Much like Morgan fans remain to this day, the MG faithful of the 1950s were committed masochists. Fans of the T-Series cars were positively aghast when the envelope-bodied MGA replaced the TF.

When the inevitable wheel of progress hit Abingdon-on-Thames once again in 1962, the faithful were horrified to find that the new MGB came with roll-up glass side windows in place of fiddly, ill-fitting side curtains. Few would have predicted in 1962 that the car would be around until 1980 and that sadly, it would be the last new MG sold in America.

Although it seems difficult to imagine, the B was a major advance in 1962. It was MG’s first unibody car and came with standard front disc brakes. The 1.8-liter engine made nearly 100 horsepower, and performance was brisk by the standard of the day with 0-60 mph coming up in about 11.5 seconds.

Quicker than a Porsche 356

The car was quick enough to show a clean pair of dim tail lights to Porsche 356s and Alfa Giuliettas in normal tune—but it was a bit slower than Triumph’s new TR4. To mollify the masochists, there were a number of holdovers to the bad old days of sports cars in the form of the non-synchro first gearbox and the infamous “packaway” top, which required one to remove the top from the bows and fold it in the trunk in order to enjoy open-air motoring.

Early cars had charming features, such as pull-out door handles, a beautiful steel dash finished in black crinkle paint and lovely chrome-rimmed gauges and toggle switches.

The color palette was limited, but Tartan Red and Iris Blue were always favorites, with standard Connolly leather seats and contrasting piping. Early U.S. press cars always seemed to be the latter color with wide whitewalls and wire wheels with blue leather seats. Quite lovely.

Few writers today comment on the top notch build-quality of MGBs— even in the latter days, the Abingdon workforce cared about their handiwork. British Leyland repaid them by throwing them out of work in 1980. The early cars were truly jewel-like. Road & Track commented on the superlative fit and finish of their first test car in 1962.

Changes came slowly, with a more robust five-main-bearing engine replacing the three-main unit in 1965. The lovely Pininfarina-designed coupe—the MGB GT—arrived for the 1966 model year with some GT only colors. An all-synchro gearbox was finally added in 1968—just in time to be saddled with the first U.S. safety and emissions nonsense. Air pumps came in 1967, and by 1968, the ghastly “Abingdon Pillow” safety dash appeared sans glovebox. Today, they’re the bane of MG restorers who have to deal with their disintegration and the difficulty and expense of repair and/or replacement.

British Leyland’s bad news

The British Leyland takeover of BMC dealt the MGB another series of blows in the form of rampant cost cutting. 1969 was the last year for leather seats (and curiously the only year for a unique high-back style seat). By 1970, the pretty slatted grille was gone, and the seats were trimmed in something called “Ambla” which was BL-ese for fragile synthetic leather.

By 1972, Leyland coughed up a few bucks for a proper dash and the MGB gained face-level vents and a glovebox again. Pretty styled-steel Rostyle wheels (available since 1969) were by now much more common than wires. The last of the so-called chrome-bumpered MGBs were produced in 1974, with the last ones fitted with huge rubber overriders that most owners replace with the 1973-style chrome and rubber items. Worse was to come.

1974½ cars introduced the infamous rubber bumpers and raised suspension. At least these early rubber nose cars still had dual SU carbs. Tightened emission regulations meant that 1975 cars had to wheeze by with a single Zenith-Stromberg CD175 unit and less than 70 horsepower. Killed by the Datsun 240Z, the pretty GT was home market only after 1974.

Rubber-bumper blasphemy

The rubber bumper cars occupy the lowest rung of MGB collectability, with only the 1980 all-black Limited Edition cars sparking even mild interest among collectors. Unless you can buy a really nice late car in good colors cheap, it’s best not to go there. Overdrive cars always command a premium, as do steel dash cars. A steel dash GT with an accessory folding sunroof from Webasto or Britax is a wonderful find.

MGBs seem mechanically unburstable, as they seldom require more than a top end to put things back in the pink. Front suspension kingpins are also notoriously frequent wear items. Sticky steering with little return action are a sign that these need attention. Rust is far more problematic in a B than an A because it is almost always structural. Rockers, sills, floors and fenders are prime spots. Roadster doors also crack under the vent window.

Because of their high production numbers, MGBs seldom get much respect from collectors, and they really have to be done to the nines to bring over $20k. For bottom feeders, it’s a nice state of affairs. A well-sorted early B with a leather interior and steel dash is a wonderful first collector car with easy and cheap parts availability—and the prospect of modest appreciation coupled with little maintenance outlay.

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