Although the press and the public had little love for the MGC, the feelings of BMC’s Competitions Department [sic] were considerably warmer. By this time, the four-cylinder MGB was having some difficulty even qualifying in the under-2-liter racing classes; the addition of the six-cylinder engine offered a basically excellent chassis a new lease on life. In early 1967, months before the MGC made its public debut, the Competitions Department prepared six specially bodied MGC GTS coupes for racing use. One of those cars made its debut in the 1967 Targa Florio, although that car was temporarily fitted with a 2,004 cc (122 cu. in.) B-series four because the six had not yet been homologated.
The race-prepped MGC still had a forward weight bias (which was less severe in the GT than in the roadster), but the competition suspension erased the stock car’s softness and understeer and ported and polished heads, bigger valves, a hotter cam, and a trio of Weber 45 DCOE carburetors extracted a reliable 200 hp (149 kW) from the big engine. In March 1968, Andrew Hedges and Paddy Hopkirk drove one of the lightweight cars to a class victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring, scoring 10th overall. Later that year, two other MGC GTS coupes ran in the 84-hour Marathon de la Route at the Nürburgring, one of them (driven by Hedges, Tony Fall, and Julian Vernaeve) achieving a respectable sixth place.
For owners dissatisfied with the MGC’s street performance, Abingdon soon offered a Special Tuning kit that included a new cylinder head, valve gear, and intake and exhaust manifolds. Although we haven’t been able to confirm it, it appears that the kit was developed by Daniel and Veronica (“Bunty”) Richmond of Downton Engineering Works, an aftermarket shop that created competition parts for many BMC cars of this era. Downton offered several MGC upgrade kits of its own, all of which carried the full factory warranty. Downton’s Kit 43 was similar (if not identical) to the works Special Tuning set-up, while the pricier Kit 45 added a third carburetor and a completely redesigned intake manifold. (Bruce Ibbotson of the MG Club of Queensland speculates that the Downton modifications may have been intended for the aborted Austin-Healey ADO 51 as a way of further distinguishing it from its cheaper MG cousin.)
The Special Tuning and Downton 43 kits didn’t dramatically improve acceleration times, but either kit transformed the character of the big six. Testers noted much-improved low-end torque along with a newfound willingness to rev. Fuel economy was significantly better as well. Had the factory made similar modifications to the standard MGC, its press reception might have been quite different.
While Abingdon could easily have produced a much better MGC (indeed, engineer Mike Allison told author David Knowles that some work had been done on fuel injection for the C), MG’s parent company had other ideas. BMC’s merger with Jaguar in late 1966, forming British Motor Holdings, had done little to arrest the company’s financial hemorrhaging. In the spring of 1968, the British government pushed for a merger between BMH and the successful Leyland Motor Corporation, which had already absorbed Standard-Triumph and Rover.
The merger ended any possibility of addressing the shortcomings of the MGC. Since the new conglomerate already had two six-cylinder sports cars — the Triumph GT+6 and the new TR6 — British Leyland executives saw little reason to waste time and money on the slow-selling MGC. Even the Competitions Department would now concentrate mainly on Leyland products. The MGC GTS lightweights continued to race for a while, but only in private hands. Two of the coupes took fifth and sixth in their class at Sebring in 1969 while two others ran in the 1970 Targa Florio and Monte Carlo Rally with indifferent results.
The MGC and MGC GT lingered through the 1969 model year with few changes, but production ended in August 1969. University Motors, MG’s London distributor, bought between 150 and 200 of the unsold 1969 cars and continued to sell them into the 1970 and 1971 model years. Many of the University Motors cars were customized with unique grilles, special paint, and aftermarket accessories like Koni shocks and alloy wheels. At least a few also had Downton engine conversions.
We’ve found several conflicting figures for MGC production, but the grand total, including pre-production cars built in 1966, was around 9,000 cars. The Austin 3-litre, which shared the 2.9-liter six (albeit with many minor differences), was also a commercial flop and British Leyland dropped the C-series engine at the end of the 1971 model year. There would be a V8-powered MGB GT from 1973 to 1976, powered by Rover’s ex-Buick 3,528 cc (215 cu. in.) engine, but there wouldn’t be another six-cylinder MG until Rover launched the ZS 180 and ZT 190 in 2001.
Less than three months after British Leyland abandoned the MGC, Ford of England introduced the Capri 3000, powered by Ford’s 2,994 cc (183 cu. in.) Essex V6. The six-cylinder Capri offered similar performance to the departed MGC GT at a similar price. The V6 Capri proved to be a modest commercial success and eventually became a British motoring icon, surviving through 1987.