Driving an electric MGB roadster is a breath of fresh air

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Andy Morgan

“Safety Fast!” has been the motto of MG since 1929. It’s an ideal that Peter Swain of the UK’s RBW has clearly taken to heart with his all-electric MGB.

Swain gave four years, spent millions of pounds, and filed no less than 1874 different documents with authorities to ensure that his MGB would be as safe as an OEM electric vehicle.

“There’s a reason why all the big companies spend so much developing a vehicle. The only time you find out it’s not safe is just when you need it to be safe,” says Swain.

Having previously been involved in electronic security, Swain is a stickler for correct procedure and knew he’d need a suitable partner to develop his idea of building an emissions-free edition of the British sports car he first drove when he was 17 years old.

Enter Continental Engineering Services in Litchfield, and Ian Mills who developed the powertrain for the first Smart EV, built a prototype electric Morgan, and worked on the engine management system for the Dodge Viper.

Swain’s design called for a battery pack that could be fitted within the engine bay and transmission tunnel, as well as a patented patented subframe to take the instant torque of an electric motor. With those two pieces, Mills and Continental could make the electric MGB a reality.

RBW’s MGB starts life with a brand-new shell from British Motor Heritage. A stiffening structure is added, the body is de-seamed and painted by artisans at RBW’s workshop and it then returns to Continental for electrification. Chiefly that involves installing 43 kWh of Hyperdrive batteries (as also used in the Nissan Leaf) and a single 140kW motor that Renault Zoe owners would be familiar with. Mercedes commercial vehicle drives might just recognize the digital instrument panel which has been reconfigured to suit the MG. The brakes and suspension are suitably uprated and then the car returns to be trimmed at RBW. To keep things simple the only options are paint and trim colors, steering wheel, and wheels.

Overall it weighs about the same as an original MGB V-8, but it comes with far more creature comforts—air conditioning, electric power steering, and an audio system with Apple CarPlay connectivity and smartphone charging.

Swain’s brief for Mills was to make the car drive like a Mazda MX-5 Miata. “I believe that the most fun modern driving experience is the MX-5. You’re connected to the car,” he says.

Heart-stopping acceleration is therefore not the aim. “It’s as quick as a BMW M4 from 0-30 mph but then we dial it back so 0-60 mph is eight seconds.”

RBW MGB EV race car
Andy Morgan

More speed is available in RBW’s prototype racer, which boasts fiberglass panels to save weight, a stripped interior, and a tad more power. Swain had hoped to get a one-make series going, but for now the focus is on building the road car business, so the red and black concept is being used by Continental as a test mule for an ABS system that could be retrofitted to classic cars, be they electrified or powered by their original engines.

RBW’s road car demonstrator, meanwhile, is put to regular use and has covered almost 7000 miles when I’m handed the key.

RBW MGB EV panning
Andy Morgan

Swain is at pains to point out that the fit and finish of this vehicle isn’t a patch on customer cars, but aside from the pre-production switchgear it looks pretty well-sorted and the design is simple, giving a modern appearance to the center console without dismissing the MG’s heritage.

The driving position is noticeably period-correct. Despite the seat base being very low to the floor and my legs stretched straight to the pedals the big steering wheel is quite close to my chest, and I feel quite high, like I’m sitting on, rather than in the car. It makes for good visibility but doesn’t feel quite as sporty as I’d hoped, but then I remember the 1972 Midget I had when I was 19 was much the same.

Setting off is just a case of turning the large rotary dial atop the transmission tunnel to D and pressing the go pedal. In silence the MG initially surges forward and then settles into a steady linear acceleration. Soon enough I’m at the national speed limit of 60 mph and very quietly breezing down country lanes. Although fitted with electric power steering there’s an appropriate amount of weight, so that it still just about feels like an old car, but just a little easier and more precise. Extra assistance can be dialed in if an owner desires. The brakes provide regeneration, but only when the pedal is applied and would be a significant improvement over an original B.

The ride on the bumpy Midlands country roads does indeed have the compliance that MX-5 owners enjoy (and that some choose to sacrifice with lower and stiffer set-ups to increase corner speed) making it a very pleasant way to spend a later summer day at a measured pace. Only adding to the enjoyment is the fact that it’s by far the best-built MG I’ve ever driven, with nary a squeak nor rattle.

RBW MGB EV static
Andy Morgan

Pottering silently past a canal-adjacent pub, drinkers put down their pints and give a thumbs up, appreciating that neither noise nor emissions are disturbing their afternoon. It’s easy to imagine using up all 160 miles of driving range gliding through the highways and byways, soaking up the sounds and smells of the countryside and not scaring the wildlife.

At a time when EVs new and converted all seem to be chasing ludicrous (thanks Elon) performance, the RBW MG is a breath of fresh air.

RBW will be adding the MGB GT to its catalog and make its OEM-standard proprietary electrification system available to other brands, expanding its business. But always with “safety fast” as a core tenet.

At £90,000 ($104,000) it’s relatively competitively, and RBW has an order book full well into next year with buyers at home in the UK, throughout Europe, and Japan. Just nine customer cars have been delivered to date, but production is being ramped up to 100 units for 2023. That’s also when American customers should finally be able to get behind the wheel. Given that the U.S. market was the original MGB’s biggest, it’s no surprise that RBW has already built up a waiting list and is planning to open an assembly facility in the States in 2023.

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