By on April 3, 2017

1976 MG MGB in California wrecking yard, RH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

During my 35 years of poking around in car graveyards, one thing has remained constant: MGBs keep showing up. Not in large numbers, but the rate at which these lovable-but-not-particularly-valuable British sports cars get discarded has remained about the same during that period. Here’s a purple model, from the darkest days of the British Leyland era, that I shot last week in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard.

1976 MG MGB in California wrecking yard, roll bar - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

A previous owner invested a few bucks into this car, as can be seen from this snazzy, chrome-plated roll bar and the luggage rack on the boot lid.

1976 MG MGB in California wrecking yard, rubber bumper - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

There’s not a speck of rust on it, but California MG fanciers tend to turn up their noses at the “black-bumper” Bs of the Malaise Era. These cars were jacked up an inch or so to meet federal headlight-height standards, and the big, rubber-covered bumpers didn’t look so great. Compared to the nightmarishly ugly 5 mph crash bumpers that went on the Malaise Triumph Spitfire, however, these bumpers were fine.

1976 MG MGB in California wrecking yard, gauges - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Based on my experience daily-driving an MGB, most of these dash controls probably hadn’t worked since about 1981. Well, the speedometer was cable-operated, so the Prince of Darkness couldn’t do much more to it than keep its illumination from working.

1976 MG MGB in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The BMC B engine went into everything from Nash Metropolitans to Massey-Harris combine harvesters during its quarter-century of production. It was a sturdy and reasonably reliable pushrod engine, but the American-market 1.8-liter version in this car made just 62.5 horses in 1976. These MGB were not quick even by the standards of the time, but fun could be had in them.

1976 MG MGB in California wrecking yard, RH rear view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

In this series, we have seen quite a few MGBs, including this ’67, this ’71, this ’75, this ’77, this ’77, this ’77, this ’79, this ’79, and this ’79 with a Toyota 20R swap.

Truly a golden age for British cars!

Well, maybe not.

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31 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1976 MG MGB...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I still see MGBs around – rarely, mind you – and mostly languishing in garages as project cars in various states of disrepair. And usually surrounded by boxes, toys, sports gear, and broken dreams.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      I suspect that late middle aged men with MGBs in their back yards have basically been what’s kept the tarp industry in business for the better part of the last 30 years.

      For every MGB you see on the road, there are 50 hopelessly languishing in someone’s yard awaiting its inevitable trip to the crusher.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        One of my neighbors had a rubber bumpered MGB languishing in his driveway for years. The city came by and ticketed it as being an abandoned car, so he had to get it licensed. It sat there month after month as entropy had its way with it. He and his wife divorced, and it went away, to where I don’t know.

        I’m not sure what the point is of keeping the later ones around. If you want an MGB, there are plenty of nice chrome bumper models to be had for not too much money, and they will both run better and look better.

        I only had a chance to drive a B once, and I can’t say I thought highly of it. The Fiat Spyder was a much nicer driver, and more reliable as well.

        If I were wanting an old British roadster, I’d want one of the big Austin Healys. That’s a whole ‘nother league, money wise though.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          Former FF…cough Morgan cough…

          • 0 avatar
            FormerFF

            Honestly, Morgans don’t enter my consciousness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a four wheeled on on the street. The only ones I can think of is the three wheeler that our town’s mayor occasionally drives, and the one that Toly Arutunoff raced in SCCA H Production.

            Out of all the sports cars from the 70’s and 80’s I had a chance to drive, if I were wanting an old car to drive on the street, it would be a Fiat X-1/9, preferably one of the later ones with the integrated bumpers and a 1.5 liter fuel injected engine. Sure, it was cramped and slow, but the unassisted steering and brakes are telepathic and the mid engined manners are impeccable.

        • 0 avatar
          rocketrodeo

          If you are looking to re-engine the car, the rubber bumper cars easily swallow a Land Rover V8, since they were designed to take one. That’s the best reason.

    • 0 avatar
      CaddyDaddy

      For 20 years a good friend of mine has this exact situation to a T. Along with a Rover V-8, Toyota 5 -Speed, petroninx ignition, long ago hardened buckets of bondo and seats out of a Range Rover, etc etc…. it’s like an old lethargic dog that you just can’t put down. One day you noticed it died and then just decided to just leave it in the corner with all is consequences while friends and family scratch their heads.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I would think the demise of this car can be directly attributed to the availability of used Miata/MX-5 on the market.

    Way cheaper to keep a 20 year old Mazda running vs a late 70’s MGB and both offer roughly the same amount of size and fun per mile.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I would say the Mazda is a much nicer driver. Some might prefer the B, but that would have to be out of nostalgia.

    • 0 avatar
      mountainlion

      3 years ago I bought the best rubber bumper MGB I could find. 99% rust free, 100k miles, two owners, garage-kept, and completely unmolested except for the usual Weber conversion and smog delete. Went to change the motor mounts, and it snowballed into an all-in engine-out restoration.

      Then last year I bought a 10 year old Miata. With 24k miles. For about 2 grand more than I paid for the MGB and 2 grand less than I have in it so far.

      Needless to say, the MGB is looking sadder next to the Miata in the garage.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Any junkyard find article about an MG wouldn’t be complete with a reader comment about SU carburetors. These were a product of uniquely British ingenuity. They used just a single fuel jet with a metering needle, the precise fuel:air mixture controlled by the needle’s profile and the needle’s movement based on venturi vacuum (and a simple system of a piston and spring). The big piston moved to change the size of the venturi across a range of engine load, from idle to wide open throttle. This meant the SU had excellent fuel vaporization across all ranges of operation.

    One of the critical weaknesses of the SU was air leaks, especially around the throttle shaft bushings if they were well worn and in need of replacement. The other big weakness was jet and needle wear. Thus an old SU could run badly for a long time.

    Later “refinements” ultimately served to make driveability and maintainability worse… like the bimetal spring that would move the jet slightly to compensate for temperature changes, or the rubber diaphragm on the Zenith-Stromburg clones. Other clones, like the Ford VV carburetors, took all of the worst features, added more bad features, and failed to take advantage of the SU’s best features.

    The other clever feature of the SU was the cold start device- this was a second jet, manually controlled by a “choke” handle by the driver, to enrich cold starting and idling.

    What the SU did not have was an accelerator pump, secondary jet, idle jet, vacuum secondaries, mechanical secondaries, choke butterfly, automatic choke spring, or much any of the Rube Goldberg features of many of the carburetor companies across the pond in the new world.

    SUs were often installed in pairs (sometimes a trio, like the Jag E-type), so my comment about secondaries isn’t completely fair to the likes of Holley, Carter, and Edelbrock. Synching a pair of SUs–and doing it well–was an art form in itself and it that took some practice and help from a pro… and even a pro’s best efforts were all for naught if the devices suffered from critical component wear (as I described above). As I mentioned, an old SU could run badly for a long time.

    Alas, clever as it was, the SU was still just a carburetor, and as all carburetors it was an ingenious device to always deliver an almost-but-never-quite-perfect fuel air mixture.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy67

      Excellent summation of SUs. I am the caretaker of four, in two Austin-Healeys, and always like to pass along a bit of SU trivia:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Shilling%27s_orifice

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      My Sprite had twin SUs. Getting them synched was more like black magic than science.

      The original E-types did indeed had 3 SUs, which must have been a nightmare. Then they introduced the V-12 model, which had 4 of them. The mind boggles…..

    • 0 avatar
      Cobrajet25

      I had a ’70 Volvo 144S with a pair of Strombergs of this type. Bought it from a buddy of mine for $250 in about 1995. The thing dieseled like a sonofabitch every time I turned it off. In frustration, I switched to SUs. Thing still dieseled like a sonofabitch every time I turned it off. It was an automatic, and I started leaving it in gear when I shut it off in order to minimize the embarrassment.

      It was hit from behind by a semi-truck and totaled about a year after I got it. Funny thing was that even though the rear bumper was literally pushed into the back seat, the rear doors opened and closed like nothing happened. Ahhh, those super-safe Volvos.

      A guy drove by it while it was in the towing company impound yard, contacted me, and offered me twice what I had paid for it. This was in addition to the money the semi driver’s insurance company paid me for it!

      I kinda miss that car…

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        In 1995 I bought an impounded 1970 Volvo 144S for $125, it had the BW M35 slush box and the original duel SU carbys, never diesel once although the worn out engine didn’t like anything but premium grade fuels .

        A *very* good car if slow, it went up hills loaded slowly but easily passed everything else coming back down, much to the horror/amusement of my occasional passengers .

        The Hispanic lady who drove drunk and got it impounded, never took any sort of care of it although she also didn’t smoke in it nor dent it so I was able to clean it up very well indeed, it burned a _lot_ of oil .

        In time it’s boring aspect got to me so I sent it on down the road .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          It probably ran a lot better in its prime. Those cars could make 100mph flat out. I had one with the twin carbs and BW35 automatic… not exactly a speed demon but at least as fast as most 1980s cars.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            IIRC,

            I didn’t ever attempt to balance the carbys and I know they were out of balance .
            .
            My hearing isn’t good anymore so hearing the ‘hiss’ is near impossible plus one needs to remain in practice and it’s been years .
            .
            It was a good car, just too…. I dunno what but not for me .
            .
            -Nate

  • avatar

    For a second, I thought the white car in the background was a Ford Taurus with a sawzall convertible conversion, and then I realized that it’s a Celica convertible.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Slow, unreliable and uglified by those bumpers. These later edition MGB’s have so little going for them that they deserve to be saved.

    Of course the introduction of the Miata made them about as relevant as a neanderthal. Totally overtaken by the evolutionary process.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      Your last two sentences sort of speak to the entire British car industry.

    • 0 avatar
      nlinesk8s

      +1 I never had a problem with the bumpers, which makes me in the minority. But the antique suspension, weak engine, and cheapened electrical system underscore why governments make lousy stewards of automotive companies.

      My Miata never quite had the style of the old Spitfire. But it had everything else in spades, and went 235k before a big truck in a parking lot totalled it.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    Took me a while to identify the car sitting nose to nose with the MG. Without the grille there, it becomes entirely anonymous.

    At first I thought it was an early ’90s Sonata.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Easy to late convert a late MGB back to chrome bumpers, lower ride height and twin SUs .
    The problem is that MGBs are not rare so resale value makes it not worthwhile.

    A car like this one with the later Rover V8 (nee GM) installed is a nice sleeper, driven a couple of them.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Yes, the rubber blocks are easy enough to remove, to set the ride height back to normal, and the rubber bumper thing is easy to reverse, too.

      What’s the box on the firewall that the speedometer cable goes into? The cable on my ’78 Audi Fox ran through a box that turned on an EGR maintenance light at 30,000 miles. The whole mess sat under a plastic shield atop the cowl, under the hood, and it had a reset button you pushed to turn off the EGR light.

  • avatar
    Joss

    All I remember of my uncle’s B – a purple last year chrome with fixed roof and canvas sunroof. Is you felt every rut in your butt.

    Love that craptastic, optimistic Leyland jingle. Instantly recognizable.

    By the time the black bumpers came the MG was regarded as dated. BL made brands like Renault & Fiat highly desirable in Europe.

  • avatar
    Funky

    The big bumpers aren’t so bad. I even kind of like the higher ride height of the later versions. I’m familiar with one of these that should probably, someday, be passed along to somebody who will do something with it. Oh well, there’s a finite amount of time available, and these things require too much of it unless one is a dedicated, gung-ho MG fanatic.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I know the rubber bumper era MG’s get plenty of hate and are called cow-catchers but I always thought the design was fairly clean. They did not seem tacked on but were contoured to the front fenders and rear quarters unlike the battering rams that Detroit added to their post-73 cars.

    BMC got 18 years of these and failing to upgrade them with fuel injection and multi-valves as well as improved quality led to their demise.

    Looks like this one was a project car that someone was tired of having in their backyard or garage.

  • avatar
    tylermattikow

    Lots of hate and misinformation on these cars. The MGB came out in 1962 a was very sophisticated for it’s time, with great handling decent speed and a roomy cockpit and truck. The unitbody was stiff and strong, (hence you could drop a V8 in without destroying the car) The 95hp engine was decent. MG’s were also fairly well build at the Abingdon factory which didn’t suffer the labor unrest of the rest of the BL empire. By 1976 it was already 14 years old. The Rubber bumpers were not a bad solution, had they been body colored the design would have looked quite modern. Unfortunately MG was not liked by Triumph and Jaguar so getting a modern engine to make up for the extreme loss of power due to emissions didn’t happen. BL could have developed something similar to the RV8 with a Dolomite engine for far less than the TR7..

  • avatar
    -Nate

    A sad thing indeed .
    .
    I don’t like the rubber bumpers either but the running and power issues are simple to fix and unless the engine is really badly worn out, it’ll easily zip through a dynamic smog test too .
    .
    I hate to see un rusty ones being scrapped and this example, in spite of it’s cheapo re spray, still has the A.I.R. system intact, making me think the 80,000 miles is prolly correct .
    .
    Remember please : this is a _SPORTS_CAR_ not a Race Car meaning it’s designed to be driven ’round having fun, if not overly fast .
    .
    The suspension too is easily up grade able using firmer bushings throughout .
    .
    As mentioned there’s simply no demand for old British Roadsters anymore no matter how charming they might be .
    .
    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      tylermattikow

      I have a 1971 Chrome bumper and it is a lovely little car. Much roomier trunk and cockpit then the Miata. While they are simple easy to repair cars, there are not many mechanics who still work on little British cars. Those who do, want crazy money. You average corner shop probably doesn’t have a timing light. There is often a massive divide between the buyers and sellers on pricing too, take a look at the Hemming’s article and the pricing on those for sale in the margin. Even on craigslist and ebay you’ll see some crazy prices, which sometimes result in a scrapped vehicle when the wife wants it out.

      https://www.hemmings.com/magazine/hsx/2012/12/The-Last-of-the-Breed—MGB/3719371.html

  • avatar
    -Nate

    *SO* true ! .
    .
    I’m an LBC Tech Advisor and I’m always amazed at how few ‘Mechanics’ will even try, it’s as basic an Automobile as there ever was .
    .
    After forty odd years the cord on my old SEARS Craftsman inductive, advance dial timing light gave up the ghost, I was worried until I discovered I can buy the entire timing light for $5 ~ $15 at pretty much any Auto Jumble and most have only been used once or twice and are pristine .
    .
    My various Club tech days, I’m always requested to ” bring your BAZOOKA sized timing light again please ! ‘ . =8-) .
    .
    It seems that the correct method of setting the full advance ignition timing and throttle ping test has been forgotten .
    .
    -Nate


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