MGB: Expert advice on shopping and ownership

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

In a world where ’60s icons can easily cost more than a three-bedroom house, the MGB still provides an affordable path to classic sports car ownership. When it burst onto the scene for the 1962 model year, it gave enthusiasts a modern roadster that didn’t break the bank.

The B featured an easy-to-use folding convertible top, independent front suspension, up-to-date looks and a usable trunk. Where most of its contemporaries relied upon body-on-frame construction, the MG featured a unibody.

Power came from a 1.8-liter inline-four fed by a pair of tried-and-true SU carburetors–enough for a top speed of 100 mph, plenty fast for the day. MG soon offered an optional overdrive for the standard four-speed transmission. The car immediately became a crowd favorite.

The first big change came for 1966 when the hardtop GT joined the model line. It even offered a tiny rear seat for equally tiny passengers. The 1968 model year brought more updates. The easiest way to identify a post-1967 car? Look for three windshield wipers. MG also swapped the generator for an alternator in the ’68 cars, while the all-steel dash received a padded vinyl cover in the name of safety.

Planned replacements for the MGB never happened–call it a victim of budget issues and corporate politics–so MG just kept updating the car through the ensuing years. Another significant change happened partway through 1974 in order to meet the day’s crash standards: The original chrome bumpers were replaced with big, black, rubber pieces. (Technically they’re formed in urethane, but most people refer to the MGBs wearing them as rubber-bumper cars.) At the same time, MG raised the ride height by about an inch and a half to meet U.S.headlight requirements. A coinciding switch to a single Zenith/Stromberg also cut horsepower.

Despite the drop in performance, the MGB soldiered on until the 1980 model year.

Figure the manufacturer built about 15,000 to 25,000 roadsters per year, with most leaving England. Add in the GT figures, and total MGB production tops half a million units. Today, the cars are still hugely popular. Club support remains strong, and almost every repair and replacement part is still available–even brand-new body shells built on the original tooling.

Want to relive those glory days of the ’60s and 70s? The MGB could be your personal time machine.

Shopping Advice

Our own Carl Heideman knows more than a few things about classic MGs, including the iconic MGB.

Rust is an issue with most MGBs, so unless you find a well-cared-for car from a dry climate, expect to deal either with rust or previous repairs. Literally every panel is available for these cars, although some do require finesse to fit. If you choose to make your own repairs, the internet offers a lot of support and even hands-on training. If you hire a shop, it’s wise to use one that’s nationally known and has done 10 or more MGBs. That level of experience will usually keep the price and quality in line.

Electrical issues are almost always overstated. Most problems are due to corroded connections, especially at the battery, the starter and the fusebox. Additionally, Lucas bullet/barrel connectors will corrode over time. Cleaning terminals and grounds as well as replacing corroded Lucas barrels will correct most issues. Of course, previous workaround “repairs” can be an issue. Returning to stock wiring is usually the best repair.

The MGB’s suspension, while criticized for its lever shocks and leaf springs, is pretty good as long as everything is in good shape. Kingpins and bushings often need to be replaced in the front end, lever shocks can be rebuilt and upgraded, and springs can be replaced or rebuilt. There have been long periods where the market was flooded with poor-quality springs, so “new” ones can be suspect. Current coil springs seem acceptable, and leaf springs are often better rebuilt at a local spring shop.

Like Lucas electrics and lever shocks, SU carbs get blamed more than they deserve. Most carb problems start on the ignition side, and almost all distributors are worn or have a bad timing curve for today’s fuel. A new or rebuilt distributor with properly rebuilt carbs–including throttle shafts and bushings–makes a tune-up easy and long-lasting.

Details make a difference in how much you enjoy an MGB. Seat cushions and supports will wear even while the upholstery continues to look good. Pedal bushings and worn components will induce sloppy-feeling free play. Minor rattles from mirrors, loose door latches and other components will make a car feel worn-out. Tackling these issues one at a time makes for easy weekend projects that are worth the effort and small expense.

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skutney New Reader
1/22/20 6:50 a.m.

Nice article. I have a 1980 MGB. I've had it painted, converted to chrome bumpers and replaced the carbs with SU HIF's. I'm amazed at the nice comments that I receive.

wspohn Dork
1/22/20 11:42 a.m.

The MGB was the Miata of it's day. Nothing particularly fast about them, but good basic handling and fun to drive.  Although I am primarily an MGA guy, I have owned MGBs and an MGC (which is a whole different story) and like them. The only one I would have liked to own but never got around to was the MGB GT.

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