MG’s buzzing B has always been there for me

John Batterton’s MGB has been thoroughly modified and modernized for his new venture, Snake River Classics. Stefan Lombard

In July 1966, I was walking through an MG dealership in Cleveland when I saw a new white MGB with black leather seats. It was parked outside in an overgrown lot, and an impressively large weed was coming up through the battery access door, tickling the inside of the top. Despite the car’s forlorn state, it was love at first sight.

That was the beginning of my devotion to British sports cars. The thrill of driving an MG was addictive, with handling beyond anything I had ever experienced. I drove that car in gymkhanas and road rallies. I drove it in hailstorms and blizzards. I drove it on my honeymoon. Yes, I had all of the usual problems with its electrical system. And yes, the day I sold it, I was miserable.

Years passed and life changed, with family and a career. Shortly after I retired, I decided to rekindle my passion for British cars, so I bought an Austin-Healey 100 M to restore. I was pleased to see that parts were easy to come by. I also spent a decent amount of time on eBay finding the not-so-easy parts. I finished the Healey and won the first of several awards from various events. I was hooked for good, and I completed a succession of concours restorations, including an MG TF 1500 and a Morgan Plus 8. I rarely drove the cars I restored to concours levels. They were perfect, and most seat time was limited to parking them on show fields. I viewed them as objects of beauty, only to behold.

Following a cross-country move to Boise, I bought a Sunbeam Tiger in rough shape. By this point, my age limited my involvement in its restoration, and being more hands-off allowed me to see that car differently. Rather than planning to make it perfect, I started thinking about how to make it better. Thus began my own “restomod” phase.

Snake River MG MGB Restomod rear three quarter owner
Stefan Lombard

The passion is deep in my family, and concurrently, my son purchased a 1967 MGB to restore. He, too, wanted to improve the experience and included many suspension parts from aftermarket suppliers. Then it hit me: Why not do a thoroughly modern version of the MGB? I searched for potential partners, knowing that I would not be doing the actual mechanical work. It turned out the company that was rebuilding my Tiger’s V-8, Throttleworks, right here in Boise, was interested, and we entered into a relationship to develop our own version of an MGB.

Throttleworks specializes in tuning, fabrication, and development of vehicles both domestic and foreign. Our personalities were compatible, and Throttleworks was willing to take on the business risk with me. Our shared vision was simple enough: Keep the look of the classic MGB but transform it in all other ways with modern performance, reliability, and creature comforts so it could be fully enjoyed on today’s highways. Our new enterprise, Snake River Classics, began with the purchase of a 1980 MGB, and immediately, we dismantled the entire car.

Snake River MG MGB Restomod garage
Stefan Lombard

We did a pencil study to determine which engines would fit in the B, and the GM LTG 2.0-liter turbo emerged as the logical choice because of its availability, tune-ability, serviceability, weight, cost, and fit. It was compatible with two excellent transmissions (a five-speed manual and a six-speed automatic), and the power potential of that engine was more than adequate—no need to shoehorn a V-6 or a V-8 that would change the basic character of the car. Plus, an MG-GM pairing just had a nice feel to it.

Snake River MG MGB Restomod engine bay
Batterton’s MG utilizes modern suspension geometry in order to harness the power from its 2.0-liter turbocharged GM LTG motor. Stefan Lombard

It would have been easy to simply select suspension components off the shelf, but we determined that the power generated by the new engine would require a complete redesign of the suspension given the torque generated at low rpm. We used computer modeling to engineer thoroughly modern front- and rear-suspension systems that were not limited by the original geometries of the decades-old setup.

All the other systems (brakes, electrical, etc.) were assessed and redeveloped. The body was reshaped to incorporate flared fenders in order to support the increased tire width. The dash was redesigned to be a variation of the original, younger-looking first-generation MGB. And other details were designed to enhance the look of the new body structure yet remain consistent with the look of the original MGB.

Snake River MG MGB Restomod side profile
Stefan Lombard

The development process of our 1980 roadster took three years and included fully documenting the transformation for follow-on vehicles. This was a time of great patience as the work started to come together. The old mantra, “Do it once, do it right,” is the only way to go. And yet, my own anticipation grew weekly as we started to put everything together.

The moment of truth for me was the first time I got behind the wheel of the nearly completed car. It had no windshield, so the tears streaming down my face as I accelerated hard were a mix of the wind and my own joy. The raw power and incredible handling of this essentially brand-new MGB were overwhelming. And even in its incomplete state, the build quality was outstanding, and I could tell this was something special. Dyno tuning (260 horsepower/270 lb-ft) and autocross testing took place as the build progressed until, finally, it was ready for an all-important photo shoot so we could get a website up and running. Snake River Classics was now live.

Snake River MG MGB Restomod owner portrait vertical
Stefan Lombard

In the meantime, we started transforming a second car, this time a B GT, to test the reproduction process. Our first outing of the prototype and the 385-hp GT (in process) was for the Idaho British Car Club in 2021. I felt incredible pride showing off what we had developed. The Portland All British Field Meet, one of the larger British car shows in the U.S., followed, where we received so much positive response.

Driving the Snake River MGB is a blast, with confident handling and exhilarating acceleration MG never dreamed of. The sensation of disbelief takes me back to my first drive in the white ’66 so many years ago. It would seem my love affair with the MGB has come full circle. And even though I am not physically doing the work anymore, I take great pride in helping other enthusiasts enjoy the rush of a modern, dependable classic sports car. To those who look down on the MGB, we will see you in our rearview mirror!

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    I realize that the old stuff is a bit temperamental compared to modern cars, but that is part of the experience. If (due to what I perceive as a bit of laziness) we keep doing this to all of the classic cars, there won’t be many true classics left in a few years. If you want to drive something that is modern, fuel injected, and cool looking, then for the sweet love of god, quit buying bubbly looking SUVs and maybe car manufacturers will actually start making cool looking cars again

    I agree. My 1979 MGB LE, that I bought new in 1979, is fine just the way it is. If I want to drive something with A\C I’ll take the 1997 Miata out. Too many restomods and not enough original old cars.

    “Why not do a thoroughly modern version of the MGB?” ?
    Mazda did.

    Seriously, though; your attention and determination in these projects is inspiring.
    Enjoy it for a long time.

    Carroll Shelby put a V8 in a Sunbeam Alpine and they renamed it a Tiger. No one seems to have a probelem with that. Perhaps because it became a production car with a new label is the likely reason.

    I have no issue with resto-mods, they will always be resto-mods of course, where-as a classic B will always be a B and an A an A and so on. Resto-mods aren’t really “classic cars”, though.

    As a former MG owner and amateur restorer, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I really liked the significant mechanical improvements while keeping the classic look of the original “B.”

    I got an brand new 1970 MGB for my 16th birthday! Wow I grew up in small town in west Texas named Levelland. There is even an utube and song named Levelland by Mike McMurtry, I kept the car for about 4 years and traded in on a Mazda PU with a Winkle engine.

    I think that is awesome 👏 😎
    I have a 1980 MGB and it has the rubber bumpers and sits too high. Your grille looks like a 1968 model. You have to add the old leather and old carpet smell to make it official 😁. We’ll done! How can I get one?

    I have a 71 B that nearly killed me with no-start issues (they’re small enough to push them by yourself and jump in, but that gets old, fast). After my mechanic spent a day and a half under the dashboard eliminating 50 years of splices and crusty old, electrical tape, it has been a gem. The past 4 years have been exquisite; recently joining the Keystone British Car Club in Lehigh Valley, PA.

    I have recently purchased a used Nissan Leaf EV, in which driving is effortless and intuitive and like riding a magic carpet. It bookends the B which grounds me in car history and tradition.

    Our little threesome is moving forward while respecting and enjoying the past. The biggest decision of the day is which car will present the most enjoyable ride on any given day.

    The one-footed E-pedal mode with regenerative braking is eerily similar to downshifting and letting the engine momentum slow the vehicle. In neither
    car do I ever seriously operate the brakes.

    Old and new, there are still length of reasons to keep on driving.

    Good work, very innovative, I admire the engineering effort and what a tasteful result. Concerns about the loss of authentic classics, which I completely understand and are undoubtedly coming from a place of genuine care and concern over the hobby, I would argue would be better aimed at the masses that let their cars rot away and die by the thousands, decades ago. Cars, still on the road, restored with the care and attention you put forth, should be celebrated, especially when they retain much of the spirit of the original design. Well done!

    In 1996, after returning from 2 years in Africa, our house was still leased out for 4 months so we loaded up our restored ’72 MGB with camping gear (had to leave out the spare tire so we could get the tent in) and headed south from Bellingham, Washington. Visited friends, relatives and National Parks on the way to Southern California where we turned left, destination Florida. On Big Pine Key we came out of a grocery store and a young man was standing there admiring our “B” and smiled approvingly when these two old fogies got in it, but when he saw the license plate his smile turned to shock. “You didn’t DRIVE it all the way from there, did you??” I said “Yes”. “No problems?” “Hey, it’s British. We had lots of problems.”

    At Key West we did a 180 and headed north, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and visiting Washington DC New York and northern in Maine turned left again. By the time we got home we had all the bugs worked out of it (and washed off of it) and she was now a real delight to drive. We have a Porsche 911 now but in some respects we wish we still had the “B”, but we’ve got great memories of our time together.

    I like what you did! I have loved MGs since I was about 5 years old. My Dad bought a 57 MGA from a doctor where we lived back in 63. We tripped to St. Louis in it to see the Cleveland Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals football game in what was then the new Bush stadium. It was December and COLD! No heater and the ragtop was holey, but we had a ball, 250 miles each way! Dad had a B and a midget back in the 70s and I got to drive the B a good bit as a teen. Bought my first wife an 80 model B back in the mid 90s and she loved it. I do love the originals, but they wouldn’t get out of their own way. LOL What you did is make the B what many dream it to be. Hats off to ya!!!

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