Why you’d want an MGB roadster
Don Hayter’s masterwork, the MGB roadster is one of the best-proportioned sports cars ever built.
It’s also one of the easiest to drive, most reliable and most practical to own.
Bold claims? Not really – its huge sales success speaks for itself, through 18 years of production, despite few mechanical changes (and the addition of large polyurethane bumpers to meet 5mph collision regulations).
It’s popular to knock the B as nothing special, but what made it so was the fact that it was, well, just right.
Today the MG remains a really enjoyable car to own and drive, with no vices and very little in the way of major expenses to consider.
Any modern-classic roadster needs new cambelts regardless of mileage and has complex electronics that can fail if unused; a B has none of those.
If you only drive a few hundred miles a year it doesn’t suffer; if you do thousands, it laps it up.
Rust has long been the only major enemy of the B: it can be a real killer, but, with every panel available – even complete shells – it needn’t be the end of the road.
As prices rise and buyers increasingly appreciate the value of a full restoration, the sums start to add up and fewer and fewer MGBs are scrapped.
There’s still a ready supply of used parts, and the quality of new replacements is improving. As the MGB passes its 60th birthday, the future looks rosy.
The first MGBs had crossply tyres and no synchromesh on first gear, and the heater, wire wheels, folding (as opposed to lift-off) soft-top, front overriders, oil cooler, headlight flasher and front anti-roll bar were cost options.
Seats were leather-faced and the wipers were single-speed, and two 6V batteries were mounted under the rear floor (for which an optional seat cushion was available).
Overdrive, an option from 1963, allowed much more relaxed high-speed cruising with reduced wear and fuel consumption.
Front overriders were soon standard and leathercloth replaced leather for the seats, but buyers had to wait for the Mk2 of 1967 before all the other options (except wires and overdrive) became standard, along with an all-synchro gearbox. Crossply tyres remained the norm even in 1972, and the B didn’t get sunvisors until 1976.
Rubber-bumper cars converted to chrome are common, yet few are done really well because it is costly to get it right: inspect carefully, but if it’s been executed well they can be great value.
Images: James Mann
MGB roadster: what to look for
See above for what to check before buying any classic MGB roadster for sale.
Engine and gearbox
The B-series engine is simple and honest: wear is evident as oil leaks or blow-by, rattles, knocks or low pressure (should be 15psi+ at hot tickover, 50-60psi+ at speed).
Check the cooling system for leaks/sediment. This home-rebuilt engine bay isn’t completely factory-correct (air filters should be black, rocker cover green).
The all-synchro gearbox from ’67 is tough, but check for failing synchros and layshaft wear (noise stops if you dip clutch in neutral). Overdrive is a bonus.
Lever-arm dampers (top wishbone) and kingpins were old-hat but work well if maintained.
Check any prospective MGB roadster’s suspension for wear, leaks and tired rubber bushes.
Put your hand up inside the rot-prone front wing behind the wheel to feel the top ledge, often full of mud. Wheelarch liners are a wise addition.
More comfortable reclining seats (with optional headrests) were fitted from late 1969.
Fabric facings came in with the rubber-bumper models.
MGB roadster: before you buy
Although nothing was state-of-the-art, the MGB was an exceptionally good compromise and could be tuned to great success for competition.
The engine is torquey and powerful enough for decent performance, and the suspension offers a good balance between a decent ride and reasonable handling.
Early rubber-bumper cars weren’t so sharp to drive, but they can be improved.
The pedals were repositioned in 1976 to permit heel-and-toe changes, and at the same time the suspension settings were tuned to restore good handling at the new, raised ride height, with an anti-roll bar at the rear and a thicker one at the front.
In the USA, poor attempts to deal with emissions requirements from 1968 led to power outputs dropping, to as low as 70bhp with a single Stromberg carburettor from 1975, so re-imports benefit from modifying back to European spec.
A vast range of upgrades is available, including electric power steering and five-speed gearboxes (which can be cheaper than an overdrive conversion), parabolic rear springs and telescopic dampers, all of which improve the basic car.
A conversion to run on unleaded fuel is advisable if you’re going to drive it hard.
Originality is valued on chrome-bumper cars, but not yet on rubber-bumper examples (it’s actually a form of plastic over a steel frame, with rubber mountings), which are often converted to chrome-bumper appearance and ride height.
All models have their appeal, with spec improving right through to the last rubber-bumper cars.
MGB roadster price guide
- 1974-’76 rubber: £750/4500/12,500
- 1976-on rubber: £1000/5000/14,000
- Chrome conversion: na/£5500/15,000
- Chrome-bumper: £1500/7000/27,000
- Early ‘pull-handle’: £3000/8000/30,000
Add £1000 for overdrive, pre-rubber
Prices correct at date of original publication
MGB roadster history
1962 MGB launch, three-bearing 18G engine
1963 Optional overdrive, glassfibre hardtop
1964 18GB five-bearing engine
1965 Pushbutton doors, reversing lights
1967 MkII: new engine, ’box; front anti-roll bar; auto ’box and radial tyres as options
1969 MkIII: new grille, seats, wheels, soft-top
1970 Steel bonnet replaces aluminium
1971 Minor facelift: new dash vents
1972 Grille restyled
1973 Servo brakes, radial tyres standard
1974 New bumpers, raised suspension
1975 Overdrive standard
1976 Minor facelift: new interior, tonneau
1978 Dual-circuit brakes, overdrive on top
1979 USA LE roadster (black, 6668 made)
1980 UK LE (421 roadsters/580 GTs)
The owner’s view
“I retired from the civil service in 2016 and wanted a project,” explains Andy Crowley. “I’d never done anything like it before, so I knew I’d be learning new techniques, meeting people and building relationships.
“My wife was still working and I didn’t want to sit at home alone with nothing to do. I considered an SLK or Boxster, but they’re too complex.
“I bought the MG in January 2017 and it took me four years to restore. The engine was out, the shell had new sills, floor and inner wings, but the bodywork needed tidying and repairs to smaller rust areas.
“I cut out the rot, made repair sections and a friend welded them in. That was one technique I couldn’t master, but I did paint it myself, in cellulose, in my home garage.
“I enjoyed the rebuild, it’s really good fun to drive and I get huge pleasure from strangers smiling at it.”
FIAT 124 SPIDER
Pretty, and rare in UK, all were LHD with 1.4-, 1.6-, 1.8- or 2-litre twin-cams, some with a turbo, giving sparkling performance. The last were Pininfarina Spidereuropas. Beware rot and poor past repairs.
Sold 1966-’85 • No. built c180,000 • Price now £4-18,000+*
Charming, stylish and different, an Alpine is a delightful sports-touring car that can be uprated if desired, but it never matched the MGB’s performance as standard. Rust, as ever, is the big fear.
Sold 1959-’68 • No. built 69,251 • Price now £6-25,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
MGB roadster: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
A new, bare bodyshell is £13,000-plus, so don’t expect to pick up a reshelled car for a song.
Bear in mind, though, that early reshells were just as rust-prone as the original cars, and some of them have been around for a long time now; replacement shells have been galvanised since the early 1990s.
Buy the best example you can, because a proper restoration still costs more than the vehicle is worth.
There are plenty of MGBs to choose from, and good rubber-bumper examples are particularly affordable.
- The MGB is a great all-round sports car
- It is exceptionally well supported by specialist mechanics and parts suppliers
- There are plenty of good cars for sale
- Rust repairs are often bodged
- Restoration projects will end up costing more to restore than their final value
- Many cars are much-changed from their original specification
MGB roadster specifications
- Sold/number built 1962-’80/386,789
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-iron, ohv 1798cc ‘four’, twin SU H4/HS4/HIF4 carbs
- Max power 95bhp @ 5400rpm to 97bhp @ 5500rpm
- Max torque 105lb ft @ 2500rpm to 110lb ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual or three-speed auto (1967-’73), RWD
- Suspension: front independent, by double wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar (optional pre-’68) rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs; lever-arm dampers f/r
- Steering rack and pinion
- Brakes 10¾in (273mm) front discs, 10in (254mm) rear drums, servo from ’73
- Length 12ft 9¼in-13ft 2¼in (3893-4020mm)
- Width 5ft 2in (1575mm)
- Height 4ft 1¼in-3in (1251-1295mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 7½in (2325mm)
- Weight 2072-2348lb (942-1065kg)
- 0-60mph 11.0-12.6 secs
- Mpg 21-30
- Top speed 105-108mph
- Price new £1153 (1970)