By on November 15, 2011

As the former owner of a daily-driver MGB (plus some other British Leyland steel that still causes me Prince of Darkness PTSD), junked MGBs always catch my eye. The strange thing is that you still see plenty of Bs on their final stop before The Crusher, more than 30 years after the last one clattered off the assembly line. Here’s one that I found in Denver, parked a few rows over from the ’71 Fiat 850.
This black-bumper Malaise MGB might be the most depressing car of the entire decade of the 1970s, and that’s including the Vega. While most car companies selling in the United States had a struggle to meet new emissions standards, headlight-height rules, and 5 MPH bumper requirements, British Leyland simply fished a few shillings out of the couch cushions and made their modifications on the super-duper-cheap. They turned an iconic sports car into a 62.5-horsepower turd (the need to claim the half-horse speaks volumes), with pickup-truck-grade ride height and build quality that probably shamed even the drunkest, hammer-wielding British Leyland line workers.
Not that the MGB in its prime was particularly quick or well-built, but the pushrod BMC B engine was pretty tough and a few easy suspension upgrades would make the B handle as well as its Italian competition. They’re lovable cars.
But nobody bothers with the black-bumper cars these days, except as a source of parts for the earlier models. I’m sure the back yards and driveways of the country still have tens of thousands of never-finished MGB projects, nearly all of which will be heading to The Crusher at some point.

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34 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1975 MGB...”


  • avatar
    tonyola

    British Leyland at its most inept, especially considering that you could buy a Datsun 280Z for about the same price as the MGB. The more I read about BL’s history since the 1960s, the more I’m convinced that it was all a diabolically clever long-term plan to destroy the British car industry.

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      Back in the day, the MGB didn’t seem unreliable or high maintenance… perhaps because LOTS of cars back in the 60’s were high maintenance (you had to adjust the valves and change the oil on a VW Bug– the paragon of reliability– every 3,000 miles).

      The “best” MGB’s are the ones converted to chrome bumpers and with Miata motor and tranny in the front… cool styling with modern power!

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        Oh yes they were unreliable. I know – I was there in the ’70s and I watched my older brother struggle with his Austin-Healey 3000 and the constant little issues that kept cropping up. I also knew people who owned MGs and Triumphs. British sports cars of any sort were dicey propositions, especially as they got older. When do you think the “Lucas – Prince of Darkness” and “The English drink warm beer because they have Lucas refrigerators” jokes got started? It was partly due to good reliability that the Datsun Z was successful in the US to the point of driving the British into the sea. It’s true that all cars required more maintenance back then, but it was still a British or Italian car that would likely and unexpectedly leave you stranded as opposed to a Japanese or American car.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    The only reason someone would have bought such crap when it was new is out of a sense of committed pro-European weaniism. Italian and British roadsters of the era are fantastically awful cars. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, the British and Italian carmakers had a powerful libido for making truly horrible cars. What is shocking about the pictures is I see no visible gangrenous rust. Apparently this car must have been on blocks inside a storage unit somewhere for the last 30 years, until someone finally got sick of it taking up space and threw it away.

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      And American cars that needed 5 or 6 litres to make 140 hp, needed a tug boat to drag them around corners and rusted out where they stood were such fantastic examples of engineering and design, were they?

      Why don’t we all accept that there was a time when a lot of crap cars were built all around and get off the jingoistic “my country is better than your country” macho bullshit.

    • 0 avatar
      and003

      On the other hand, there are some people who would buy something like this and replace the original equipment with more reliable equipment … like new wiring, suspension, and an engine that can be fixed anywhere.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    In the early 90’s I too owned a daily driver MGB. Mine was a ’74, which was the last year of the chrome bumpers and the dual carbs, which makes this ’75 a bit of a mystery to me. The “quirks” of the B of that era were numerous;

    – The triple windshield wipers
    – The stereo that shorted out whenever it rained
    – The defogger than only worked on the passenger side
    – Lever shocks (one of my links was broken so I went without
    – The fuse box I would have to remove every couple weeks to clean off the corrosion.
    – The air pump (my car lacked a diverter valve, so the P.O. removed the belt, which caused the car to fail emissions. I reconnected the belt and passed emissions, but the side effect was massive, loud backfires through the exhaust on throttle close that sounded like a pistol being fired. Great fun for a guy in his early 20’s.)

    Fun to drive but I’m glad I traded it for a ’68 Chevelle that is too long gone.

  • avatar
    millmech

    It’s pretty obvious that that’s an earlier engine- remains of 2 SU carbs, metal fan, insert oil filter, red-painted engine.
    Dash is 77-80, even more craptastic than the earlier plastic dash, but with a glove box.
    Also noted- that small silver can-shaped thing on the top of the firewall, the “fuel safety shut-off”, the main thing they did was to leak fuel onto the exhaust/converter & burn the car to the ground.
    I could go on all day.
    There are kits to turn these into chrome-bumper cars; good shells are difficult to find back east, this could be a donor.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      That is why I was wondering if this is some sort of mid-year car. It has dual carbs like my ’74 did, along with the air injection emissions crap… Of course the simpler answer is that someone swapped in an earlier engine, but…

      • 0 avatar
        millmech

        Late 1974 cars had the rubber bumpers, but had 2 SU carbs & the usual earlier smog stuff. There were even a few MGB GTs in USA with the rubber bumpers & SU carbs.
        I’m sticking with this is 77-80 car; judging by the dashboard.
        77-80 cars didn’t have a fan on the water pump; they had 2 electric fans in front of the radiator. The original fan motors didn’t have bushings for the armature & didn’t last very long.
        Electric fan motors were polarity sensitive; lots of people wired them up wrong & they ran backward.
        Some 1976 cars had the system to keep the car from starting without the seatbelts fastened. Lots of “imported car technicians” would pull the wires from under the seats & twist them together; this would mean that the solenoid for the system would stay on & drain the battery over the period of a few days.
        Interesting thing about the seatbelt interlock system- pull over &; stop (it happens), turn on the 4-way flashers & get out of the seat & flashers shut off. The system shut off EVERYTHING.
        I wouldn’t mind a movie of the rubber-bumper Midgets being crushed- LOTS OF THEM!!

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        http://jimaltemus.smugmug.com/Cars/To-all-the-cars-Ive-owned/car5/2853347_3xppa-O.jpg

        The only picture I have scanned of my ’74. Note the big rubber bumperettes.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    What an unbelievably horrible car. My friend thought it would be fun to get a mustard yellow one and it was – when it ran. It was always having some kind of problem and the car taught us a great deal about auto mechanics because we had to fix something every time we wanted to go somewhere in it. We literally put a tool box and duct tape into the trunk so we can return home from any run.

    The car is lovable and has so much personality. It was so cute you didn’t want to hate it, but the car was a complete catastrophe.

    And yes, it was worse than a Vega.

    The Vega was not what it appeared, a mini Camaro economy car – it was a very bad car. But it was slightly more dependable than the MGB.

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      It was always having some kind of problem and the car taught us a great deal about auto mechanics because we had to fix something every time we wanted to go somewhere in it. We literally put a tool box and duct tape into the trunk so we can return home from any run.

      ‘Dude, you hit upon the joy of running an old car! Some of us love the challenge of fixing it on the fly and the feeling of self-reliance it engenders. (But best to have a backup Japanese appliance when you absolutely, positively have to be somewhere on time!)

  • avatar
    obbop

    It has such sensuous curvilinear styling, though.

    But it ain’t no Dart or Duster or Little Deuce coupe.

  • avatar
    chris724

    My buddy had a reddish-orange ’74. He had to add a quart of oil at every fill up. It came out to like 40:1 gas:oil ratio, and the smokey exhaust looked like it was a 2-stroke. I remember following him to drop the car off for winter storage one year. It was freezing out, and he had to wear a snowmobile suit to keep warm on the highway road trip. The heater did almost nothing.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Pretty dreadful when new, but properly restored and sympthetically modernized, a delightful car now. At least if you are somewhere that it does not need to be smogged so you can ditch all that garbage.

    Shame to see what looks like a rust-free shell go to waste, as someone else pointed out, we rust-belters would pay good money for that.

    • 0 avatar

      British Motor Heritage Ltd. sells complete body shells. No need to salvage one.

      http://www.bmh-ltd.com/mgbshell.htm

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      ” we rust-belters would pay good money for that.”

      No you wouldn’t ~ I tried very hard to GIVE AWAY several MGB GT wire wheel shells , ALL were *perfect* rust free California cars with current tags & titles , no one wanted them so after several _YEARS_ of trying , off to the crusher they went .

      I still have a fender and some other small parts I refuse to throw away .

      I was born & bred in New England , car rust central so I hate to see good projects get crushed .

      -Nate

  • avatar
    manbridge

    It is amazing what turns up in Denver yards.

    Maybe one day Murilee will stumble upon the holy grail…

    Any 911 or other exotica. Biturbo excepted.

    I worked at a shop and these cars were our bread and butter. Especially when it came to emission tests. We used to call it British car weather when the snow would melt and all British convertibles came in for attention.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    All this talk of body shells reminds of how BL before it hit the long trail to its final dirt nap, was selling new MGB BIW shells thru subsidiary BL Heritage.

    I was going to mention this when the 64.5 Mustang shell came up a few weeks ago but skipped it then.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The new shells are produced by British Motor Heritage. This started LONG after BL itself went under, though BMH was originally setup as a historic parts organization in 1975. It was sold off as a seperate company by BMW in the early 2000’s, BMW having aquired it when they bought Rover. They are still available, and the range has expanded to include original Mini and Midget/Sprite shells as well. Not cheap though.

  • avatar
    Scottdb

    I love it! A warning light to tell you the ignition system has failed. Again.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Actually, what the British call the “ignition” lamp is a generator/alternator warning lamp. It lights up when you turn the ignition switch on but have not yet started the engine, hence the name.

  • avatar

    This black-bumper Malaise MGB might be the most depressing car of the entire decade of the 1970s, and that’s including the Vega.

    This Dodge Aspen Super Coupe is pretty bad too, though actually it was faster than a Z28, Trans Am or L-82 Vette.

    http://www.carsindepth.com/?p=5463

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Or the Volare Road Runner. Late 70’s malaise era pre-bailout Mopar. Their only ponycars Cuda and Challanger gone so they resort to this.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      I owned a predecessor to this car – a 1975 Duster 360. With 230 hp and a Torqueflite, my car was faster than most other machines. In the late ’70s I polished off more than a few Z28s, Trans Ams, and Datsun Zs.

  • avatar
    PenguinBoy

    Full disclosure: I am a long time owner of a chrome bumpers ‘B and I agree with @krhodes1 earlier comment:
    “I don’t doubt for a moment that most if not all surviving cars of the BL era are FAR more reliable now than they were when new. Most of them have been restored at least once, and usually put back together with FAR more care than they were built originally. And often with better quality parts.” (http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/just-another-day-in-the-life-of-an-mgb-owner/#comment-1805618)

    While I agree that these cars had their faults, I don’t believe they are as bad as many make them out to be. They certainly had some of the basics right: RWD, nice direct steering, good weight distribution, and a solid body structure. For such an “awful” car, it’s amazing how many you see surviving 40 years on.

    While some of the problems with later cars were due to declining build quality at BL, I suspect a lot of the problems were due to the primitive emissions control systems and raised ride height that were hastily introduced in response to the rapidly changing regulations of the day.

    Even the Japanese didn’t really make reliable cars until the mid eighties, when they eliminated carburetors and distributors, and figured out how to implement emissions controls without miles of vacuum hose. There’s a reason Murilee calls the ’70s the “malaise era”.

    I suspect many of these were bought cheap and run hard with minimal maintenance. After going through this cycle with a few owners they would be pretty miserable to live with. Since they were cheap, throwaway used cars, nobody would want to spend the time and money to properly sort one out.

  • avatar
    PJ McCombs

    I desperately wanted one of these–or a Triumph Spitfire, until a friend’s dad recalled a wheel falling off of his–in my late teens. It was probably for the best that I ended up in a used gen-1 Miata instead.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    From ’74 on, Fiat’s X1/9 showed these MGs and Triumphs for the antiquated designs they were, though the chrome-bumper models were great cars.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Can you provide a good link to this ? :

    (http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/just-another-day-in-the-life-of-an-mgb-owner/#comment-1805618)

    I’m an LBC Owner / lover / Mechanic .

    MGB’s were very good cars in their day , sadly _zero_ quality control was practiced by BMC back then , as mentioned once the car has been carefully sorted out they’re wonderful to drive and have good heaters , wipers and so on .

    -Nate


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