Following up a success story such as the sporty MGA was never going to be an easy task, but the MG Car Company’s team – under the leadership of Chief Engineer Syd Enever, managed to do just that… and in spectacular fashion. With the MG octagon being synonymous with a lineage of two-seater open-topped vehicles that began with the 14/28 in the mid-1920s and progressed through the Midgets of the 1930s, the MGB would be the latest incarnation to come out of Abingdon and its popularity would see the sports car enjoy an 18-year production run.
Preliminary concepts for what would become the MGB commenced in the hands of Italian stylist, Frua who was tasked with looking at a possible update for the MGA. As stylish as his design was, cost and weight ruled it out and the baton was picked up by ex-Aston Martin employees, John Thornley and Don Hayter. Hayter used his fondness for the Aston DB2/4 as inspiration for a fixed-head design, but it was his idea for a roadster body for the MGA chassis that drew positive feedback and work soon began to develop this into a vehicle of monocoque construction.
When the MGB was launched at the 1962 London Motor Show, it immediately generated positive response, but one of the most noticeable differences over other two-seaters of the period was the increase in space. With a wider cockpit, space behind the front seats and a decent boot, MG suddenly had a sports car that could also perform as everyday transport without the need for careful planning – and at a price lower than the Austin-Healey 3000, Sunbeam Alpine or Triumph TR4.
Over the next 18 years, the MGB evolved in many ways: the four-cylinder 1798cc engine went from three- to five-bearing; overdrive was added as an option, fuel tank capacity increased and a whole raft of subtle styling improvements were made – giving early ‘pull handle’ cars a premium in today’s market, but the biggest change was to come with the introduction of the MGB GT in 1965.
Crafted by the pen of Pininfarina, the resulting GT was stylish, elegant and offered a different sort of practicality. Appropriately referred to as the ‘baby Aston’, the car increased the model’s appeal and market share, but where to go from here? As the 1960s ticked by, more changes were made: synchromesh added to all gears, automatic transmission offered as an option and both interior and exterior styling altered to keep up with the impending change in decades, but the biggest shift came with the introduction of the ‘rubber bumper’ models in 1974. The enforced makeover was implemented to abide by American legislation – something that MG could ill afford to ignore thanks to its popularity in the US, but for many, the new look was a nail in the car’s coffin lid.
In standard form, the MGB was fitted with a 1798cc four-cylinder ‘B-series’ engine. It was far from revolutionary, but more than did the job, propelling the sports tourer to over 100mph with very little fuss or drama. The introduction of the Rover V8-engined GT in 1973 offered a little more exhilaration with a 0-60mph time of under eight seconds and a pleasing exhaust burble to boot, but arguably the ‘B’ is best appreciated in its most desirable guise as an early, chrome-bumpered roadster.
The monocoque construction allows for a low seating position and as soon as you slip down behind the wheel, you are aware of the lineage that led to this point in motoring history. Protected from the wind by the relatively shallow windscreen, the unmistakable soft, yet ‘rorty’ exhaust note is audible as you wind up through the gears and although a standard engine may not exactly feel exciting, the package isn’t short on fun. Popular modifications of fast-road camshaft, bored out block and tuned cylinder head will increase the adrenaline, but on a properly set up example, the handling will still bring a smile to your face, regardless of the power on tap.
It’s little wonder that the MGB was… and still is, so popular; it encapsulates motoring from a bygone era, yet one that is still at an affordable level. Spares supply and prices still result in envy from rarified corners of the car community and those who have experienced a raft of marques and models still cite it as their ‘go to’ classic.