A few years ago, while sitting in my cubicle at General Motors world headquarters in Detroit, MI, I began my search for a classic car — an affordable one.
Despite my being in the Motor City, I determined I wanted something from Europe — preferably English or Italian — with a convertible soft top. With these criteria, I crafted a short list: Triumph TR6, Jensen-Healey and MGB convertible. And I was off to the races.
The TR6, I quickly discovered, carried asking prices well above where my gut pegged their value. After having called on a couple for sale online, I got the distinct sense that virtually every TR6 was on the market for one of two reasons:
- The seller heard TR6 values were up, so they were keen to make an 800% profit —
no matter the condition of their TR6.
- The seller’s significant other was forcing them to get rid of the car. In classic
passive-aggressive marital compliance, the seller was asking a “Don’t you even
dare call me” price.
Hint taken. I scratched TRs off the list and moved on.
Jensen-Healeys came with their own bizarre set of sellers.
Having suffered through several 70-minute conversations, I got the distinct sense that, if the earth’s air and surface were poisoned to the extent that it was unable to sustain human life, Jensen people would be the first to move underground. Because, as we chatted, I intuited that terrestrial life was almost too much for Jensen owners.
Although perfectly affable, I had the feeling that not only would these folks not mind the mole-person lifestyle, they might actually revel in it. It’s the subterranean equivalent of “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Just replace lovely, sun-kissed Stella with a balding man named Randy, substitute falling in love with a shirtless Taye Diggs with foraging for grubs and you get the picture.
Really, though, it was the dread of having to sit through hours of dual-overhead-cam Lotus engine discussions at owners’ group luncheons that scared me away from the marque.
Down to the MGB
With Jensens off the list, I was down to the MGB. Most examples, I found, were basket cases that needed everything. Do some diligent, off-season Internet sleuthing, as I did, and you can find a good one.
Still, even a well-cared-for MG can be a mixed bag.
I had a friend who lived down the street from me in Michigan who owned two MGs; a Midget and an MGB GT. Not one of them ran or drove for more than maybe 90 minutes the entire two years we were neighbors. This in spite of his pouring thousands into the cars all year long.
Whether this was a symptom of my friend’s eagerness to never really finish either project — or the shiftlessness of MG engineers — I couldn’t fully ascertain.
Mine ran wonderfully the entire time I owned it, requiring only a few repairs over the years. Chief among them was replacing the leaky fuel tank. That only took a day or two to complete.
I lived with my always-running MG for several years, and I came to love it. The taut and clicky action of shifting through the 4-speed gearbox mixed with the exhaust note of an uncorked MG 4-cylinder is what I found really enchanting about the car.
The SCM Pocket Price Guide pegs 1968–74 chrome-bumper Bs with a median price of $8,500. Rubber-bumper models from 1975 to ’80 can be had around $7,000. And GT models, depending on the generation, are anywhere from $6,500 to $9,000.
Plenty of parts, upgrades
Because MG built over a half million Bs between 1962 and 1980, parts are readily available. Furthermore, there are enough sane people in the community around the globe that you can troubleshoot virtually any problem on one of the owners’ forums within a few hours.
Plus, it’s pretty easy to add performance upgrades to your MGB. MG offered the B with the all-aluminum Rover V8 — the same motor under the hood of virtually every U.S.-market ’90s Land Rover — for three years. Those Landies are now a dime a dozen. So you can snag a V8 powerplant for your B for a song. Just be ready to do a head job every 80,000 miles.
That is, if you ever drive it that much.
If you do get an MGB, I recommend you invest in lowering springs. The U.S.-market MGB ride height, a consequence of crash-safety regulations, is almost laughable. At stock U.S. ride height, the B looks as if it were sprung for the Dakar Rally rather than carving country roads.
As with any affordable classic, however, don’t expect values to rise on the B much over the next couple of years.
What’s more, don’t expect to be looked upon with lust or envy by youthful passersby.
You’ll own what amounts to a worse-built Miata. You might have a brilliant time driving it. Just don’t expect to have that brilliance reflected back at you in the faces of onlookers.
Still, could be worse. You could be one of those Jensen-Healey maniacs. ♦