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Past Masters: The MGB GT

By Rigval on 11 Jul 2011

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In the 1990s a friend of mine used to run a 1960s MGB GT as her daily driver (a metallic red coloured one similar to the one above). I suppose it is because of my acquaintance with this individual that I now adore classic British sports cars from the 1950s and 1960s. I simply do. I suppose it’s because of the old world charm they have. Tiny ones like the Austin Healey Sprite ‘Frogeye’, its sister the MG Midget to the mid-sized MG TF, MGA MGB models and on to the bruisers like the Triumph Stag, Austin Healey 100/6 (3000) and those all but unreachable Aston Martin DB4,5 & 6. They all have character and personality like no other modern car can give. I’d like to share a little about the MGB GT, the car that somewhat begun my passion for classic motor cars.

The MGB GT was introduced in October 1965 as the fixed roof or coupe version of the MGB Roadster (which came about earlier in 1962). Production of this coupe variant continued through 1980, a good fifteen years or so. The MGB GT was actually a ground-breaking design. It wasn’t designed by a dull British bloke as it was designed by Italian design house Pininfarina. It actually had a hatchback (one that we see in the VW Scirocco) and could actually be the first ‘hot-hatch’. It actually wasn’t as by 1980, sales actually dropped when car buyers started buying real hatchbacks like the Volkswagen GTI and Ford Fiesta models.

Anyway, the MGB GT was a 2+2 design with far more luggage space than in the roadster (naturally of which the soft top ate into the boot space when folded down). Aside from gaining a roof, few components differed, although the MGB GT did receive different suspension settings and a different windscreen.

The car, like the Roadster was powered by a 1,798cc B Series engine with around 95bhp and around 150Nm of torque giving a 0-100km/h time of around 11 and a bit more seconds. Acceleration of the MGB GT was slightly slower than that of the MGB Roadster due to its increased weight. Top speed improved by 5 mph (8 km/h) to 105 mph (170 km/h) due to better aerodynamics.

But as we know with these sort of cars it was never about outright speed and how fast you could get to 100km/h. It was more about the driving experience. Even in the early 1970s you could actually get hammered by a Fiat 124 special T with its twin cam 105bhp 1,600cc engine or the Mark I Ford Escort RS2000 with its 2,000cc Kent engine. So what you got was a traditional British sports car that could look good in instead of one with outright speed.

It does look good doesn’t it? That Pininfarina designed model made it have that baby Aston Martin DB5 look to it and when you get behind the wheel and start her up (I remember this quite clearly as I did it quite a fair bit those days – and you don’t forget a drive in these types of cars do you?). What the MGB GT or the MGB Roadster brought you was a good looking sports car at an affordable price (at that point in time).

The 1.8liter engine sounds typically old school. The twin SU carburettors (which need proper fettling to get in in-synch) and that simple four branch manifold as well as how the engine is tuned for the MGB (instead of, say a pathetic Austin Maxi) makes for a very butch sounding 4 cylinder engine. You won’t find this much bass in any new car these days. The sound on idle and when it starts to move is something which you could never replicate in a new twin cam, multi-valve and fuel injected engine.

The 4 speed manual gearbox is good. It has a short throw to it and feels good to grasp. Once you’re on the move you find that large non-assisted steering light enough for you to actually punt it into the corners with vigor. I had the opportunity for actually using this MGB GT to its fullest. It could easily hit its 6,000rpm redline and actually felt faster than its 11 or so seconds to 100km/h. I suppose it’s the sound it makes. In corners you take it like any rear wheel drive car. Slow in and fast out (of course we’re not talking super slow here, but on hairpins it does perform well). Even on the skinny 185/70/14 tires it would hold a decent line in the dry without the driver having to wet his pants in oversteer. I suppose 95 horses isn’t enough to actually lose it in the dry anyway.

As i said, it isn’t about speed with the MGB GT. It is about a sense of occasion. It is about the experience. The interior of a British sports car somehow smells differently. A whiff of petrol, a whiff of vinyl, some other old world odours will fill your nostrils. It is that good actually. And when you drive one of these you’d notice people actually smile and you and give you the thumbs up. Women look too. Drive a Lancer Evolution or an Impreza STI and you’d get nothing of this sort. Maybe some scowls and other gestures.

In short, a drive in something old like the MGB GT is utterly memorable. It’s a shame there are not many cars like these around here these days.

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motoring, british sports cars and 6 more...

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Written by Rigval
Born in 1972. Married with a kid. Loves B-road drives and have driven cars from the 1950s to date.

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