19 May 2011

Mighty Good Buys: Which MGB models are best?

Editor’s note: Our friends at Classic Motorsports compiled a comprehensive buyers guide dedicated to the MGB. Below is an excerpt; click here to read the article in its entirety.

Why is the MGB such a favorite with classic car hobbyists? The answer is simple: It is good-looking, fun to drive and easy to maintain. These are the same reasons the MGB, with a few changes, was successful in the new-car market for nearly two decades. Today, good examples are easy to find, inexpensive to buy, and are backed by a fantastic network of MGB enthusiasts to provide support and share the fun of ownership.

A brief review of the MGB’s history provides an easy answer to what is considered the “best” MGB to buy: The cars from model years 1966 and 1967 get that accolade. They still carried the classic body style, highlighted by shiny bumpers and a pretty grille. Under the hood, the engine had been converted to a very reliable five-main-bearing design that produced nearly 100 horsepower at the flywheel. Inside, the seats were upholstered in leather, with lovely contrasting piping, and the dashboard was adorned with black crackle-finish paint and toggle switches, evoking memories of fighter planes and the Battle of Britain.

As with all classic cars, the best of the breed attracts the highest prices, so it isn’t surprising that these cars have the highest values. However, even for the very best restoration of the most desirable model, prices are still at a level that wouldn’t buy a half-decent Austin-Healey of the same vintage. Unrestored versions are occasionally found for $5000 or less, and the highest prices fetched at auction don’t exceed $25,000. Very good examples can be found for $10,000 to $15,000.

In terms of preferences, the earlier cars from the 1963 through 1965 model years, with their three-main-bearing engines, and known by their “pull-handle” doors (though a few five-main cars had the pull handles), are considered almost as desirable because of their traditional features and relative rarity. At the other end of the chrome-bumper period, the 1973 cars, with more comfortable seats, a center console with storage compartment and armrest, practical headrests, and the restored glove box, might be considered the next level in the pecking order. Even the vinyl seats can be recovered with a leather trim kit.

Even among the rubber-bumper cars there are some subtle distinctions. The 1977-’80 cars are preferable to the 1975-’76 cars, since they received front and rear anti-roll bars to correct handling problems and had some interior and engine-compartment improvements. It’s worth noting that the “Limited Edition” versions offered in the U.S. in 1979 and ’80 often turn up in very good condition with low mileage, having originally been bought by collectors and tucked away for investment purposes. They didn’t appreciate very much, and still usually sell for less than a comparable-condition chrome-bumper car, but they represent an interesting variant.

However, the differences in years, and even matching numbers and original specifications, don’t get a lot of attention in the MG hobby world. Instead, quality of bodywork and paint, tidiness of interior trim and, above all, performance are the variables that really make the difference in determining how much a particular MGB is worth.

Better yet, later models can be retro-engineered to the 1967 standards, and then upgraded with modern modifications, such as the new Moss supercharger, to the owner’s own tastes (see modifications sidebar on page 40). Even in California and states that share its air quality standards, any car built in 1973 or before is usually fair game for removal of emissions systems, upgrading of carburetors, the addition of a supercharger, and other modifications.

For anyone on a budget and handy with tools, even the inexpensive rubber-bumper models can be upgraded. Many enthusiasts have discovered that when the bumpers are painted the body color and the ride height reduced to more normal levels, the car is a pretty sleek alternative to any modern roadster. In a state where emission requirements aren’t too strict, a swap to a good five-main-bearing engine from the late ’60s is easy enough. Kits and instructions are even available to show how to fit a Rover or Buick V-8, or a variety of other six- or eight-cylinder or rotary engines.

With the variety of engine variations among the various export markets and from year to year for individual markets to cope with regulatory changes, a factory service parts list and one of the excellent workshop manuals are essential. This factor is worth bearing in mind when buying and working on a car that has been modified by previous owners. Parts ordered strictly by catalog and serial number may not always fit a modified car.

Regardless, with the large number of cars still on the road, brand-new parts of quite good quality are readily available. Few hobbyists even bother to part out old MGs any more, since it’s generally just as easy to buy a new piece from the Moss Motors or Victoria British catalogs.

19 Reader Comments

  • 1
    thomas asheville n.c. December 11, 2014 at 13:56
    MGs are great little cars, and fun to toy with.British had a scence of humor on alot of the designs of the cars.Sometimes you have to change ther design to make it a better fit,but do it with style.Thats my three cents worth.comeing from a man with fifty years as a mechanic, best to you and your MGs.
  • 2
    wayne whitehurst knoxville. tn 37922 February 5, 2015 at 17:35
    Own 1973 MGB Roadster. Limeflower with 46k miles. Original in every respect. Just a fabulous example that will go down to son and grandson. Keep the flames burning!!!!!!!!!!!
  • 3
    2VT Chatsworth, Ca. February 5, 2015 at 10:54
    The MGB survived the 1968 Safe Car Act and the 1969 Clean Air Act without any structural or mechanical changes. The got bumpers and emission equipment attached which made them heavier and slower but essentially the same car. They did degrade over the year as chrome, leather and wool gave way to rubber, vinyl and nylon. The sweet spot to me would be the early 1965 pull handle MK1 with the 5 main engine out to the 1967 (MK1.5?)
  • 4
    Dave Calgary March 7, 2015 at 22:06
    love my yellow rubber bumper 77 MGB Mk3.Little cam and a new Weber loves the cool Alberta climate
  • 5
    David Bronicki mi. March 11, 2015 at 00:00
    I like to know is there any wiring problems with these cars. I've heard that Lucas electrics are subpar. anyone out there please I need feedback on this thank you.
  • 6
    Mauricio Fort Worth, TX March 21, 2015 at 20:50
    The Lucas Name has bad fame, but the electrical system in the B is very, very simple. I have the original wiring on my British Racing Green 69 and have no issues. The B is a great little car! Be not afraid!
  • 7
    Michelle LeJeune Denver, CO July 26, 2015 at 09:40
    Just want to read the reader comments
  • 8
    Alan Australia August 1, 2015 at 03:08
    I love my MK 11. A great looking car, great fun to drive, easy to fix.
  • 9
    John Arkansas August 22, 2015 at 00:59
    Own 9 MGBs 1972 - 1980......Three with factory overdrive and 1 Limited Edition with overdrive. Put 378 thousand miles on my 1976 MGB that I brought home with me from my tour of duty with Army. Have 1978 daily driver still going strong. They are the greatest cars ever made. Keep them on the road forever.............
  • 10
    Jim Malone arkansas September 18, 2015 at 16:48
    have an 80 B now, started out with a 62 B, wish I had the 62 back! My current B is a joy to drive, if it's in running condition, it will be the one I'll choose to drive, as I usually have several to choose from in various stages of restoration. My only warning is try to do as much work on the car yourself, I made the error of letting one or two local shops know that my B was the car I own that I know the least about, and I've spent enough on it to buy 2.5 new ones (1980 cost) and the work was done for the most part, where I had no choice but to keep returning it to the same shop. The car-yes is wonderful and I'm spending lots of time and money trying to undo the subpar work that's been done to it. But I love it, and my kids say I'll be buried in it!!!
  • 11
    Joshua Sweezey Chicago, IL April 25, 2016 at 11:56
    I just bought my father's 75 MGB. He can't work on it any longer due to medical issues and doesn't have the money to have the work done. it was my grandfather's before that. I know little about them but I look forward to getting my hands dirty and continuing the legacy my father and grandfather have now handed on to me.
  • 12
    kenwjr Alabama May 9, 2016 at 07:25
    I have been looking for a 79-80 MGB. Most have 65k-88k miles. Which is low miles for their age. How many miles can one put on a MGB engine realistically before needing a rebuild?
  • 13
    Leslie Lisenbee CA July 22, 2016 at 18:33
    Being an MGB owner and restorer for 20+ years, just a nice car. My most recent, last one is a BRG '67. Love the simplistic mantra of the car. Can fit the long legged and/or big person w/ease, not heard to look at, makes OK power and handles fairly well, good bang for the buck. Lots of fun on the cheap.
  • 14
    Gary NEW HAMPSHIRE August 9, 2016 at 18:02
    I am a slender 6'6". Most of me is legs. I long to own a classic English roadster. I could not fit into a Tr3 and presume the same will obtain with an MGA. I have heard that the MGB has more room and it appears to have a smallish steering wheel (which most of the problem lies). Any MG enthusiasts out there similaqrly altitudinally challenged but able to confidently drive an MGB -- or most any other sportster?
  • 15
    Danny New York October 11, 2016 at 23:59
    Hi, a buddy of mine and i recently picked a MG-A in Brooklyn NY. we are newbies to the restoration world as this will be out first project, Any recommendations on a local contact to might be able to assist with steering us in the right direction. looking forward to hearing back.
  • 16
    Samuel Frampton Greenville, Pa November 19, 2016 at 11:46
    Having my second MGB delivered in January, a 1979 with 43k miles! Love working on them, will look to MGB community to help me fully restore! Nice to find you all! Sam
  • 17
    barry russo NY - New York December 22, 2016 at 21:36
    After 7 Alfa Romeo Spiders This one 79 MGB has made me a believer. Inexpensive to buy and maintain and better materials throughout, Even the steel monocoque structure is more rigid and less prone to corrosion. Those Brits are the Heart of Sportscar history
  • 18
    Neil Ericson Australia April 15, 2017 at 08:51
    Hello Gary from New Hampshire. I own a 1964 MGB Mk1 and like you, I am 6'6" in height. The leg room is amazing for such a small car. Very comfortable. I sit high in the car, but the windscreen does a great job in protecting me from the elements. It always amazes people when a tall bloke like me unravels himself out of such an apparently small car. The leg room in the MGB is far better than in my much newer Mitsubishi Lancer. You wont be disappointed.
  • 19
    Brooks Jenkins Charleston July 22, 2017 at 21:04
    Looking at s '79 MGB in mint condition--- low miles---what is a fair price? $6,000

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