By on November 2, 2011

While scanning endless negatives and slides for the 1965 Impala Hell Project, I’ve run across a few images of other heaps from my past. I’m kicking myself now for letting dozens of now-interesting hoopties pass through my hands without getting any photographic record, but that’s how the pre-digital-photography era worked. My British Racing Green, chrome-bumper MGB-GT, however, served three years as my daily driver, and so it did get caught by a few photographs. Here’s a shot showing one of the many, many repairs this fine British Leyland product needed while serving as my primary means of transportation.
During a drive from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area, the MG’s rear end started to make ominous whining noises. As all British car owners do, I pretended it wasn’t happening at first, but by about Kettleman City I couldn’t turn the radio up loud enough to drown out the increasingly loud howl. Maybe it’s just a cheap wheel bearing and not the diff, I thought, but no. Fortunately, I was able to limp the thing all the way to British Only Auto Wrecking in Oakland (where they had rear ends stacked ten deep, thanks to a vast oversupply of abandoned MGBs in the late 1980s) and then patched the car up until its next major failure (which almost certainly involved the electrical system). Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed the Austin-Healey 3000 in the background; this car belonged to my Jaguar-mechanic uncle, Dirty Duck, who was the person responsible for convincing me that British cars are superior machines.

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37 Comments on “Just Another Day In the Life of an MGB Owner...”


  • avatar
    tonyola

    Something’s just not right with that picture…

    Oh, I know what it is. The hood is shut and there are no rivulets of fluids from under the front end. Do I spy a big Austin-Healey lurking in the background?

  • avatar
    thebanana

    I had a ’69 MGB-GT identical to this one. When they ran, they were a treat to drive, but talk about needing constant repairs and TLC. That car kept me broke, and I can guarantee they weren’t made for Canadian prairie winters. And who thought that putting 2 6 volt batteries under the rear seat was a good idea?

  • avatar
    drylbrg

    I noticed a bicycle in the foreground. That was very pragmatic.

  • avatar

    I grew up with an MGB:

    “For some people, climbing into a car, starting it on the first try and driving off with reasonable confidence in actually arriving somewhere is as sacrilegious as getting communion wafers out of a vending machine.”

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/03/non-zen-and-the-art-of-mgb-maintenance/

  • avatar
    redliner

    “…British cars are superior machines.”

    As an ex Jaguar XJR owner, I can tell you that that car was the least reliable car I ever had, but man, when it was working (about 60% of the time), it was magic.

  • avatar
    cfclark

    I almost convinced my dad to buy one of these (ostensibly in good shape) as a sort of father-son project. Fortunately (probably), he came to his senses and passed, or we’d probably both have been exiled permanently to the garage by my mother.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    My Spitfire, also a British Leyland product but Triumphs were always a cut above MGs, never fails to start, and I have not had a single electrical issue with it in the nearly 17 years I have owned it. The only time it has broken down was due to the previous owner using the wrong bolts to hold the flywheel on – snapped the crank when they worked loose. I give it an afternoon or so of maintenance a year, and it gives me many smiles. I’ve put ~25K on it in 17 years.

    Having said that, Mr. Lucas will probably burn my garage to the ground tonight. :-)

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Why did the previous owner have occasion to use the wrong bolts to hold the flywheel on? There are plenty of cars that do 200K miles without having their flywheel bolts even gazed at by anyone.

      • 0 avatar
        srogers

        So is that how you’re defining the standard of reliability then?
        Any 70′s vehicle that as much as had its flywheel “gazed at” in 200,000 miles doesn’t cut it. Please bestow more of your awesome wisdom on us.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The previous owner installed a gearbox with a Laycock electric overdrive. This required a different flywheel to the one that the engine originally had. Unfortunately, he used the wrong flywheel with the orginal bolts, which were slightly too small in diameter. Eventually they worked loose, and the resulting torsional vibration of the flywheel shifting back and forth broke the crank. When I had the motor rebuilt, I found the right flywheel, but I could also have used custom bolts.

      In case anyone is contemplating mating a ’77 O/D transmission to a ’69 1296cc motor, the only RIGHT flywheel is from a ’74 1500cc motor. Has the right bolt holes and the correct clutch diameter.

      Just because, I took the little guy to the bank and the Post Office just now. :-)

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Gotcha. Your original post just sounded too much like some of the comments I’ve heard from apologists of terrible brands. I’ve owned a couple cars from companies that shouldn’t have built cars. I recognize it. There are people though who will regularly sing the praises of ‘properly set up’ SU carburetors. It is a phrase infrequently used in discussions about Holley carbs, Dellorto carbs, Carter carbs, Keihin carbs, Fish carbs…Even Weber carburetors that have been installed by people who couldn’t ‘properly set up’ stock SU carburetors are often easier to tune than the awsome Skinner’s Union devices. Also, I’m old enough to remember what life was like for people who bought inexpensive British sports cars for transportation. Things like pot-metal trunk hinges that sheared off when a car drove by while the trunk was open to access tools to try to spur the fuel pump back into action. Or electrical fires. Or hydraulic clutches that took days to trouble shoot. Electric overdrives that the dealer couldn’t make work. Lever shocks that didn’t damp anything, leading to sitting at stop lights bouncing on a pivot at the back wheels, which might as well have been bolted directly to the frames of Sprites and Midgets. New cars delivered with exhaust valves installed in the intake ports, which actually works for about 40,000 miles. That’s when the BL warranty adviser said, hey! It worked for 40,000 miles!

        It is a shame that so few peope ever figured out how to combine the attractiveness of small European sports cars with the reliability needed to get to work every day, but it still doesn’t make carefully sorted survivors representative of the joys of fixing a car in a dark and rainy parking lot to get home for dinner.

      • 0 avatar
        cfclark

        “It is a shame that so few people ever figured out how to combine the attractiveness of small European sports cars with the reliability needed to get to work every day…”

        Of course, as we all know, those people worked for Mazda, and they created the Miata. ;)

        (Although I too once wanted a Spitfire)

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        Yep, the Miata was a godsend for anyone who wanted to enjoy a car like this. I’ve been driving a ’94 British Racing Green Miata this year and lovin’ it. Seventeen years old and everything on it still works like new.

        They really did anihilate whatever little remained of the British sports car industry by 1989.

  • avatar
    MarkP

    My college roommate drove an MGB-GT. He misses it to this day. Once recently while on a drive I saw an Atlanta British sports car club group parked at a gas station. I stopped too, and was amazed that my family or friends had owned virtually every one of the cars represented. TR-3, TR-6, Bugeye, Morris Minor in my family alone, plus MG-A, MG-B, AH 3000, XK-150 owned by friends. Those were the days. That TR-3 was a saga in itself. It involved a new windshield after being rolled on a rainy Tennessee road, and a body transplant after a Corvette rear-ended it in downtown Atlanta rush-hour traffic. Oh, as I now remember, that incident also involved a frame transplant. Hmm. I wonder what car I actually ended up with. An engine fire finally killed it for good. I miss every one of them. Except the Morris.

    I just noticed the comment above about a Spitfire. I drove one as a potential purchase but passed. I always wanted to drive a GT-6. I liked that car.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      To this day, I miss my GT6+. Once I got it running right it was a blast to drive. It was torquey as hell. At 70mph in fourth gear, step on the gas and it would pull like a big American sedan with a V8. It was a poor man’s E-Type.

      Oh, and for the record, in the relatively short time I owned it (about a year), it never stranded me.

  • avatar
    SimonAlberta

    I’ve owned dozens of supposedly unreliable vehicles (e.g. Rovers, Austins, Vauxhalls, Fords, Dodges) and hardly had any trouble with any of them and I’ve often wondered what other people do that they have so much trouble.

    Then I look around and see how people drive and my question is answered.

    Treat a vehicle properly and you’ll have a lot less headaches.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      There are plenty of cars that don’t require expert care to function. Either your standards are so low they’re subterranean, you’ve never kept a car more than two years, or you’ve been lucky. Rover built some cars that weren’t terrible, but they were either pre-P6 or rebadged versions of something else. Just as Honda was proving in Ohio that a properly engineered car could be screwed together by new autoworkers in a country with a terrible reputation for quality, Rover was proving that some people couldn’t put Hondas together after all. Look at the different quality scores of the Acura Legend and Sterling 825. They bracketed the consumer surveys of the late ’80s even though they were supposedly the same cars under the skin. It is hard to blame the owners when one car was flawless and the other was a rolling untraceable electical short.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        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.

        And at this point the weak points are well known, so they are worked around. My Triumph has the electric fan cooling system from an ’80 Spitfire, so it never overheats, and the thrust washers have been pinned to the block, so they will never fall out. Perfect originality is for those who want to polish thier cars, not drive them.

      • 0 avatar
        athoswhite

        I bought an MGB new in 1977 that was, bar none, the absolute worst car I have ever or ever hope to own. Pick a system or part, and I can tell you a horror story. But the 1967 MGB I own today is, without a doubt, one of the best set up, most reliable, fun to drive cars on the planet. Now that’s a new wiring loom, rebuilt engine, upgraded suspension, 5-speed transmission, etc etc etc later, but it points to the inherent “rightness” of the basic formula. I have a Morgan of similar vintage that, while dead stock orginal, is just as fun to drive and reliable as my extremely retrofitted MG. Which in itself points to the value of craftsmanship.

      • 0 avatar
        Hognose

        I never understood the Sterling. Let me get this straight: you want the design aesthetic and interior touch of a Japanese everysedan, assembled by the sweepings of British industrial unionism, i.e., lager louts and football hooligans? Why not have the Brits sketch the thing, and leave the Japs to build it? Horses for courses, as Lady Thatcher was fond of saying… imagine any of these great British sports cars, imagine the style of the E-Jag or Big Healey, with production engineering from the world’s best students of Deming. Now that would be a car.

      • 0 avatar
        SimonAlberta

        CJ – Your comments are arrogant and condescending and you appear to be a colossal asshat.

        I maintain my vehicles as per manufacturers recommendations.

        I drive them sympathetically – no, not SLOW. But I don’t drive hard until the engine and fluids are warmed up, I don’t drop the clutch with a bang, I don’t use 100% throttle very often, I don’t slam into kerbs, etc. etc. In other words, I know how to drive to avoid a lot of grief.

        I am not saying I NEVER had any failures but I can only remember being stranded once – that was in an Opel Kadett which, on that particular occasion I had been thrashing the guts out of because it was a company car, and the points broke. A simple, $10 part but I was dead in the water at midnight on the side of the road.

        Other problems I had were just routine things like a seized brake caliper or worn clutch bearing and the like. I did suffer a burnt valve once in a Wolseley 18/85 which has basically the MGB engine in it but with single carb (the 18/85S had the twin SUs) but that vehicle was an old “shed” when I bought it and had clearly never been maintained. Aside from the valve issue though, in spite of it’s shed-dom, and the fact I drove it hard for 4 years (that was when I was young and hadn’t learned mechanical sympathy), it never had any other issues, even the SU carb never gave a seconds trouble and the whole thing was basically un-killable.

        So, CJ, I am not saying your opinions are invalid or your conclusions incorrect – all I AM saying is that I have owned and operated dozens of British made vehicles and RARELY had problems. That is a FACT.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      It’s how a vehicle behaves when treated improperly that shows its true quality. We all know about American cars and their problems, but most Detroit iron will run for a long time in the face of abuse and neglect even as the car slowly disintegrates around its owner. American cars will probably get you from point A to point B no matter what. They might fall to pieces, but they’re not as likely as many European cars to unpredictably leave you stranded. Most Americans regard their cars as appliances and expect them to keep going like appliances with a minimum of fuss and bother – they will lose patience with vehicles that become troublesome. The Japanese learned this lesson after plenty of early mistakes in the American market – tons of old Toyotas, Nissans, and Hondas have been driven hundreds of thousands of miles with their hoods having scarcely been opened. Volkswagen has suffered terribly in the US until very recently because of reliability issues, and it’s still not clear whether the brand has gotten past the difficulties.

      As for having hardly any problems with Austins and Rovers, I’m tempted to call BS on that or you’ve been extremely lucky. BL’s problems with both the company and the cars have been too well documented in too many places.

      • 0 avatar
        nikita

        VW succeeded early in the US market (1950′s and 1960′s) against all other European competition was not so much the cars were that inherently trouble-free. They were not. But a combination of German initial build quality and, most important, a superior dealer service and parts network sealed the deal. I worked on VW’s, Fiats, a few British cars, even a handful of French cars and a Datsun or two. Others may have been nicer to drive, but I always owned VW’s because they usually got me there, and if not, parts were always available in almost every town in California back then.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    An old friend bought a 1974 MGB brand new. He owned it until the late 80′s when, for some reason, the dashboard spontaneously combusted. Car was soon gone. What a shame, as it was a lot of fun before that unfortunate incident.

    I’ve always heard that ATF worked well in the SU carbs. Or was it brake fluid? It’s been many years, so I forget.

  • avatar
    mjal

    “Triumphs were always a cut above MGs”? Huh? That’s a matter of opinion. I owned both and from my experience the “B” was less complex with a much tighter body structure. The Spitfire was about as tinny as it gets. The Triumphs of that era arguably may have looked sharper than the MGs, but no way were they more reliable, which isn’t saying much.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      That was meant mostly tongue-in-cheek. All part of the long-standing rivalry that leads to “I’d rather push an MG/Triumph than drive a Triumph/MG” T-shirts.

      Though Triumph WAS the slightly more prestigeous brand in the BL hierarchy. MGs had a tighter body structure because they were monocoque construction, but the Triumphs had more power, more sophisticated suspensions, and interior niceties such as wood dashes. And they cost more. But if the right MGB GT came along, I’d make room in my garage for it. Nice Spring and Fall sports car.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Back in the day I had a canary yellow Midge with a luggage rack in the back, a tonneau cover (very nice), and a top with about 100 snaps that never snapped. It was the most fun car I’ve ever owned. It was also the biggest POS I ever owned. The thing would overheat in the FLA weather, so I kept a milk jug of water in the boot–about the only thing it would hold. The radio had the worst sound of any piece of electronics you could imagine, but who listens to AM, anyway?

    To turn on the heat you had to open the hood and throw a switch, as I recall. First gear was not synchronized, but the thing usually propelled from a slow start in second.

    The factory was always on strike so it was difficult to find parts quickly. I sold it for a Fiat 124 Spyder, which was a big step up in overall quality, if you can imagine that.

    My friend had an A. It ran on 3 cylinders, and you could crank the engine manually when the electrics didn’t work–which was most of the time.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      “The radio had the worst sound of any piece of electronics you could imagine”
      For the US market the radios were from an American supplier (Bendix) and dealer installed.

      “who listens to AM, anyway?”
      About 17% of radio listeners according to recent estimates. As late as the early ’70s it was over 50%.

      “To turn on the heat you had to open the hood and throw a switch”
      Actually it was a manually operated water valve on top of the cylinder head; the TR3 had a similar arrangement. It was likely more reliable than the cable operated valve on my TR4 which has failed twice in the past 19 years.

  • avatar
    TAP

    Back when, my old buddy swapped me his ’67B for my ’63 P1800, just for a few days.
    Even with worn shocks, slipping clutch and bits of old newspaper flying from the patched rockers, the MG was hands down more fun than my volvo.
    Worse, my car had Lucas wires and failed me more than once.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I’ve always liked the general looks of the B and it’s GT variant and at one time wanted one, but now, not so much as my needs and tastes have changed.

    My Dad briefly had I think either a ’68 or ’69 MGB-GT in blue. There is a photograph of him standing near the car, i think after having just gotten home from playing golf. I don’t recall him having to tinker with it much though but I was only 5 at the time so only recall it some.

    He sold it when he ended up working for the state and had to drive across the mountains to Eastern Washington, Yakima primarily and thus the MG just wasn’t practical for that kind of travel so bought, I think a ’66 Belevedere from the Gov’t fleet auction and ironically, it collapsed a piston not too long after getting it and this was around 1970-71 time frame.

    Good family friend’s second oldest son had, in primarily the 80′s, an orange ’74 MGB that he drove for several years and I don’t recall it being down much for some reason, but the biggest issue was the cassette deck was stolen, not once, but at least twice and the final replacement was installed so it’d be more difficult to get out and had grounding problems with it that was a challenge to eliminate but he got it fixed. I think he finally sold it in the very early 90′s and have written in it on several occasions when his younger brother David, my best friend borrowed the car from time to time.

    I’ve also know of some other friends, one whom was a good classmate of my youngest sister who drove at least one British sports car, a Spitfire and my Dad had an old AF friend who had a Triumph TR6? Anyway, it was from roughly 1976, the Spitfire was I think a bit older.

  • avatar
    michaelfrankie

    I can finally sound like a old man and comment on a car I once owned. A 1970 MGB convertible (Tartan Red). I owe much to what I know about cars and high school girls to that car. My first master brake cylinder, first clutch, first oil pump, first flat tire, first brake job and first blow…… I learned a lot from that car.

    • 0 avatar
      hurricanehole

      As a counterpoint to all the unreliable stories I drove my AH Bugeye all over West Texas, Big Bend and NM visiting out of the way mines and mountain ranges without breaking down. The only real maintenance was grinding the valves every 2000 miles with a suction cup on the end of a stick, 2 hr job.
      Funny, this was in the early 70′s and the Texas police never stopped me with the wild appearance and expired out of state tags while as soon as I got back East a couple of years later I couldn’t drive down the street in daylight without getting pulled over. Some racetrack guys bought it.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    My Mothers favorite car of memory is a 1962 Hillman Minx. Beautiful red leather upholstery and 30+ mpg.The black paint and fully synchroed 4spd. were just what a young mother with 3 kids needed. My Father, being a local dealer, eventually tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop, sold it to a wholesaler from Portland. So, at least one human in North America has nothing but good memories of British cars.

  • avatar
    roverv8i

    The Rover/Sterling 825/827 is not the really the same “under the skin” as a honda. The share the same power train, suspension, associated hard points, firewall an some other frame components. Outside of the power train much of the electrical etc. is not the same as the Honda. If you look at good data sources of reliability this can easily be seen without really knowing all that much about the car. So, issues do not reflect just build quality but also design and cost decisions. There were other Rover cars that were a copy of a Honda. The Civic I believe was one they copied. The joint venture between Honda and Rover was intended to take avantage of such things as the the power train sharing, allowing them to use there limited funds for making the car uniquely British.

    I don’t dispute any comments on the reliability of British cars. However, let us keep in mind that there are may factors that go into production of a product. It all comes down to the business case and from there may decisions are made that influence the final product. In the end the right combination of all these factors produces the great product.

    Many of the issues mentioned by others occurred on American cars but from an earlier time. Remember that many British sports cars design dated to the 50′s and they were only updated throughout their life. Also, in the British domestic market the life cycle of a car would be considered much lower than an American market car. I don’t know what it was but I would guess maybe 80K miles at most. The British isles are not that big and most of these cars were designed pre-freeways. They were not meant to go 150K at a constant 80 miles an hour. Also, there smaller size means smaller parts and less inherent robustness. Yes, these could be made reliable but at what cost. Lets not forget it use to be cheap to manufacture in Japan. Some of the reliability of American cars probably can be attributed to everything being bigger and more robust, thus, harder to break.

    Having rebuilt my ’74 MG Midget from the ground up I two can say it is probably more reliable than when new. This also means that I can comment on issues of reliability since then as I am well aware of what failures were caused by me, the assembler, versus design. I can also make observations on what in my opinion does not work well and why. Often what I have seen I believe can be attributed to cost decisions as much or more than design.

    • 0 avatar
      Retro Fit

      I agree. The MG’s were very robust little cars. Lucas electrical components are very high grade. But the wiring harnesses and the bullet connectors in between were poorly designed and problematic. Also, nearly EVERY component on the 1970′s-80′s MG’s are rebuildable (with every day tools)…And say what you will about Armstrong lever style shocks, you sure don’t see ANY tube style shocks still functional after 40 years. Bottom line…MG’s are extremely reliable when basic maintenance (done properly) is done.

  • avatar
    ceonwulf

    Interesting comments.I served my apprenticeship at British Leyland,Longbridge,Birmingham England in the Disunited Kingdom.I owned a garage from 24 yrs of age until i was 40.I have stripped and rebuilt many cars you mention.
    I also worked on the early Japanese vehicles and my father owned a beautiful Buick Le Sabre in the early 70′s.
    My current vehicles are a Jaguar 2001 XJ8,Merc E320 cdi.The Jag is far superior to the Merc .The new Jags [Ta-Ta]have finished off the tradition.
    One of my favourite cars was a Rover 3.5S [P6].Did you guys ever get the Austin Maxi?

  • avatar
    Retro Fit

    I drive a 1970 MGBGT. I’ve owned the car for 8 years. It is my daily driver. i bought it for $300.00. It had been sitting in a parking lot next to MacArthur Park in Los Angeles for 5 years. It was 34 years old when purchased. I had owned a MGB roadster 20 years earlier and had sworn I’d never…ever…buy another. But, I went against my better judgment and bought it anyways. I’m one of those who fully acknowledges that there is a very fine line between MG ownership and psychosis. And I’m not made of money. But I am a Automotive electrician. And I have the tools, knowledge and ability to make my own franken-car from parts of other cars. Soooo, that’s just what I did. I retro fit a Nissan KA24E engine + Nissan 5 speed transmission into my GT. I’ve upgraded the brakes, suspension, electrical system, drive train components. I engineered a modern car with classic Pininfarina styling that has around 180 bhp, takes corners like it is on rails and is reliable. And….all for under 5k (plus endless hours of my labor). Now, she still needs paint and the interior redone….But hey…shes paid for. Cheers!


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