In the 1980 movie Rising Damp, based on the successful TV sitcom, the Rigsby character played brilliantly by Leonard Rossiter, drives a battered red MGB with a primer-grey front wing. That car sums up everything we know about Rigsby; unattractive, unreliable and the hood falls off when he is trying to impress Ruth Jones ( Frances de la Tour ).
By the time of the Rigsby’s denouement in his MGB, the monocoque sports car was near the end of its life after a production run of 18 years with over half a million built. You don’t get an 18-year run like that for any old rubbish and the MGB wasn’t, so perhaps it was the particular sheer ubiquity of the thing which left some folk holding it within such disregard, or was it something else?
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I felt very disdainful when asked to run errands in the MGB works hack back in the early Eighties when I was spannering my way through college at a classic-car restoration business. It was a bog-standard unexceptional model in navy blue, with chromium-plated bumpers, wire wheels and a rather tatty hood – a bit like Rigsby’s.
Yet here was a revelation compared with the Triumph TR4 , our Ford Cortina GT, my Mini Cooper or indeed most of the old cars I’d driven up to that point. For the start it handled, the particular wheels stayed (mostly) on the ground through a bumpy corner, the doors still opened if you parked it on a kerb and it felt good to drive in a way that few contemporaries managed. It started, stopped, the hood nevertheless worked and was much easier in order to furl in a rain storm than my TR’s, and there was room for me, my girlfriend plus my dog. At the particular time I was sniffy about the engine displacement of the mere 1. 8 litres, but I’ve since learned that there is a substitute for cubes. Around the roads of Norfolk, it was sheer delight with its hollow roar from its four-cylinder B-series engine, the clickety gearbox with the swooshing Laycock de Normanville overdrive and the flickering Smiths instruments. It wasn’t fast, but it was nimble plus fun and I came to love that car, so much so, We serviced this and even ordered it a replacement hood.
So where did the particular MGB’s reputation as brown Windsor soup on wheels come from? Moreover, 60 many years after this was first launched, is it possible to reassess this polarising best-selling sports car? Let’s see.
Certainly no one at MAGNESIUM headquarters within Abingdon thought the MGB would turn out in order to be quite the sales success this proved when the company’s chief engineer Sid Enever and general manager John Thornley first began thinking regarding a replacement for the MGA. That vehicle was a simply beautiful creation based on a pontoon-styled TD Le Mans vehicle for George Philips which was penned by Enever. In seven years of production from 1955 to 1962, the MGA sold an unprecedented 101, 801 models, yet it very nearly didn’t get made. Leonard Lord, BMC chairman rejected it when he first saw it, preferring instead to place his sports-car chips on the two-week-old deal he’d signed with Donald Healey for the Austin Healey series associated with models, plus delaying the particular MGA’s launch for two yrs. It wouldn’t be the last time that MG has been to fall victim in order to politics and play second fiddle to a rival.
Development of the MGB had begun in 1958 four years before its ’62 release as well as the submitted design has been devised simply by Enever plus styled by Don Hayter with a bit of help from Pininfarina. Its steel monocoque structure had been tried on the 1953 ZA Magnette and also rivals the Austin Healey Sprite and the Sunbeam Alpine, but it’s not the work associated with the moment to design an open-top monocoque plus MG’s was a good one. Other than that, the mechanical layout underneath was highly conventional and mend plus make-do. While a V4 engine had been proposed, in the end the MGA’s trusty B-series was stretched to one, 798cc along with a four-speed manual transmission, and the particular proposed independent rear suspension was dumped in favour of the cheaper live rear axle on leaf springs along with a rather heavy but effective wishbone front suspension derived from that of the Y-type saloon.
Wildly underrated simply by which ever company owned them, MG’s engineers were very good at their jobs and just three prototypes plus eight pre-production cars had been all that were needed to develop the new car. General Manager Thornley single handedly saved the project by signing a brilliant in case ultimately expensive deal with Pressed Steel to produce the particular body/chassis and the first car has been shown in order to the press on 20 September, 1962 upon the preview day from the Earls Court motor show. One associated with the exhibits was the car split down the middle (maybe that’s where Damien Hirst pinched the idea from) to show the inner workings and how different it had been through the MGA. Pathe News displayed an unerring ability to miss the point with the news reel of the ’62 show, which usually showed the particular MG 1100 saloon plus not the MGB, though you can see another bisected motor show MGB (a 1965 MGB GT) at the Gaydon motor museum.
Generally, the particular press loved it and at just £950, well they might. The redoubtable deer-stalker hat wearing John Bolster, racer and technical editor with regard to Autosport magazine, wrote: “The world of the sports car is changing fast. We used to admire the type of two seater that was all engine and performance and precious little else… A sports vehicle must still have the superior performance plus handling qualities, but is now expected to have all the creature comforts of a luxurious saloon, which means that will noise, vibration and hard suspension are out.
“Such a car is the particular MGB…”
Sales were strong, particularly in America exactly where three in five models ended upward. There followed a series of improvements and developments (not all of them welcome) from Abingdon such as the better rear axle, the particular replacement of the aluminium bonnet with a steel item, a good overdrive option, an automatic transmission option, a six-cylinder motor with the particular 1967 MGC – yet the most important life line the little car could have had, the Rover Buick V8 engine in the 1973 MGB GT, had been five many years too late. It had been furthermore launched inside the center of the fuel-price crisis and only sold in the UK and not in America where this would have been popular, but an unfavourable exchange rate would have made it even more costly than the particular £2, 294 it cost at start in contrast to the £1, 547 for that standard MGB .
Safety regulations in the US experienced turned the particular post 1974 MGB into a rubber-bumpered, high-riding monstrosity and besides, 18 years is a long time, the market changed and overtook the MGB, which was simply getting old and outclassed. Cars such as the Datsun 240Z , even the Triumph TR7 were seen as better sports cars, though in the particular latter case, what on earth had been we thinking?
What went wrong? The late plus much-lamented motoring writer Brian Laban in his book MGB The Complete Story says it was not complacency since there was never any kind of shortage associated with plans and proposals in order to develop plus replace the MGB, in fact Enever and Thornley thought the original MGB wouldn’t last more than six years and were planning its replacement at the launch within 1962. Laban reckons it was more the particular politics plus mega mergers of the British engine industry at the period (MG got disappeared in to the corporate giant Uk Leyland in 1968 and horrible blue Leyland badges sprouted around the MGB’s wings), which together with the infamous 1973 Ryder Report , left little Abingdon out within the cold.
Keith Adams of aronline blames management, specifically Leyland boss, Donald Stokes who seemed to have in-built bias towards Triumph plus torpedoed the particular MGB’s alternative the EX 234, and Michael Edwards who excluded MG through his plans and closed the loss-making Abingdon just after the 1979 50 th anniversary of MG cars, which usually left the old 410, 000sq ft site for sale and the famous octagon marque as a footnote in history plus a badge on the back associated with some desperately ordinary saloons. In fact , Edwards later admitted he regretted the decision and vastly under estimated the strength of support regarding MG – what is it about fine words buttering no parsnips? It was left to enthusiasts to keep the marque alive, although Rover capitalised on the particular availability of substitute shells in order to bring us the 1993 £25, 000 RV8 and then the small MGF of 1995 raised hopes for the marque, yet again business shenanigans gifted the MAGNESIUM name ultimately to SAIC of China where it now lives on the particular back associated with a number of family SUVs plus crossovers. What an end to Cecil Kimber’s legacy.
All this gives the poor MGB an almost unbearable poignancy about what can have already been, but why does the car remain simultaneously so polarisingly appealing and naff? The particular baby-boom beard-and-bobble hat brigade hardly endear it to a younger, cooler audience, but then look in a really original car without the club badges plus junk cluttering up the front, or for that matter 1 of Abingdon’s Frontline Development’s genuinely thrilling conversions on an MGB or a B GT with brand new engines, transmissions, reworked suspensions and beautifully trimmed cabins. Neither of those cars could be considered naff in any way.
Tim Fenna of Frontline Developments agrees that the MGB gives off mixed messages, but at heart he states: “the MGB is an affordable, approachable, solid and reliable sports car which has a huge popularity. ” He also says that while Stokes might have acquired a Triumph bias, Abingdon and Canley where Triumphs were built were similar “craft and enthusiast driven factories” which could have survived “but were killed away by the particular bean counters”.
And therein lies the rub. MGB says so much about our past it’s hard to divide that from the particular car. In the finish, though, I’d rather think of that will Sixties navy-blue, chrome-bumpered design parked by a sun-lit Norfolk dyke with a picnic in the back than the smirking Seventies bosses with their helmet hair playing chequers with popular old car makers plus their proud workforces.
It is just the matter associated with perspective, really; you’ve nothing to lose but your beard and bobble hat.
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