The 1962-1980 MGB
Written by Carl Heideman
From the May 2004 issue
Posted in Buyer's Guides
Thinking about buying your first classic two-seat sports car? If you are, and you ask 10 classic-car specialists which one to buy—as we did in a recent issue of Classic Motorsports—if the answers you get are anything like ours, then three of the 10 will recommend the MGB as their first choice, and the MGB will make the top-10 list of every one of them.
Why is the MGB such a favorite with classic-car hobbyists? The answer is simple: It is good-looking, fun to drive and easy to maintain. These are the same reasons the MGB, with a few changes, was successful in the new-car market for nearly two decades. Today, good examples are easy to find, inexpensive to buy and are backed by a fantastic network of MGB enthusiasts to provide support and share the fun of ownership.
What do you need to know and what should you look for when buying an MGB? We’ll be happy to explain.
Most Popular Sports Car Ever Made?
For many years, enthusiasts of the MGB made the claim that this was the best-selling sports car ever made. With a total of more than 513,000 cars assembled at Abingdon from 1962 through 1980, and more than 300,000 roadsters exported to the U.S., until very recently they had the numbers on their side.
Corvette owners may claim that they own the best-selling marque, but in its lifetime the Corvette has undergone significant changes in style, chassis and powertrain. By comparison, the changes made to the MGB were minor. Individual components were modified, but from the first to last the car used the same basic bodyshell, the same engine block, and the same suspension and drivetrain.
The one challenger to MGB’s crown is, of course, the Miata. At the end of 2000, approximately 585,000 Miatas had been built, with very little change to body style or basic specifications since their introduction in 1989. So MGB fans can no longer make their claim on the basis of production totals, but they can still brag that theirs is the most popular classic sports car ever made.
A production run of 18 years and more than a half-million cars speaks volumes about the quality of the MGB. And for the new enthusiast, these numbers mean there are a lot of cars for sale and a lot of spare parts with which to keep them running for many years. What accounted for the long run and great reception, when so many other sports cars came and went during the same period?
The First MGB
The MGB was introduced in September 1962, a great time for sports cars. On any Sunday, in any major city, sports-car owners could be found exercising their Austin-Healey 3000s and Sprites, Sunbeam Alpines, Triumph TR3s, Corvettes, Alfa Romeo Giuliettas, Jaguars and Porsche 356s in competitive events. Rallies were being run on country roads, autocrosses were set up on shopping-center parking lots, and road races were being run on SCCA tracks.
The octagonal trademark with the letters M and G, harkening back to the M.G. Car Company’s beginning as Morris Garages in the ’30s, had been represented in these events since 1946. The TC was the first postwar MG to carry the octagon, followed by the MG TD and TF. Those three models, referred to as “square rigged” because their erect radiators and separate fenders gave the look of a square-rigged ship under sail, established MG in the U.S. The MG TC was even featured on the cover of LIFE magazine. The light and quick-handling little cars had much to do with a growing American enchantment with sports cars in general.
In 1955, the TF was replaced by the lovely MGA, a belated response to the curvaceous offerings of Austin-Healey and Jaguar. With its solid 1500, 1600 and then 1622cc four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual transmission, the MGA became quite popular on the streets and tracks of the U.S., and rapidly outsold the prewar-style T-series models.
However, with a rudimentary canvas top and separate plastic side windows, and very little space in the passenger compartment or trunk (“hood, side-curtains, cockpit and boot” in the Anglophile jargon of the “Faithful,” as MG enthusiasts call themselves), the MGA was behind the times compared to the Sunbeam Alpine and the Alfa Giulietta. After all, those cars had roll-up windows, reasonable trunks and workable tops, even if they were a little underpowered. Purists didn’t take them very seriously because they were so comfortable, but they showed what could, and should, be done.
Clearly something a little more comfortable, a little more practical and, above all, a little more powerful was needed. MG had in the wings just what was needed, and for once its offering would be ahead of the curve. In June 1962, the first MGB 1800 rolled off the assembly line in Abingdon, England.
Breaking from the traditional body-on-frame structure of the MGA and most other contemporary sports cars, the MGB had a monocoque chassis that combined bodyshell and frame into a single unit. With the monocoque, MG was able to take 40 pounds off the car’s weight compared to the MGA, and shorten the wheelbase by three inches and the chassis by 23/4 inches while increasing interior space.
The body style also broke new ground for MG, replacing the long, curving front fenders and short rump for a styling line that ran unbroken from headlight to taillight. It’s true that Datsun had introduced a similar body style on its 1600 Fairlady one year earlier, but any connection between the two developments is lost to history. Nevertheless, where the Datsun suffered from retaining a body-on-frame structure and was clunky and heavy-handed in its execution of the styling concept, the MGB was understated and graceful.
The MGB also had a comfortable cabin with attractive leather seats trimmed in contrasting piping, a black crackle-finish dashboard, an attached convertible top that was easy to erect (purists could choose a completely removable top, but few did), roll-up windows and a heater that actually worked.
And the new MGB had a respectable amount of power. The first version of the engine had little changed in design from the MGA, but was opened up to 1798cc (nominally 1800 as cast into the block), and could manage 94 horsepower at 5500 rpm with 107 lb.-ft. of torque, which was more than enough to make the 1920-pound car feel quite peppy.
If You Have a Good Thing
British Motor Corporation, manufacturer of Austin-Healeys as well as MGs, saw little reason to make more than minor modifications to the MGB for many years. In fact, for the restorer, there are many more differences among cars built for different destination markets within a given year than between model years. In many cases, a parts list and serial numbers are needed to tell what was original for a particular car.
In October 1964, for the 1965 model year, a five-main-bearing engine replaced the three-main-bearing design that had carried over from the MGA, and a Laycock de Normanville overdrive became available as an option, making the car much more comfortable for long distances at U.S. highway speeds.
With the engine improvements, power increased to 98 horsepower, torque to 110 lb.-ft., and top speed to 110 mph. The engine was still nominally an 1800, but the capacity numbers used for the model designation had been quietly dropped, and the car was advertised simply as the MGB. This was the most powerful engine the MGB would produce for North America.
In April 1965, push-button handles replaced the original pull-handles on the doors. This is a seemingly minor change, but since it is easy to see, and occurred soon after the model-year change and the engine upgrade, “pull-handle” is often used by MG enthusiasts to designate cars from the 1963 and 1964 model years.
MG also announced the new MGB GT three-door coupe in October 1965 for the 1966 model year. This neatly styled variant, offering an easily accessible cargo area and a rudimentary rear seat with a folding back, was a breakthrough design and was later copied by other manufacturers.
Aside from its higher windshield and roofline, and obviously heavier body, the GT was mechanically identical to the tourer. It did get the stronger Salisbury rear axle, but that was introduced on the tourers beginning in 1967. Through the years there were some interior trim differences between the GT and the tourer, but in most respects, the cars are very similar.
The GT would be produced in parallel with the tourer through the end of MGB production. However, the 19741/2 models were the last sold in the U.S. The practical hardtop sold for slightly more than the tourer, and would represent approximately one-third of all MGB production.
Change Is Not Always for the Best
The first actual change in model designation came with the introduction of the Mark II for model year 1968. It’s not clear why MG bothered with the name change, except perhaps for marketing purposes, since the changes were largely minor improvements. An all-synchromesh transmission replaced the earlier unsynchronized-first-gear tranny, the stronger rear axle was installed, an alternator replaced the generator and the car was switched to a negative-ground electrical system. Back-up lights were also added, and a few minor changes were made to the layout of gauges and controls on the dashboard. MG’s first-ever automatic transmission was available as an option, but this wasn’t installed on many MGBs, especially those bound for North America.
Unfortunately, the same model year saw the first emission-control devices—an air pump and air injectors—added to North American engines. The devices reduced horsepower from the 1965-’67 model year zenith to 92 horsepower. In retrospect, the addition of these components, required to meet California air-quality regulations, signaled an era of increasing government regulations.
In addition, to meet new U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) interior safety regulations, cars for the North American market were equipped with a heavily padded vinyl dashboard for the 1968 model year, instead of the lovely crackle-finish dashboard that was still a distinctive part of the MGB interior in other markets, and rocker switches replaced the airplanelike toggles. The pillowy padding on the passenger side also forced removal of the glove box. Many enthusiasts think this interior change was as bad as the loss of horsepower.
In the same year, in the hopes of producing a more powerful variant that could fill the void left when the Austin-Healey 3000 ended production, MG introduced the six-cylinder MGC. The new engine, while similar to the big Healey engine in specifications, had been designed for the MG. Unfortunately, the effort and investment were for naught. Although an MGC was Prince Charles’s first car, the model was nose-heavy and met with a resounding razzberry in the sports-car market. It lasted only two model years, with less than 10,000 units produced.
A Long but Slippery Slope
Few changes were made between the introduction of the Mark II for 1968 and the next major changes in 1972. The BMC-Leyland merger, bringing the Triumph marque into the fold, took place in 1968, creating British Leyland (BL) with managers at the helm who tended to favor Triumph over other BL marques.
However, the first changes wrought by the new management were minor, focusing on “updating” the MGB’s appearance in 1970 with a blacked-out grille that was not an aesthetic improvement, side flasher lights and Rostyle “styled steel” wheels. Inside, the lovely leather trim was replaced by chintzy “Ambla” embossed vinyl (in any color you wanted, as long as it was black or tan). Although no model designation was used, many enthusiasts refer to this model as the Mark III.
1972 marked the beginning of the slippery slope that would eventually bring the ’60s generation of sports cars to a whimpering end. Forced to meet increasingly stringent U.S. emissions requirements, BL reduced engine compression on North American cars from 8.8:1 to 8.0:1 (the rest of the world actually got an increase to 9.1:1), which slashed output from 92 to 78.5 horsepower.
As a sidelight, almost irrelevant to U.S. enthusiasts, BL dropped the Rover V8 into some of the MGB GTs for European markets, creating a car that was claimed to have a top speed of 124 mph and zero-to-60 time of 7.7 seconds. However, this model was never sold legally in the U.S., though it did suggest a more-power strategy that MG hotrodders are still following today.
Emissions requirements weren’t the only problem in the U.S. market. In an effort to reduce highway deaths, the DOT saddled layer upon layer of safety requirements on the auto industry. Mid-1974 marked the most significant production change to the MGB. Forced to meet bumper requirements effective at the beginning of 1975 that specified both height and five-mph impact protection, the MGB was fitted with the infamous rubber bumpers that significantly changed its appearance. (Actually, the term is misleading, since the bumpers were made of polyurethane plastic, with steel inserts.) This model is often referred to as the “19741/2,” or the “Mark IV” though neither term appeared in MGB factory literature.
A fat rear bumper covered the valance and tips of the rear fenders. In the front, a single-piece bumper was attached that covered the car from side to side, and extended from an air intake in front of the front valance up to and including the octagon badge. The grille, which had reverted for a year and a half to a chrome style, was now completely a thing of the past, with the radiator served by air flowing through openings in the bumper.
Perhaps more unfortunate than the rubber bumpers, the DOT requirements mandated that bumpers on all cars had to have the same impact height. The only way MG could meet this without completely redesigning the car—and by then there was no money for such a possibility—was by raising the ride height, giving the car something of the look of a baby buggy. The higher ride height would have been bad enough, but handling was made even worse when the bean counters forced removal of the front anti-roll bar. Press reports complained that the car felt tippy in turns.
Giving the model another push down the slope to oblivion, reductions in acceptable emissions forced another overhaul of the engine for model year 1975. The two SU carburetors, icons of proper British cars, had to go. Replacing them was a single Zenith-Stromberg unit. Power dropped to 62.5 horsepower—not much different from the 1964 MG Midget—and torque fell to 86 lb.-ft. Power-assist was added to the brake system, but this hardly seemed necessary. With power on the U.S. cars so low, some said that dragging one’s heels out the door was more than enough to bring the car to a stop.
The End of the Line
Surprisingly, even the radical decline in horsepower and unfortunate styling changes didn’t spell the end of the MGB, at least not yet. In fact, the early ’70s saw the highest production numbers in Abingdon’s history. But the end was in sight.
The British automobile industry was self-destructing, as much from its own disorganization as from the outside pressures of galloping global inflation and rising oil prices. There was no money for proper redesign to cope with U.S. regulatory pressures, much less contend with the Datsun 240Z and other new competitors in the market. For the next five model years, the best that BL could muster for the U.S. was a series of “Limited Editions” that incorporated special decals, alloy wheels and custom-look steering wheels in hopes of attracting the few enthusiasts with a penchant for things British.
Even the company’s management couldn’t miss the handwriting on the wall and, in an amazing example of tactlessness, chose the week when Abingdon was celebrating 50 years of production to announce, on Sept. 10, 1979, that MG production would end in 12 months and the Abingdon works would be closed. Despite various attempts to rescue the company, or at least the factory, or just the model, production of the MGB ended on Oct. 22, 1980.
Since that time, of course, the corpse has escaped from the tomb in several guises. The octagon appeared on badge-engineered BL Metro econoboxes, then on sports cars from the Rover Group made by inserting Rover engines in reproduction MGB bodyshells. Most recently, MG-Rover Group badge-engineered Rover sedans have appeared as will a mid-engined sports car for the rest of the world.
Phil Llewellin, our European correspondent, recently opined in these pages that the marque deserved better. That it might have happened in some alternative universe is proved every day, as hundreds of Miatas, surely the heirs to the British sporting-car tradition exemplified by the MGB, come rolling off Japanese assembly lines.
But many of those huge numbers of MGBs originally produced are still found on U.S. roads, some in pristine concours condition, some in hot, highly modified guises, and some struggling along as inexpensive beaters. What those drivers share is a connection to motoring traditions of the past and the pleasure of driving a car that is slightly out of the ordinary, though it doesn’t have to apologize for its performance on today’s highways. In other words, a car that’s just plain fun.
What’s It Like to Own and Drive?
Beyond the cost and ease of purchasing, restoring and upgrading it, there are two very good reasons for the past and present popularity of the MGB. First, it is fun to drive. Second, it is easy to take care of.
Only a few cars on the road provide the visceral pleasure of driving an MGB. Slide into the low seat, adjust to the fit of a cockpit that is adequate even for tall drivers—and with pedal extensions, acceptable for those shorter than five foot two—pull out the manual choke (at least on the chrome-bumper models), key the engine to life and the MGB sounds and feels perfect.
Take it out on a country road, wind it up through the gears with the positive gear change, then do a heel-and-toe downshift into a tight corner and power out again on the straight. Let the wind whip through your hair, and listen to the song of the four-cylinder engine.
No classic car at this price can offer anywhere near the same experience, and only a few modern sports cars come close. From almost the beginning of the marque, MG’s slogan was “Safety Fast,” and generations of enthusiasts can attest that it delivered on that promise.
But the experience isn’t limited to driving. For anyone who wants a brief escape from software problems, computer systems that have minds of their own, and user manuals that require a degree in electronics to understand, the MGB opens the door to a fast-disappearing world of basic electrical and see-how-it-works mechanical systems. With a basic set of tools, an electrical test gauge and some rudimentary mechanical ability, any job from a basic tune-up or an oil change to a complete engine rebuild can be undertaken in the garage as a weekend alternative to video games and surfing the Net.
The Best Model to Buy?
A brief review of the MGB’s history provides an easy answer to what is considered the “best” MGB to buy: The cars from model years 1966 and 1967 get that accolade. They still carried the classic body style, highlighted by shiny bumpers and a pretty grille. Under the hood, the engine had been converted to a very reliable five-main-bearing design that produced nearly 100 horsepower at the flywheel. Inside, the seats were upholstered in leather, with lovely contrasting piping, and the dashboard was adorned with black crackle-finish paint and toggle switches, evoking memories of fighter planes and the Battle of Britain.
As with all classic cars, the best of the breed attracts the highest prices, so it isn’t surprising that these cars have the highest values. However, even for the very best restoration of the most desirable model, prices are still at a level that wouldn’t buy a half-decent Austin-Healey of the same vintage. Unrestored versions are occasionally found for $5000 or less, and the highest prices fetched at auction don’t exceed $25,000. Very good examples can be found for $10,000 to $15,000.
In terms of preferences, the earlier cars from the 1963 through 1965 model years, with their three-main-bearing engines, and known by their “pull-handle” doors (though a few five-main cars had the pull handles), are considered almost as desirable because of their traditional features and relative rarity. At the other end of the chrome-bumper period, the 1973 cars, with more comfortable seats, a center console with storage compartment and armrest, practical headrests, and the restored glove box, might be considered the next level in the pecking order. Even the vinyl seats can be recovered with a leather trim kit.
Even among the rubber-bumper cars there are some subtle distinctions. The 1977-’80 cars are preferable to the 1975-’76 cars, since they received front and rear anti-roll bars to correct handling problems and had some interior and engine-compartment improvements. It’s worth noting that the “Limited Edition” versions offered in the U.S. in 1979 and ’80 often turn up in very good condition with low mileage, having originally been bought by collectors and tucked away for investment purposes. They didn’t appreciate very much, and still usually sell for less than a comparable-condition chrome-bumper car, but they represent an interesting variant.
However, the differences in years, and even matching numbers and original specifications, don’t get a lot of attention in the MG hobby world. Instead, quality of bodywork and paint, tidiness of interior trim and, above all, performance are the variables that really make the difference in determining how much a particular MGB is worth.
Better yet, later models can be retro-engineered to the 1967 standards, and then upgraded with modern modifications, such as the new Moss supercharger, to the owner’s own tastes (see modifications sidebar on page 40). Even in California and states that share its air quality standards, any car built in 1973 or before is usually fair game for removal of emissions systems, upgrading of carburetors, the addition of a supercharger, and other modifications.
For anyone on a budget and handy with tools, even the inexpensive rubber-bumper models can be upgraded. Many enthusiasts have discovered that when the bumpers are painted the body color and the ride height reduced to more normal levels, the car is a pretty sleek alternative to any modern roadster. In a state where emission requirements aren’t too strict, a swap to a good five-main-bearing engine from the late ’60s is easy enough. Kits and instructions are even available to show how to fit a Rover or Buick V8, or a variety of other six- or eight-cylinder or rotary engines.
With the variety of engine variations among the various export markets and from year to year for individual markets to cope with regulatory changes, a factory service parts list and one of the excellent workshop manuals are essential. This factor is worth bearing in mind when buying and working on a car that has been modified by previous owners. Parts ordered strictly by catalog and serial number may not always fit a modified car.
Regardless, with the large number of cars still on the road, brand-new parts of quite good quality are readily available. Few hobbyists even bother to part out old MGs any more, since it’s generally just as easy to buy a new piece from the Moss Motors or Victoria British catalogs.
What to Look for When Buying
Few problems on MGBs are beyond repair, as parts are readily available from several sources. Even complete body shells can be purchased. However, parts won’t be cheap, and unless you’re handy with tools, mechanics’ hours can add up. Here are some points to check.
Body and Chassis Rust
At the risk of repeating the most-often-heard warning about older cars, rust is the enemy of the MGB. While this is true of any body-on-frame sports car, it is more of a problem in the monocoque MGB. Body panels can be unbolted and repaired or replaced on an MGA or Triumph, for example, and as long as the frame is reasonably solid, the car can be put back on the road.
On the MGB, an advanced attack of rust can easily undermine structural reinforcements in the bodyshell, making the car nearly worthless without extensive and intricate bodywork. So simply look out for these problems, and if there is any suspicion that they may be present, walk away.
In particular, check the area around the front and rear door pillars, and along the rocker panels. If there appears to be significant filler work or the doors don’t fit well, it’s likely that internal rust has simply been covered over, and will continue to do its work unseen until the car starts to disintegrate.
A magnet is a good test tool in these areas, and nothing substitutes for putting the car up on the rack and doing a careful inspection underneath and in all the nooks and crannies. Once it’s on the rack, carefully check around the battery boxes and the points where the rear suspension fastens to the bodyshell, as well as in the fender openings around the wheels.
Engine problems are less likely to have serious implications, but there is no reason to pay for work that hasn’t been done. A surprising number of MGBs have never been restored, so it’s not unusual to find one with all the original fittings and wiring hidden under a coating of grease and dirt. Such a car may be a good find and can be put back together and run for fun with little effort. Just adjust the price for the work that will need to be done.
The bottom end of the engine generally holds up well. Look for oil pressure above 25 psi at idle and 55-70 psi on the highway. These engines will tend to burn oil as they age, but will run a long time as long as oil is topped up as needed.
Cylinder heads are a different story. They have a tendency to crack, especially in the cylinder three exhaust area due to some design flaws. It’s a good idea to perform a compression check and make sure the valves have been adjusted regularly. Rebuilt OEM cast-iron heads are getting more scarce, but aftermarket aluminum heads are a viable option.
The SU carburetors are often worn, especially the throttle shafts. Spray carb cleaner around the throttle shafts while the car is idling. If the idle quality improves, the shafts are worn and the carbs will need rebuilding, but this is a home workshop job for most hobbyists, and is probably worth doing on any older MGB.
Cracked exhaust manifolds are fairly common on single-carburetor cars, though fairly rare on earlier dual-carb models. Check for a hissing sound on acceleration. These sometimes can be repaired by a good machine shop, but finding a good used manifold is usually easier, and a complete conversion to a dual-carb setup may be the best bet.
The suspension is pretty sturdy but bears inspection. On the front suspension, kingpins will last 100,000 miles if maintained properly, but less than 50,000 if not. Look for excessive play, especially at the bottom fulcrum. Often, lower wishbone bushings will be worn out, especially on rubber-bumper cars. Put the car on a jack stand and try to wiggle the wheel from top to bottom to spot problems in this area.
On the brakes, the shoes may be a problem, usually because the wheel cylinders or the axle seals fail and soak them. This problem is more common on northern cars that get stored in the winter, as the seals stick themselves to their mating surfaces during storage.
Sagging rear leaf springs are somewhat common. Look for even ride height front to rear and leaves that are not separating. The lever shocks, like the wiring, have a worse reputation than they deserve. Rear shocks seldom fail, but fasteners may loosen over time. When front shocks wear out, they can be replaced individually, and quality replacements are available.
To test the front shocks, push down on the corner of the car; if it rebounds more than once, the shocks are questionable.
Tube-shock conversions for the front are not a good idea: most kits are improperly engineered. Rear tube shock conversions are okay, but not really necessary.
Wire wheels and hubs should be checked carefully for broken spokes and worn splines. If the spokes are broken, the best remedy is to buy new wheels; replacements are cheaper than wheel repair, if you can even find anyone who will relace a wire wheel. If the wheel can be rotated slightly on the hub with the knock-off loosened, or the car makes a thump in the rear when starting off, check wheel and hub splines. Sharp tips on the splines mean they are worn out, and both the wheels and hubs will need to be replaced.
Previous Owner Efforts
The biggest problems with the cars tend to be with the “improvements” or “repairs” done by previous owners, especially in the electrical system. The factory wiring works just fine as long as connectors aren’t corroded. It’s not uncommon to see alternator conversions, fuel-pump substitutions and electric fans added with poor attention to detail, bracketry and wiring; these can all cause reliability problems.
It’s not even uncommon to find new wires, even common lamp cord, running alongside the wiring harness to “fix” an electrical problem that may simply have been due to frayed wiring or corroded connectors. Going back to the factory parts and installing and wiring them properly cures a lot of ills.
When to Walk Away
If the car you’re checking out looks as if it will need a lot of work, you’re better off searching for one in better condition—unless, of course, this is the one that brought you and your mother home from the hospital on your first car trip.
Modifications and Upgrades for the MGB
One of the great advantages of MGB ownership is the potential to upgrade and fine-tune the car to the owner’s individual tastes. Better power, better comfort or better looks are all possible, often with simple bolt-on changes.
While performance degraded through the late 1960s and ’70s, it is straightforward to backdate an engine to the earlier specifications. Dual-carb conversions on post-’74 cars are as simple as using the carbs, intake and exhaust manifolds, and exhaust systems from the earlier cars. The conversion is worth five to 15 horsepower. Earlier performance-curved distributors can be substituted for later emissions-derived units.
For additional horsepower, the aftermarket offers myriad options. The place to start: Upgrade to electronic ignition with a good advance curve, add some K&N air filters to dual carbs, and get a good tune-up. These changes will add five to 10 horsepower.
While bigger SU carbs or a Weber carb may seem logical as a next step, porting the cylinder head (addressing the MGB engine’s Achilles heel) is necessary to put them to good use. A cylinder head easily can add 10 to 30 horsepower when matched with the correct components. Aftermarket OEM-replacement aluminum heads are available to replace the stock cast-iron five-port units, and there is also an aluminum seven-port crossflow unit available that can make big power gains when matched to the right components.
Cam, bottom end and compression changes all round out the performance updates for the engine. The factory cam and bottom end are very good for engines that aren’t intended to rev past 6000 rpm, providing good torque and drivability. For those who like to rev higher, beefed-up reciprocating parts and more radical cams are available off the shelf.
Supercharging recently has become an easy option for the MGB. Two different kits are available, one from Moss Motors, the other from Hans Pederson’s High Flow in Australia. Each is well-engineered and will add 25-plus horsepower when installed.
Engine swaps are becoming more common. While the Buick/Olds/Rover aluminum 215 cu.in. V8 has been the most popular swap through the years (mimicking the factory V8 cars), Ford 302 and Chevy V6 swaps seem to be gaining ground. Mazda Miata and Ford Zetec swap kits also are going to be available soon for those who want to stay with four-cylinder power. Mazda rotary swaps have been done, too, but rotary engines are getting harder to find.
With modifications done in the engine compartment, gearbox changes are next. Converting a car from the standard-issue four-speed gearbox to the optional overdrive-equipped box is just a matter of sourcing a good used or rebuilt unit. For those who want a modern five speed, kits are readily available to use a Ford Sierra, Nissan or Toyota gearbox with appropriate adapters and bits.
To improve handling, stiffer springs, improved bushings, larger anti-roll bars and uprated shocks are all good options if planned and matched properly. Stiffer front anti-roll bars from MGB GTs or 1977-’80 roadsters can be added to cars that didn’t have them in the first place, or aftermarket units can be installed. There is some controversy regarding their effectiveness, but rear anti-roll bars (standard in 1977-’80) can be added to earlier cars. Fitting factory 1977-’80 bars to earlier cars requires welding and serious thought—aftermarket units are an easier choice. MGBs have a fairly firm ride in their stock configuration, so it’s advisable to drive a car that has had a stiffened suspension installed before diving into the job.
Rubber-bumper cars can be lowered in the front by changing out the springs or swapping to a chrome-bumper car’s front crossmember. The rear height can be changed with lowering blocks, re-arched springs, or some cutting and welding. Chrome-bumper cars can be lowered by changing springs, too, but expect to leave an exhaust system or two by the curb—these cars are pretty low already.
Brake upgrades usually consist of improved friction materials, but drilled and slotted rotors are available, as well as uprated MGB GT V8 units. Stainless-steel flexible line kits are a worthwhile addition. For early cars, upgrades to dual-circuit manual or power brakes are a matter of bolting in the parts from later cars.
Many people like to install wire wheels in place of the original discs. This again is a matter of sourcing the parts from a car originally equipped with wire wheels. To do so requires the entire rear axle and the front hubs. There are some aftermarket bolt-on versions that require less work. (See the July ’03 issue of Classic Motorsports for more details on this.)
Most of the current alloy wheel choices are eight-spoke Minilite replicas, available in both four-lug and knock-off configurations. There are several manufacturers of varying quality and price, so shopping around can be helpful. Several types of out-of-production alloy wheels often show up on eBay and at swap meets, but have them checked for cracks and other flaws before putting them on your car. Finally, the MGB shares its bolt pattern with Datsun Z cars and some Saabs, so some alloy wheels that fit these cars will also fit the MGB.
Cosmetics and Comfort
Many interior parts from early cars will bolt into later models and vice versa. Seats are all interchangeable. Updating the glove boxless “pillow dash” to a 1972-’76 glove box dash is a bolt-on replacement, although the fresh-air vents won’t work unless some sheetmetal surgery is performed. Technically, the 1977-’80 dash will fit all post-1967 cars, but the wiring will have to be updated to make the gauges work. The 1972-’76 console with armrest and radio opening can be added to 1968-’71 cars, and an aftermarket armrest/console is also available.
Three different types of top bows were available for the soft-tops and are all interchangeable. Depending on the types of bows used, there are several top options, with the zip-out rear-window model from later cars the most popular. Top kits can also be sourced in vinyl, canvas and mohair.
The aftermarket offers upgraded interior kits, usually trimmed in leather. There are woodgrain dash accent kits, a variety of steering wheels, and even power windows available to make the MGB as comfortable and plush as a modern commuter.
On the exterior, grilles and taillight assemblies can be mixed and matched on chrome-bumpered cars to provide the desired look. Rubber-bumper to chrome-bumper conversions are possible, but welding and paintwork is required.
While most of these changes are simple bolt-ons, it’s worth checking around to make sure the desired part will fit the specific car without major work. As a general rule, bolt-on interchangeability is straightforward within these three categories: 1962-’67, 1968-’74 and 1975-’80. Jumping between the categories usually requires more effort. For example, a 1970 engine will fit any of the 1968-’74 cars with no additional work. However, to install it in a 1964 car will require some gearbox and starter modifications. Putting it into a 1980 car will require front engine plate and motor-mount changes.
Since MGBs derive their value more from condition than originality, updating the cars or making tasteful modifications is an excellent way to make them more enjoyable. Keep watching these pages in future issues for details on many of these updates.