In 1962, the British sportscar was an institution. Like most institutions, that meant it was stuffily traditional: body-on-frame, lots of chrome, headlamps bugging out like amphibians.
Morris Garages (MG) was wallowing in the trenches with their outdated MGA. Sales were down and archrival Triumph was head-and-shoulders ahead. After fiddling about with Italian designers, weird V4 engines and other “improvements” finally, in September of ’62, the MGB arrived.
At the time, it was revolutionary. A monocoque chassis provided excellent rigidity. A bored-out version of the MGA’s four-cylinder provided nearly a hundred horsepower (good gracious me!) and made the sharp-looking little roadster capable of a top speed of 100 miles an hour.
Beatlemania. The British Invasion. Cool Britannia and Carnaby Street fashion. Canadians were snapping up anything with a Union Jack label, and everybody wanted an E-type Jaguar. Of course, not everyone could afford one, and the next best thing was a ‘B. Overseas sales exploded.
And, from time to time, so did the cars. Well, perhaps not explode, but they certainly have a tendency to go “fizzzzt”. An MGB is much more reliable than the swoopy, near-pornographic E-type, but not a car to own if you aren’t handy with a spanner.
Over the years, half a million ‘Bs would swarm the roads, ensuring its status as an icon. Most were roadsters, but there was a fastback version as well, the MGB GT and a rare V8-powered version.
Production ran right into the early ’80s, though later MGBs have squidgy suspension and plastic bumpers to meet ’70s safety standards. Still, with so many cars on the road there are plenty of (very necessary) spare parts around.
Only the Mazda Miata – itself a Japanese re-imagining of the ‘B — would eventually eclipse the MG as the best-selling roadster in the world. While that particular little car is fun-on-wheels, the MGB is a little more special.
Driving one, you smell the vinyl and backdraft of improperly burned hydrocarbons, feel the flex and wobble of the bakelite steering wheel, hear the burble of the iron-blocsk inline-four, see the smiles on the faces of the people you pass.
Really, an MGB is more than a car. It’s a affordable time machine.
Image courtesy of aldenjewell.