Tuesday December 12, 2017
In 1962, MG rolled out its modern replacement for the MGA sports car. Initially offered as a roadster only, the MGB was powered by BMC’s excellent B-Series engine, had an all-new monocoque body and featured gorgeous, Italianate styling by Syd Enever. Although it featured plenty of componentry from the BMC parts bin, it was very much a sports car in its own right – and would become an instant and substantial success straight out of the box.
In 1965, its appeal was bolstered by the arrival of the coupe version, denoted by its GT badging. This car’s makeover was overseen by Italian design house, Pininfarina, which helped sealed the MGB’s success as an all-time classic car – even while it was still in production.
By the end of the 1960s, its replacement’s development should have been well underway, but thanks to parent company BL’s lack of resources and internal competition with Triumph, the MGB was forced to soldier on pretty much unchanged. It received minor changes to its engine and suspension, and the only substantial evolution was the ill-fated six-cylinder MGC version, sold between 1967 and 1969.
But that didn’t stop the British specialist industry in taking an interest. In 1971, Ken Costello built a Rover V8-powered MGB, which soon attracted BL’s attention. So much that it tried to staunch the supply of engines to Costello’s business, before launching its own version to coincide with the start of the Energy crisis in 1973.
The following year BL fitted safety ‘rubber’ bumpers and raised the ride height of the MGB in order to keep it legal in the USA – but keen owners would soon learn to lower it and retro-fit chrome bumpers. And that’s how the MGB remained until it went out of production in 1980. Mainstream enthusiasts had long since considered it to be past it, but a new breed of classic car fans was switching on to its charms.
By this time, it was already taking a starring role in the fledgling classic car industry in the UK. Magazines such as Practical Classics and Thoroughbred & Classic Cars were already sticking the car on its cover, despite having only just gone out of production.
A specialist industry grew to support the MGB, initially concentrating on making it more reliable. But that would evolve into a sophisticated specialist network that would upgrade your MGB – you could buy anything from bolt-on turbocharger kits to V8 engine conversion kits, and no doubt fit them in a weekend.
By the end of the 1980s, the classic car boom was well underway, and a whole new network of restoration businesses came to fore, as early MGBs exploded in value. New bodyshells were created from original tooling, opening up to the rebirth of many older examples. Rover jumped on the bandwagon and briefly reintroduced the MGB using Heritage shells to become the RV8. Two thousand were made, and they ended up being classics the moment they left the showroom.
Meanwhile, many older cars were restored. More often than not, they were restored too quickly in the name of profit. That trend soon died away when the bubble burst and values subsided to their pre-boom levels in the early 1990s.
Throughout the rest of the 1990s and into the 2000s, it was the enthusiast crowd that expanded and maintained the success of the MGB. Its values never returned to the boom time levels, but what did happen is that the community and club side of the car’s popularity exploded as a new generation of fans turned on to its charms.
Classic cars became a social phenomenon, and an affordable one at that. By the late 2000s, the prospect of another classic car bubble began to haunt us – and the MGB was becoming a part of it. As the car turned 50 in 2012, early examples were appreciating sharply, and even the unloved rubber bumper models were climbing sharply. More recently, value inflation has levelled off, but not dropping back.
Today, the MGB is the doyen of the classic car scene. With amazing specialist support and near total parts availability, it’s almost the perfect classic car. Not fast enough? Tune it. Not sharp enough? Lower it. Not rare enough? Buy a factory V8. It’s enjoyed a fascinating lifecycle, but one we suspect has a long time left to play out.