All the Way from A to B: The History of the MGB, Part One

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Instead of an all-new car, the 1970 model year brought a lightly made-over MGB, sporting British Leyland badges on the fenders and worrisome signs of cost-cutting. The attractive chrome grille was replaced with a cheaper (and, to many fans, uglier) recessed unit while the interior’s leather seating surfaces gave way to Ambla vinyl. Midway through the year, the lightweight aluminum bonnet was also replaced with a cheaper steel unit.

1970 MGB roadster front1971 MGB roadster Rostyle wheel
In addition to its unpopular recessed grille, the 1970-1971 MGB had more prominent side marker lights and rubber insets for the bumper overriders. Wire wheels (top) remained optional, but styled steel Rostyle wheels (bottom) had replaced the earlier cars’ plain steel discs. The Rostyle wheels looked a great deal like the styled steel wheels offered on contemporary U.S. cars like the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger, adding a curiously American touch to a quintessentially English car.

Also gone was John Thornley, who retired in the summer of 1969. MG had come a long way since Thornley had first visited Abingdon back in September 1930. That year, MG had built around 1,900 cars, a record for the tiny firm. By the time Thornley retired, MG Cars had built over 600,000 cars, around 200,000 of which were MGBs. (The 250,000th MGB rolled off the line in May 1971.) That was an achievement worthy of celebration, but the merger had cast a pall over Abingdon’s previously upbeat atmosphere. As the seventies dawned, the mood was anything but jubilant.

As we’ll see in Part Two, the next decade would bring many more changes to both Abingdon and the B, few of them favorable.

FIN


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources for the history of MG, BMC, and British Leyland included: “1.5 Millionth MG is a Golden Jubilee TF,” AutoWeb, 4 June 2002, www.autoweb. com.au, accessed 3 October 2010; Keith Adams, “Company timeline,” “Formation of an Empire: BMC is created,” and “Humble Beginnings: The principal players,” AROnline, 19 September 2008, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 21 August 2010; “An Interview with Don Hayter – Design & Development Engineer,” 2 January 2001, originally published in the Safety Fast Midget Newsletter August 2001, reprinted on the web at www.mgcars. org.uk, accessed 8 September 2010; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1953-1967 Austin-Healey 100 and 3000,” HowStuffWorks.com, 20 August 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1953-1967-austin-healey-100- and-30005.htm, accessed 21 August 2010, and “MG Sports Cars,” HowStuffWorks.com, 23 May 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ mg-sports-cars.htm, accessed 9 September 2010; “Birth of the Octagonal Badge,” The Electronic Telegraph [c. 1994], www.mgcars. org.uk, accessed 21 August 2010; John Baker, “History of the Company,” Austin Memories, 2006, www.austinmemories. com, accessed 21 August 2010; Don Hayter’s recap of his career, c. January 2008 (Houston MG Car Club, houstonmgcc. com/hayter.htm, accessed 8 September 2010); F. Wilson McComb, MG by McComb (Colchester, Essex: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1978); “MG T-Series,” WWW Enthusiasts, n.d., MGCars. org, www.mgcars. org.uk, accessed 26 August 2010; “MG VA Saloon,” The MG Owners’ Club, n.d., www.mgownersclub. co.uk/ mg-va-saloon.html, accessed 21 August 2010; “Prewar MGs,” WWW Enthusiasts, n.d., www.mgcars. org.uk, accessed 21 August 2010; Peter Thornley, “Remembering J.W.Y. Thornley OBE, June 11, 1909-July 15, 1994,” MGB Driver June-July 1999, www.mgcars. org.uk, accessed 3 October 2010; “Who was William Morris, Lord Nuffield?” Britain Unlimited, n.d., www.britainunlimited. com, accessed 21 August 2010; and the Wikipedia® entries for British Leyland (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Leyland, accessed 21 August 2010), Leonard Lord (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Lord, accessed 21 August 2010) and the MG SA (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MG_SA, accessed 18 September 2010).

Information on the MGA came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “1953-1967 Austin-Healey 100 and 3000,” HowStuffWorks.com, 20 August 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1953-1967-austin-healey-100- and-30005.htm, accessed 21 August 2010; “1953-1958 MG Magnette,” HowStuffWorks.com, 17 October 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1953-1958-mg- magnette.htm, accessed 20 August 2010, “1955-1962 MGA,” HowStuffWorks.com, 15 October 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1955-1962-mga.htm, accessed 5 August 2010; Rob Higgins, “The MGA: How it came to be,” MGA Register, www.mgcars. org.uk, accessed 21 August 2010; “The M.G. A 1600 Two-Seater (The Motor Road Test No. 21/59),” The Motor 2 September 1959, pp. 71-74; “The M.G. A Hardtop Coupé (The Motor Road Test No. 30/57 (Continental),” The Motor 7 August 1957, pp. 18-21; and John Price Williams, The MGA (Dorchester: Veloce Publishing, 1997).

Additional sources on the history, design, and performance of the MGB included: “40th Anniversary of MGB” [press release], 26 July 2002, MG Rover, www.carpictures. com, accessed 25 August 2010; “1962 MGB Sebring,” Sports Car Market, 30 November 2004, www.sportscarmarket. com, accessed 25 August 2010; Keith Adams, “B is for Bestseller,” AROnline, 19 September 2008, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 5 August 2010, “Middle-market mainstay,” AROnline, 2 May 2010, austin-rover. co.uk, accessed 21 August 2010, “The Aston MGB,” AROnline, 12 February 2009, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 8 September 2010, and “The MGB is reborn: the MG RV8,” AROnline, 19 September 2008, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 20 August 2010; Yan Alexandre, “Pio Manzù: Catalogue Raisonnable,” BlenheimGang, 2 May 2011, www.blenheimgang. com, accessed 28 January 2012; “Autocar road test 1899: M.G. MGB 1800 1,798 c.c.,” Autocar 26 October 1962, pp. 737–741; “Autocar Road Test Number 2069,” Autocar 4 March 1966, pp. 429-435; “Auto Test: Costello MGB GT V8: Tiger Tamed,” Autocar 25 May 1972, pp. 34–37; “Auto Test: MGB 1,798 c.c.,” Autocar 5 April 1975, pp. 45–49; Rusty Blackwell, “Collectible Classic: 1966-1974 MGB/GT,” Automobile February 2009, www.automobilemag. com, accessed 2 August 2010; “Brief Test: MGB,” The Motor 22 January 1972, pp. 14-16; Anders Ditlev Clausager, Original MGB: The Restorer’s Guide to All Roadster and GT Models 1962-80 (Original Series) Third Printing (Bideford, Devon: Bay View Books Ltd., 1998); Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002 Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Dolbel Enterprises, “MG RV8 Story,” MGRV8. com, 2 January 2010, www.mgrv8. com/ story.php, accessed 21 August 2010; J.P. Donnay, “Prototypes expérimentaux et de records MG Ex,” Le site MG de JP, 27 June 2003, geomatique-liege.be/ MGJP/ Pages/ Prototypes.htm, accessed 1 October 2010; Robert Edwards, Aston Martin: Ever the Thoroughbred (Haynes Classic Makes Series) (Sparkford, England: Haynes Publishing, 1999); Enrico Leonardo Fagone, “Pio Manzù – Pioneer of Car and Transportation Design,” Auto Design, 1 April 2010, autodesign. socialblog.us, accessed 28 January 2012; “Giant Test: Capri RS3100, Lotus +2 130/5, MGB V8,” Car January 1974, pp. 30–39; Matt Gresalfi, “The Last MGB!!” JaguarMG. com, January 2004, www.jaguarmg. com, accessed 25 September 2010; Orin B. Harding, “MGB Production Modifications,” Autochart. com, 24 May 1994, www.autochart. com, accessed 3 October 2010; John Heilig, MG Sports Cars (Enthusiast Color Series) (Osceola, WI: MBI Publishing Company, 1996); “History of the MGB,” MGB Register, n.d., MG Car Club of Victoria, mgb.mgcc. info, accessed 5 August 2010; Curtis Jacobson, “MG’s EX186 Prototype: The Ultimate ‘Modified’ MGA!” BritishRacecar. com, n.d., www.britishracecar. com, accessed 25 September 2010; “Ken Miles and the editors of Car and Driver road test six sports roadsters,” Car and Driver September 1966, reprinted in Car and Driver on Datsun Z, 1600 & 2000 1966-84 (Brooklands Books), ed. R.M. Clarke(Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1986), pp. 7-16; David Knowles, MG: The Untold Story (Osceola, WI: Motorboks International, 1997); F. Wilson McComb, “MGB GT: Last of the Bargain-Basement Gran Turismos,” Special Interest Autos #103 (February 1988), pp. 36-43; Mark J. McCourt, “Humanitarian on Four Wheels,” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #21 (December 2006); MGB LE, The MG Owners’ Club, n.d., www.mgownersclub. co.uk, accessed 22 August 2010; “MGB Convertible Roadster,” The MG Owners’ Club, n.d., www.mgownersclub. co.uk, accessed 22 August 2010); “MGB Restoration – MGB Tourer and MGB GT Technical Specifications,” n.d., www.middlebank. co.uk, accessed 24 August 2010; MGB GT V8 ad, Autocar 16 August 1973, www.britishv8. org, accessed 26 August 2010; “MGC GT,” MG Owners’ Club, n.d., www.mgownersclub. co.uk, accessed 13 September 2010; “More Safety Fast (‘Motor’ Road Test No. 7/66: MGB GT),” The Motor 19 February 1966, pp. 17-22; Jan P. Norbye, “Sports Cars of the World,” Popular Science Vol. 189 No. 2 (August 1966), pp. 46-53; Skye Nott, “MGB Performance Data,” The MG Experience, 2 April 2006, www.mgexperience. net, accessed 25 August 2010, and “MG Racing Results 1963-1978,” The MG Experience, n.d., www.mgexperience. net, accessed 3 October 2010; Rainer Nyberg and Gary Davies, “Marathon de la Route,” The AUTOSPORT Bulletin Board, 8 September 2006, forums.autosport. com/ lofiversion/ index.php/t46815-50.html, accessed 10 September 2010; “R&T Comparison Test: Four Sports Cars,” Road & Track June 1970, pp. 27-32; Robin Weatherall, “Ken Costello and the MGB-V8,” MG V-8 Newsletter Vol. IV, No. 2 (August 1996), reprinted at www.britishv8. org/ Articles/ Ken-Costello-MGB-V8-1.htm, accessed 17 October 2010; Rainer Wilken, “Special BGTs: The most historically important, exotic, spectacular and stylish MGB GTs packed into one page…almost,” garage24. net, n.d., www.garage24. net, accessed 8 September 2010; and Rene Winters, Dutch Rover Archives, n.d., www.rover-v8. nl/ dutchroverarchives/ index.html, accessed 26 September 2010.

Additional information on the MGF/MG TF and the EX234 and ADO21, the planned successors to the MGB, came from Keith Adams, “EX234,” AROnline, 19 September 2008, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 24 September 2010, and “Project ADO21,” AROnline, 19 September 2008, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 24 September 2010; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “Replacements for the MGB: Triumphs Were the Corporate Will,” Cars That Never Were: The Prototypes (Skokie, IL: Publications International, 1981), pp. 73-76; Paul Bailey, “The return of MG!” Auto Express News, 9 April 2010,www.autoexpress. co.uk, accessed 26 September 2010; Tom Ford, “Spring tide,” CAR March 2002, pp. 76-84; Mark Wan, “Mazda MX-5 (1989),” AutoZine. org, 25 August 2010, www.autozine. org/ Archive/ Mazda/ classic/MX5.html, accessed 26 September 2010, “Rover MGF,” AutoZine .org, 21 February 1999, www.autozine. org/Archive/Rover/old/MGF.html, accessed 26 September 2010, and “MG TF,” Autozine. org, 17 February 2002, www.autozine.org/Archive/Rover/old/TF.html, accessed 26 September 2010; and the Wikipedia entries for the E-series engine (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMC_E-Series_engine, accessed 24 September 2010), the Mazda MX-5 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazda_Miata, accessed 26 September 2010), and the MGF/MGTF (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MG_F_/_MG_TF, accessed 26 September 2010).

Additional information on the Coune Berlinette came from Michiel van den Brink, “Coune MGB Berlinette,” Coachbuild, n.d., www.coachbuild. com, accessed 21 September 2010, Jörn-M Müller-Neuhaus, “No Waffle in a Belgian Tale,” MG Enthusiast February 2007, pp. 34-37; and emails between the author and Nicholas Lecompte of the Coune Registry, 21-24 September 2010.

The exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate equivalency in U.S. currency at the time, not the contemporary U.S. manufacturer’s suggested retail prices, which are cited separately. Historical exchange rate data for the dollar and British pound were estimated based on data from Lawrence H. Officer, “Exchange Rates Between the United States Dollar and Forty-one Currencies,” MeasuringWorth, 2009, https://www.measuringworth.org/exchangeglobal/; used by permission). Inflation estimates were calculated using the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl. Please note that all exchange rate and inflation values are approximate; this is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!


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4 Comments

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  1. Just checking!!!

  2. I’m trying to learn about the different body styles for the 1970 MGB. I have a 1970 with the split rear bumper and the less attractive front grill. I see some 1970 models for sale with the chrome grill and no split bumper. From what I understand, the split bumper was only available in 1970 and only in the US. Anybody know why there were such differences within the same model year?

  3. Along with the lack of rear-independent suspension, it is a shame the MGB never received a 106+ hp 2.0-litre B-Series let alone a version of the 2.0-litre with Overhead-Cam (and possibly even fuel-injection) putting out 112-115+ hp, at least before the B-Series tooling was completely worn out.

    The 1.8 B-Series would have been better off in late-model MGAs or serving as a entry-level engine in the MGB, especially since it would have also justified more powerful versions of the smaller MG Midget.

    The same goes with the related 2.0 O-Series engine later intended for the MGB (capable of as much as 127 hp) that were it not for BL ordering new tooling for the old B-Series engine and being limited to using the B-Series’s crankshaft, would have not at all been related to the old engine.

    As for the EX234 prototype apparently even with a 1275cc Cooper S engine it was significantly slower then the MG Midget (0-60 in 14 or so seconds), so would have been better off with 1.6-1.75-litre E-Series or 2.0-litre B-Series engines featuring an output of around 85-106+ hp.

    1. On the engine front, to some extent, it’s perhaps just as well, since by the time they would have installed the O-Series, the MGB was really quite a relic compared to more modern sports coupes. The O-Series would have brought U.S. cars back up about the same level as late British MGBs, but if BL did any market research on the subject, they likely would have concluded that it would make no real difference in American sales (I think U.S. buyers by then had long since given up expecting an MG to be a real car) and that sales on the other side of the Atlantic had grown too small to be worth the bother. It was a reasonable conclusion, if that’s what it came down to, but they spent an awful lot of time and money on installing the O-Series before reaching it, which says something about the managerial chaos of the time.

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