Oh yes, here we go. This is right up my alley. This is a 1969 MGB GT. If and when I come to power I’m going to bring these things back, and life is going to be great. The last we did an MGB I waxed poetic about it’s simplicity, it’s revvy little 95 horsepower four-pot, and all the other quirky British-ness that stole my heart. This time, no poetry, no romanticizing, none of this airy “love” business, just facts. We’re going to get to the bottom of just what makes the B so brilliant.
Late 50s, Britain. MG had just moved to Abingdon, and their MGA was becoming a little bit like the Taken franchise, which is to say popular, but getting a bit long in the tooth. They brought in an Italian coachbuilder, Frua, who gave them this, which, unfortunately, no one really liked all that much. I don’t know, I kind of like it. Anyway, the blokes in Britain (namely two guys named Jim O’Neill and Don Hayter) then decided to go it alone, and came up with a series of design studies until eventually landing on this one.
Design house Pininfarina had a contract to redesign BMC’s (the people who own MG) passenger car line. Apparently, O’Neill and Hayter were very minimally influenced by the Italians, but I’m not so sure. Here’s a contemporary Pininfarina design if you’d like to compare. It is speculated that one of the reasons MG was adamant as to the Italian’s small role has to do with their recent move from Cowley to Abingdon. Many of the workers who advocated that move didn’t want to undermine it by outsourcing the design of their next major project.
Pininfarina definitely did do the roofline on the coupe, though. The vast majority of MGBs were roadsters, around 400,000, but but over 125,000 escaped from the factory with fixed roofs. Rooves? No, it’s definitely roofs. That’s weird. Anyway, the non-convertible B models went by the moniker MGB GT. The taller roof and great big glass hatch over the rear afforded more space in the back, but made for a rather interesting performance anomaly. Because the convertible B was lighter than the GT, it accelerated more quickly. However, because of the hardtop on the coupe, the GT had better aerodynamics, and subsequently a higher top speed.
A lot of people don’t like the B GT. They’ll tell you the standard, open-top B is the definition of proper British motoring, the wind-in-your-hairpiece feeling, the grandfather of the legendary Miata. And they’re right, mostly. The roadster, with it’s lower price and 93 million miles of blue-sky headroom, is ostensibly the more fun car. But the B GT deserves a place at the workbench as well. A practical sportscar is a bit of an oxymoron, and I think that’s exactly why I’ve taken a fancy to this one. It’s a rare combination of unlikely pointlessness and genuine usability. As happens so often with British sportscars, I get the sense that I’m about to descend into some pretty severe sentimentality, so I’ll wrap up by saying the B is great not for being a cheap performance hero, which it was, or for offering added practicality and charm, which it did, but rather for being an object of joy.
- The Miata is within two inches of the MGB in every direction except width, where the Mazda needs an extra 6 inches
- To accommodate the roof, the windshield on the GT was taller and more upright than it was on the standard roadster