14 March 2013

The B-All and End-All

AFTER 50 YEARS, Few cars have shaped as many lives as the MGB

 

British sports cars were everywhere in the 1960s. Dad had a Triumph TR3 and his colleague had a Big Healey, while my Little League coach had an Iris Blue MGB. A Pale Primrose MGB — often visited by a TR250 the same color — lived around the corner, while the next block was home to my Spanish tutor’s white B with a factory hardtop. Going to school, I’d pass another white B with fog lamps as well as a Citron Yellow one. And those were just the roadsters; my sixth-grade teacher had an MGB/GT, as did one of Dad’s flying buddies. Later, a neighbor had a Harvest Gold GT. It was inevitable that the B would sting me and lead to a string of roadsters and GTs.

B for Basics
With the exception of its unibody construction, the MGB was an evolutionary step from the MGA. It sported independent front suspension and leaf springs to locate the live rear axle. The 98-horsepower pushrod four was simple and strong, sending the power aft through a four-speed transmission with synchromesh on the top three gears. The most exciting things about the B were the roll-up windows, the optional folding top — as opposed to the build-it-yourself version that stowed in the trunk — its softer ride and a roomier interior and trunk. Properly maintained, the B was sturdy and reliable. It was also relatively quick, a joy to drive and sounded fantastic. Wildly popular, more than 500,000 Bs were sold over 18 years.

Those half-million cars often changed hands, introducing several million people to sports cars. Many of those cars also changed and shaped lives. Like Model As for previous generations, everyone has an MGB story.

Sports Car Dream
Herren Floyd had wanted a sports car for years. Stationed in Germany, it only made matters worse when “two guys on the base had Austin-Healey 100/4s.” When he came home he took a job at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and bought a Bugeye Sprite. “I’d drive my used Sprite to work and it had side curtains, a ‘build-it-yourself’ top, and I’d often get caught in the rain. By the time I’d get everything out and up, sometimes the rain was over.” He recalls that “in those days we didn’t have much money and we had to get rid of both cars [the Sprite and a VW Beetle] to get the MGB.” It was the Floyds’ only car, and he and his wife fitted a small padded platform in the back for the couple’s two young children.

Even after adding a second car, the B remained Floyd’s daily driver well into the 1980s, and he also used it for club activities. Although he’s replaced the top and added chrome wire wheels — he couldn’t afford the $100 option in 1963 — the Chelsea Grey MG looks much as it did when he first saw it. In those intervening 49 years, he never considered selling it — for one simple reason: “I liked it so much I could never part with it.”

Teacher’s Treasure
Just a few months out of college, Pat Bjorhovde was teaching elementary school when she traded her MG Midget for a new Grampian Grey 1966 MGB/GT. “I liked my Midget” she explains, “but after two years of dealing with snow and the ragtop, the hardtop GT seemed like a better idea. And the trunk space was huge.” She also admits that she loved the early hatchback, describing the car as “sexy and cool.” The GT fit the lifestyle of a single young woman in the late 1960s, but marriage to a man who preferred American iron meant that her MGB/GT was just a fond memory by the end of 1969.

The Life Changer
Growing up, Pete Cosmides was smitten by his uncle’s Austin-Healey Sprite, and he knew he’d have a sports car some day. Saving every penny, when he turned 17 in 1975 Pete bought a new MGB. He drove it to college in Arizona and it was his daily driver until the late 1980s.

After years as a Federal Express driver, Cosmides broke his foot. During his six-week recovery, he decided to follow his passion for MGs. He set up a part-time repair and restoration business, taking his Motorcar Garage full time in 2002. Outside of work, he admits to spending all of his vacation and weekends immersed in car activities, because, he says, “that’s where all my friends are.”

In addition to the MGB that started it all, Cosmides now owns an unrestored 1963 MGB and a rare factory 1974 MGB/GT V-8.

King of Clubs
Young Richard Liddick coveted his neighbor’s MG Midget and promised himself that one day he’d own one. But when it came time to buy a new car, a mechanic convinced him not to buy the Midget, MGB or TR6 he really wanted, by telling him, “You don’t want to buy one of those. You’ll have to work on it all the time.” Liddick succumbed to the pressure and bought a Chevy Vega instead. Eventually, desire overcame caution and Liddick — current chairman of the North American MGB Register — bought his Midget, soon followed by a 1971 MGB/GT, which he still has. For four years he also used a 1974½ GT as his daily transportation, “until rust got it.”

A few years ago, Liddick picked up a 1977 MGB roadster almost by accident. “I was trying to talk a young neighbor into an MGB,” he remembers. “He’d watch me work on cars and go to shows with me. The deal was I’d get it on the road and the kid would buy it for what I had in it. When he backed out I decided to keep it.”

The Racer
From almost day one, MGBs have been raced hard — just like MGAs and the T-Series cars before them — at LeMans, Sebring and other tracks worldwide.

Bill Shields’ 1964 MGB has been a race car since 1968. When Shields, a well-known MG mechanic and restorer, acquired the old B in 1995 he prepared it for vintage racing. Why an MGB? “It ties into Carriage Craft [his shop] and it’s a basic, straightforward car to drive and everybody loves them,” says Shields. “When you’ve got a freak [make or model of car] you’re out on your own. There’s a lot to be said for availability of parts.”

For years he and the white B roadster raced all over the Northeast. But lately it’s been driven mostly by Shields’ daughter, Joanna, to whom the car will eventually pass. “If it lasts,” he quips, referring to a crash during the 2011 season. Between racing, repairs and restorations, Shields is very active in the MGB world, and that’s not likely to change.

A Car for All Reasons
Since 1962, the MGB has played many roles: daily driver, hobby car and racer. In short, it’s meant many things to many people. It was part of Herren Floyd’s family and social life. For Pat Bjorhovde, her GT was a fun interlude for a young adult, while for Pete Cosmides his very first MGB kindled an interest that rules his personal and professional life more than 30 years later. Although Richard Liddick came to the MGB later than some, his personal life revolves around his role in the North American MGB Register. And for Bill Shields, the MGB has provided a livelihood, recreation and a way to share a passion with his daughter. Few cars can do more.

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