I often try to remember England in the 1950s and 1960s. Crisp autumn days in the Cotswolds. Narrow village streets. Classic British motoring. The problem is that I was born in Canada. In the mid-1990s. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines this kind of sentiment: Anemoia (noun): Nostalgia from a time you never knew.

I belong to a group of young British motoring enthusiasts and we know the feeling well.

The post-war period in England heralded the development of small cars that perfectly matched man and machine. The freedom and optimism of this golden era was complemented by the handsome styling and reassuring handling provided by Little British Cars (or LBCs) – chief among them, the folding roof. This period marked the pinnacle of raw, tactile enjoyment that British car manufacturing could provide, and starry-eyed enthusiasts have been chasing it ever since.

1976 MGB

I bought a blue MGB 1976 in 2014 when I was 19. It was my first car. Originally for the US market Harvest Gold, imported to Canada, this repainted MG car exemplifies the endurance of British motoring. Stuck at 38,609 miles, the odometer stopped working shortly after I bought the B. It’s a five digit unit that I’m sure has been rolled over once if not twice. A British Leyland Baltimore Dealer business card I found under the torn and sun-bleached seat, along with a 1998 New York State Parks pass, referenced the car’s history of constant use.

I added another 30,000 miles and took it from Toronto to Pittsburgh, Watkins Glen to Detroit, and Niagara Falls to Northern Ontario. When I moved to Toronto from a sleepy suburb and brought my MGB with me, I thought I must be the only person my age masochistic enough to don leather gloves and daily drive a half-century old greasy death trap on some of the most treacherous highways in North America. As it turns out, I was wrong.

By getting involved in the car scene on social media, I connected with a whole group of classic car owners who defy the stereotypes of the British car community. This group of Millennials and Gen Zers spans North America, from my home in Toronto to Los Angeles. And they don’t just own these old British cars – they drive the scum out of them. Why are a bunch of teenagers and twentysomethings suddenly so obsessed with an obscure era of outdated British relics? I reached out to investigate and a few of them agreed to get together and talk about it.

Austin Mini MGB MG Sprite Austin-Healey Sprite

I arrived in my MGB and was soon joined by Jason DeFreitas in his MG Midget, Colin Doust in his Austin-Healey sprite and Josh Crawford in his Austin Mini. They arrived late, but only because they had to get some oil to top up. Which was fine because it gave me time to play with the horn that stopped working. We are nothing if not immersed in the British car experience.

Unsurprisingly, one of the first topics was the reliability of our cars. Crawford, 18, has had the most stereotypical experience. “My car has broken down a dozen times,” he said, undeterred. “But every time it breaks, I end up learning something and being better prepared for the next time it breaks. It doesn’t stop me from driving long distances.’

Jay Leno defined the classic British automotive zeitgeist with a single sentence when he launched the experimental MGB Moss Motor on his website Jay Leno’s Garage: “Oh, wow, it’s started!” Leno is no stranger to British cars, and in an episode last year he got behind the wheel of one of of its most popular cars of all time – the MGA – owned and restored by 24-year-old enthusiast Daniel Harrison. I caught up with Daniel, who described the reliability of his 1958 MGA as almost flawless, although he insists that maintaining these aging English contraptions isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. “Sometimes they’re extremely irritating and uncomfortable, and then sometimes you get a little nugget of experience that pulls you back in.” Daniel’s YouTube channel ‘Limit 55’ aims to demystify the classic car experience and paint an honest picture of vintage car ownership and maintenance.

Jay Leno
Daniel Harrison and his MGA on Jay Leno’s Garage. YouTube/Jay Leno’s Garage

Jason DeFreitas shared a similar view of this double-edged sword when it came to his orange MG Midget. “With 65 horsepower and four gears, when your engine screams at 4,500 rpm for an hour, it’s outdated. It also taught me all possible ways to get oil out of my driveway. But it’s a pain to drive, it drives like a go-kart and makes all the right noises.”

It’s no secret that British cars have a famous reputation for their electrical gremlins and oil slicks. We agreed that these cars will always demand attention – because they’re old, not because they’re British. There will always be surprises and sometimes dark days, but their agricultural robustness and simple operation have allowed them to stand the test of time. Ultimately, if you take care of these classics, they will take care of you. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a roadside assistance plan.

Cars like the MGA and B, the Austin-Healey 100 and 3000 and various Triumphs defined the modern recipe for a nimble front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car. Despite their front-wheel-drive packaging, you could pack a Mini with them. The fact that all these cars were also affordable made them popular with millions of motorists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Minis, for example, are one of the world’s most popular classic cars. An incredible 5.3 million were produced from 1959 to 2000, six of which were used in the filming of Mr. Bean. The MGB also ranks among the best-selling classics; from 1962 to 1980, MG produced over half a million of them, and it is estimated that more than 15 percent are still on the road today.

As well as historic victories at Le Mans, Monte Carlo and the Nürburgring, the MGB was practical, economical and affordable – the GT version was affectionately nicknamed the ‘poor man’s Aston Martin’. I would put particular emphasis on “poor” given that roll-up windows were touted as a game-changing feature in sales brochures at the time. Other standard features included an ashtray and steel wheels. But the new equipment wasn’t what sold these cars. The promise of pure joy sold them.

MGB MG Midget rolling

However, as the demand for these Little British Cars declines, so does the membership of many established classic car clubs. Although Colin, Daniel and I are part of local and national Triumph and MG clubs, the new memberships still can’t make up for the loss of the old ones. But the reassuring thing is that these cars are reappearing in new circles. When Josh isn’t studying engineering, you can find him at a number of local car meets and club events, including one at his university. Meanwhile, Jason runs a popular local car club called Northrides Orangeville. His goal is to create an inclusive group “free of idiots and judgmental a-holes” where his MG Midget can be seen alongside JDM classics and Kei trucks, German highway cruisers and various exotics.

Today, the cost of owning a car is skyrocketing. Many new vehicles feel out of reach for young people, and many of the previously reasonable classics like Mazda Miatas and Datsun 240s are becoming almost unattainable. But not these Little British Cars. Value trendlines for MGAs and Bs, midgets, minis and Spitfires have generally remained flat over the past decade. This is great news for cash-strapped youth around the world.

Even better, these cars can be repaired and even rebuilt with the most basic of hand tools. A half-inch wrench and screwdriver can fix most things, and every single part for these cars is readily available—and largely affordable, even if most parts rarely need to be replaced. In fact, the overall simplicity of these LBCs – the MGB shocks are based on 100-year-old compact hydraulic lever arms that can be repaired rather than replaced – helps keep more of them on the road. Getting mileage on these cars is easy when maintenance costs are low and fuel consumption is the same as a lawnmower.

Even though fuel prices are currently at obscene levels, I still don’t let that deter me from driving. My B averages 30 mpg on the highway and I regularly put it over 6,000 miles a year. Josh drives his Mini over 2,400 miles a year; Jason takes his dwarf on frequent long trips; Daniel’s MGA has been through California and back; and Colin is planning a thousand-mile road trip on Road America with his Sprite.

And even with their wallet-friendly powertrains, these cars aren’t slow and boring, which only adds to their timeless appeal. Although the MGB’s 95bhp doesn’t sound like much, a properly tuned B-series engine is a highly capable musical instrument with a unique throaty howl. Slight tweaks to any of these cars—lightened flywheels, headers, shaved and ported cylinder heads—go a long way toward maximizing performance. Ancient, reliable and superbly volatile twin SU carburettors provide some of the best throttle response available.

Sure, modern cars offer infinitely more comfort, safety and even speed than their old British counterparts, which never got a note about noise, vibration and harshness. But the vast majority of today’s new vehicles are beige appeals to the lowest common denominator, each crammed with a tacky assortment of gimmicks that are everything and nothing at the same time. Amidst a landscape of increasingly boring modern cars and increasingly expensive classics, Little British Cars are a shining beacon of hope for a truly attainable driving experience. For younger enthusiasts, they represent a unique opportunity to get the thrill of a sports car, the charm of a classic and the price tag of a premium Hyundai. And as always, you will not miss attention: My 47-year-old MG looks everywhere I go. Smiles and happy memories shared from silver-haired gentlemen reminiscing about their youth. Waves of little kids on bikes telling me to put it down (I usually already am).

Austin Mini MGB MG Sprite Austin-Healey Sprite

“Still one leap forward” ran British Leyland MG ads throughout the 1970s. By the end of the decade most new British cars were absolutely showing their age; they were outdated and outmatched by competition that was increasingly coming from Japan. However, what made these British cars so popular in the past will allow them to thrive in the future. Affordability, simplicity and fun have always been the recipe for success. Amidst the noise (and increasingly EV silence) of today’s automotive landscape, the cheerful LBC will continue to attract the newest generation of enthusiasts eager to experience the analog freedom of motoring’s golden age. It seems the Little British Car is still a leap ahead.

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“What would you say to other people who want to get into a classic British car?”

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