Modest Mods

Everybody has a favorite car, and for many, many Americans who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s that machine is the ubiquitous MGB. This honest, simple roadster introduced a generation of Americans to the sports car world. One of these enthusiasts is Bill Hiland.

In the mid-’90s, Bill returned to the San Francisco Bay Area after a stint designing and racing sailboats in Australia. He needed some wheels and was taken in by the MGB’s style, rugged simplicity and promise of top-down fun. He picked up a 1978 model for use as a daily driver.

As far as MGBs go, Bill’s particular car wasn’t anything too special. It wasn’t an early chrome-bumper example, and it wasn’t one of the illustrious cars produced in the model’s final year. It was a somewhat tired MGB that sported wire wheels and faded paint. Plus, one of its chrome headlight rings had been jettisoned. But Bill, like so many other owners of these later cars, saw its true beauty. His car looked good, offered open-air motoring, and got him from Point A to Point B. It served him well while he grew his new Silicon Valley semiconductor business.

While the MGB wasn’t always trouble-free, Bill held onto it. And when he sold his computer business in 2007, he did the logical thing—at least from our perspective. Instead of trading the B for a Boxster or a Miata, Bill opened On the Road Again Classics, a company located in Morgan Hill, California, that’s dedicated to servicing, restoring and modifying MGs and other British cars.

Resto Change-O

Bill took great care in restoring his MGB, and the attention to detail wasn’t limited to the exterior.

To demonstrate his shop’s workmanship, Bill gave the MGB a complete makeover from stem to stern. The goals for the restoration were simple: modernize the MG without spoiling the original lines or losing its character. A restomod project, Bill calls it.

While the Porsche Speed Yellow paint is hard to miss and the original rubber bumpers have been cast aside, some of the modifications are subtle—even MGB enthusiasts may need to take a second look to identify them. For example, there’s the artful way Bill flared the fenders, integrated air ducts, and added nerf bars.

The engine room contains more modifications, some understated and some not. While the 0.040-inch-over Arias pistons are well hidden, the reason for the rather low 8.4:1 compression ratio is hard to miss: a High Performance Products supercharger. A too-high compression ratio is the bane of supercharging.

High Performance Products, an Australian firm, offers bolt-on supercharger kits for the MGB and MGA as well as the original Mini. Their MGB kit promises “massive torque” plus a 30-to-50-percent horsepower increase.

The gleaming engine pumps out several more ponies than stock thanks to a High Performance Products Supercharger, a 21/2-inch exhaust system, Pierce Manifolds head and an upgraded SU carb.

In early testing, Bill’s B pulled 125 horsepower at the wheels—he figures around 80 more than a stock late-model MGB would produce. Further tweaking and the addition of a Pierce Manifolds aluminum head, 2-inch SU carburetor and PerTronix ignition system have bumped that figure to 133 at 8 psi of boost.

And the torque curve? The max is 133 lb.-ft., and the curve is as flat as the West Lancashire Coastal Plain. Behind this very smooth, very tractable and very powerful engine is a Ford Sierra five-speed gearbox conversion that also came from Pierce Manifolds.

The tail end of the driveline has been modified, too, as Bill’s MGB has been fitted with a narrowed 8.8-inch Ford rear end that has received Mustang Cobra disc brakes. Ever the tinkerer, Bill says he is contemplating a rear Panhard bar setup, but during our fairly brisk drive we saw no need for further modification.

This Ingalls Engineering Stiffy Engine Torque Damper keeps the powerful supercharged mill from bucking out of control under the hood.

Inside, the details continue. A Moss leather interior kit offers comfort and an upscale aesthetic, while a Lecarra steering wheel looks and feels like it was made for the car. Nisonger rebuilt the gauges with unique, old-English white faces that match the car’s subtly customized nature. A wide-band air/fuel ratio gauge allows to Bill to make sure the car is running properly.

There are always those who argue that a classic sports car like an MGB should be left as God and the queen intended: stock as the day it was born. Bill Hiland presents a convincing argument for adding a dash of spice, as he manages to jazz up the flavor without overpowering the dish.

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