In the 1980 film rising damp, based on the hit TV sitcom, Rigsby’s character, played brilliantly by Leonard Rossiter, drives a battered red MGB with a basic gray front wing. That car sums up everything we know about Rigsby; unattractive, unreliable and the hood falls when he tries to impress Ruth Jones (Frances de la Tour).

At the time of Rigsby’s unraveling in his MGB, the monocoque sports car was at the end of its life after 18 years of production with more than half a million produced. You don’t get 18 years like that on any old crap and the MGB wasn’t, so maybe it was the sheer ubiquity of the thing that caused some people to ignore it so much, or was it something else?

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I felt very scornful when I asked to run errands in a hack MGB in the early 1980s when I was walking through college at a classic car restoration business. It was a peat standard unusual model in navy blue, with chrome bumpers, wire wheels and a rather shabby bonnet – a bit like a Rigsby.

Yet there was a revelation here compared to my Triumph TR4, my Ford Cortina GT, my Mini Cooper or indeed most of the old cars I had driven up to that point. It handled at first, the wheels stayed (mostly) on the ground over a bumpy corner, the doors still opened if you parked it on the curb and it was good to drive in a way few of its contemporaries managed. It started, it stopped, the hood still worked, and it was much easier to roll in a rain storm than my TR, and there was room for me, my girlfriend and my dog. At the time, I sniffed at the engine’s displacement of just 1.8 liters, but I have since learned that there Yippee substitute for dice. There was pure joy on the roads of Norfolk with its hollow roar from its B-series four-cylinder engine, clicky gearbox with flicking Laycock de Normanville overdrive and flashing Smith instruments. It wasn’t fast, but it was nimble and fun, and I loved the car so much that I serviced it and even ordered a replacement hood.

So where did the MGB’s reputation as a brown Windsor soup on wheels come from? Furthermore, is it possible to reconsider this polarizing best-selling sports car after 60 years since its launch? We’ll see.

Certainly no one at MG HQ in Abingdon thought the MGB would be the sales success it proved to be when the company’s chief engineer Sid Enever and general manager John Thornley first started thinking about a replacement for the MGA. The car was simply a beautiful creation based on the TD Le Mans pontoon car for George Philips who wrote Enever. In seven years of production from 1955 to 1962, the MGA sold an unprecedented 101,801 models, yet it was hardly ever produced. Leonard Lord, the chairman of BMC, rejected it when he first saw it, preferring instead to place his sports car chips on the two-week-old contract he had signed with Donald Healey for the Austin Healey series, delaying the launch of the MGA. for two years. It wouldn’t be the last time MG fell victim to politics and played second fiddle to a rival.

Development of the MGB began in 1958, four years before its 1962 launch, and the submitted design was designed by Enever and designed by Don Hayter with some help from Pininfarina. Its steel monocoque construction was tried on the 1953 ZA Magnette and also rivals the Austin Healey Sprite and Sunbeam Alpine, but designing an open-top monocoque is not current and the MG was good. Other than that, the mechanical arrangement underneath was very conventional and fix and make. While a V4 engine was suggested, eventually the trusty B-series MGA was enlarged to 1,798cc with a four-speed manual gearbox, and the proposed independent rear suspension was dropped in favor of a cheaper live rear axle on leaf springs and a rather heavy but effective wishbone front suspension derived from the sedan Y type.

Wildly underrated by the company that owned them, MG engineers were very good at their job and only three prototypes and eight pre-production cars were needed to develop the new car. General Manager Thornley single-handedly saved the project by signing a brilliant, if ultimately expensive, contract with Pressed Steel for the body/chassis and the first car was unveiled to the press on 20 September 1962, the day of the Earls Court Motor Show preview. One of the exhibits was a car split down the middle (maybe that’s where Damien Hirst got the idea) to show the inner workings and how it differs from the MGA. Pathe News demonstrated an unerring ability to miss the point with its ’62 show news showing an MG 1100 saloon and not an MGB, although you can see another halved MGB motor show (1965 MGB GT) on a Gaydon motor. museum.

1962 Earls Court Motor Show with the new MGB
It’s somewhere in the crowd… The MGB debuted at the 1962 British International Motor Show at Earl’s Court in London. Photo: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive via Getty Images.

The press generally loved it, and at just £950, maybe. Questionable Deer Hunter Hat with John Bolster, Racer and Tech Editor Autosport magazine wrote: “The world of sports cars is changing rapidly. We used to admire the type of two-seater that was just engine and power and precious little else… A sports car still has to have excellent performance and handling, but now it’s expected to have all the comfort of a luxury saloon, which means noise, vibration and harsh suspension are out of the question. .

“Such a car is an MGB…”

Sales were strong, particularly in America, where three of the five models finished. A number of improvements and developments (not all welcome) from Abingdon followed, such as a better rear axle, replacement of the aluminum bonnet with a steel element, overdrive option, automatic transmission option, six-cylinder engine with the 1967 MGC – but the most important lifeline that the little car could have, the Rover Buick V8 engine in the 1973 MGB GT, was five years late. It was also launched in the middle of the fuel price crisis and was only sold in the UK and not America where it would have been popular, but the unfavorable exchange rate would have made it even more expensive than the £2,294 it cost at launch. compared to £1,547 for the standard MGB.

Three of the five MGBs were sold in America
Like this 1966 example, three out of five MGBs were sold in America. Photo: Aaron McKenzie

US safety regulations turned the post-1974 MGB into a rubbery, riding monster, and besides, 18 years is a long time, the market changed and outgrew the MGB, which simply aged and outclassed. Cars like the Datsun 240Z, even the Triumph TR7 were considered better sports cars, although in the latter case, what on earth were we thinking?

What went wrong? The late and much-mourned motoring writer Brian Laban in his book MGB The Complete Story says that this was not complacency as there was never a shortage of plans and proposals to develop and replace the MGB, in fact Enever and Thornley thought the original MGB would not last more than six years and planned to replace it when it was launched in 1962 Laban with believes it was more politics and the mega-mergers of the British car industry at the time (the MG disappeared into the corporate giant British Leyland in 1968 and the MGB’s wings grew hideous blue Leyland badges) which, along with the infamous 1973 Ryder Report, left little Abingdon out in the cold.

Keith Adams of aronline blames management, specifically Leyland boss Donald Stokes, who appeared biased against Triumph and torpedoed the replacement for the MGB EX 234, and Michael Edwards, who dropped MG from his plans and closed loss-making Abingdon soon after. 1979 50Thursday anniversary of MG cars, leaving the old 410,000 sq ft premises for sale and the famous octagon mark as a footnote in history and a badge on the back of some desperately ordinary sedans. In fact, Edwards later admitted that he regretted his decision and greatly underestimated the strength of support for MG – what is it about soft words that don’t have parsnips? It was left to enthusiasts to keep the brand alive, although Rover capitalized on the availability of aftermarket hubs to bring us the £25,000 RV8 from 1993, and then the little MGF from 1995 raised hopes for the brand, but once again the corporate goons eventually gave the name MG. to SAIC in China, where it now lives on the back of a line of family SUVs and crossovers. What an end to Cecil Kimber’s legacy.

All of this gives the poor MGB an almost unbearable teasing about what could have been, but why does the car remain simultaneously so polarizing and appealing? The baby-boom brigade with beards and pom-poms is unlikely to appeal to a younger, cooler crowd, but then look at a truly original car without club badges and front-end junk, or one from Abingdon’s Frontline Development for that matter. exciting MGB or B GT conversions with new engines, transmissions, revised suspension and beautifully finished cabins. Neither of these cars can be considered naff by any means.

Frontline Developments’ Tim Fenna agrees that the MGB sends out mixed messages, but says at heart, “The MGB is an affordable, accessible, solid and reliable sports car that is hugely popular.” He also says that while Stokes may have had a Triumph bias , Abingdon and Canley, where the Triumphs were built, were similar “craft and enthusiast-run factories” that might have survived “but were killed by the bean counters”.

And therein lies the rub. The MGB says so much about our past that it’s hard to separate it from the car. But in the end, I’d rather think of that 60s navy chrome model parked by a sun-drenched Norfolk dyke with a picnic in the back than the smiling helmet-haired bosses of the 1970s playing checkers with the famous old car manufacturers and their proud workforces.

It’s really just a matter of perspective; you have nothing to lose but your beard and pom pom.

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