After introducing the outdated TF model for 1954, MG got with the times in 1955 with the much more modern MGA. Triumph’s TR2 and Austin-Healey’s 100 had set the pace with full-width bodies and 100-mph top speeds a few years before, so the MGA allowed the company to catch up to the front rank of British sports cars.
Even so, the MGA was a traditional design with a separate chassis, side screens and no door handles. The all-important American market preferred more user-friendliness, so the next MG sports car featured both unibody construction and additional creature comforts.
The result was the EX 205 prototype of 1958, which looked like the upcoming MGB but with an MGA grille. A later version was recognizably an MGB, albeit with an unsuccessful coil spring rear axle. By 1961, eight pre-production MGBs had been built with rear leaf springs, and the formula would go on to be the most popular British sports car of its generation.
The MGB was launched at the Earls Court Motor Show in November 1962, as MGA sales dwindled. The MGB engine had grown from the MGA’s 1,622 cc to 1,798 cc, partly to make up for the extra 500 pounds of weight, and power rose from 86 bhp to 95. The new roadster was reasonably weather-proof, and offered 22-28 mpg as well as a 103 mph top speed. The heater and oil cooler were initially optional to keep the price down. Seat belts were optional from the start. MGB sales started slowly in 1962, would exceed 20,000 units most years all the way up until the final Limited Editions in 1980.
The first series of MGBs were produced from 1962-67. The 1963 MGB gained an optional overdrive and five main bearings for the engine in 1964, at which point the U.S. oil cooler was standardized elsewhere. The fuel tank capacity was increased from 10 gallons to 12 gallons in March 1965, and the original pull-type door handles were replaced with push-button style. Today, the cars will the pull-type handles are generally more collectible. The optional front roll bar was standardized in 1966.
A handsome factory hardtop (and some clunky aftermarket tops) was available from 1964 through 1980, and Pininfarina designed the MGB GT hatchback in 1965, aimed at the American market. The MGB GT also received a sturdier Salisbury rear axle which was fitted to all MGBs from 1967, when a 4-speed synchromesh box finally replaced the MGA’s “crash” first gear.
The MGB would be sold in more than two dozen colors over its production run, but the early palette was quite conservative. Even so, shades like Iris Blue, Chelsea Grey, Old English White and Pale Primrose look elegant on an early B. Most early interiors featured black seating with red or white piping, but there were other exterior/top/interior combinations.
Early MGBs could have one of two convertible tops. The most common was the so-called packaway, which could be dismantled and put in the trunk, enabling enough room for a child behind the front seats. Some cars had an attached folding convertible top which would be gradually standardized in the Mk II model in 1970. A top boot was included, and matching tonneau cover was optional. Black or white fiberglass factory hardtops were optional. All convertible tops were black from 1966 on.
The MGB featured Lockheed front disc brakes from the outset and rear drums. The front suspension subframe was separate with rack-and-pinion steering, and insulated with rubber blocks. Armstrong lever shock absorbers were fitted at both ends with the front shocks doubling as the top A-frame in the coil and wishbone suspension. Splined knock-off wire wheels were optional, initially with eared caps.
Early MGBs with pull-out door handles are in the highest demand among collectors. The three-main bearing engine is said to rev more freely, but is easier to abuse. It is a good idea to check that the “crash” first gear isn’t noisy and check engine numbers if a post 1967 synchromesh box has been fitted. Rust is structural, so always examine a prospective purchase on a lift as well as check floors and jacking points.