MGB: The Sports Car America Loved First
Morris Garage, or MG, first advertised its sports cars to American audiences in 1947 by introducing the TC model. It had everything a young American would want, assuming that the buyer wanted a top-down, gear crunching, bone shaking, ear splitting ride down a country lane while all the time leaking oil. Frankly, a lot of Americans did want that sort of experience, since their only choice of an automobile from Detroit meant driving around in quiet comfort and taking turns very carefully.
The MG's carried on through the 1950s with the TD and MGA, fueling the creation of the Thunderbird and Corvette and drawing other European sports cars into the market. If it weren't for the MG we wouldn't have had Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, Triumph, Morgan and Lotus, not to mention the later entries from Datsun and others. Specifically, the MGB was the car that drew all the attention.
The MGB was introduced to the American market in 1963. It featured an updated version of the well-worn, decades old, revvy inline four cylinder engine used in previous MG's. Its 1.8 Liter displacement was enough to generate 94 horsepower which, in turn, was enough to launch the little 1900 pound cars to 60 mph in just over 11 seconds. The exhaust note was pleasant, the shape of the car very pleasing and the interior reasonably comfortable. All this could be had for $2698, which was about the same amount of money you'd pay for a fully-equipped Corvair or Falcon.
Added to these features were a soft top that could actually be raised and lowered in less than a fortnight, a heater that actually worked, roll-up windows and three windshield wipers. For the first time, MG's had all-weather capability and could be used as everyday transportation.
By the mid 60s, MG introduced the MGB-GT, a coupe. These cars were favored by autocross aficionados and those who wanted a bit more sophistication in their daily commutes, although a fiberglass hard top was offered for the roadsters. Also added to the lineup in 1967 was the MGC, featuring the Austin Healey's inline 6 cylinder engine. Only 4,457 of these models were every built.
By the 1970s MG was doing everything it could to keep up with changing American tastes and safety/emissions regulations. The company introduced its first V8 in 1973 and even offered an automatic transmission, but none were sold in the U.S. The car was withdrawn from the California market in December of that year and the last V8 car was produced in September of 1976.
Then Came The Soft Bumpers
In 1980 MG began selling the "Limited Edition" cars to North America. These cars had to meet the new bumper standards and emissions regulations, so the suspensions were raised the correct amount. An 80 mph speedometer was fitted, as were black rubber bumpers. Engines, now all 4-cylinder, were fitted with catalytic converters and all sorts of emissions devices, reducing them to little more than "adequate" powerplants.
By this year over 500,000 MGB cars had been produced, but sales were lagging and the end was near. In October, 1980, the last North American specification MGB roadster was completed and given to the Henry Ford Museum. The factory ceased production on October 23 of 1980.
MG's are loved by millions of Americans. They are widely considered to be the best combination of true sports car feel and experience and will certainly go down in history as the cars that created a long-lasting love of driving down country byways or cruising beach roads.
In spite of their history of hard-starting, electrical failures, inability to adjust the multiple carburetors and rust (oh, so much rust!) the MG will always have a place in the American car enthusiasts' hearts.
These cars are loved, but not highly valued as collector cars. Good to excellent examples can be found all the time for $3000 to $5000.
We receive many comments about this article when a link to it was posted on an MG site forum. We especially want to thank Steve Simmons for his comments, which are listed below. Visit Steve's MG site.
"First, M.G. does not 'stand' for Morris Garages (not Garage). Morris Garages was home of Morris Motors where Cecil Kimber, founder of M.G. got his start. In a poor choice of action, he named the cars M.G. as a tribute to William Morris' company. However Morris and Morris Garages were separate entities from The M.G. Car Company. Cecil Kimber was forced to spend a lifetime arguing the fact that M.G. was not an abbreviation, it was a name. Perhaps when he created the name (while still working for Morris) he intended it to stand for Morris Garages, but if so then he soon changed his mind as his company quickly separated itself from his former employer's facility.
The comment about the MGB featuring 'an updated version of the well-worn, decades old, revvy inline four cylinder engine used in previous MG's' is not correct. The B-Series engine was not directly related to the older XPAG, MPJG, A-series, etc. engines. It was a new model used only a few years before the MGB was produced. It was redesigned into a 5-main unit only two years into MGB production.
"The MGB did not have three windshield wipers when introduced. The only models equipped with three wipers would be a short run of early 70's cars specifically for the North American market, where the current setup did not meet US federal regulations for wiper coverage. In typical British Leyland fashion, a 'solution' was thrown together using existing bits rather than a proper redesign of the components.
The MGC did not use an Austin Healey engine. It was a similar design, but was a unique engine to the MGC. It was lighter and smaller than the older Healey unit, offering better performance and more efficient cooling. There was even an aluminum version which was never quite sorted out before the MGC was discontinued due to political problems in the BMC lineup.
The MGB was not discontinued in California in 1973. MGBs continued to be sold in every state until the end of production in 1980. The only model pulled from the North American offerings was the MGB GT rubber bumper models in approximately 1975.
The comment about rubber bumpers and emissions equipment being introduced in 1980 is incorrect. Rubber bumpers were introduced in mid-1974, and emissions equipment was a continually developing part of the car through the 1970's.
The comment about the 'history of hard-starting, electrical failures, inability to adjust the multiple carburetors' is not entirely accurate. MGBs were no more or less reliable than most cars of the era. The carburetors are one of the most simple designs ever produced, and rarely if ever need adjustment. Rumors like these started with American mechanics who did not know anything about SU carburetors and therefore shunned them. The same goes for the electrical systems, which were actually quite solid. Unfortunately the old technology did not hold up for long, and once corrosion set in a car could become unreliable. Being a modestly priced car, many owners did not maintain the vehicle's systems as well as they should, which led to the unreliability rumors.
The MG's carried on through the 1950s with the TD and MGA.
The sports car line would include TF between the TD and MGA.
"...fueling the creation of the Thunderbird and Corvette"
More accurate would be the TC, which is single-handedly responsible for the sports car craze in North America. This was the car which paved the road for the creation of the Ford and Chevy lightweight roadsters.
"Specifically, the MGB was the car that drew all the attention."
For the reasons listed above, I would personally consider the MG TC as the car which drew "all the attention. G.I.s serving in England during the war discovered the sheer delight of a small, nimble car. This car was most often the MG TC. Most had never seen a foreign car before and had no idea such a machine existed. Knowing they could not get a car like this back home, they shipped them over in droves after the war ended. The phenomenon had begun, and soon M.G. seized the opportunity to bring income to their war-battered country by selling the TC to the American market. They were given huge amounts of valuable steel, now very scarce, by the British government because of their very successful sales abroad. The MGB did draw a lot of attention, but it did so mostly because of the enormous advertising efforts of BMC. The TC drew attention based on its own merits.
The weight of the 1962 MGB roadster was 2080 pounds unladen, not 1900.
0-60 time was 12.2 seconds, not 11.
I should also clarify that while I corrected the introduction date of rubber bumpers, the article is correct about the LE model being produced for 1980. The LE was simply a standard roadster with special alloy wheels and trim pieces. If it were me, I would leave this part of the article alone, but delete the reference to the LE model, replacing it with the 1974 1/2 date.
The figures on a "good to excellent" example of MGB are understated. The least valuable cars are the mid 70's. In excellent overall condition they sell for around $6-7,000 USD. Mark I cars, 1962-1967, sell for much more, around $12K-14K USD. A $3K car would be fairly rough!
There were 9,002 MGCs built, not 4,457. 4,544 were roadsters and 4,458 were GT models.