A modernized MGB that begs to be driven

Photography Courtesy Snake River Classics

Sponsored Content Presented by Snake River Classics.

The problem with perfectly restored classic cars? They tend to just sit in the garage, says John Batterton, founder of Snake River Classics.

That’s why he’s on a mission to create restored, modernized classics that beg to be driven.

How to make classic cars fun to drive again?” he rhetorically asks.

His answer: Make them reliable, comfortable and quick enough to easily run with today’s traffic. He calls this process transformation.

Snake River Classics has set its sights on transforming the MGB, a crowd favorite that was built in huge numbers on a relatively modern unibody platform. The shop offers both convertibles and hardtops–some people just like having a roof over their heads, Batterton notes.

Early on, he explains, Snake River Classics set a major parameter for its transformed cars: Their character had to be kept. “A lot of new cars are so perfect,” he explains, “that they don’t feel like they have a soul.”

The shop opted to retain a four-cylinder engine, solid rear axle and original body lines. Even the wheels look period-correct.

The first piece of hardware to go? The MG’s original all-iron, cam-in-block engine.

The new engine comes not from MG, but from GM: the brand’s turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four that carries the LTG designation.

The LTG made its debut in 2013 under the hood of the Cadillac ATS and Chevrolet Malibu before GM expanded its use to other products, including the Camaro, where it was rated at 275 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. (From the factory, the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine found in a 1973 MGB made 79 horsepower and 94 lb.-ft. of torque.)

The LTG features an aluminum block fitted with both a forged crankshaft and connecting rods; the pistons are lightweight aluminum.

The aluminum twin-cam cylinder head features four valves per cylinder, continuously variable cylinder timing and direct injection. A twin-scroll turbocharger can deliver up to 20 psi in stock form.

Need more power? The aftermarket provides, with simple tuning alone able to deliver some 40 additional horsepower. “Some people have made more than 500 horsepower,” Batterton says, but Snake River Classics tends to keep that number closer to stock, with available outputs of 260, 272 or 325 horsepower.

He then notes two more big advantages of the LTG: It doesn’t weigh that much more than the stock MGB engine, and it fits beneath an unmodified hood.

Snake River Classics offers two transmission choices: a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Both are built by Aisin, a longtime OE supplier.

Snake River Classics retains the live rear axle layout but replaces the original MG setup with three-link suspension featuring a Panhard bar, torque arm, coil-over shock absorbers and a Ford 9-inch rear.

The Ford 9-inch has been a mainstay of performance car builds, no matter the vehicle manufacturer, for over half a century,” explains longtime hotrod supply house Speedway Motors. “It comes down to the strength of the Ford 9-inch rear end design and the extremely generous aftermarket support for it.”

To mount the new rear end, Snake River Classics developed a mid-body torque brace that runs the width of the car and mounts beneath it, about halfway down the length of the doors. This brace supports both the transmission and that new torque arm.

The front suspension, likewise, has been thoroughly redesigned, with cast aluminum lower A-arms and fabricated upper A-arms mounted to a custom subframe. Coil-over shock absorbers and an anti-roll bar are part of the transformation as well.

Also upgraded: the brakes. Snake River Classics replaces the stock solid front discs and rear drums with 11-inch vented discs at all four corners. Modern, four-piston calipers with integrated parking brake are used.

Another priority of this project: retaining the MGB’s original looks. Snake River Classics can backdate a later chassis or just start with an earlier one. Either way, the goal is to wind up with the classic chrome bumpers used through 1974.

Subtle fender flares can be added to accommodate wider wheels and tires; 195/55R15 tires come standard, but options up to 245mm wide are available.

The interior is also fully redone but still kept close to period-correct, based on a first-generation MGB dashboard.

As the shop notes, a variety of leather seats, steering wheels and leather accents with contrasting stitching are available. Air-conditioning and heated seats can also be added–back to that theme of making the car comfortable and usable.

It still has classic looks but without the pain,” Batterton notes. “It’s a modern car with an old body.”

Performance also falls into the realm of modern. Depending on the direction of the wind, a stock MGB can reach 60 mph in about 12 to 14 seconds–sporty for its day, but we now live in a world where a Honda minivan can make that sprint in less than 7 seconds.

Snake River Classics says its MGB can do it in less than 5 seconds when tuned for 325 horsepower.

While the conversion adds more power, it doesn’t really tack on more weight. A 1973 issue of Road & Track lists the MGB roadster’s curb weight at 2260 pounds and test weight at 2590 pounds. Snake River Classics reports that its roadster weighs about 2400 pounds with a full load of fuel while retaining the original 51/49 weight distribution. Add about another hundred pounds for the MGB GT body.

Each transformation is built to order, and Batterton says to budget at least four or five months. The customer supplies the donor car–the body will be totally stripped, inspected, repaired and painted–and the dream. “We’ll entertain anything,” he says.

The price for that dream starts at $110,000. That’s much less than a Singer-modified Porsche 911 and closer to a new, standard-issue 911–something that’s a bit more common than the MGB these days.

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wspohn SuperDork
9/15/21 10:52 a.m.

Cost is less than the Miata engined Frontline conversion in the UK and this is a better engine.  I've been advocating that engine for years as an MG engine swap - wonder why it took so long?

Jpsbgt New Reader
9/15/21 11:59 a.m.

As a very long term MGB guy this is one hell of a upgrade. Problem is most MGB fans just don't have that kind of cash to spend. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
9/15/21 3:53 p.m.

In reply to wspohn :

The LTG engine is way cool. It's quick in a Camaro. Has to feel awesome in an MGB. 

jcme0557 New Reader
9/16/21 8:04 a.m.

I love the idea. However, the price is way out of my league.

I don't doubt that a potential customer is getting $100K+ worth of work and parts...its just that, well you could buy 5 really nice 1973 MGB's for that, and we're not even considering the cost of the donor car either. There are an awful lot of really nice, fast cars out there for $110,000...and you wouldn't have to wait 5 months to get them either.

The thing about the B is that its just about the only classic sports car that is still affordable for the average Joe or Joan to own and enjoy. Most folks I know wouldn't have anywhere near the scratch to even consider this sort of project...and, if they did, most sure wouldn't be dropping it on a B. No, they'd be looking up market at Healey's and Porsches and E-Types.

My other thought is...do you really need 275 hp in an MGB to have fun? Yes, I know we are living in a world where anything less than 200 is considered hopelessly underpowered. And yet, I remember having a TON of fun driving the wheels off old B's and other "hopelessly underpowered" little roadsters (MX-5 Miata?) Actually, a Miata 1.8 powered B would be darn near perfect.

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
9/16/21 8:42 a.m.

If you drive a Sunbeam Tiger, you might not ask if an MGB needs more power. This sure is a cleanly done, albeit upscale project. 

One way to look at this is can I get just one good idea from this story for my project. I for one, am digging the cool way they integrated the cold air intake.

wspohn SuperDork
9/16/21 10:13 a.m.

I found the suspension and the torque beam interesting. 

You can get 400-450 bhp with those engines without changing the internals (I am conservative with 375 bhp in my Solstice)  and that will out do any Tiger (they weight 100 lbs or so more than the LTG powered MGB and have very little power by today's standards (back in the day their ticked off the Healey owners, but the 200 bhp gross (let's just assume that every Tiger owner has already installed a 289 or 302 in his car rather than the 260 most came with) isn't going to do it today and the brakes you can fit in those dinky 13" wheels were pathetic even back in the day.

If I were to shell out $100K for a car, it wouldn't be an MGB either, but I can't help thinking that an MGB GT done this way would be a very entertaining sleeper than you could drive calmly all day and get great mileage with - my Solstice, tuned as it is, usually gets c. 30 mpg highway.

7/29/22 5:44 p.m.

This car participated in the 2022 Sun Valley Tour de Force Unlimited Speed run.

The only modification to the car was a swap out of the front spoiler.

162.1 mph verified by radar.



wspohn SuperDork
7/30/22 11:57 a.m.
Tim Suddard said:

One way to look at this is can I get just one good idea from this story for my project. I for one, am digging the cool way they integrated the cold air intake.

Yes - looks like it was meant to be there. As long as you get it out of the air flow through the radiator you can call it a cold air intake.  I laid out the Jamaican intake pretty much the same way but ran the pickup forward past the radiator so you don't see the filter.

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