Snobbery has kept MGB values depressed, which is great news for sports car fans
You’ll have more fun in a pert MGB Roadster than in an overblown Mercedes-Benz 190SL. It handles better and you’ll get there quicker. In most meaningful ways it’s a better car. The MGB is also quite possibly the best-value classic car in the world, at a tenth or even twentieth of the price of the boulevardier Mercedes.
Well, that’s stated the case. With 386,961 MGB Roadsters built from 1962 to 1980, it’s Britain’s best-selling sports car. True, its overhead-valve pushrod engine and double-wishbone front suspension originated from 1940s MG models, but the MGB was no cobbled-together blow-over in new clothes. It had wind-up windows, exterior door handles and you could actually lock it. This was exciting in 1962 Britain.
The in-house styling was simply lovely, so English, yet as elegant as anything Italian. Don’t argue: barring the octagon on the grille you could be looking at a Lancia or Alfa. More than that, it was MG’s first monocoque sports car; this was sturdy and over-engineered. The Motor noted: ‘On a road which has become so badly pot-holed that we no longer include it in many road tests, the MGB felt entirely unstrained, no distortion being evident at the door apertures.’ Steering was rack-and-pinion and up front there were disc brakes.
Shorter, wider, roomier and with a useable boot, the MGB represented a quantum leap over the MGA; faster, too, with its 1800cc engine. Early cars were road-tested at 108mph and 12.2sec for 0-60mph. US mag Road & Track said: ‘The best engineered, best put together MG we’ve ever seen.’
An early advertising slogan famously claimed ‘Your mother wouldn’t like it.’ Well, the French certainly didn’t approve – Renault made a half-hearted claim the MG’s sculpted prow was a crib of the Floride’s. What’s more, the MGB handled with verve, was vice-free, forgiving and predictable. It was also a class contender in competition and occasionally a giant killer.
At first the MGB got better, with a five-main-bearing engine (instead of three), optional overdrive (later standard), an all-synchro ’box, then a heater as standard from 1968. Then something happened. The formation of British Leyland brought Triumph into the nest. The first sign of a shift in sports car priorities was in 1969 with a budget black plastic grille, which caused an outcry that forced a BL U-turn in 1972. Perhaps if the MGB’s flight had ended there we’d revere this plucky, no-nonsense sports car more. Instead, in 1974 to meet US rules came the rubber bumpers and raised ride height, which didn’t help the handling. But BL couldn’t stop Americans loving the MGB, so wouldn’t fund a separate domestic version. Fortunately, the puny de-toxed 65bhp model was US-only.
In July 1979 BL sold 750 Triumph TR7s, compared with 4000 MGBs. The MGB was still in demand and, when the end came in 1980, US dealers attempted to counter the axe with a $200m order. Today, there’s no budget classic sports car to match the MGB for price, practicality, parts support and painless ownership.
Take a look at MGBs for sale in the Classic & Performance Car classifieds
1962: At launch the MGB Roadster was priced at £834. Nearest car-for-car rival was the Sunbeam Alpine at just £6 more than the MGB. Other than that there was nothing else in its price/performance domain. The more powerful Triumph TR4 came in at £904, with the Healey 3000 costing £1046. The Jaguar E-type Roadster was £1828, the Mercedes-Benz 190SL cost £2457 in the UK, Alfa’s 2600 spider £2465 and the Lancia Flaminia convertible £3317.
1980: At run-out in inflationary Britain the MGB Roadster cost £5808, nearly seven times its 1962 price. Just about its only domestic rival was the fresher, younger, faster Triumph TR7 Convertible, costing nearly £600 more. The fabulous little Fiat X1/9 was £600 cheaper than the MGB, while the Lancia Beta Spider came in at well over £1000 more than the MGB.
Today: The MGB is outstanding value. Prices are what you might call shallow, if not flat. Average UK auction price over the last two years is £6650; over the last 20 years the average is £6500. While that fact is telling, remember that this is a market where mediocre cars far outweigh fine examples. A recent open market high-point was £20,475 for a 1973 car treated to a 2800-hour photo restoration. In the trade there’s a quality-restored 1964 example up at £24,500. These are special case values. The ‘most classic’ 1962-69 cars command biggest money, but worthwhile examples are available from under £10,000. Rubber-bumper cars rarely fetch more than £10,000 at auction, with driver-improvers half that, or less.
Words: Dave Selby/Octane Magazine