Collectible Classic: 1966-1974 MGB/GT
Built from 1962 until 1980, the MGB convertible is the best-selling British ragtop of all time. Nearly 390,000 B roadsters were made, and about three-quarters of them were sold in America. But as exhilarating as driving a top-down MGB can be, not everyone can justify a fiddly roof that holds off mother nature about as well as a soggy newspaper. Enter the MGB/GT, a shapely, Pininfarina-styled coupe that was introduced for the 1966 model year.
To accommodate the fixed roof, the MGB's windshield was raked back and made taller. The steel top stiffened the already-rigid chassis, so the GT - with its slight rear weight bias and more aerodynamic shape - handles better and has a slightly higher top speed (105 mph) than its quicker, lighter ragtop sibling. The GT's versatile hatchback packaging can hold a surprising amount of luggage in the trunk and on the microscopic but flat-folding rear seat, which isn't very practical or safe for human passengers anyway.
Like Porsche currently does with its Cayman coupe, which is essentially a hardtop Boxster, MG charged buyers a premium for the fixed-head B. (The more common roadsters sell for more today, though.) Frugal B/GT owners enjoy modern-car touches such as unibody construction, rack-and-pinion steering, and front disc brakes. However, alongside those features existed some more primitive elements: gearboxes that lack first-gear synchros and a positive-ground electrical system with a generator. Later models were gradually updated, but along with these changes came stifling emissions controls and uglifying safety adaptations. By mid-'74, even the charming chrome bumpers had been replaced, although very few of the rubber-bumpered GTs were sold here before the model left our shores after 1974.
To supplement the standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, a relatively small number of GT-bodied Bs were sold from 1967 to 1969 with a 2.9-liter in-line six (known as the MGC/GT), and a 3.5-liter V-8 edition called the MGB/GT V-8 - a coupe-only, non-U.S. model - was built from 1973 to 1976. But even in base form, the B/GT, which has been known for years as the "poor man's "Aston Martin," is an inexpensive choice for those who want an attractive 1960s European coupe that is arguably just as handsome as some of its more prestigious rivals.
It's Snowtime. Road-tripping home from California in my own MGB/GT... or... Mother Nature hates me.
On the morning of the second day of my 2300-mile California-to-Michigan odyssey, seven inches of wet snow covered my wonderful, tiny, and newly purchased 1967 MGB/GT Special. We were holed up at the Rainbow Lodge in Soda Springs, California, less than 100 miles from where we'd started the previous afternoon. It was an inauspicious beginning to my trip, and from there, things would only get worse.
My friend Jessica Oster - who let me store my shiny, $6100 MG at her house in Davis, California - had suggested that we cross the Sierra Nevada before nightfall. It was already dark, however, by the time the B/GT's service checkup was completed, fresh fluids were added, and new rear brake shoes were installed.
Soon after leaving Sacramento, I endured the scariest drive of my life. Sure, I've driven on worse winter roads in Michigan. But not much worse. And not in the mountains. And definitely not in a rust-free, 2200-pound classic with basic lap belts, one-speed wipers, weak headlights, a wispy heater, and a noncollapsible steering column aimed, daggerlike, at my sternum. My buddy, electrical engineer Mike McPike, served as co-driver on the journey, and while semis sloshed by my left ear, he helped discern the whereabouts of I-80's snow-covered slow lane. When we reached the remote lodge, I wasn't certain if it was heaven or just heaven-sent. A cold beer confirmed the latter.
Two days later, we'd reached Wyoming and had managed to creep ahead of the unseasonable October storm when the engine quit. We eventually coaxed the fuel pump back into action on the shoulder of I-80, but the storm caught up, showering us with pea-sized hail, followed by snow and thick fog. Cue another harrowing, wintry drive, this time limping along with a crippled fuel system. Oh, and one wiper blade had come off and the hood catch wasn't catching all that well.
We made Sidney, Nebraska, before the anemic fuel pump became unbearable. After installing a modern electronic pump in the NAPA parking lot, we enjoyed smooth, droning, 75-mph, 4400-rpm cruising until we reached sunny western Iowa, where we suffered a flat. Luckily, we'd had the foresight to swap the ancient bias-ply spare for a brand-new Michelin radial, so that wasn't a sticky issue. But the seized right front brake caliper was. A mechanic in West Branch, Iowa, attempted a fix but left us with a spongy pedal and no brake lights. Still 450 miles from home and not wanting to tackle Chicago traffic in this condition, we waved the white flag. Nearly seven full days after hitting the road, my MG finally made it home . . . on a trailer.
Two-door, two-plus-two hatchback.
125,597 B/GTs worldwide (about one-quarter of overall MGB production).
Watch Out For
Rust, especially in the wheel wells and the dogleg rocker-panel seams. Worn gearboxes, particularly in pre-'68 models.
The Essential Buyer's Guide: MGB & MGB/GT,
by Roger Williams, Veloce Publishing, $20.
to British Sports Cars, by John Gunnell, Krause Publications, $25.
SPARES & DEALERS
University Motors Limited
Little British Car Company
North American MGB Register
The MG Experience
A pre-emissions, metal-dash, chrome-bumper, chrome-grille, Grampian gray '67 MGB/GT with the Special package (racing sideview mirror, special badges, and wood steering wheel and shift knob).