The MGB is one of the most common classic 1960s British sports car. Even folks who are not into cars probably recognize an MGB if one passes by on the street. Every 2nd week in August, the Quad City British Auto Club puts on a car show, and MGBs are very well represented. But they are all the open-top version. The MGB GT is a horse of a different color.
The story of MG in North America has been told many times before, but in a nutshell, returning GIs were very smitten with the little sports cars they had seen in Europe, and many brought MGs home with them. Although the TC and subsequent TD and TF models were very antiquated by the late 1940s, they provided a driving experience that no domestic car could match. Once MGs began to be imported, sales went through the roof and most MGs built went to the United States.
By the early 1950s even the MG fans had to admit that the TF was past its sell-by date. While it was still a fun to drive car, it was time for something new. In 1955, the MGA replaced the TF. It was thoroughly modernized, with an attractive envelope-type body finally replacing the cycle fenders and other 1930s styling cues.
The MGA owed its much lower hoodline to the 1489 cc B-Block inline four with 68 horsepower that first appeared in the TF-1500. A 1955 MGA went from zero to 60 in 16 seconds and had a top speed of 97.8 mph. While that doesn’t sound like sports car material by today’s standards, in its time it was quite a sprightly little roadster. Other features included independent front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Over 100,000 were sold during its eight year run, but by the early 1960s it was clear another replacement was due.
In 1962, the MGB was unveiled. It now had an all new monocoque chassis and was styled by Don Hayter, MG’s in-house stylist. He did have a little help from Pininfarina though, as that firm had been consulting with BMC on such models as the Austin 1100 and 1800. MGBs were powered by an enlarged version of the B-Block engine, a 1.8L inline four that now produced 95 hp @ 5400 rpm and 110 lb ft of torque. In late 1965 the MGB GT coupe was introduced.
The GT was an early adopter of the three-door hatchback genre, with a large rear panel that opened to a much more generous cargo area than the MGB roadster. An occasional rear seat was really only suitable for children, but folded flat for even more luggage space. The coupe roofline was designed by Pininfarina and required a taller windshield.
The GT received the same updates as the roadster through the years. In 1967 the Mark II MGB was unveiled. New features included a four-speed manual with synchromesh on first gear, an optional Borg-Warner automatic (in an MG?), and an alternator finally replaced the dynamo, which was an early type of DC generator. US-bound Mark IIs lost their painted metal instrument panel and received a plastic foam-backed version for added safety.
MGB GTs were naturally heavier than their drop-top brethren, but although they were slower to accelerate they actually had a higher top speed due to improved aerodynamics. In 1970, MGs lost their chrome grille and gained a matte black version with chrome trim. The now-ubiquitous Rostyle wheels (seen below) replaced the steel disc wheels, but genuine wire wheels were still available as an option.
An interesting variant of the GT coupe was the MGC. Intended to replace the big Austin-Healey, it utilized a substantially re-worked version of the A-H 3000’s 2912 cc inline six. As installed in the MGC, the six produced 145 hp @ 5250 rpm, had a zero to 60 time of ten seconds and a top speed of 120 mph. It was also available as a roadster.
The MGB’s engine bay required numerous modifications for the engine to fit, and a blister had to be added to the hood for the carburetor and radiator to clear. The MGC also had a unique torsion bar front suspension for the same reason. Due to the engine being over 200 pounds heavier than the MGB’s standard inline four, weight distribution and handling were somewhat compromised. It was cancelled in 1969 after only 9,002 roadsters and coupes were built.
A more satisfying variant was the MGB V8. Introduced for 1973, it had the light aluminum Rover/Buick V8 as used in the Rover P5B and Range Rover. While it only had 137 hp, it had gobs of torque for a car of its size, 193 lb ft. Zero to 60 came in only eight seconds and it had a top speed of 125 mph. Sadly, it was never exported to the US and production ended in 1976 after only 2,591 were built.
As for the standard GT coupe, it was built alongside the roadster all the way to the end of production in 1980. The roadster was available to the end in the US, but British Leyland stopped importing the GT after the 1974 model year. After all was said and done, the roadster was much more popular, to the tune of 399,070 drop tops and 125,282 GTs. The fun of an open sports car and the correspondingly lower price vs. the GT were probably the biggest factors.
I found this GT on Monday as my brother and I were driving into Clinton for lunch. As I was crossing the bridge from Illinois to Iowa, Andy noticed a green MG sitting at a repair shop. We found the right street and checked it out – it looked pretty nice, but first things first. After lunch, we went back and I took these pictures. I am pretty sure it is a ’72, as the color, light turquoise, appears to be a 1972-only color. Other than an interior that needed to be reassembled, it looked ready to roll.
I have attended the British car show in Davenport nearly every year since 1996, and I don’t recall ever seeing one of these, so this could be the first one I’ve ever seen in person. Standing next to it, it reminded me of a Volvo 1800ES or Reliant Scimitar GTE, though its primary competition when new was probably the Triumph GT6. I like MGBs, but if I ever had to get an MG, I’d get one of these. Sporty and versatile – a great combination!