Meet the MGZ, a Ford Zetec-powered MGB

Photography by John Webber

Let’s say you have a perfectly good Tremec T-5 transmission gathering dust in your garage, and you’re wondering what to do with it. For many gearheads, selling the thing on eBay might come to mind, or maybe hauling it to a swap meet for a trade. But if you’re creative and love to fabricate, you might just ask yourself this question: Hey, why not build a car around it?

That’s what father-son team Jack and Brian Collins did. These longtime car builders, who run a British car shop near Orlando called Ceres Motorsports, dusted off that T-5, mated it to a 2003 Ford Focus Zetec engine pulled from a junkyard, and slipped the potent powertrain into a 1979 MGB. Well, slipped may not be exactly the word, since this unusual swap involved months of pondering, measuring, designing, machining, trial-fitting, refitting and testing.

The Transverse Challenge

This 2-liter, twin-cam Ford Zetec engine features a ported cylinder head, Comp Cams Stage 2 cams, Fidanza adjustable cam gears, a Megajolt Lite ignition controller managed by a custom crank position sensor, a Mac Shorty exhaust header and a custom 2.5-inch exhaust. The Kawasaki ZX-9R sportbike carburetors are mounted on a fabricated intake. The engine is cooled by an aluminum radiator built for an early Mustang, along with an electric fan.

Wait, you say, isn’t that Zetec a transverse engine, one originally found in front-drive Fords like the Focus, Escort and Contour? Indeed it is. And that’s what made this installation such a challenge, because positioning it north-south in the MGB required some work.

Jack and Brian modified the bellhousing they grabbed from a 1987 Thunderbird, as well as the T-5’s input shaft. Then they had to design and fabricate the custom components needed to redirect engine cooling to the front-mounted radiator while creating a serpentine belt system up front for the engine. No simple tasks here.

Why an MGB? Nearly 50 years ago, Jack’s first car was an MGB. “I really loved that car,” he says, “and we’ve had British cars–too many to name–in the garage ever since.”

Over the years, this innovative team concentrated on muscle cars, restomods and hotrods, but eventually they yearned for their British roots. “Somehow,” Jack says, “we came back around to MGBs.” In 2012 they found an honest, rust-free ’79 MGB and bought it as a driver for Brian, aiming for it to become a running mate for Jack’s impressive Primrose MGC GT.

Like many neglected MGs, the MGB they found needed love. So they tuned it up, installed new hoses, belts and brakes, and started driving it. But after months in the slow lane–the 1979 MGB only delivered 63 horsepower–this hotrodding pair had the itch for more power. “We talked about V8 and V6 swaps,” Brian explains, “but I sorta figured a four-cylinder would pair well with the car’s size and weight, and we felt it would be neat to do something different. Zetecs are plentiful and affordable and have lots of aftermarket support. We already had a T-5 transmission, and we just bet our money we could pair it to a Zetec.”

Jack and Brian spent a lot of time online and became inspired by Zetec engine swaps in Britain, especially those that breathed through motorcycle carbs. “Since we love British cars, we wanted to build a modern British hotrod,” Brian adds.

As they started trial-fitting the powertrain into the MGB, they discovered that the Zetec’s oil sump interfered with the front suspension crossmember. But after some experimenting, they found that sliding the engine back a few inches opened up enough clearance. The shifter also perfectly fit in the transmission tunnel’s original opening, and the T-5 lined up with the car’s stock transmission mounting position.

This rearward placement required removing the heater–not a concern in Florida–and notching the heater box’s sheet metal for clearance. Sure, they knew that the Zetec’s 130 horsepower would more than double the MG’s output, but more is better, right? So they pumped up the Zetec with numerous performance parts and now estimate the horsepower at about 180.

Living With the MGZ

The car now sits 1.5 inches lower in the front and 1 inch lower in the rear. It rolls on 15x6-inch steel wheels wearing 195/55R15 BF Goodrich g-Force Sport Comp-2 tires. KYB tube shocks have been installed in the rear. The interior remains mostly stock, including the gauges, with the exception of a voltmeter fitted in place of the clock. Sharped-eyed MGB entusiasts will spot the stubby T-5 shifter. The windshield, door handles and window winders came from a 1966 MGB.

While they admire all MGBs, Jack and Brian confess a particular love for the simplicity and elegant lines of the steel-bumper models. So, along with the drivetrain swap, they decided to transform the ’79 into their interpretation of an earlier car. At a glance, most onlookers think it’s a restored ’65 that features several personalized touches. Even with a serious examination, it’s hard to believe this hotrod started life as a rubber-bumper car.

So far, the Collins duo has driven this roadster about 10,000 miles and brought it to more than a dozen shows. The MGZ always draws a crowd, especially with the bonnet up, and elicits a lot of questions and comments.

“Most enthusiasts get it,” Jack says, although he admits that some purists object to any modifications. His son adds, “It’s a hit with younger enthusiasts who love MGBs but hate the vintage performance, and people tell us that they like the idea of driving a quick and reliable classic car.”

Brian points out that the project has more than met their objectives: to retain the roadster’s stock appearance and vintage spirit while delivering today’s reliability and performance. “Best of all,” he says with a smile, “it doesn’t leak oil on the garage floor.”

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Ford, MG, mgb, Engine swap, Zetec and MGZ articles.
More like this
Adrian_Thompson MegaDork
4/25/19 10:08 a.m.

Looks perfect. 

Both your links take us to a 404 page unfound though.

Also the annoying subscribe pop up is back even on my desktop after the 404 link, it never went away on my phone though.

Bent-Valve Reader
4/25/19 12:59 p.m.

In reply to Adrian_Thompson :

Link works now. Maybe clear your browser history. Then 

  1. Right Click on the Start Icon.
  2. Click on Command Prompt.
  3. The Windows Command Prompt Window will appear. Type in: ipconfig /flushdns. and press ENTER.
  4. You should receive the following message: Windows IP Configuration. Successfully flushed the DNS Resolver Cache.

This will reload where your webpages point and may fix bad links.

nderwater UltimaDork
4/25/19 1:12 p.m.

Cool project.  That's about the prettiest MGB I've ever seen. 

4/25/19 2:44 p.m.

Very well done! Maybe one day we can put your MGZ up against my Ecotec Spitfire! I'm a little behind though...

Indy-Guy UberDork
4/25/19 2:58 p.m.

I really like the look of those steel wheels.  Are they stock wheels from a TR6 or aftermarket something?

jr02518 Reader
4/25/19 8:35 p.m.

2nd on the wheels.  I would like these for my 1960 MGA Coupe.  If someone get's the info on these I'm up for a set.




Robbie UltimaDork
4/25/19 8:57 p.m.

Very likely tr6 wheels. Direct bolt on and 15 inches instead of 14.

I got two sets (8 wheels total) at a swap meet for $80 or something a year or two back. With the intention of using them on my mgbgt.

Indy-Guy UberDork
4/25/19 9:05 p.m.

In reply to Robbie :

If you want to unload a set, they would fit nicely on my TR4.

Steve_Jones New Reader
4/25/19 9:42 p.m.

They are about 14 years late to the game. Same conversion was done in a Datsun 1600 in 2005. 

There are still photos of it on BAT from when it sold in 2008.


BigLou New Reader
4/29/19 11:23 a.m.

Very cool MGB.  A neighbor of mine had one when I was a kid and I always thought it was one of the coolest little cars.

You'll need to log in to post.

Our Preferred Partners