withstand tough conitions, and were pleasant to drive, and I never knew why the rubber bumpered ones became so despised, although I did take the precaution with mine of having it in black , and having an Abingdon stage 2 kit which transformed the performance . I do , however, agree with a point made earlier that the B was far more suited to the rubber than was the Midget . The B is still far and away the commonest survivor of British sports cars, and there has to be a reason for this

    • @ Christopher Storey, maybe more MGBs survive because they were the best selling sports car of that era and the B is a tough engine and spares are easy to find. I’d think a 1978 B is a lot easier to live with than a Fiat X 1/9 even if the Fiat is faster and more modern looking. ( Rust and rotten electrics were just as a problem on the X 1/9 as other Fiats, and there are far fewer around than the MGB).

  19. Blimey, this discussion resembles a virtual pub meet of an MG club where there is lively debate on what constitutes a ‘proper’ MG and what isn’t, but without the presence of warm ale!

    Looking at the rubber bumpers, I do see some clever thinking here. For starters, it treats the front of the MGB as being modular whereby it can receive a one-piece bumper moulding complete with integral grille, rather than having loads of separate items to bolt/screw on. Fewer parts usually translates as reduced costs and also reduced time-based assembly costs too, although I somehow doubt this latter bit of logic was ever the reality at Abingdon. It was the sort of approach we were not seeing until the 1990s with Rover Group models such as the MGF, R3 Rover 200 Series and 75.

    I do find this level of debate on MGs interesting as it reminds me of the time when a good friend of mine restored a 1973 MGB GT. He bought a brand new bodyshell from Heritage in 2002/3 (which leaks like a sieve every time it rains, filling the boot recesses below the tail-lamps with water). Rather than re-painting it in Bronze Yellow, he instead decided on a respray in the 1980’s Austin Rover Group colour of Silverleaf metallic which he felt was more fitting for the MGB’s lines.

    Together with the original chrome bumpers, silver-on-black number plates and silver painted wire wheels it looked absolutely stunning. It certainly was not the usual blinged up MG Owners Club Accessories catalogue ‘special’. But when he took the finished restoration to shows, there were the purists who hated the fact he had changed the exterior colour to something more sympathetic to the chrome-bumper model’s lines, and they were quite outspoken over this. This is in spite of the fact there are many MGBs in various guises still surviving today, thanks largely to Heritage remanufacturing many body parts.

    He also went and bought a rubber-bumper example to have in addition to the chrome bumpered car which he found to be a superior car to drive for everyday use. It was eventually scrapped in 2009 when the local MG specialist wasn’t keen to undertake the necessary repairs to the sills in order to get it through its next MOT and no other car restorers in the East Devon or Exeter area showed any commitment to the cause. A great shame as it is one of the few cars he regrets getting rid of.

    • I’m no MG purist. In fact I’ve never owned one, the closest I came was an AH Sprite mk4. As a schoolboy though,I fell in love with the BGT. I thought it was the most perfectly styled car and thought I’d like to own one someday. By the time I was old enough to drive the Federal bumper travesty had occurred and the car went out of production pretty much around the time I passed my test.I knew a lot more about the B by then and was aware that it was old-fashioned and much more show than go. Then the classic car boom happened and decent Bs were out of reach pricewise.By the time I could have afforded one I didn’t really want one anymore. And a ride in my cousin’s 1979 GT told me that I wasn’t really missing out on anything. I still rate the pre- Federal BGT as great looker and if I had money to burn I’d probably look for a nice V8 , just to have you know?

  20. The first time I drove a rubber-bumper ‘B’ I was very surprised by the deteriorated handling and roadholding, and as this identified with rubber-bumpers it was a thing to avoid. Had MG been able to engineer a cost-effective suspension upgrade at the same time, the reputation would have been enhanced. But no money = no mods. Very sad.

  21. Further to my reply on the Rubber Bumpers do those that condemn them still look at a 1950 black and white TV with a 12 inch tube and 405 lines? When the Black bumpers appeared on the B the only other car with odd looking bumpers was the big Volvos and there’s looked like a RSJ on the front and back with a rubber cap on each end. Also remember Volvos pioneered the front running lights which are law now on all new cars. The MGB was the first British car to have these safety Bumpers and like all prototypes they evolve do you ever see a modern car with Chrome Bumpers?. Modern Bumpers shatter just looking at them and cost about £1,000 to replace at least with the B a minor shunt and there is no damage. At the time of the Chrome bumper B there were no speed bumps so a lower suspension was not such a problem so now I am glad of the higher ride height. Colour for Rubber bumpers are best black. I own a 85 on MG Metro which went from steel bumpers to plastic and were finished in Nimbus Grey. From the 87 on model year they painted the bumpers body colour and in my view looked awful there was not any contrast.

    • Hmm.. Don’t really get your point to be honest. Disliking the federal bumpers and how they altered the appearance of the B isn’t the same as being a luddite. They didn’t represent progress, they simply ruined the looks of the car for the sake of a few sales in the US at a time when BL fortunes in that country were going down the tubes anyway. It was like the prettiest girl at school suddenly sprouting a big, bushy Groucho moustache. Not good.

  22. Diverting from the subject matter here… I didn’t realise that day running LED lights were compulsory on new cars, thought they were an option / or standard on higher trims. I still remember my first Datsun’s that had rear red fog lamps bolted on the rear bumper, while British cars had them built into the light clusters.

    High level rear brake lights are another safety feature that we take for granted nowadays

    • Hello. It was law to have Daytime Running Lights on vehicles manufactured from February 2011. One Rear Fog light on the drivers side became compulsory from April 1980. The very last MGBs had to have them. I am surprised that Leyland fitted them on both sides for the extra cost involved. I remember the Volvos had the Volts taken direct from the Alternator as they were bulbs not like the LEDs of today. Talking about Volvos and LEDs I read that if the rear light on these new car goes wrong it will cost you £900.00 pounds for a new cluster YES £900.00. I can get a new bulb for my B for under £1.00.

  23. Thanks John. Funny, as none of my post 2011 Focus’s has had day running lights on the front. My current car is a 2017 model. I recall my 1981 Cherry had two rear red foglamps though

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