Why the MGB is Still Top Dog

The world of classic cars is a fickle one. Even the very definition of what constitutes a classic car is perennially up for debate. Within clubs and forums enthusiasts do battle daily over modifications, model changes, model history and many, many more tightly fought topics. It may rankle at times but this is exactly the stuff that classic car culture is made of.

There is one point, however, on which everyone agrees.

The MGB is the very definition of a classic car. It's the car non-classic car people think about when asked to think about classic cars.

In 2020 it's 40 years since the B went out of production. Yet it remains a highly sought-after classic.

Lets try to work out why.

But First, a Little History

When MG launched the B in 1962 it was a radical departure for the small Abingdon firm. The body was the firm's first monocoque, a fairly new idea that put the B one step ahead of the body-on-chassis rivals from MG's main competitor, Triumph. It made the car more rigid, so it would handle better and the convertible would flexed less.

Under the skin things were less cutting edge. The rear drive, live axle set up broke no new ground, neither did the ancient 1800cc engine that dated back to 1947.

In 1965 the BGT was introduced, with a coupe roof designed by Pininfarina. It was so well integrated into the B profile that it's hard to accept it was actually an after-thought.

The B proved popular but was always criticised for its lack of power. So in 1967, in part to fill the gap left by the Austin Healey 3000, MG launched the C with the Healey's 3 litre engine. This big, heavy engine added power but not much excitement and sales were poor.

The idea of a faster B didn't go away. In 1973 the car finally got the engine it deserved - the Rover V8. But only in the GT and only for three years. Although popular, it seems likely that demand for the engine from elsewhere within British Leyland killed this great combination of car and motor.

In 1975 the B got a makeover to meet US Federal regulations - big plastic bumpers, increased ride height and detail changes to the interior. Although much-derided, these changes were successful and saw the car last until 1980.

But enough of that. Here's why the B prevails...

1. It's So Easy To Own

The MGB is a byword for simplicity. Simple, robust engine, conventional construction, simple suspension. This is a car designed to be built in large numbers and sold all over the world. So, right from the start, it had to be strong, reliable and easy to maintain.

It didn't change much either: aside from cosmetic alterations and some changes to the engine, the final Bs of 1980 were pretty much identical to the original ones.

All of which makes owning a B a doddle. In fact, it's much like buying a new car since every single part from the smallest nut to whole bodyshells is available immediately off the shelf from lots of suppliers. The car's simplicity makes them suited to DIY fixes. Or there are plenty of specialists about.

There's also a huge owner network in the form of two big clubs. So if you can't fix it, someone somewhere will know how to - or know someone who can.

2. It's Reliable

While Triumph fiddled around with brand new V8 engines and fuel injection, MG trundled on with the task of building the B exactly as they always had. This may mean that the car isn't quite as exciting as a TR6 or Stag, but at least you're secure in the knowledge that you'll always get where you're going.

Of course, MGBs do break down. But not much, because there isn't actually that much to go wrong. And when they do there's only a small range of problems that it could be. Because the car is so simple.

3. It Looks Good

When MG Federalised the B with rubber bumpers in 1975 there was a huge uproar. Not only because there was so much love for the original car, but because it had looked so right. The B was an in-house design - there's even some debate about who actually designed it - but it looks works so well from every angle that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was dreamed up by an Italian carozzeria.

It was a clever design too, being one of the first to feature crumple zones. Hence the early MGB 'Safety Fast' advertising. And quite practical - there's a reasonable size boot, easy to operate hood, decent passenger space and good visibility.

4. You're Never Alone in a B

Thanks to the high survival rate from the original production run and that huge owner network, you're never far from your next MGB meeting. Or from meeting someone who's owned one, wants to own one or who's dad owned one. Classic cars always start conversations wherever they park but the B more so than many - its instantly recognisable and so widely owned.

It's also an easy car to share. Some classic car enthusiasts may have to push and prod their partners into passengering them on their drives; rarely so with a B because it's spacious, comfortable, reliable and just good fun to be in.

5. It's Easy to Improve

One of the main criticisms levelled at the B is that, in standard form, it's not much cop to drive. And certainly the heavy, wooden steering and performance-free 1800cc engine don't exactly scream 'sports car.'

But therein lies another of the B's trump cards. With so many about and the car's dynamic weaknesses so well known, there is a whole arm of specialists ready and waiting to make your B better. In the process they can also knock down that other well worn moan of naysayers: that the B is ubiquitous.

Modifying and improving your B, from wheel choice to suspension set up to whole engine revamps, turns the B into a very personal statement. The changes can be as expensive or cheap as you want them to be. And unlike other car scenes, which tend to frown on anything that isn't absolutely original, B enthusiasts positively welcome modified cars.

Buying One

There are a lot of Bs about and price is not always a reliable guide to condition. Expect to pay upwards of £8,000 for a solid, MOT'd convertible and about half that for a BGT. The coupe is certainly worth considering - it is a really nice mini GT and much more practical and useable year-round than the roadster. A V8 BGT is a very desirable car, although values reflect that - you'll pay at least £15,000 for one in reasonable condition.

The early 'pull handle' Bs are the most sought after, but they're really for afficionados. Your main decision will be between chrome and rubber bumper - the latter used to be seriously overlooked, but are now gaining a following. The looks may be a little more awkward but they are well built and feel a little more modern than the earlier cars thanks to the updated dashboard.

Most Bs left the factory identical except for colour, but there is one option you should seek out - overdrive. Various systems were used over the years, but try to buy a car with one fitted: it makes the car a much more relaxed cruiser.

The B's main bugbear is rust, generally in places that you can't see like the inner sills and the adjacent castle rails. They also rot around the screens and the seams on the top of the wiings. B values have been on the rise but still aren't at a level where a full restoration is economically viable, unless you want to take on a weekend project. On the upside, if you do decide to restore a B, everything you need is readily available and mostly inexpensive.

When buying a B always check the car's history and grill the owner - most tend to lavish funds and affection on their cars. It's always better to buy someone else's investment.


Graham Eason runs Great Driving Days, the classic car experience company.

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