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


In the fall of 1967, MG introduced the MGC, a six-cylinder version of the MGB, powered by the 2,912 cc (178 cu. in.) engine from the Austin 3-litre sedan. While this sounded good on paper, the big six played hob with the B’s weight distribution and handling and the motoring press had promptly beaten the C about the ears. Sales were poor and the MGC was withdrawn in 1969.

The 1968 merger between BMC and the Leyland Motor Corporation had many unfortunate ramifications for MG, but it also presented an intriguing opportunity for a different big-engine B. In 1967, Leyland had acquired Rover, which had recently begun manufacturing its own version of Buick’s old all-aluminum V8 for use in the P5 and P6 sedans. The lightweight, compact 3,528 cc (215 cu. in.) engine soon had the British aftermarket salivating and led the press to speculate whether British Leyland would install the V8 in the MGB. Despite its greater displacement, the Rover V8 was only a few pounds heavier than the B-series four and seemed like a much better match for the MGB’s chassis than did the bulky C-series six.

1969 MGC GT front
A rare North American MGC. The MGC’s distinctive bonnet bulge (with a second, smaller bulge for the carburetors) was necessitated by the installation of the big C-series six, shared with the Austin 3-litre. The MGC was not a commercial success and only about 9,000 were built before production ended in August 1969.

(Some sources assert that the Rover engine actually weighed less than the B-series, which had a dry weight of about 360 lb (163 kg). While Buick quoted a dry weight of 318 lb (144 kg) for its original 215 cu. in. (3,528 cc) V8, both the Oldsmobile and Rover versions had many minor design variations and were somewhat heavier than the early Buick engine. Dutch Rover enthusiast Rene Winters cites a dry weight of 375 lb (170 kg) for the Rover engine, which would make it 17 lb (8 kg) heavier than the B-series four — still a very modest penalty given the V8’s substantially greater displacement and power.)

At first, British Leyland had no such intention. The fact that Triumph was about to introduce its own V8 sports car, the Stag — powered not by the Rover engine, but by a new 2,997 cc (183 cu. in.) SOHC V8 — may have had something to do with that; a 3.5-liter MGB would have been a direct competitor. According to Robin Weatherall, Austin-Morris engineering director Charles Griffin did explore the possibility of installing the Rover engine in the MGB, but declared in November 1970 that it would be impossible without substantially widening the engine bay.

Around the same time, Abingdon proposed an entirely different V8 MGB using the aluminum Daimler V8, either the 2,548 cc (153 cu. in.) version from the Daimler SP250 sports car or the 4,561 cc (278 cu. in.) engine from the big Daimler Majestic Major. Mock-ups were built to see if the Daimler engine would fit, but it appears that this combination was never seriously considered for production.

1973 MG MGB GT V8 engine © 2007 Axel Volker (used with permission)
Although quite a few MGB owners have performed private engine swaps, this MGB GT has the factory V8’s unusual “lobster claw” intake manifold, which enabled the Rover engine to fit in the B’s engine bay without an MGC-style bonnet bulge. With two S.U. HIF6 carburetors, the 3,528 cc (215 cu. in.) engine was rated at 137 hp DIN (101 kW) and 193 lb-ft (261 N-m) of torque. (Photo: “mgb gt v8” © 2007 Axel Volker; used with permission)

Griffin didn’t realize at the time that not only was it possible to install the Rover engine in the MGB, the aftermarket had already done it. In 1969, racing driver Ken Costello had installed the Oldsmobile version of the 3.5-liter engine (from the original Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass) in a borrowed MGB roadster with promising results. Before long, Costello was building similar cars for friends. He soon formed his own company in Kent, the V8 Conversion Company, offering Rover V8 conversions for customers’ MGB coupes and roadsters. It was an expensive swap, at around £1,000 (about $2,400), but it provided impressive performance with little sacrifice of the stock MGB’s balance and handling.

The Costello conversions received enthusiastic reviews in the motoring press, which in turn came to the attention of British Leyland. In May 1971, Costello received a letter from Charles Griffin inviting him to Longbridge to demonstrate his conversion to Griffin and technical director Harry Webster. Two weeks after that, Costello was summoned to a meeting with chairman Donald Stokes (now Lord Stokes), who commissioned Costello to build a prototype for a production MGB V8, providing a new GT coupe and Rover engine for that purpose.

1970 MGB roadster nose
1973 MGB roadster nose
The 1970 MGB (top) had an unpopular new recessed grille, added at the behest of British Leyland management, which considered the earlier chrome grille both dated and too expensive to produce. J. Bruce McWilliams, head of British Leyland’s North American operations, so detested the recessed grille that he pushed for an immediate replacement, which appeared for the 1972 model year. The new grille (bottom) combined the earlier chrome surround with a cheaper black plastic insert, restoring some of the flavor of the early MGB at a lower cost. Early V8 cars shared this grille, albeit with “V8” badges; it was replaced in mid-1974 by the new “rubber-bumper” nose.

The production V8, known internally as ADO75, was a more elaborate conversion than Costello’s engine swap, utilizing some of the beefier drivetrain components developed for the defunct MGC. The compact Rover engine didn’t require the MGC’s altered front suspension, although the front crossmember was modified to ensure proper ground clearance, the radiator was moved forward, and the firewall was reshaped to accommodate the V8 bell housing. Rather than using the high-compression V8 from the Rover 3500, Abingdon opted for the mildly tuned Range Rover engine, which still had ample power and was more readily available. (It also put less of a strain on the gearbox, whose torque capacity was sorely tested by the bigger engine.)

The V8 made the ADO75 the fastest stock MGB to date. While the Rover engine was at least nominally less powerful than the old MGC — 137 hp DIN (101 kW) to the MGC’s 145 net horsepower (108 kW) — the V8’s power-to-weight ratio was decisively better. MG advertising claimed a top speed of 124 mph (200 km/h) and 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in 8.3 seconds, which was certainly conservative. Since weight and weight distribution were similar to the four-cylinder MGB’s, the V8’s steering, handling, and braking were little changed, but the MGB now had the muscle to face rivals like the Datsun 240Z, Reliant Scimitar GTE, and Ford Capri 3000. Furthermore, the tuning potential of the Rover engine was well known.

Abingdon announced the new model, prosaically dubbed MGB GT V8, in August 1973. With a starting price of £2,085.42 with tax (around $5,000 at the contemporary exchange rate), it cost almost 50% more than a four-cylinder MGB roadster. The V8 was still cheaper than a UK-market 240Z, which was subject to heavy import duties, but an uncomfortable £430 (over $1,000) more than the Ford Capri 3000GT, which had similar performance in a more modern package. The V8 also had the misfortune to bow just before the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, which made buyers shy away from powerful, thirsty cars.

1973 MG MGB GT V8 front 3q © 2009 Gazh Photography (used with permission)
Although the V8 fit equally well in the MGB roadster and the GT — former MG engineer Donald Hayter later owned a MGB roadster powered by the original development engine — the factory offered the Rover engine only in the coupe. Other than its badges, distinctive alloy wheels, and standard tinted windows, the MGB GT V8 looked just like a four-cylinder GT, an undoubted advantage in stoplight drag racing, but not very reassuring to the V8 buyer who had laid out an extra £700-odd (about $1,700) for the big engine. All GT V8s had a four-speed gearbox with standard Laycock de Normanville overdrive, usable only in fourth; the Borg-Warner automatic had been discontinued by the time the V8 went on sale. (Photo: “MGB GT V8” © 2009 Gazh Photography; used with permission)

The V8 would probably have done better in the U.S. even after the embargo; by the standards of the American market, it was practically an economy car. British Leyland showed the MGB GT V8 to its North American distributors and Abingdon did build a small number of LHD cars — between six and nine — for evaluation, but the company ultimately elected not to export the V8.

The reasons for that decision are not entirely clear. The cost of federalization was likely a factor; the Rover 3500 had already been withdrawn from the U.S. market, with the Range Rover slated for withdrawal in 1974, and the projected volume of the MGB V8 probably would not have justified the cost of emissions certification (although it was crash tested). British Leyland management may also have wanted to protect the upcoming Triumph TR7 — BL withdrew the four-cylinder MGB GT from the U.S. market in early 1975 for much the same reason.

There have long been rumors — repeated by John Thornley, among others — that Rover’s licensing agreement with GM limited Rover’s total production of the V8, presumably to prevent Rover from competing with GM’s own products. However, Dan Wall, Rover’s head of V8 engine development in the seventies, later told David Knowles that Wall knew of no such restrictions. He said GM executives had long since lost interest in the aluminum engine, which Buick had dropped in 1963, and were more bemused than threatened by Rover’s continued interest in it. Nonetheless, there were limits to Rover’s engine production capacity, most of which was already earmarked for Rover’s own products, including the P6, the Range Rover, and the forthcoming SD1.

1974 MGB GT dash
The MGB’s dashboard was redesigned for the 1972 model year, restoring the glove box, and again in 1977 to meet revised U.S. safety regulations. This 1974 GT has new stalk-mounted controls for the lights and wipers, adopted on V8 cars the previous year.

Whatever the rationale, the lack of exports sharply curtailed the V8’s sales potential. With no LHD version, the MGB GT V8 couldn’t be sold in Europe (where the market would probably have been limited in any event) and it was too expensive for most Britons, particularly during the fuel crisis. MG continued to offer the MGB GT V8 through the 1977 model year, but sales never topped 800 a year. When production ended in July 1976, the grand total came to only 2,591 cars, making it one of the rarest factory MGBs. Ken Costello, meanwhile, did about 225 conversions in the seventies and another batch in the late eighties.


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  1. Excellent article …as usual!!

    Interestingly, the MGB seems to never die! Nearly all new parts are still easily available at surprisingly reasonable cost from companies like Moss Motors.

  2. I think Jetronic is a Bosch trademark–or did Lucas plan to take out a license from Bosch?

    Sounds like British Leyland had the same problem with the per-body fee for the B that Hudson did with the Jet.

    1. [quote]I think Jetronic is a Bosch trademark–or did Lucas plan to take out a license from Bosch?[/quote]

      They did. The system Lucas created for the O-series MGB was essentially one third of the system used in the contemporary Jaguar XJ-S V-12, which was a licensed version of Bosch’s D-Jetronic.

      [quote]Sounds like British Leyland had the same problem with the per-body fee for the B that Hudson did with the Jet.[/quote]

      Yup, a similar situation.

  3. In another example of BL’s horrendous management, Pressed Steel-Fisher, the MGB’s body supplier, had been a wholly-owned subsidiary of BMC/BMH/BL since 1965. In fact, it was BMC control of Pressed Steel that pushed William Lyons into the BMH merger, fearing threatened by having Jaguar’s bodies produced by a direct competitor in the luxury arena.

    All it would have taken was a few strokes of the accountant’s pen to write off PSF’s tooling investment and supply MG in a normal internal fashion. BL would have taken a small, immediate accounting charge, and the B would have been more profitable for the remainder of production. Either an example of a general lack of interest in MG versus Triumph, or total incompetence.

    1. I talked a little about the Pressed Steel/Jaguar situation in a sidebar in the article on the E-type Jaguar. I don’t know how threatened Sir William felt by BMC’s buyout of Pressed Steel before Donald Stokes offered a merger with Standard-Triumph later that year. The number of BMC products that competed directly with Jaguar was still relatively limited — the Vanden Plas Princess 4-litre R, perhaps the big Healeys — but Sir William decided that if he merged with Standard-Triumph, BMC’s principal rival, there was a strong chance of retaliation. According to Keith Adams, Sir William also looked at the merger craze spreading through the industry and realized that if Jaguar were acquired, it might not be by his choice. In that light, cozying up to BMC seemed prudent, and it certainly allowed Jaguar to retain more of its identity after the merger.

      I’m not an accountant, and my knowledge of British law is limited to the viewing of the odd BBC drama, so I have no idea what kind of fiscal implications would have been involved in restating or writing off the tooling costs; that probably would have been an additional concern.

      I suspect the real problem was finding someone in a position to actually authorize it. One of British Leyland’s biggest problems was its sheer size — more than a hundred different companies, with offices and factories scattered throughout the UK. (The fact that many of those companies had recently been bitter rivals certainly didn’t help.) If something involved multiple divisions, it almost certainly had to be authorized and supported by someone quite high up the food chain; I assume neither MG, Austin-Morris, nor PS-F had the authority to make such a change. By most accounts, senior BL officials were often quite overwhelmed by the scope of their responsibilities, and it was easy for that kind of relatively minor accounting detail to be lost in the shuffle. That in itself wouldn’t necessarily be a sign of either incompetence (except insofar as it reflected the inadequacies of BL’s management systems) or favoritism. There are instances where the latter was clearly a primary factor (like Lord Stokes’ instance that the winning Austin-Morris design in the corporate sports car competition should be built as a Triumph, not an MG), but I think the larger problem was that BL was so unwieldy and its executives spent so much time doing triage that the forest was often lost for the trees.

  4. Hi and thanks for a very interesting read. I read about the MGb O series a little while ago and was lucky enough to get my hands on an O series engine complete with twin carbs from an SD1. After a little fettling I mated it to a standard B box. The car pulls extremely well and is very capable against modern cars. If I could do it with just a few hobby tools and a small workshop then why on earth BL did not try it is beyond me. Thanks again Mike.

    1. In some ways, swapping an engine into a single car is simpler, because you can just keep fiddling until it works properly. Certainly, there’s a lot less paperwork! It wasn’t that fitting the O-series was a great technical challenge, it’s that it required a commitment of engineering resources, including adapting the Lucas Jetronic injection system for the U.S. cars and going through the various certifications for crash testing and federal and California emissions standards, including the EPA’s 50,000 mile (80,000 km) durability tests. The irony is that BL did ultimately do much of that work, only to cancel it at the last minute anyway.

  5. Hello Aaron,

    let me first of all congatulate you with your fantastic website: it is very nice indeed!

    Secondly I am very pleased with the picture you put in it.

    For fun I also gave you the webadress to have a look on some more pictures of my car.

    Best regrds,

    Axel Volker
    Leusden, the Netherlands

  6. great article. Is it correct to say that only 1,000 1980 Mgb limited edition were shipped to the USA.

    1. No — the 1,000-unit figure was for the British-market Limited version that closed out production. I think there were significantly more than 1,000 U.S.-market Limited Editions.

  7. I’m sorry it took me five years to come across this, but I was very interested to see the thread about Jim Stimson, who used to work for Syd Enever but had started off at Cowley. Jim was always insistent that he had drawn up a coupe MGB with a higher roof but that when Syd Enever showed the result to (I assume) Harrimann, he was told to ship a roadster and his drawings out to Pininfarina. I have to say that other former colleagues of Stimposon’s were often unsure of what had happened (they weren’t necessarily involved in some of the forward prototype work, and Stimpson worked in the Boilerhouse at Abingdon, away from prying eyes) but Jim was quite assertive about it, and I wrote more in my recent “MG V8” book. Stimpson also claimed detailed authorship of the long nose used on the MGB at Le Mans.

    1. If he did come up with the idea first, I can certainly understand his exasperation with seeing it attributed to Pininfarina! I’ve seen various examples in other organizations in which ideas are suddenly taken more seriously when an outside consultant says them, even if the consultant is really just repeating things the staff have said or suggested previously. While I obviously don’t know for sure if that was the case here, it certainly happens often enough to seem plausible.

      1. I should perhaps clarify the point about Pininfarina; their work unquestionably transformed the MGB GT into the good looking car that it became – even Jim Stimson was keen to acknowledge that. Sergio Pininfarina personally told me that in his opinion, the MGB GT was the best looking design for BMC that came out of his company. Meanwhile those interested in the story have looked for more evidence; suffice to say I have found some, and it will be in my next MGB book, due for publication in 2020…

  8. Does anyone have any info on the missing MGB Targa. Its not mentioned here and Im trying to gather up info on the car to be able to build one. I have been hunting photo’s and to date have 5 and 2 newspaper article, thats taken 2 yrs. I have all the google stuff. but anything else would help, thanks.

    1. Do you mean the Jacques Coune Targa?

  9. I had a 1971 MGB GT which I purchased 18 months old from a daughter of the President of the Ferrari owners club. I was told it was one of 6 made in Italy by Alfa Romao who were going to build them ( under licence) but then the agreement fell through for some reason.
    Not sure now whether story was true or just sales talk by owner.
    However it did have an aluminium bonnet & boot lid. I put a Downton conversion on it that made it quicker than a friends MGC
    Sold it in 1976 due to arrival of 2nd babs. Great car !!

    1. Without some kind of documentary evidence, my inclination is to be skeptical of the story. BMC did of course have various local production deals, some in Italy — see also the Innocenti Mini — but I have a hard time seeing why Alfa Romeo would be interested in building the MGB GT, which would have competed with the Alfa Giulia Sprint. Also, by 1971, British Leyland was expecting the MGB to expire in the near future, replaced (along with the Triumph TR6) by the Triumph TR7. The auto industry is full of weird deals, so if somebody says, “No, no, funny story, but it’s true, look at this evidence,” I’ll take that, but my off-the-cuff response is, “That doesn’t sound right at all…”

      1. I agree. A good pub yarn without any hard evidence. Reminds me of the ‘genuine factory MGB Daimler V8’ which I found was no such thing. Last known in Switzerland in the ownership of someone who probably didn’t like discovering the truth.

  10. looking for my 1968 MGB red with black and red interior. with 6 cylinder Capri engine

  11. It is interesting to note that unlike the MGC and stillborn Big Healey version, an attempt was belatedly made to differentiate the MGB GT V8 Coupe from the MGB sometime in the early/mid-1970s though coming came of it, via a clay mock up on page 147 of David Knowles – MG: The Untold Story book with the overall shape intended as a sort of “junior” Jaguar XJ-S and the front end even featuring a Jaguar-like nose (though the lack of grille on the clay mock up is almost reminiscent of the Bristol Blenheim 3S/4S).

    1. Yeah, the MGB story is littered with interesting ideas — some perfectly reasonable, some perhaps a stretch under the best of conditions — punctuated by a lack of money and a low place on the list of corporate priorities.

      1. Indeed. Read also in same book of Aston Martin proposal eventual rebodies of the MGB had they been successful in acquiring the MGB from BL.

        Despite already being considered a success the MGB has always come across as a compromised design, due to neither featuring IRS let alone a 2-litre+ engine from the outset which could have further prolonged its production without the 13 year gap between the MGB and MG RV8.

        Could an MGB plus derivatives receiving the sum of proposed improvements have made it even more of success where outside of the occasional rebody or few, there is less of a need to replace it until a proper successor is developed?

        ADO21 was unviable outside of the styling which was used for the TR7 and the Healey WAEC needed a more potent engine, while the EX234 was a Midget replacement that could have taken over from the 4-cyliner MGBs (the latter featuring 6-cylinder / V8 engines), been updated with R6 Metro-type interconnected Hydragas (think front-engined RWD MGF predecessor) as well as carried over the styling of ADO21.

        1. The question is not so much, “Could the B have been improved or modernized to good effect?” — the answer to that is indubitably “yes” — but, “Would it have made a commercially meaningful difference?” The MGB was basically a late ’50s design soldiering on through the sales inertia granted the gradual extinction of most rivals. It was not unlike the position the Mazda MX-5/Miata has occupied in more recent years, where it had an obvious niche that was sustainable, but only so long as there was not a lot of direct competition. That niche was not about the MGB being a modern car or even a particularly good one by ’70s standards (much less ’80s ones), but about it being a cute small roadster for a not-horrendous price. Would customers, particularly American ones, have welcomed a bit more power and a less choppy ride? Sure. Would those qualities have persuaded more people to buy an MGB? I’m inclined to say probably not.

          I don’t doubt the MGB could have continued soldiering on through much of the ’80s had Aston Martin continued production, but my suspicion is that the more ambitious proposals would have ended up falling by the wayside because Aston was not exactly flush with cash and sooner or later someone would have done the math and grasped that the extra expense would just make the car less profitable (or possibly a money-loser) rather than more successful.

          Periodically of late, I see late-night TV infomercials for various skin creams that are supposed to fill in lines and hide wrinkles and baggy skin. The demonstration phase of those infomercials shows that, at least under those selective conditions, the cream or remedy does temporarily mask certain lines and create the appearance of smoother skin. What it does not do, and could not do, would be to make the subject look younger. Does a 70-year-old with four sets of visible creases around his eyes look better than one with six or eight sets of creases? Arguably, I suppose, but I’d be hard-pressed to say the reduction in wrinkle-count makes him look less than 70.

          As a separate matter, I don’t think history has validated the merits of Hydragas. Even the MGF, much more modern than the proposed MGB successors/evolutions, did not demonstrate any particular ride or handling advantage over a well-tuned conventional suspension, certainly not enough to justify the cost and repair/replacement issues. There is a tendency to throw technology at automotive suspensions when something less elaborate would serve as well or better if the designers would hire some competent chassis tuning experts who can properly sort the balance of springs, dampers, bushings, and tires. It’s only been quite recently, in a historical sense, that features like adjustable shock absorbers, air springs, or active anti-roll bars have become more than just a costly brochure gimmick, and I can’t help suspecting that they’d be less worthwhile if not for the modern fad for giant, heavy wheels with ultra-low-aspect-ratio tires.

          1. While an argument can be made about the merits of Hydrolastic / Hydragas (IMHO its potential was constrained by BL’s financial problems and was said to work very well in both the Rover Metro/100 and the Minki-II prototype), EX234 does give an idea as to how the MGB could have been replaced.

            Essentially EX234 would replace both the Midget and the MGB featuring 1300-2000cc 4-cylinder engines, with an upscaled 6-cylinder and V8 version replacing the MGC / GT V8. Meanwhile the gap below EX234 could be filled by the Mini-based prototypes like ADO34 (plus ADO35/ADO36) and ADO70 featuring 1000-1300cc engines.

            You are probably correct that such models (sans Mini-based sportscars) would likely feature conventional (ideally all-independent) suspension, OTOH it is possible there would be two different versions depending on which side of the Atlantic they are sold at.

            In terms of suitable styling for the 1970s and beyond it is a dilemma, the Pininfarina styling of EX234 needs more work IMHO though quite like the look of the ADO21 (particularly at the rear) sans rear flying buttresses and pop-up headlights though a composite of the former with the styling of the Rover SD1 (particularly at the front) could work (especially since the latter was such a departure for Rover from the P6 in the same way the TR7 was for Triumph from the TR6 with both SD1 and TR7 styling actually being better suited for MG).

            As for the MGB itself would have been content with it receiving a 106 hp 2-litre B-Series (possibly even a 112-115 hp 2-litre B-OHC), IRS as well as either a 2.4-3-litre B-Series 6-cylinder or a properly-developed (and significantly lightened) C-Series for the MGC prior to gradually being replaced by the early/mid-1970s. One could make a case for a reliable properly developed version of the MGA’s 1.6 B-Series Twin-Cam engine that grows to 2-litres and spawns inline-6 variants, yet the Twin-Cam was still likely to be a limited-run engine as opposed to a genuine productionized challenger to the Alfa Romeo Twin-Cam.

          2. Well, as the article says, BL did the work on putting the 2-liter O-Series in the MGB, although that didn’t come to pass.

            I don’t know that the EX234 would have found a strong market. It had its interesting points, but Bruce Williams’ remarks about the American market also applied. The Toyota Celica (q.v.) ended up being more what U.S. buyers wanted in a sport coupe; it was uncomplicated (and the U.S. didn’t get the twin-cam or injected versions), economical, affordable, and well-built, which went a long way toward making up for its lack of verve.

          3. That is true. However BMC did look at a 106 hp 2-litre B-Series OHV a few times during the early/mid-1960s, yet by the time they actually considered putting a 112-115 hp 2-litre B-OHC into production it could not be built due to the tooling being past its prime.

            Am not 100% sold on the EX234’s Pininfarina styling though it could have potentially had a fairly long production life due to being more sophisticated compared to both the Midget and MGB as well as indirectly taking over from the original Lotus Elan (prior to the original Mazda MX5). Cannot say whether EX234 would have would spawned a 2+2 GT coupe or even have enough room in the engine bay for the Rover V7, yet would not be surprised if either is the case.

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