By the early 1950s, enthusiasm for for European sports cars had filtered down from those with a lot of money to the middle class. A big part of this was the exposure American soldiers had to small, affordable sports cars in Europe during World War II. Helping to fuel the initial craze for these nimble little two passenger cars were the fabled TC, TD, and TF MG-roadsters built between 1947 and 1955.
Still very affordable
Limited price appreciation
In 1956, MG released its next generation with the MGA roadsters. Sporting larger engines, modern styling, and economical performance, the MGA was produced from 1956 through the 1962 model year.
Then came the MG-B, the one model that would carry the MG badge for the longest span of time. Introduced in the fall of 1962, the MGB was available initially only as a convertible, (marketed as a "roadster"), and was an immediate hit. Built on a wheelbase of 98", with an overall length of just 153" and low curb weight, its in-line four cylinder engine motivated the B quite nicely. Through dual "SU" semi-downdraft carburetors the BMC provided 1,798cc (109.7ci) in-line four was rated at 94 bhp at 5500 rpm.
When the original MGB hit the market it was hailed for its modern styling and smart looks. Featuring a slab sided body, the front end sported a bright chrome grille with thinly spaced vertical bars, punctuated by two headlights that were recessed into the front fenders, and a real chrome bumper. The rear styling was simple and functional with vertical taillights and a chrome bumper. Under the car, coil springs supported the A-arms in the front, with conventional elliptical springs in the rear. The B was well appointed with leather bucket seats, and a snug fitting top. The colors available were limited to typical British hues such as dark green, dark blue, black, and red.
Through its run of eighteen model years a number of advancements were made. The majority of these were in improving handling, while some convenience items were also added. There were even a couple of different versions: short run of six-cylinder models, and an even smaller number of V-8 equipped cars. These models are not addressed in this profile. The MGB would also mark the last product to date to be imported into the United States.
The B regularly saw some degree of detail change each year.
1964 A Laycock de Normanville overdrive unit was made available but found limited acceptance in the U.S. market. The following year saw a major improvement in the engine when the crankshaft went from three to five main bearings.
1966 A coupe model was added and dubbed as the MGB-GT. Aimed at American car buyers, these little coupes actually found more acceptance in MG's homeland of England.
1967 brought the second generation MGB, the Mark II. Its newest feature was a fully synchronized four-speed transmission.
1968 saw the addition of the federally mandated side marker lights and the availability of MG's first automatic transmission. Not a particularly successful configuration, only about 5,000 of these clutchless shifters were installed until the program was discontinued in 1973.
1969 introduces the MGC, basically the MGB fitted with an in-line six cylinder engine. The new "six" was actually based on the four and displaced 2912cc, used seven main bearings, and put out 145 bhp at 5,250 rpm. However, the MGC was not very popular in the U.S. and finding one originally shipped to this country new is a rare find. A common misconception is that this motor is the old Austin-Healey six.
1970 dawned the MGB received a major facelift. A new grille (missing the "MG" logo), "Rostyle" cast wheels as standard equipment, a split rear bumper, and a leather steering wheel. Unfortunately, the genuine leather bucket seats were replaced with genuine vinyl bucket seats this same year.
1971 saw the addition of even more "black-out" trim, a locking steering column, and a return to a one piece rear bumper.
1972 the Mark III MGB was introduced. Most notable of the changes here was the new instrument cluster and that all engines were de-tuned to accept the low-octane and unleaded fuels that the federal government was mandating.
1973 brought yet another new grille, and for the first time since 1969 the "MG" logo was proudly displayed up front.
1974 saw "buck-tooth" black rubber bumper guards attached to the chrome bumpers to try and meet ever tightening government requirements regarding low-speed impact damage rules. While the in-line six didn't reappear that year, a new MGB V8 was introduced. Using the BMC/Rover 3.5 liter unit an impressive 137 horsepower (net) was produced. The V8 was never officially imported into the States.
The last generation of the MGB came to the American shores in 1975. Dubbed the Mark IV models, they featured a single Zenith carburetor rather than the twin SUs. Most recognizable on the Mark IV models was the large black combination grille and bumper assembly made from plastic. In addition, the car was raised on it's suspension to meet federal bumper height standards, degrading handling significantly. Thanks to the aftermarket, there are plenty of fixes for this today.
Many MG fans felt this totally ruined the look of the car and sales of these model declined quickly. For the last five years of its life there were few changes. In 1976 the last V-8 models were produced, while 1977 saw a zip-in rear window used on the convertibles. 1978 found the cooling improved with the use to two electric fans. In 1979 and 1980 there were virtually no changes as the last models were built, bringing the total 18 year run total to 513,272 units.
When looking to buy an MG there are several things to watch for. Due to the car's unibody construction, don't rely on just a visual inspection of the sheet metal to determine if the car is solid. Check the under carriage and other concealed areas of the car for signs of rust out or replacement sheet metal. Look for clues such as mismatched or wavy paint, sloppy welds, or suspicious looking panel fit.
On the early models of the B one of the more popular options was a set of wire wheels instead of the standard pressed and welded steel wheels. That alone can command up to a ten percent price premium on fully restored cars and are well worth having for collector value. But wire wheels require periodic maintenance and may require some attention. If they need to be (properly)serviced, it can run you a small fortune. Fewer shops even have the know-how these days, you may be better off checking with a motorcycle shop. If you want to go the painless route, purchase new ones at about $250 a wheel.
Other areas of particular concern deal with under the hood. Make sure the proper carburetion system is employed as finding the right mechanical parts can be a little time consuming.
One of the nicest things about the MGB is the affordability of ownership for these cars. Obviously, the pre-1975 model years are the most desirable due mainly to their clean, sporty looks. These are cars that one can drive without fear of being while looking for spares. In 1988, British Motor Corporation (MG's parent company), started to reproduce new sheet metal replacements for the MGB, and took the position of helping owners keep their cars on the road.
As with any collector car, getting involved with an organization that recognizes these cars is always a wise investment of time and money. For MGB owners there is the North American MGB Registry. They offer help to members both through the mail and on the internet. (See information box).
Prices on MGB's range from the low $2,000 range for "fixer uppers" to around the $13,000 mark for mint restored early examples with all the right and original parts. Interstingly, coupes are valued about the same as the convertibles. Prices on these cars have enjoyed strong gains due to the number of novice collectors finding English sports cars from the 1960s and early 1970s an economical way to enter the hobby. 2019 update: The best examples are over $20,000 now, but you can still find a good driver for around $5,000 -- quite a bargain in today's market.
Much less desirable are the 1975-1980 models with the big black rubber nose cones. Values lag 20% or more behind earlier examples.
Replacement and spare parts should be available for quite some time in the future, for while the MG nameplate has disappeared from the American shores, the company is still serving its homeland. Fact is one of the most popular little sports cars found in Great Britain these days is the sport little MGF.
About the nicest thing one could say about the MGB models is that they continued the tradition of simple motoring fun. While technical advancements have made the idea of road side tinkering an almost impossible task, these cars and a set of wrenches are almost always an enjoyable way to spend the weekend. - end -
(C) Copyright 1999- VMR International, Inc. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in the November 1999 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide.