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MGB Roadster

by Chris Adamson

‘Abundance’ and ‘classic’ aren’t usually words you find together in the same sentence, because one normally excludes the other. But in the case of an MGB Roadster it is very different.

BMC (latterly British Leyland) built more than 387,000 MGB Roadsters between 1962 and 1980. This relatively high volume for a two-seater, open-topped sportscar, combined with its instant visual appeal and enduring attraction, means that there are still hordes of them running around – it seems that old MGBs don’t die they just get recycled.

They have given birth to a massive spare parts and restoration industry, the biggest devoted to a single marque in Britain and, probably, the World.

The continued popularity of the model, along with the GT and the Midget provides the backbone for the MG clubs that are to be found in every town and city in the country – there are two main national clubs: the MG Owners Club and the MG Car Club. Together they make up the largest single marque organisation in Britain.

With all this as the background, it is no surprise that the MGB is the most popular starter car among the classics as well as making useable everyday transport.

The golden rule for buying an MGB (just like any classic) has to be to set a budget. So often you get carried away by the looks and possibilities of something that is advertised as “in need of some attention”.

Try and look beyond the shiny coat and first impressions – wire wheels, for example, look great when new and freshly polished, but are a real chore to keep that way: the chrome has a tendency to flake if neglected and the spokes have to be balanced regularly and very carefully.

The soundest advice has to be to buy the best car you can with the money available. Buying something cheap and holding back cash for renovations can be a false economy – restoration invariably proves more expensive than expected.

I can vouch for that from personal knowledge. My MGB was extensively restored three years before I purchased it and the bills came to more than £17,000 – I paid almost half that and today, even show-piece MGBs don’t fetch much in excess of £12,000.

Next you should shop around. From experience the best way is to talk to specialists in the marque and existing owners. They will give you buying tips on specific models, good and bad points, areas of weakness, features that are desirable and the sorts of car to avoid.

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Having gained some knowledge, your second important decision is – do you want to be an MGB driver or a dedicated MGB enthusiast?
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Having gained some knowledge, your second important decision is – do you want to be an MGB driver or a dedicated MGB enthusiast? The two can and often do merge together, but the primary difference is the question of originality.

There is a hardcore of MG owners who insist on everything on their cars being original: finding an example that hasn’t had some modifications can be difficult and pricey as most over the years have been altered.

Purists, for example, would never touch my 1972 Roadster because it has had a number of significant additions. The engine has been bored out from the original 1800cc to 1950cc – supplied by the MG Owners Club – it has an electric starter, telescopic front shock absorbers, the 15-inch wheels are one-inch bigger than they should be and there is an electric thermostat Kenlock fan to keep the engine bay cool.

While these weren’t part of the car when it rolled out of the factory 38 years ago, they are modern ‘enhancements’ that make the car a fraction more comfortable and driveable on today’s roads.

With your cash limit and grade of car selected – the first will most likely determine the second – you now have to make the decision between a hard top GT or a soft-top Roadster and between a chrome and the later rubber bumper versions, which were produced from 1974 onwards.

Cars made before 1973 should be exempt from paying the Road Fund Licence so that is an instant saving if you go for a chrome model.

Sources for available MGBs are many and varied and range from classic and special marque magazines, the Internet and local newspapers to MG specialist garages and the local branch of the Owners Club who normally keep tabs on cars for sale.

When you begin looking at potential Roadster purchases, one of the areas of greatest attention should be the bodywork on this unitary monocoque construction – check that it didn’t start life as a less desirable GT which has been cut-down and re-panelled to look like the more expensive Roadster.

Cars of three decades ago and more did not have the benefit of galvanised panels and certainly did not come with life-time corrosion guarantees. Thankfully there are reasonably priced replacement panels or complete shells available from a number of sources: the Heritage Company being the best known.

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The ravages of rust can be deterred by generous injections of waxoil into the sills and an underbody treatment.
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Like every other car, the sections most prone to the dreaded rust are the sills, arches, floor pan and boot and bonnet edges. The detachable chrome rubbing strips also provide potential risk areas around the clips.

The ravages of rust can be deterred by generous injections of waxoil into the sills and an underbody treatment. A car that has had regular applications should be free from the worst – but watch out for a car which has been undersealed recently just to hide the signs of corrosion.

Visually inspect a car in daylight to highlight any panel damage, signs of filler and the fit and finish of the panels themselves.

Get to know the look of a ‘B’ because some panel creases which were on original cars have disappeared in current day pressings – specialists will re-introduce this to keep the authentic look. Also check the door handles. Prior to 1965 they were simple pull handles – the push button ones followed later. The shape and design of the grille is another age detector as this changed over the decades.

Authenticity is essential when it comes to body colour – when it was launched at the 1962 Motor Show, there were 13 different coachwork finishes, many with matching hoods – sticking with the original manufacturer’s colour is not only desirable but, for enthusiasts, almost essential.

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Red cars with shiny chrome wire wheels are the most attractive to the eye and dominate MG gatherings.
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Red cars with shiny chrome wire wheels (which were an extra cost option) are the most attractive to the eye and dominate MG gatherings, but a high percentage probably started life from any part of the paint shop palette.

Evidence from the registration document won’t be enough to guarantee that an MGB did not start life in a different colour, so extra detective work for signs of over-spraying – in the boot and under the bonnet – and examination of paint chips that might show an earlier body colour coming through is required.

Interiors pose a similar problem: do you want to go for the rather functional vinyl corporate trim of the originals or select a more comfortable and luxurious upholders – leather seat panels were only introduced in 1970.

In fact, cabin furnishings provide more discussion than anything else. I have seen an MGB which has been given a MG Metro makeover complete with red piping on the cream and grey fixtures and fittings, while another had the inside lifted from an MG RV8.

Wood veneer dashboards are more debatable but for preference stick with the original textured black dash – this was revised from 1969 and there are changes to the switchgear soon after.

Trying to keep the British climate at bay there is the choice of essentially three types of hood: vinyl, double duck and mohair – in ascending order of price.

Vinyl is the most common but has a tendency to fade and deteriorate over the years, while double duck made of two layers of automotive canvas is more serviceable and woven natural fabric mohair the more durable and worth while paying the extra for.

Adaptations of the pram roof construction over the years mean many have been modified and a good hood fit may require some adjustment to keep the plastic screen taut.

Look for as clean and flat a roof line as possible. Some versions tend to bulge in the middle which isn’t aesthetically pleasing. Hidden away from view are elements which also need careful scrutiny.

Original engines, no matter what the mileage reads, will be past their best by now and should have been reconditioned and should have been converted to run on unleaded petrol a decade ago when four-star became all but outlawed. Conversions involved fitting a new aluminium head and valve seats.

Many engines will have been further modified, so watch out for unusual sizes, more modern carburettors and air filters and extras which, while being acceptable, may restrict re-sale to the purist.

A fully synchromesh gearbox wasn’t added to the MGB until 1967, along with overdrive which had been an option for two years prior. This not only increases overtaking ability but also improves fuel consumption, and is therefore a popular addition to earlier models and a desirable feature for buyers today.

MGBs started life using an enlarged 1798cc B series four cylinder engine inherited from the MGA. Although growing old when first used, it should still be good for over 100mph and 69mph will come up in a fraction over 12 seconds.

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Finally, like every other used vehicle, a car’s history is very important.
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One of the popular modifications has been to increase the cubic capacity to 1950cc. These engines offer extra performance and should be supplied with certification. There is no reason why they should be any less serviceable than the starter engine.

Finally, like every other used vehicle, a car’s history is very important, documentation to support any restoration or modification is essential as is proof of ownership.

Thankfully details of all MGBs produced are held at the British Motor Heritage Trust at Gaydon in Warwickshire. They are able to provide certificates which detail the date of manufacturer, original colour, trim and engine number.

Now to the important question of price:

A brief scan through any classified list will show that MGB Roadsters worth considering can range from £2,500 (mid 1970s rubber bumper) to £14,500 (early chrome bumper in grade three condition).

Budget for at least £5,000 for a later bright work Roadster worth having, and go higher if you can afford it.

Good hunting and good MGB driving.

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Photo of Chris Adamson
Chris Adamson
Chris has been a journalist for 30 years, since 1989 he has been a full-time motoring correspondent and is an executive committee member of The Guild of Motoring Writers. As well as a modern car, he also owns and regularly drives a 1952 MG YB 1.25 litre saloon and a 1972 MGB Roadster.

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July 2014 in Motoring