Plan C: The Short-Lived Six-Cylinder MGC and MGC GT

Conceived as an afterthought, savaged by the press, and hastily discarded by its maker, this six-cylinder version of the ubiquitous MGB has become the MG that time forgot. This week, we take a look at the story behind the rare and much-maligned 1968-1969 MGC.

1969 MG MGC roadster badge

BIG HEALEY AND THE B

By the standards of the early sixties, the first MGB had perfectly adequate performance: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) took about 12 seconds while top speed was perhaps 105 mph (170 km/h). Even at launch, however, it was hard-pressed by rivals like the Triumph TR4 and the admittedly more expensive Alfa Romeo Giulietta Super Spyder. The MG’s 1,798 cc (110 cu. in.) B-series four was study and torquey but not exactly overpowered, producing 95 hp (71 kW) and 110 lb-ft (149 N-m) of torque in stock form. A liberal application of the factory’s many “Special Tuning” parts could yield some 130 hp (97 kW), but that was expensive and entailed some compromises in drivability and reliability.

The natural solution was to install a bigger engine. Although MG Cars had concentrated on four-cylinder cars since 1945, the company had offered a variety of six-cylinder models before the war, beginning with the 1928 MG Super Six. Chief engineer Syd Enever had apparently considered a six-cylinder MGB during the early stages of the B’s development, but nothing had come of it. Cost was presumably a concern, but there was also concern that a bigger engine would spoil the MGB’s excellent weight distribution. Still, by 1963, adding a more powerful MGB seemed like a sensible marketing decision and the engineers in Abingdon began considering various possibilities, including a short-stroke version of the 2,660 cc (163 cu. in.) four from the old Austin A90 Atlantic and two versions of the corporate C-series six: BMC Australia’s 2,433 cc (149 cu. in.) “Blue Streak” engine and the 2,912 cc (178 cu. in.) six used in some big BMC sedans.

MG’s corporate parent, the British Motor Corporation (BMC), soon took a keen interest in the idea of a six-cylinder B for reasons that had little to do with MG. Since 1952, BMC and the Warwick-based Donald Healey Motor Company had offered a variety of sports cars under the Austin-Healey nameplate. The small Austin-Healey Sprite had recently been refreshed, but the six-cylinder 3000, whose latest Mk 3 iteration was about to debut, was becoming long in the tooth and BMC was looking ahead to its replacement.

1966 Austin-Healey 3000 Mk 3 front 3q
The first Austin-Healey was the four-cylinder 100, introduced in late 1952. The six-cylinder version was launched in 1957, with the 2.9-liter 3000 following in 1959. Its final iteration, the Mk 3, bowed in the spring of 1964, sporting a new dashboard and a more powerful engine. The “big Healeys” were faster and considerably more expensive than the MGB, competing in a different price class. Interestingly, they were built in the same factory; BMC transferred Healey production from Longbridge to Abingdon in 1957.

Like his predecessor, Leonard Lord, BMC chairman George Harriman was reluctant to develop two cars where one would do. Since the fifties, BMC had become notorious for badge engineering: selling the same basic product with minor variations under several different names. Since 1961, MG had been selling a facelifted Austin-Healey Sprite with the venerable Midget nameplate and ideas had been floating around since the late fifties for a bigger car that could be sold both as an MG and an Austin-Healey. Around the same time, BMC had started working on a new joint project, coded ADO 51/ADO 52, that would serve as both the Austin-Healey 3000 Mk 4 (the ADO 51) and a six-cylinder version of the MGB (the ADO 52).

This proposal was not warmly received in Warwick. The ADO 51 was obviously an MGB; cost considerations prohibited any real styling or structural changes, so the only real differences between the ADO 51 and 52 were the grilles and trim. Healey’s son Geoff, the firm’s chief development engineer, worked dutifully with Syd Enever on the project, but without much enthusiasm. The Healeys considered the ADO 51 a hopeless case: a bastardized MGB and a poor excuse for an Austin-Healey.

As was typical at cash-strapped BMC, development of the ADO 51/52 dragged on for more than three years. MGB sales were still robust, bolstered by the addition of the MGB GT hatchback coupe in the fall of 1965, but the Healey situation was coming to a head. In September 1966, the U.S. enacted its first federal motor vehicle safety standards, scheduled to take effect January 1, 1968. Since the existing Healey 3000 Mk 3 could not meet those standards, it would have to be withdrawn from the U.S. market by the end of 1967. Even the imminent demise of the big Healey was not enough to persuade Donald Healey, whose interest in applying his name to to the ADO 51 remained precisely zero. BMC finally relented and the project was canceled.

1966 Austin-Healey 3000 Mk 3 engine
BMC’s C-series six, developed by Morris and introduced in 1954, was in some respects a B-series four with two extra cylinders. The first six-cylinder Healey, the 100-6, had a 2,639 cc (161 cu. in.) version of this engine, which was bored out to 2,912 cc (178 cu. in.) in 1959. British versions of the big six originally had four main bearings, but the lightened unit in the MGC and Austin 3-litre had a seven-bearing crank, similar to the one in BMC Australia’s 2,433 cc (145 cu. in.) “Blue Streak” engine.

Although the Healey-badged ADO 51 was dead, the ADO 52 received production approval in the fall of 1966. It was slated for introduction the following year as a 1968 model, dubbed MGC.

(After the demise of the ADO 51, the Healeys developed a new proposal for a 3000 replacement, the Austin-Healey 4000, powered by the Rolls-Royce-developed 3,909 cc (239 cu. in.) F-head FB60 engine from the short-lived Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R sedan. Several prototypes were built, designated ADO 24, but the project was canceled in mid-1967 owing to BMC’s financial difficulties and the objections of Jaguar’s Sir William Lyons, who had gained a seat on the board after BMC’s merger with Jaguar in 1966. Months later, BMC merged with Leyland to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation and the new management decided to terminate BMC’s deal with Healey at the end of their existing contract. In 1970, the Healeys formed an alliance with Kjell Qvale — previously one of BMC’s biggest U.S. distributors — to develop the Jensen Healey.)

BIG SIX

Many historians assume the MGC was just a B with the engine from the Austin-Healey 3000, but it was not that simple. Although the MGC’s inline six had the same bore and stroke as the big Healey, it was essentially a new engine, similar (though not identical) to the one developed for the Austin 3-litre sedan.

1971 Austin 3-Litre front 3q Letdorf
Besides the MGC, the only other user of the redesigned C-series six was the short-lived Austin 3-litre sedan. The 3-litre, launched in 1967, was a rear-drive executive car, based on BMC’s front-wheel-drive ADO 17 (Austin/Morris/Wolseley 1800), but with the big six and self-leveling Hydrolastic suspension. BMC had high hopes for the 3-litre, but unpopular styling and too-obvious kinship with the cheaper Austin 1800 made it a commercial failure. Fewer than 10,000 units were sold between 1967 and 1971. The engines in the 3-litre and MGC share the same displacement and architecture, but there are many minor differences; the two engines are not identical. (Photo: “Austin 3-Litre at Glamis” © 2009 Letdorf, edited by Charles01; resized and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

The main problem with the earlier C-series, which dated back to 1954, was its prodigious bulk. The big six was a sizable lump of iron weighing about 610 lb (277 kg) — more than a small-block Chevrolet V8. It was also considerably undersquare (the stroke exceeded the bore) and had only four main bearings. Syd Enever pushed for an extensive modernization of the C-series, including different bore and stroke dimensions, but BMC technical director Alec Issigonis overruled him on cost grounds. However, Issigonis did approve the development of a new seven-main-bearing crankshaft like the one in the Australian Blue Streak engines. Engineers at BMC’s Coventry Engines Branch also redesigned the engine to reduce its exterior dimensions and take advantage of the latest thinwall casting techniques.

Unfortunately, these efforts were not quite as successful as anticipated. Coventry Engines had hoped to bring the big six’s dry weight under 500 lb (227 kg), but even with all the changes, the engine still weighed a hefty 567 lb (257 kg), 209 lb (95 kg) more than the 1.8-liter (110 cu. in.) B-series four. The redesigned engine was a useful 1.75 inches (45 mm) shorter than its predecessor, but the six remained a tight squeeze for the MGB’s engine bay, especially since budget restrictions prohibited any alterations to the monocoque structure or the firewall. Even after pushing the radiator well forward and adding a deeper U-shaped front crossmember, the MGC’s hood had to be bulged to clear the six’s valve cover and a second, smaller bulge was needed to accommodate the carburetors.

1969 MGC roadster engine
Like the Austin-Healey 3000, the MGC’s engine has a bore of 3.28 inches (83.3 mm) and a stroke of 3.50 inches (88.9 mm), giving a total displacement of 2,912 cc (178 cu. in.). French cars had a smaller bore, reducing displacement to less than 2,800 cc (171 cu. in.) and the far less expensive 15 CV tax bracket. All MGCs had 9.0:1 compression and two 1.75-inch (45mm) S.U. HS6 carburetors. North American cars had an air-injection pump to meet federal emissions standards, with a small thermostatically controlled carburetor cooling fan added to manage the extra heat. It appears the air-injection system has been removed on this car.

The new crossmember precluded the use of the MGB’s coil springs and lever-action dampers (which also served as the upper control arms), so the MGC got a new front suspension with tubular shock absorbers and torsion bars. A new vacuum-assisted Girling brake system replaced the MGB’s Lockheed brakes and 15-inch wheels with five-lug hubs replaced the B’s four-lug 14-inch wheels. To keep steering effort manageable with the bigger wheels and greater front-end weight, the steering ratio was increased (numerically) by more than 15% while the driveshaft and rear axle were beefed up to withstand the six’s torque. The standard transmission was essentially the new all-synchro four-speed from the MGB Mk 2, albeit with different ratios. As with the Mk 2 MGB, both Laycock de Normanville overdrive and a three-speed Borg-Warner Model 35 automatic were optional.

All of these changes made the MGC roughly 400 lb (180 kg) heavier than a comparable MGB and more than 20% more expensive to boot. Inevitably, the six-cylinder car also cost more to run than its four-cylinder sibling. Fuel consumption was around 10% higher and the big six made it a costly proposition in European nations that based vehicle taxes on engine displacement.

1969 MGC roadster bonnet
The small teardrop-shaped blister on the side of the MGC’s bonnet bulge was added to provide clearance for the front carburetor. The bulged hood (with its stainless steel trim strip), larger wheels, and badges are the only external differences between the MGC and the Mk 2 MGB. The hood itself was aluminum, although late in the 1969 model year, some MGCs may have had steel hoods, standardized on the MGB for the 1970 model year.

THE COLD SHOULDER

Anyone expecting the MGC to be the first MG Supercar was to be sorely disappointed. The first warning sign was that the new six was actually less powerful than the outgoing Austin-Healey 3000 — rated output had fallen from 150 hp (112 kW) to a nominal 145 hp (108 kW). Although the rated torque output (variously quoted at 170 and 174 lb-ft (230 and 235 N-m)) was stout enough, testers soon found that the new head and manifold design had robbed the MGC of the big Healey’s robust low-end urge. Moreover, while the big six was smoother than the MGB’s four, restrictive breathing and a very heavy flywheel kept the new C-series engine from revving with any notable enthusiasm.

1969 MG MGC roadster side
The MGB and MGC had nearly identical exterior dimensions — 152.3 inches (3,867 mm) long on a 91-inch (2,311mm) wheelbase — but the MGC was significantly heavier, weighing around 2,500 lb (1,135 kg) fully fueled. In the home market, an MGC tourer started at £1,102 with purchase tax (a bit under $3,100 at contemporary exchange rates), £153 more than the MGB roadster. In the U.S., the starting price of an MGC roadster was around $3,200, over $500 more than an MGB.

The MGC was indeed faster than the B. An MGC roadster with manual shift was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in about 10 seconds and a top speed of nearly 120 mph (193 km/h) — not as fast as the last Austin-Healey 3000 or the six-cylinder Triumph TR5 PI, but highly respectable for a British sports car of this era. However, the MGC was neither as quick nor as effortless as its displacement and rated output suggested and testers felt that it demanded too much effort for too little return.

As dissatisfied as the automotive press may have been with the engine, they reserved the real critical brickbats for the MGC’s handling. The MGC rode better than the B — no bad thing — but its higher center of gravity, inadequate roll control, and greater front weight bias induced substantial understeer, exacerbated on early press cars by improper tire pressures. Reviewers also complained that the slower steering and larger turning radius made the MGC feel cumbersome in low-speed maneuvers, a sensation alien to the MGB. American testers were disappointed while British critics reviled the MGC as something less than a sports car.

1969 MG MGC roadster front 3q
Although it has the same exterior dimensions as the MGB, the MGC has a noticeably larger turning radius than does its four-cylinder brothers, a consequence of the revised steering rack and something that annoyed contemporary reviewers to no end. All MGCs had 15-inch wheels and radial tires — still optional on the MGB at the time. Wire wheels were optional, albeit very common, on UK cars, but it appears they may have been standard on North American cars.

(We must qualify those scathing reviews by noting that the early MGB was considered one of the best-handling production cars of its era. Its controls were heavy and the ride sometimes bordered on the abusive, but it had sharp, accurate steering and a pleasing directness that won it many fans. In comparison, the heavier, softer MGC could hardly avoid being seen as a retrograde step.)

Between the higher prices and the dismal notices, buyers shied away. MGC sales were dismal — even in the U.S., which had far fewer barriers to big-engine cars. Worldwide sales for the 1968 model year totaled only about 5,000 units, including both roadsters and GTs. Despite its generally frosty reception, the six-cylinder car did find at least one friend in high places: HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, selected a 1968 MGC GT coupe as his first car. Curiously, BMC’s press office did not really publicize that fact. Their discretion was admirable, but the MGC needed all the help it could get.

1969 MG MGC GT front 3q
A home-market MGC GT had a starting price of £1,249 with purchase tax, £155 more than the MGB GT; in the U.S., its base price was around $3,700. The owner of this car has substituted stiffer suspension bushings, which he says makes the handling much more more precise (though we presume ride harshness suffers). Note the curious mirror placement, one on the fender, one on the door; odd as it seems, this was the stock arrangement.

THE CONTENDER

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.

1969 MG MGC GT rear 3q
With its taller greenhouse and rear hatchback, the MGC GT coupe weighed about 140 lb (64 kg) more than the roadster. While acceleration suffered slightly, the coupe had better weight distribution than did the open car, improving handling. BMC called the GT a 2+2, but the tiny rear bench was cramped even for children or large dogs and was best used as an upholstered luggage platform.

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.)

1969 MGC GT engine (Downton)
This 1969 MGC GT has an aftermarket intake manifold with triple S.U. carburetors; the owner identified it as a Downton Engineering conversion, but Downton Stage 3 owner Bruce Ibbotson indicates that it is not the Kit 45 three-carb manifold, which was steel rather than aluminum. We don’t know how effective this car’s set-up is, but Downton claimed 175 hp (130 kW) at 5,500 rpm with the Kit 45 conversion, along with better engine response and lower fuel consumption.

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.

ABOUT FACE

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.

1969 MGC GT dashboard
The interior of the MGC is very much like that of the Mk 2 MGB, with a new padded dash and a reshaped transmission tunnel to accommodate the all-synchro gearbox. Roughly 15% of MGCs had the three-speed Borg-Warner automatic, which cost £104 (about $290) extra; most buyers preferred the four-speed with overdrive.

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.

1969 MGCGT Webasto sunroof
Fabric or steel sunroofs were fairly common on MGB and MGC GT coupes, but all were dealer or aftermarket installations, not factory items. This 1969 MGC GT has a period-correct (but not original) Webasto sunroof, installed by an acquaintance of the current owner using NOS parts.

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.

THE REHABILITATION OF THE MGC

For all the MGC’s bad press, the competition cars and the Downton conversions suggest that the factory could easily have made a credible sports car out of it if MG’s corporate parents had had the will to do so. Even without the expense of a Downton-style engine conversion, some owners say that just installing a declutching fan and a lighter flywheel (after properly balancing the engine) can make a big difference in engine response. The handling, meanwhile, can be sharpened considerably with some judicious suspension tuning.

1969 MGC roadster front
The owners of both of our photo subjects felt the MGC’s handling deficiencies had been somewhat overstated, although it’s worth noting that both have made suspension modifications to their cars. The owner of this 1969 MGC roadster has added stiffer front torsion bars to reduce body roll and improve front-end grip. The front spoiler/airdam is an aftermarket piece, added during restoration.

It seems that the MGC’s biggest problem was that it was the answer to a question no one was really asking. Racing aside, people liked the MGB because it was cute, fun, and relatively inexpensive. The four-cylinder MGB’s modest power-to-weight ratio (which eroded steadily throughout the seventies) did no harm at all to its sales, even in North America. The MGC was more powerful, but its higher price and running costs made it impractical for European buyers and American customers looking for more power had many other choices; the price of an MGC GT would buy a big-block pony car with more than 300 gross horsepower (249 kW). As for Australia, it appears that a few RHD MGCs were sold there, but they were quite rare. Unlike the MGB, which was locally assembled, the MGC was subject to import tariffs and presumably quite costly. In short, the MGC was not nearly as cheap and far less cheerful than its four-cylinder sibling and its popularity suffered accordingly.

In recent years, the MG faithful have finally begun to reassess the MGC, which we think is long overdue. If it was not as nimble as the early MGB, even a completely stock MGC stacks up well against the clumsier rubber-bumper Bs of the late seventies and it’s certainly faster. The C may not be as rare or as desirable as the later MGB GT V8, but it’s unusual enough to turn heads and it has an interesting story to tell.

# # #


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources included Keith Adams, “Austin 3Litre,” AROnline, 19 September 2008, www.aronline. co.uk, accessed 14 September 2010, “Classic boo-boo,” The Independent 4 July 2006, www.independent. co.uk, accessed 21 August 2010, “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); the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, “MG Sports Cars,” HowStuffWorks.com, 23 May 2007, auto.howstuffworks. com/ mg-sports-cars.htm, accessed 9 September 2010, and “Replacements for the MGB: Triumphs Were the Corporate Will,” Cars That Never Were: The Prototypes (Skokie, IL: Publications International, 1981), pp. 73-76; “Autotest: MGC GT automatic,” Autocar 7 November 1968: 10–14; Jouke Bloem and Jolanda van der Meer, “MGC royal connections,” “MGC, Abingdon’s Grand Tourer,” n.d., www.joukebloem. nl, accessed 10 September 2010; “Car and Driver Road Test: MG-C,” Car and Driver June 1969, pp. 53-56; 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); Downton Engineering Works website, www.downton. com, accessed 12 September 2010; Mark Foster, “Downton Engineering Works 1947-1975,” mk1-performance-conversions. co.uk, n.d., accessed 12 September 2010; “Giant test: MGC v. TR5,” Car August 1968, pp. 49–53; John Heilig, MG Sports Cars (Enthusiast Color Series) (Osceola, WI: MBI Publishing Company, 1996); Bruce Ibbotson, “How to Develop the MGC, Overcome most of the Problems and Further Develop the Car for Use on Our Roads, in Today’s Traffic Conditions,” MG Car Club of Queensland, 10 February 2010, www.mgccq. org.au, accessed 12 September 2010; 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, and MG by McComb (Colchester, Essex: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1978); Mark J. McCourt, “Six into four, M.G. style,” Hemmings Motor News September 2006; “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; “M.G. C – University Motors Special MGC GT with Improvements,” Autocar, 17 December 1970; Skye Nott, “MG Racing Results 1963-1978,” The MG Experience, n.d., www.mgexperience. net, accessed 10 September 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; “Softly, softly” (Motor Road Test No. 37/67: MGC), The Motor 4 November 1967, pp. 25-30; “So You Want to Buy an MGC?” Safety Fast December 2007, pp. 29-34; “Space with dignity (Motor Road Test No. 1/69: Austin 3-litre automatic),” Motor 4 January 1969, pp. 13-18; and Rainer Wilken, “Special BGTs: The most historically important, exotic, spectacular and stylish MGB GTs packed into one page…almost,” www.garage24. net, accessed 8 September 2010.

Information on the Austin-Healey series came from 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; John Chatham, “The Austin Healey 4000,” Classic & Sports Car Vol 10, No. 5 (August 1991); Geoffrey Healey, Austin Healey: The Story of the Big Healeys (Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset: Gentry Books Ltd., 1978), excerpted in Chapter 4 of John Heilig, MG Sports Cars, pp. 75-77; Geoffrey Healey, Healey, The Specials (London: Gentry Books, 1980); and Frederick Pearce, “The Big Healey Stretch,” Auto Magazine, August 1973, reprinted on the web with the permission of the author at englishcars. com/ austinhealey/ 4000/ ah4000.html, accessed 13 September 2010.

For comparison with the Ford Capri 3000, we consulted “Fastest British Ford yet,” The Motor 11 October 1969, and “Autotest: Ford Capri 3000GT XLR (2,994 c.c.),” Autocar 30 October 1969, both of which are reprinted in High Performance Capris: Gold Portfolio 1969-1987, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1990).

Special thanks to the owners of the black MGC GT and the Metallic Riviera Silver Blue MGC roadster.

Historical exchange rate data for the dollar and British pound came 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. Exchange rate values cited in the text represent the approximate equivalency of British and U.S. currency at the time, not the contemporary U.S. suggested retail prices, which are cited separately. Please note that all exchange rate equivalencies cited in the text are approximate and are provided for general information and illustration only; 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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48 Comments

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  1. Glad to have you back! Just when I think you might be starting to run out of topics you bust out with an entire marque I had forgotten about.

    1. What where the common pitfalls of the MGC engine that gave the car a poor rating?

      1. The general complaints included (a) that the engine was simply too heavy and throws off the car’s balance (the engine is about 200 pounds heavier than the MGB’s normal B-series four); (b) that the engine was reluctant to rev; and (c) that the six didn’t feel as powerful as its rated output suggested.

        There isn’t much to be done about the first point, but owners have tried various things to mitigate the latter two points, including installing a lighter flywheel and tinkering with carburetion and manifolding.

        1. I have one, and it drives like mad, but than I have the overdrive!
          The engine is so reliable and strong that you can pull up from stand still in fourth gear without any problems.

          There are only two problems the car have:
          1. a really heavy machine with gear, making turning corners into heavy duty weight lifting.
          2. When your driving over 100 mph (and you can easily make this speed) you tends to loose grip on the steering.

  2. Factory, or aftermarket?

    1. I believe the mounting block is factory, but I think the braided hoses are not — photos I’ve seen of stock engines have rubber hoses.

      1. Excellent article on the MGC. The spin on oil filter and braided hoses are aftermarket item. Originally the MGC was equipped with a cloth filter inside a canister. A small drain plug was provided in the canister base to help prevent oil from running down the side of the block to the floor. No matter what, changing a filter was a messy affair.

        The original equipment oil cooler lines are rubber as are the fuel lines and radiator overflow hose.

        The carburetor cooling fan and emissions system items have been removed from this engine, a common thing to do, cleaning up the appearance of the stock engine.

        1. Thanks for the clarifications. It looked like the air pump had been removed, but I wasn’t clear enough on the stock items to be certain, and I didn’t think to ask the owner.

    2. I’m not sure whether others see what I do on my Blackberry’s Bolt browser, but the truncation to "braided ho" is as unfortunate an accidental meaning change as I’ve seen!

      1. Alas, that is a side effect of the comment system’s formatting, which defines itself in fixed pixel widths. If the text of the article itself is truncated, let me know, and I’ll see if I can figure out why, but there is unfortunately not much I can do on the comments.

  3. Another outstanding, well researched article…you guys are the best.

  4. As regards the handling, if I recall correctly there was an issue with the press cars having the wrong front tyre pressures, making the steering enormously heavy at parking speeds and sluggish to turn-in.

    1. That’s mentioned in the text. The press cars had the tires inflated to 24 psi all around, rather than having somewhat higher pressures in front (Bruce Ibbotson suggests 36/32 psi front/rear). That probably exaggerated the MGC’s unflattering characteristics, but it didn’t cause them.

      It’s worth noting again the [i]reasons[/i] for the MGC’s handling characteristics. First, in addition to putting an extra 100 kilos on the nose, the big engine raised the center of gravity. To compensate for the greater body roll that induced, the C got a thicker front anti-roll bar. That in turn increased the load on the outside front tire, inducing understeer. The standard tires were none too generous in size or grip (initial specification were Dunlop SP41, 165R-15, replaced in 1969 with 165HR-15 speed-rated tires), so the front end would wash out earlier than in the B.

      Tire pressure affects grip, so running a higher pressure in front would reduce understeer by giving the front tires more grip than the rears. (That could also be accomplished by adding a rear anti-roll bar and using fatter tires with more grip; some owners have done either or both.) Conversely, lower front tire pressures would reduce front-end grip, exaggerating the understeer.

      As for the steering, the C’s (numerical) steering ratio was something like 15% higher than the B, making the steering slower (more turns lock-to-lock), but still fairly heavy, with softer turn-in response. (As a point of comparison, the lightened 2.9-liter engine weighed more than a 5.4-liter Chevrolet V8, and the MGC’s steering ratio was similar to the fast-ratio manual steering offered on some American pony cars — those were real bicep-builders in parking maneuvers.) Lowering the front tire pressures would make that worse, and hurt turn-in response, but higher pressures don’t change the steering ratio or remove the big mass of iron on the front wheels.

      1. Do manufacturers still use tyre pressure to correct handling flaws? I know most cars I’ve owned have required higher rear pressures, but not to the extent of a 4psi difference. The issues with the MGC’s front and rear pressures reminded me of the recommended settings for the Chevrolet Corvair, although if I remember your excellent article on that car, it was again a bit of a sticking plaster on a broken leg to try and use tyre pressure to fix inherent handling flaws.

        One thing which did cross my mind was that although the C-series was undoubtedly a boat anchor of an engine in any form, particularly compared to the Rover V8, the Austin-Healey 3000 seems to have suffered less than the MGC. Presumably that was a function of being designed around the big six, rather than having it shoehorned in?

        1. The engine in the Austin-Healey 3000 was even heavier than the MGC’s version, but it sat further back in the chassis, so its weight distribution was much better. I’m sure MG would have preferred to do that with the MGC, as well, but they didn’t have the budget for it. In a monocoque car like the B and C, the cowl (scuttle) is an important structural element, so altering it requires rather major surgery.

          Tire pressure is still used as an inexpensive way to adjust ride and handling balance, but since customers (and even dealers) don’t necessarily follow the recommended pressures, it’s not an ideal solution. I don’t know offhand of any modern cars that specify dramatically different front/rear pressures, except perhaps cars that use different-size tires front and back. I haven’t made any study of that particular point, though, so I’m not sure.

  5. [quote=Administrator]I think it also depends on what you’re comparing them to. If you compare the MGC’s handling to the Mark II MGB, the C comes out badly. If you compare it to a contemporary Mustang or Camaro (not unreasonable, since their prices were roughly comparable), it would probably fare better. [/quote]

    I’d think the MGC and the Mustang/Camaro would appeal to different buyers, even if they were in the same ballpark in price.

    1. For the most part, I would imagine that MG fans and pony car lovers would turn up their noses at one another, but the MGC does make an interesting comparison with the contemporary American sporty cars. Although the magazines (and modern collectors) love the hotter big blocks, Boss 302s, and Z/28s, that’s not what most people bought, and a comparison between the C and a workaday Mustang or Camaro would be instructive. By the numbers, straight-line performance is actually pretty similar (and would be more so if the MGC hadn’t lost the big Healey’s low-end torque), and I suspect the C would handle better, unless the pony car had the heavy-duty suspension (which was generally pretty rare).

  6. The MGC left the building just as the Datsun 240Z was entering it, but you’d need to REALLY have a thing for British cars to choose an MGC-GT over a Z.

    1. At least in the U.S., where the 240Z was around $200 less than an MGC GT. (My understanding is that in Britain, import duties made the Z a lot more expensive than it was here, so that might be a different story.)

      I’m pretty sure BMC was unaware of the Z when the MGC was launched, although the Z was definitely on the radar when MG introduced the B GT V8 in 1973; the ads for it make that clear. Alas, the very limited production of the V8 (and BLMC’s decision not to federalize it) made it something of a moot point.

  7. I’ve scoured the site, glad to have fresh material!

  8. Ive owned fully restored standard bgt & cgt. Handling wise theres very little in it. You have to be an experienced classic driver to get the best from the cgt and if you are, then the c is faster all round and better fun. The bgt has nimbler handling and is more forgiving, but lacks the power in the corners to use its potential. The front end set up on the c is what the b should have had in the first place and then it would have been exceptional, especially when tuned. The b needed a better engine but never really got it until the v8 and then the B s front end suspension was inadequate, again losing everything you gained. There all great in there own right, for me the c edges it on rareity smoothness and everyone wants to talk about it.

  9. Good article and good to see a well written description of the MGC.
    Having had 2 MGC GTs, 2 Big Healeys (and a 240Z) I think I can add quite a bit to this: The problems with the MGC were mostly BMC problems. Mainly money and control. MG was not given control over the engine and had a minimal development budget. Morris Engines Branch delivered an engine that was at least 100 lbs heavier than the MG engineers were told it was going to be. They just turned up the torsion bars to level the car, but as they were from another BMC model the spring rate was terribly inadequate for the job with no budget or time to develop the right parts. Add to this the fact that the front suspension has all rubber bushings instead of half metal like the MGB or Healeys, the car rolls in turns and the suspension distorts far from ideal alignment for cornering grip. This results in the C turning into a corner and then the wheel needing to be turned some more to stay on a chosen line. Benign understeer to the max.
    Off the line the MGB can get to 35 or 40 mph faster, but on the open highway the MGC will pass it and be gone. Cruising at 70, 80 or more is easy in a C. Much taller gearing and more relaxed at modern Interstate speeds. A lighter flywheel (the MGCs is 32 lbs, the Healeys was 28) will help and the 1969 gearing is not as tall as the 1968.
    Suspension improvements that will make the C equal to a B include Up-rated torsion bars, polyurethane front suspension bushings, better shocks, better tires (at least 185/70HR15) with proper inflation, and stiffer front and added rear anti-roll bars.
    With these the MGC can be made to be a very good car. (My local Club doesn’t like me to lead tours in my GT!) It is the most modern MG we have in the States, the front suspension is fully adjustable and it is great for long trips.
    Yes it will not perform like a Z-car, but the MGC was already discontinued by the time the Z came along.
    American MGC Register, Tech Editor

  10. The photo of the MGC fitted with 3 by 1/34″ SU’s is an aftermarket kit with cast alloy horizontal inlet manifolds.
    The correct Downton inlet manifolds are specially jigged fabricated mild steel units which curve down slightly from the carby then curve up to the inlet ports. The carbies are inclined inward at about 10* or so. I haven’t measured the angle.

    It is the specific design of the inlet manifolds that give the much improved gas flow into the head resulting in very good low down torque and much improved economy as well as a substantial power and torque increase from idle up to 6,000 RPM.

    There are very few Downton Stage 3 [Kit 45] cars worldwide. I only know of 3 in the UK and my car in Australia. There may be some in Europe and North America. University Motors did sell a few Stage 2 [Kit 43] cars towards the end but as far as I know no Stage 3 cars. Most of the Stage 3 cars were modified by their owners or were taken to Downton Engineering to be converted early in the models life.

    The copies of the Downton dual exhaust system ,headers, mufflers and pipes are readily available and follow the design of Downton fairly accurately. Moss I think sell a copy.
    The dual exhaust system gives about 20 BHP of the Kit 45 performance, as advised by Downton in 1970.

    The MGC was quoted in the UK as exceeding 130 MPH when fitted with stage 2.
    My car with stage 3 has been timed at 128 MPH on a circuit with a very long straight. It never got anywhere near the claimed UK figures. The standard car as delivered with 3.307:1 diff reached 120 MPH in both 4th. and Overdrive.

    Years ago in the UK 2 MGC’s over 10 years old were tested from 30 to 100 MPH in 4th. gear on a level test road. The early car with 3.307:1 diff. took 40 seconds. The later [1969] car with 3.7:1 diff. took 30 seconds. The early cars were overgeared as we all knew.

    On the MGCC Queensland website “Tech Talk” pages is an article on Airconditioning the MGC.
    With our Sub Tropical climate this has been great all year round, fitted in 2006.

    1. Bruce,

      I’ll bow to your familiarity with the Downton conversions — the owner identified it as a Downton conversion, but he admitted he wasn’t that familiar with the details. I’ve amended the text accordingly.

  11. Another excellent article. In the last few years the C’s value have really started to come up. The average age of the average British car enthusiast climbs I suspect they are more drawn to the C’s GT style assets of the more raw B sports car.

    1. I suspect an equally important factor, as far as collector value goes, is simply rarity. Except for the MGB GT V8, there aren’t many Bs that qualify as rare, and those that are don’t necessarily have greater collector value (the early 1974 North American cars with the chrome bumpers and big rubber overriders, for instance). The C also has value just as a conversation piece. Even at a show full of jaded MGB fans, it stands out, and I’m sure some people find that appealing.

  12. I’ve spent a fair amount of time behind the wheel of both MGBs and MGCs, and at the end of the day I think there’s no question that the B is the better all-around car. By going with the B, you essentially sacrifice higher-speed touring ability and sweet six-cylinder sound for the benefit of a significantly better-handling and probably faster all-around package. That said, I think folks need to be honest with themselves about how they’re planning on using these cars. If you’re a Sunday driver that scarcely exceeds the speed limit–not uncommon when it comes to MG owners–the added smoothness and rarity of the C might outweigh the B’s balance and at-the-limit performance potential. Fortunately, though, they’re both cheap enough that if you’re a nut, you can get one of each.

    1. I think it also depends on what you’re comparing them to. If you compare the MGC’s handling to the Mark II MGB, the C comes out badly. If you compare it to a contemporary Mustang or Camaro (not unreasonable, since their prices were roughly comparable), it would probably fare better.

  13. I have letters from Daniel Richmond of Downton giving all the details of the factory engine [on Abingdon’s Dyno] and his data for Kit 43 [stage 2] and Kit 45 [stage 3] engines.
    Factory engine produced 123.7 BHP at the flywheel with open dyno exhaust.
    Kit 45 produced 174.6 BHP at the flwwheel with the Downton twin exhaust system. This is what made the difference.

    Go to the MGCCQueensland website [Website in contact block] and scroll down to "Tech Talk".
    Look for an article on developing the MGC for Modern day use [or whatever I called it] here you will get "Chapter and Verse" development of the car from delivery up to about 2009. I have since added John Hoyle’s IRS to replace the cart springs.
    I have to go out now but will send you a lot more info later.

    Cheers,
    Bruce Ibbotson. [1968 MGC-GT]

    1. Bruce,

      I did read your document at length in putting together the article — if you look through the sources (some daunting blocks of text, I admit), you’ll see it there. It was very useful, although inevitably some of its details went a little beyond the scope. (I rounded 174.6 bhp up to 175, as is my customary practice.) Most of all, it illustrated how much better the factory MGC could have been, with just a little more effort.

  14. As a British owner of an MGC roadster, I would concur with most of the comments made on your forum. The handling can be improved by fitting 185 x 15 tyres and replacing the stock shocks with modern adjustable ones (I have fitted Spax ) this certainly will improve the situation and understeer can all but eliminated if the rear side lever shocks are replaced with teles.

  15. I’ve owned and driven an MGCGT for 26 years and as standard, as you say in your comments, the handling is not great. However with some gas shockers and a thicker roll bar, take off the carb air filters,and add some ram tubes you’ll gain up to 10hp and some grunt.
    I’ve done the Monte Carlo Ralle Historique twice in the ‘C.’ The power on the mountains was a joy in mainly third gear useing the overdrive as a gear change it creamed most of the other muscle cars on the rally. Every hairpin on the coles were powered around just drifting the rear, no problem with a standard steering wheel and rack.
    I love the NGCGT.

  16. I am an original owner of an MGC roadster with 4 speed transmission and overdrive. I purchased it new June 21, 1969 and have loved and enjoyed it since new. Presently. I am restoring it for the first time in 46 years. My restoration is a complete nut, bolt, screw, and rivet task. I hope to have it completed by June 2016 for the MG International meet in Louisville, KY. I have spent 4 years working on it, but not seriously until this year.

    Hope to see some of you in Louisville next June.

    Dale

  17. An intriguing question comes to mind regarding the MGC, was the FB60 engine intended for the Austin-Healey 4000 ever fitted to an MGB / MGC?

    1. Not to my knowledge, although I imagine it would be a tough squeeze. I don’t think I’ve ever seen exterior dimensions for the FB60, but even the redesigned C-series barely fit in the MGB’s engine bay without modifying the firewall, so the F-head engine might just not fit. (The Austin-Healey 4000 used a modified 3000 body, which had more space up front.

  18. Thank you I thought for a minute I was crazy I remember when I was a kid my brother and his friend got out of the Navy and his friend brought home a brand new mgc, my dad was a Machanic, and he had to show it of I remember it had a 6 in it and the hood had a bump on it for that reason I think

  19. While Donald Healey rejected ADO51 on the basis of both its heavy engine and too closely resembling the MGB/MGC, do any counter proposals by Healey exist as to how he wanted ADO51 to progress and differ from the MGC in terms of styling before outright rejecting it?

    Would ADO51 have been better off with something along the lines of the front-end from the Coune MGB Berlinette with the “Healey” grille from the ADO51 prototype as a starting point?

    On the engine front while the 142-178 hp 2.5 version of the 2660cc 4-cylinder is one route (along a 200 + hp 2.5 Coventry Climax CFA V8), would Healey have quickly dismissed the redesigned 2.9 C-Series engine had it reached its original weight reduction target of 175 lbs / 80kg (instead of 45 lbs / 20kg) that the later motorsport MGC GTS achieved together with the 175 hp Downton upgrade?

    Anyway as for the 2.4 B-Series Blue Streak engine it apparently uprated to put out as much as 115 hp in MGB prototypes.

    1. In the Big Healey article, I talked about some of the alternative ideas that were considered, at least one of which was a fixed-head coupe (not related to or particularly resembling the Coune Berlinette, however).

      I think the Healeys’ basic concern was not the the styling or the weight of the engine (although their conclusion that the ADO51/52 was a dynamic mess certainly didn’t help), but rather that the ADO51 would have been a difficult sell in any form BMC was willing to consider. The 3000 and Hundred had always been a clear step up from the MGA and MGB in terms of price and performance; in the U.S., the difference between an MGB tourer and a mid-sixties BJ7 was close to $900, which was a lot of money. The ADO51 would probably have been priced similarly, but because it would have looked so much like the MGB, there was a real danger that a potential buyer would assume the ADO51 was a rebadged MGB rather than a 3000 successor. It’s not difficult to imagine a customer walking into a showroom, balking at the $3,500+ price tag, and walking out again without ever raising the bonnet or asking about the specs.

      I suspect the Healeys would have had less of a problem with the similarity between the ADO51 and ADO52 had BMC been willing to further differentiate both cars from the MGB. Similarly, had it been possible to continue the BJ7 for a few more years, I doubt the Healeys would have objected overmuch to substituting the redesigned C-series engine (although once BMC asked them to look at the Rolls-Royce FB60, they might have argued for using that instead, since it provided much better performance). The Healeys were realists and they’d worked with BMC for a decade or so at that point, so it’s not like they didn’t understand the economic considerations involved. I think they simply concluded that there was no way to make ADO51 a viable commercial proposition within the parameters BMC had set for it, and they were likely correct.

  20. Past owner of an MG TC or 25 years, which I sold as I could not decide which of my three sons should have the car.
    I have purchased a 1974 MGB GT which I am happy with but I have decided to sell and purchase a MGCGT with a Doug Smith conversion stage 2 with three weber carbs light flywheel and downton exhaust.
    I am concern about the handling as my wife will drive the Gee now and then. Any suggestion about improving the handling would be appreciated
    Thank you
    David

    1. David,

      I can’t advise you on how to modify your car, although there are various resources available if you were so inclined. I don’t think there’s anything dangerous or treacherous about the MGC’s handling. The complaints about it tended to be that it was comparatively stodgy and understeer-prone, but that’s a question of degree and some would tell you understeer is safer. Of course, any old car requires a certain adjustment for a modern driver accustomed to the higher limits of modern suspensions and tires, but in that regard, the MGC is no worse than any American sedan of its era. If you’re planning to autocross or something, that might be a different story, but for Sunday drives, I don’t know that you need to tinker with it.

  21. Heavy steering has always been a stock criticism of the “C” . As a 2 time owner, my present C has been fitted with kingpin needle roller bearings. These replace the bronze bushes fitted originally to the top of the trunnions and take the weight of the front of the car. The result has been a huge success and other than at very low speeds, a marked improvement is evident and well worth the time and effort.

    1. Hi Michael, I’m glad to hear your assessment of the roller bearings. I’m in the process of restoring my C GT (a long ways to go) but purchased a set. When I get to that stage I’ll get it on the road as stock and convert to the roller bearings to have the comparison to know that was a good choice!

  22. When I was in Vietnam in 1969 I ordered a MGC convertible . When I got home and the car they had for me was an auto! So I did not buy it. Fast forward 20 years and I found a restored one and bought it. A lovely car, the torque and smoothness of the motor was beautiful! A teriffic car.
    I since sold it, but looking around again. For a casual driver, long trips on country roads there is none better!

  23. Interesting article and discussion. I own an MGB with the Blue Streak B series six engine, an Australian prototype replica, complete with the triple carbs and headers made for it. A very quick car and the engine being lighter than the C does not seem to affect the handling too much, tho front end has modified shocks. That Blue streak fitted in the car without all the front end redesign, pity it was not used as the engine was regarded as not standard enough for worldwide release. Only other change for mine was the fitting of a Nissan Skyline 5 speed gearbox. This is a very satisfying car to drive and no one can pick the engine from its great noise.

  24. I owned a car that was titled as a MGCU. It was a ’69 and a convertible. I know some of the GT’s came with autos, but not the sort top. Never seen one again. I was only 15 at the time and had to get rid of it when I lost storage. Am I crazy, or was this a MGCU? Thanks

  25. I found in the USA an MGC roadster with an engine from Rover V8 3.5cc can be original from factory
    Regards

    1. British Leyland built a bit less than 3000 MGB-GT models with the Buick/Rover V8 engine between 1973-76. A British entrepenuer named Ken Costello first started fitting this engine in MGB bodies, he may well have done the same with a few MGC’s.
      But no MGC left the Abingdon factory with this engine

      1. Also, the MGB GT V8 (covered in the MGB article) was never officially exported to the U.S., although British Leyland took the initial steps to certify it for such. (Indeed, we even lost the MGB GT during the production run of the V8 car due to concerns that it would undermine interest in the Triumph TR7.)

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