The MGC was the first in a string of half-baked ideas that turned the British motor industry into a historic-preservation trust
Few cars have taken more of a beating right out of the box than the MGC. Already incensed by BMC's premeditated murder of the Austin-Healey 3000 in favor of the C, journalists were out for blood.
And they drew plenty: "clumsy," "nose-heavy," and "not particularly nimble" were among the kinder epithets. While not a bad car per se, the C was the first in a string of half-baked ideas that turned the British motor industry into a historic-preservation trust rather than an actual industry.
By the mid-'60s, it was clear that the charismatic and well-loved Austin-Healey 3000 was nearing the end of its 14-year run. The 1968 safety and emission laws were the final nail in its coffin. BMC desperately wanted to keep a big six-cylinder car in its range of popular sports cars, but as usual, there was no budget to engineer a new car. For the sake of expedience, someone suggested stuffing a big six under the bonnet of the MGB. Donald Healey wisely demurred when BMC asked to badge the MGC as an Austin-Healey as well as an MG.
THINK MGB + 2 CYLINDERS
Strangely, although the Healey lump and the MGC engine both nominally displace three liters, they're not the same engine, as is commonly thought. To add to the confusion, the engines were both painted the same shade of light metallic green, but the MGC's six was a later BMC design used in a few large sedans. Think MGB engine plus two cylinders and you get the idea. It differs from the Healey engine in being a few inches shorter and having seven instead of four main bearings. The MG motor put out a healthy 145 bhp, down just five from the Healey. Smaller SU carbs account for the difference.
Stuffing the big six into the MGB entailed more trouble than expected. The entire front suspension and subframe had to be redesigned with torsion bars in place of coil springs. The inner fenders are completely different stampings. Not that anyone would be so inclined, but for this reason it is nearly impossible to "clone" an MGC out of an MGB. The same cannot be said for the MGB V8, which is quite easy to fake.
Externally, except for the badge, the only giveaway is the broad flat hump on the bonnet. In typical British fashion, this still wasn't enough for adequate clearance, so there is a smaller teardrop shaped bump inside the hump for the carburetors.
Three hundred extra pounds over the front wheels did nothing for the MGC's handling. Every C has built-in understeer, and matters were made worse by the fact that BMC supplied its first test cars with tires inflated to MGB specs. "Over inflating" front tires by four pounds improves handling considerably. The extra weight increased steering effort, so engineers changed the ratio from 2.9 turns lock-to-lock to 3.5 to try to compensate. One has to haul the wheel around a lot more in a C.
The interior looks familiar. Nearly every C that made it to the U.S. suffers from the post-1967 "Mark II" safety dash, which should be the centerpiece of the Ugly Vacuum-Molded Plastic Hall of Fame. Home-market MGCs had the prettier black wrinkle-finish steel dash. The only apparent interior difference from an MGB is the 140-mph vs. 120-mph speedometer. Turn the key and the difference is more pronounced. Gone is the rich exhaust note of the MGB, replaced by little discernible exhaust note at all. Underway, most of what you hear is the fan making an almost 911-like whir. A shame, as British inline sixes with the right exhaust can sound great.
Some testers also accused the MGC of being gutless down low and not wanting to rev. I've had two '69 models, which have different gear ratios from the early cars.
I found the cars to have adequate low-end torque and to be extremely smooth to the point of actually having to watch the tach to keep out of the red zone. Incidentally, the C shaves almost three seconds off the B's 0-60 time. Most tests put it at a shade under ten seconds, about the same as a Healey 3000 Mk III.
If the C is not the nimble sports car that the B is, it's a capable tourer, perhaps better suited to the American road. Unfortunately, the roadsters share the same awful convertible tops of the B. Your choices are the dreaded L.L. Bean-style "packaway hood" or the folding top designed by Michelotti, executed entirely in the Marquis de Sade school of obstreperous design.
The GT, on the other hand, is relatively quiet, waterproof, and surprisingly impervious to cross-winds, as I found out recently while driving my newly-acquired C 180 miles from Seattle to Portland in 40-mph gusts. With the overdrive engaged, it's not the least bit scary to cruise at 80 mph at around 3,000 rpm (other than the speed limit being 65). The MGC is a legitimate 120-mph car and its dual servo-assisted brakes are reasonably effective.
One area where these cars don't get anywhere near the respect they deserve is build quality. Pre-1970 (Leyland merger) MGs were a quality product. Compare the panel fit of an earlier MGB to a TR6 and you'll see what I mean. The seats are trimmed in leather and even the most clapped-out GTs I've driven are virtually rattle-free.
Because of their visual similarity to the MGB and their initial pounding in the press, MGCs are still fairly cheap, often trading among the unwary for little to no premium over an MGB. For the kind of driving most of us do, the C is a better car than a B, not to mention its superiority to the admittedly more charismatic and butch TR6.
I'm especially fond of the handsome GT, whose hatchback roof was styled by Pininfarina. Even the lesser B GT compares favorably in aesthetics and performance to the normal versions of the Porsche 356B coupe or an Alfa Giulietta Sprint-with repairs and parts a fraction of the cost. The C also compares well to the Veloce and Super versions of the same cars but lacks the cachet.
For those of us priced out of the market for Porsches, Alfas, or A-list British coupes like a DB4 or AC Aceca, the MGC GT is not a bad consolation prize.