As we saw in our first installment, by the mid-sixties, the MGB had become one of the world’s best-selling sports cars. Not even its most loyal fans, however, would have imagined that it would survive for 18 years — or that it would rise again barely a decade after its demise. This week, we present the second half of our history of the MGB, including the 1971-1981 MGB, the 1966-1981 MGB GT, the MGB GT V8, and the MG RV8.
POOR MAN’S ASTON: MGB GT
Considering that the MGB was originally inspired by the Aston Martin DB2/4, it took the factory a curiously long time to develop a fixed-roof version of the B. Indeed, from 1963 to 1965, BMC’s Competitions Department was obliged to fit the MGB roadster with an accessory hardtop in order to race in the GT classes. It seemed that MG was missing an obvious opportunity.
It was not for lack of trying. The Abingdon design office had started work on an MGB coupe, designated EX227, months before the roadster even went into production, but none of their efforts had borne fruit. Engineer Roy Brocklehurst said the primary obstacle was the determination to retain the roadster’s windshield (presumably for cost reasons, although Brocklehurst didn’t specify). Because the B’s windshield was so low, it proved very difficult to design a good-looking roof that would still provide adequate headroom. The tacked-on roof of the previous MGA coupe was no solution; it looked like an afterthought and chief body engineer Jim O’Neill, among others, had never liked it. MG chief engineer Syd Enever explored various design concepts for a fixed-head MGB, but none was satisfactory and the project dragged on for almost two years.
Apparently growing impatient, BMC chairman George Harriman commissioned Italy’s Pininfarina to build a prototype — much to the dismay of Enever, who saw it as a vote of no confidence. In the fall of 1963, Abingdon shipped a gray MGB roadster to Turin. Pininfarina returned it the follow spring, now painted metallic green and sporting an attractive hatchback roof. This new design sliced the Gordian knot that had stymied MG’s designers: By raising the windshield about 4 inches (101 mm) with a commensurately larger greenhouse, the Pininfarina car combined reasonable headroom and fine proportions. It also had superior aerodynamics despite its greater frontal area.
Exactly who was responsible for the decision to raise the windshield and enlarge the greenhouse is still a matter of debate. MG managing director John Thornley credited the designers in Turin, but MG designer Jim Stimson told author David Knowles that Stimson and Syd Enever had decided to give the coupe a taller greenhouse before Pininfarina was even hired. Stimson said Pininfarina’s principal contributions were a proposal for frameless rear windows (not adopted in production) and the coupe’s distinctive roof creases.
Complicating the issue even further, the greenhouse of the finished product bears a noteworthy resemblance to a 1962 concept car built (though not designed) by Pininfarina, a one-off coupe based on the Austin-Healey 3000 platform, developed by design students Michael Contrad, Pio Manzù, and Henner Werner for an Automobile Year contest. That concept had been exhibited at the 1962 Earls Court show in London, so BMC was definitely aware of it. In fact, chairman George Harriman subsequently acquired the rights to the design, which was developed for several years as a possible E-type Jaguar competitor, the ADO30. We don’t know to what extent the ADO30 may have influenced the design of the fixed-head B, but we assume the designers in Abingdon would have seen it, whether at Earls Court or in Longbridge.
Whatever its origins, the Pininfarina prototype made an immediate hit with John Thornley, who thought it would appeal to a more upscale class of buyers; it would at last be the affordable Aston Martin he had imagined back in 1957. After a few detail revisions, the coupe was approved for production, which commenced the following summer. Dubbed MGB GT, the coupe bowed at the London Motor Show in the fall of 1965.
Like the long-departed DB2/4, the GT was a 2+2 with a tiny rear bench into which a small child or medium-size dog could be crammed for short trips. Although a heater was still optional, extra sound insulation and a marginally less flinty ride made the GT more civilized than the roadster, although no one was likely to mistake it for a Cadillac. Since the GT was some 220 lb (100 kg) heavier than the open car and used the same powertrain, its acceleration suffered somewhat, but the coupe’s lower drag made it just as fast as the roadster (if not faster) all out. The GT’s handling was actually superior, thanks to better weight distribution, stiffer rear springs, and a standard front anti-roll bar, still optional on the open car.
Starting at £998 8s 9d with purchase tax (about $2,800 at the contemporary exchange rate), the GT cost about £143 (about $400) more than the roadster, but sales were strong. If the GT was less overtly sporting than the open car, the coupe was also more elegant and obviously more practical. The arrival of the GT boosted the MGB’s total sales volume by more than 40%, prompting BMC to expand production at Abingdon.
By the time the factory had built enough GTs for homologation, the MGB’s competition heyday was winding down, but the coupe did achieve some racing success. An MGB GT driven by Andrew Hedges and Paddy Hopkirk won the GT class at the 1967 12 Hours of Sebring while an aluminum-bodied GTS (actually a prototype of the still-gestating six-cylinder MGC GTS) with a bored-out, 2,004 cc (122 cu. in.) engine ran in the 1967 Targa Florio. In 1969, another MGB GT, driven by Americans Logan Blackburn and Jerry Truitt, took fourth in class at Sebring. As with the roadster, private GTs continued to race in major events as late as 1978.
The MGB GT never became as ubiquitous as the roadster, but it was a solid success, eventually selling more than 125,000 units. Although North America took more than half of all GT production, the coupe is less familiar to Americans today in part because it was withdrawn from the U.S. market in early 1975. It remained available in Great Britain until the end. The last MGB to come off the line in 1980 was a GT.
THE V8 MGB
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE RUBBER-BUMPER B
While the V8 came and went, a second intended MGB successor, known internally as ADO21, also failed to make production. Styled by Harris Mann and Paul Hughes of the Austin-Morris design office in Longbridge, the ADO21 was a wedge-shaped, mid-engine coupe with fashionable “flying buttress” sail panels. It was to have had a De Dion rear suspension and a choice of three engines: the 1,275 cc (78 cu. in.) A-series four from the Mini Cooper 1275GT, the new 1,748 cc (107 cu. in.) E4, or the 2,227 cc (136) E6. The smaller engine would allow the ADO21 to succeed the Spridget and Triumph Spitfire, but the six-cylinder E-series engines would have made it a credible successor to the MGB and MGC as well. Had the car made it to production, it might well have been called the MGD.
British Leyland’s enthusiasm for the ADO21 gradually diminished throughout 1970. The main problem appears to have been cost. Although the ADO21 used or adapted many components from other Austin Morris products, it would probably have been significantly more expensive to build than the MGB. Moreover, British Leyland’s market research showed that the vital American market strongly preferred conventional engineering. The ADO21 was finally canceled in late December and the prototype was scrapped about a year later.
(Some sources suggest that the ADO21 lost an in-house competition with a Triumph design that later became the TR7, but author David Knowles says that was not the case. The TR7 did indeed emerge from a design contest between Austin-Morris and Triumph, but while the Austin-Morris entry — also styled by Harris Mann — was badged as an MG, it was not the ADO21, which had died months earlier. Roy Brocklehurst, who succeeded Syd Enever as MG’s chief engineer in 1971, felt that the ADO21 did influence the TR7, but its impact, if any, was stylistic rather than mechanical.)
With the collapse of the ADO21 project, the four-cylinder MGB soldiered on. If it had continued unmolested, that might not have been so bad, but the latest American safety standards made that impossible. Starting in 1973, U.S. regulations required bumpers capable of withstanding a 5 mph (8 km/h) frontal impact and a 2.5 mph (4 km/h) rear impact, increased the following year to 5 mph (8 km/h) both front and rear. By 1975, the bumpers also had to absorb that impact without any damage to the body structure or frame. It was an extremely challenging requirement, especially for cars that had been designed more than a decade before the standards were even conceived.
Since failure to meet the new requirements would force the withdrawal of the MGB from the American market, the engineers at Abingdon worked frantically to find alternatives. As a stopgap, early 1974 MGBs added comically large rubber overriders to the existing bumpers. These were replaced late in the year by completely new steel bumpers with conformal plastic covers to integrate them with the shape of the body. This was arguably a more satisfactory solution than the massive chrome battering rams of many contemporary Detroit cars, which would have been disastrous on the MGB. The new bumpers’ aesthetic impact probably would have been mitigated if they had been body-colored, like those of the later Porsche 924 and 928, but they were available only in flat black, which gave the B a somewhat unfinished appearance.
At the same time, the four-cylinder MGB was raised about 1.5 inches (38 mm) to comply with new U.S. bumper-height requirements. This wreaked havoc on the B’s center of gravity, compounded on roadsters by the deletion of the front anti-roll bar, apparently as a cost-saving measure. The result was substantial body lean and a much tipsier feel than earlier MGBs, only partially mitigated by the belated standardization of front and rear anti-roll bars in 1977.
The redesigned bumpers also contributed to the MGB’s burgeoning curb weight, which was beginning to approach that of the old MGC. That was bad enough for unrestricted British cars, but North American Bs had to be detuned significantly to meet federal emissions standards, losing their dual exhausts and trading their twin S.U.s for a single Zenith-Stromberg carburetor. Power ratings quietly disappeared from MG’s advertising and brochures.
While the motoring press averted its collective eyes, these various indignities had surprisingly little impact on the MGB’s popularity. Business was down from its early-seventies peak, but the B was still good for between 20,000 and 30,000 sales a year, comparable to its mid-sixties volume. The MGB had outlived several direct rivals and few of the ones that remained were in significantly better shape. The late “rubber-bumper” B had become a sort of aging diva — no longer as trim, pretty, or graceful as it had once been, but still sustained by the loyalty of its many fans.
THE END OF ABINGDON
The MGB’s twilight should have been its golden years in terms of profit, but BMC’s arrangement with Pressed Steel back when the ADO23 was first launched meant that the tooling costs had never actually been paid and thus could not be paid off. Instead, Abingdon was (according to Wilson McComb) still paying a flat per-car fee for each body shell just as the factory had been at the beginning of production.
As with the Mini, the MGB left BL in a cruel bind. The roadster was no longer profitable and it didn’t sell well enough to justify any substantial changes, but it was too popular to kill, at least without risking a dealer revolt. Even in its declining years, the B still accounted for more than 30% of British Leyland’s U.S. sales and regularly outsold the much-newer Triumph TR7.
This dilemma was exacerbated by shifts in the sterling-dollar exchange rate. After dropping sharply in 1976 — a crisis that forced Britain’s Callaghan government to seek a £2.3 billion ($3.9 billion) line of credit from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — the value of the pound had increased so much relative to the U.S. dollar that BL was now effectively selling its North American cars at a substantial loss despite repeated price increases.
By the time the 1980 models bowed in mid-1979, the disparity had reached alarming proportions. In the U.S., an MGB with overdrive started at around $8,200, which at the time was equivalent to perhaps £3,800. In the UK, a similarly equipped MGB tourer started at about £6,100, the equivalent of more than $13,000! The discrepancies in wholesale costs were not quite that bad, but by the end of the year, British Leyland admitted it was losing £900 (nearly $2,000) on every MGB sold in America. Even the most robust automaker couldn’t sustain such losses for long and British Leyland was anything but healthy.
By 1979, the political climate was also changing. Since 1975, British Leyland had been essentially a ward of the state, with 95% of its shares owned by the British government. The general elections in May 1979 brought a new prime minister and new Conservative government that was eager to distance itself from its Labour predecessor’s policy of nationalization and direct subsidies to industry. The new Thatcher government could not afford the political fallout of an immediate divestment, but Secretary of State for Industry Keith Joseph made it clear that there would be no more government money until British Leyland staunched its losses and brought its spiraling costs under control.
In September 1979, British Leyland staged a two-day gala to mark the golden anniversary of the MG plant in Abingdon. Few of the attendees realized it was actually a wake. The following Monday, BL chairman Sir Michael Edwardes announced that Abingdon would be closed at the end of the 1980 model year as part of a plan to cut BL’s workforce by 25,000 jobs. The factory’s demise would bring with it the end of both the Midget and the MGB.
The announcement was greeted with howls of protest, including public demonstrations and a letter-writing campaign, organized by former managing director John Thornley, asking MG dealers to oppose the closure. Some North American dealers threatened legal action if the MGB was canceled. J. Bruce McWilliams, the head of British Leyland’s North American organization, pushed to keep the B alive through at least 1984, but it was to no avail.
Edwardes later admitted that he hadn’t really grasped the loyalty that the MG brand commanded, but something had to give and Abingdon was among the least critical of British Leyland’s plants. The new pressure from Whitehall meant that the company’s first priority had to be mainstream products like the much-delayed Metro, so low-volume sports cars were once again deemed secondary. The MGB’s internecine rival, the Triumph TR7, would survive, although the Canley Triumph Works were also slated for closure; TR7 production would be transferred to the Rover plant in Solihull.
The decision to kill the MGB was particularly frustrating to Don Hayter, who had replaced Roy Brocklehurst as MG’s chief engineer in 1973. Embarrassed by the B’s increasingly anemic performance, Hayter had obtained permission to replace the elderly B-series engine with the new corporate O-series four, a 1,994 cc (122 cu. in.) OHC engine also used by the Austin Marina and later the base Rover SD1. North American Bs were to have Lucas Jetronic fuel injection, finally enabling them to pass their EPA tests with some honor intact. The O-series engine was originally slated to appear for 1977 along with an extensive cosmetic revamp known internally as ADO76, but the facelift was canceled and the new engine was pushed back to the 1981 model year. MG built about two dozen Bs with the O-series engine and Hayter says they had already completed U.S. emissions and crash testing when British Leyland brought down the ax.
In October 1979, Alan Curtis, the chairman of Aston Martin Lagonda, assembled a group of businessmen in a last-ditch effort to save the B. They offered British Leyland £30 million (about $70 million) for the Abingdon plant, the MGB’s design and tooling, and the rights to use the MG name. Their plan was to give the B a quick facelift courtesy of Aston Martin’s William Towns and continue production with minimal interruption. British Leyland’s initial enthusiasm for this idea was not high and it took around six months for the parties to reach an agreement. By then, Aston Martin was having financial problems of its own and was no longer able to put up its share of the money. The deal collapsed in the summer of 1980.
Perhaps the bitterest irony of the Aston Martin negotiations was that they derailed an internal plan to repurpose the Abingdon plant, adding a production facility for CKD kits and a new special vehicles unit. That plan would have allowed about a third of Abingdon’s workers to keep their jobs, but according to David Knowles, it was shelved when an agreement with the Curtis group seemed imminent. By the time the deal fell apart, British Leyland had made other arrangements and Abingdon was finished.
The last MGBs came off the line on October 23, 1980. British Leyland marketed a final 1,000 cars as 1981 Limited Edition models, priced at £6,445 (around $13,000) for the roadster, £6,937 (about $14,000) for the GT. The final U.S. MGB, a North American Limited Edition, was presented as a gift to Henry Ford II, who donated it to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. (It has changed hands several times since then and is now privately owned.)
THE RESURRECTION OF THE MGB
The demise of the Abingdon factory, the MGB, and the Midget did not mean the end of the MG name. British Leyland promptly applied it to the new Metro and later to the Maestro and Montego, where it survived through 1991.
Although the MGB was no longer in production, it still had a loyal following. The B had its faults, but it was a known quantity and both cars and parts were still in ample supply. By 1988, even complete body shells were once again available, thanks to David Keith of British Motor Heritage, a new division of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, British Leyland/Austin Rover/Rover Group’s museum and historical archives. Keith was able to salvage much of the MGB’s original tooling, allowing BMH to begin manufacturing small numbers of complete roadster (and later GT) bodies for high-end restorations.
A major reason for the MGB’s continuing popularity was that there were few modern equivalents; with the market’s newfound appetite for GTs and hot hatches, traditional sports cars had become rather thin on the ground. However, that suddenly changed in February 1989, with the arrival of Mazda’s MX-5 Miata. Although it looked more like an early Lotus Elan than an MG, the MX-5 was roughly the same size and weight as the old chrome-bumper MGB roadster, combining similar virtues with modern ergonomics and reliability.
The debut of the Miata was undoubtedly frustrating for MG fans, since the company formerly known as British Leyland (it had become Austin Rover in 1982 and Rover Group in 1986) had not offered a proper sports car since the demise of the Triumph TR7 and TR8 in 1981. There had been plans for a new MG Midget back in 1984, a much-publicized 1985 concept car called MG EX-E, and a design study for a Maestro-based FWD convertible, but none had come close to production. It was not until the debut of the Miata that Rover Group, now owned by British Aerospace, actually committed to developing a new MG sports car.
At the time, British Motor Heritage was already thinking of offering a complete turnkey MGB as a way to promote sales of its body shells. Since an all-new MG sports car was still at least three or four years away, Rover’s newly formed Special Products group (RSP) decided that a ‘new’ B would be a useful interim model. They took over the MGB revival project in the spring of 1990.
RSP’s plans soon evolved into a new car called Project Adder, based on the British Motor Heritage MGB roadster body. Since the project’s entire budget was only £5 million (about $8.5 million), RSP could only afford new fenders, a new front clip, and a revised interior with wood trim and a modern stereo system. With the old B-series engine long dead, Rover again opted for the aluminum V8 from the Range Rover, now with electronic fuel injection and a five-speed gearbox.
The new roadster, dubbed MG RV8, made its public debut in October 1992 and went on sale in early 1993. Press reaction was mixed. Most critics thought the RV8 was nicely executed and just seeing the MG octagon on something other than a family hatchback brought a nostalgic glow, but the updated interior and powertrain could not disguise the age of the basic platform. With an MSRP of £25,440 (around $42,000), the RV8 cost as much as some far more sophisticated modern sports cars and even many MG enthusiasts found the price hard to justify.
Rover had always represented the RV8 as a limited edition, but sales were disappointing nonetheless. Only 1,983 were built and more than 1,500 of those went to Japan, which also absorbed a similar percentage of Mini production. Since Rover no longer had a North American dealer network — its Sterling brand had expired in August 1991 — there was no attempt to federalize the RV8.
The final RV8 was completed on November 25, 1995. It was the last direct descendant of the MGB, although the continued availability of the British Motor Heritage shell meant that a sufficiently motivated fan could conceivably build a ‘new’ B from the ground up.
In the spring of 1995, Rover Group finally launched its all-new MG sports car, the MGF. Although it bore little resemblance to the B, the F revived several concepts from the long-forgotten EX234 and ADO21, including a mid-mounted engine and Hydragas suspension. The MGF was a thoroughly competent effort, but it somehow lacked the magic of past MGs. It did reasonably well, selling around 77,000 units through 2001, but it could not match the popularity of the MX-5, in part because it was never sold in the U.S.
The F was revamped in 2002, trading its Hydragas suspension for steel springs and conventional dampers. Renamed MG TF, it survived until the bankruptcy of Rover Group in 2005. It was subsequently resurrected by Nanjing Automobile Group, which is now part of the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). As of this writing, it appears that TF is still at least nominally available in the UK market, although SAIC suspended production in late 2009. In 2010, there were reports in the press that a replacement would debut by 2013, but as of this writing, one has yet to materialize.
MG, so often at the bottom of the corporate pecking order, ended up the last survivor of the old Nuffield and BMC brands; Riley died in 1969, Wolseley in 1975, Morris in 1983, and Austin in 1987. MG also had the satisfaction of outlasting Triumph, which disappeared after 1984. Some of those marques may eventually return — BMW owns Riley and Triumph along with the MINI brand and we believe SAIC has the rights to the Austin, Morris, and Wolseley names as well as MG — but we wouldn’t be surprised to see MG outlive them all.
Whatever the future holds, the B will always be a huge part of MG’s legacy, not least because the MGB accounts for nearly one-third of all the cars MG has built since 1923. BMC’s sometimes erratic record-keeping leaves its production figures open to question, but Anders Ditlev Clausager estimates that total MGB production (including CKD kits, but not the MGB GT V8) was approximately 512,000. If we add the GT V8, MGC, and MG RV8, they bring the grand total to almost 526,000. To our knowledge, the only other sports cars to better that figure are the Chevrolet Corvette, the Mazda RX-7, the Nissan Z-car, and the Mazda MX-5, which topped the MGB around 2001. Even their fans, however, will readily agree that the ‘vette, Z, and RX-7 really aren’t in the same category and we’re not sure the Miata would even have been conceived if not for the earlier success of the MGB. The B was not a pioneer in any technical sense; in some respects, it was rather dated even when it bowed and it was positively antiquated by the time production ended. Nonetheless, it set a standard that continues to this day and it remains a milestone car.
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!
For the record, the author has never owned an MG or, for that matter, a Miata (although he has owned and even participated in owner focus groups on other Mazda cars).
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