Iconic Roadsters: MG MGB

Classic Cars / Comments

The most successful of the British roadsters wasn't the most reliable, but it was certainly lots of fun.

MG already had a lot of experience with building small roadsters by the beginning of the Sixties. Their TD and TF Midgets and MGA models had sold well during the Fifties, but the commercial success of the MGB far out shadowed both of the previous models combined. Even if it was horrifyingly unreliable, the MGB was just the right car for its time and a big step forward for the company, both commercially and technologically. MG's T-Type Midget roadsters began their life all the way back in 1936.

These were very much prewar cars, even the ones built after the war, and they have a strong resemblance to the cars which Morgan is building today. The first postwar roadster from MG was the TC Midget, which sold three times as many units as both prewar Midgets combined. Momentum continued to build, and the TD Midget, unveiled in 1950, sold triple the number of TC's sold. A face-lifted version of the TC, known as the TD was also made, starting in 1953, but by this time it was clear to MG that they would need a proper postwar design if they were going to continue selling cars.

This postwar car was the MGA, a mostly excellent car which was also the first sports car in the world to sell more than 100,000 units. Where the MGA went wrong was in 1958 when the higher-performance Twin Cam model was introduced. These were exceptionally powerful cars when compared to other roadsters at the time, but saying the engines were temperamental would be an understatement. Almost constant maintenance was required, and even this was often not enough to keep the engine from leaving a trail of connecting rods and bearing caps all over the road.

Shortest Car Ownership Stories
Shortest Car Ownership Stories
Sports Car Shootout: Lotus Emira Vs. Porsche Cayman GT4
Sports Car Shootout: Lotus Emira Vs. Porsche Cayman GT4

Dan Neil would name the Twin Cam one of the 50 worst cars of all time in an article in Time magazine, but thankfully these engines were only put in about 2 percent of MGA total production, so you shouldn't let this little hiccup tarnish your opinion of the car as a whole. Following up the success of the MGA, MG put a lot of work into creating a more modern roadster for the Sixties. The MGA had very contemporary styling, but it still utilized body-on-frame construction, they were relatively heavy and were low on power. The new unitized body design of the MGB was lighter, and offered more interior space while having a wheelbase which was three inches shorter than the MGA.

Though the MGB wasn't the most practical of daily drivers, it did offer things like side widows and exterior door handles, which the MGA lacked. The MGB debuted in 1962, and would stay in production until 1980. The MGB used what was essentially an enlarged version of the engine from the MGA, going from 1.6 to 1.8 liters. This was further updated in 1965, when a design with five main bearings replaced the weaker three-bearing design. The three-bearing engines would produce 95 horsepower, as did the early five-bearing engines.

Emissions controls would take a bite out of the horsepower figures on post-1974 cars, and these later cars would sometimes have as little as 70hp for those sold in California. Much of the steering, suspension and brakes also carried over from the MGA, and although these parts were somewhat primitive, they were very well set up, and the MGB handled extremely well. This simplicity was an important feature of Sixties roadsters, and the makers of successful roadsters knew that a simple but well-setup design could sometimes give a more pleasurable driving experience than one which utilized the newest technology.

That said, the MGB was one of the first cars to incorporate crumple zones as a safety feature. One unusual feature of the MGB is that it was one of the only cars ever to have an optional automatic transmission but not have that feature offered for the US market. The car's styling was the sort which is roadster perfect in every way. That is, until new safety regulations saddled the car with heavy and ugly new bumpers and a padded dash. Together with the new emissions controls, this was the beginning of the end of the MGB. It was a period which was tough on any number of previously legendary nameplates, but MG handled it particularly poorly.

The new features were clearly added as an afterthought, and not much effort at all was put into actually integrating them into the car's design. Sales slowed to a trickle, and production finally, mercifully, ended in 1980. The roadster sold just shy of 400,000 units in all, and when all B variants are included, sales were over half a million. The early Sixties saw the introduction of quite a few roadsters, many of which would be successful sellers, but none were as successful as the MGB.

Join The Discussion


To Top