By on December 26, 2018

1976 MGB in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
In all of my decades of visiting junkyards, one thing has remained constant: I’ll see a handful of Fiat 124 Sport Spiders and MG MGBs every year, about the same number in 2018 as I saw each year in 2001 or 1987. Here’s the latest: a red ’76 convertible in a self-service wrecking yard in California’s Central Valley.

1976 MGB in California wrecking yard, Department of Defense parking permit - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe reason for this is easy to guess: both the 124 Sport Spider and MGB have been cheap, fun sports cars that are just too cool to discard, so they end up as long-postponed projects in driveways and yards. The decades go by, and then one day the tow truck shows up for the car’s final ride. This car has a couple of parking stickers from 1987 and the kind of nuked interior that suggests long-term outdoor storage.

1976 MGB in California wrecking yard, engine - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars1976 wasn’t a great year for the MGB; American headlight-height and crash-bumper requirements took effect in 1974, forcing the “black bumper” cars to sit at an ungainly height while sticking their ugly plastic snouts at the world. Engine power, never very high, came to just 62.5 horsepower in 1976, and the fact that British Leyland claimed that half-horse tells a very depressing story.

1976 MGB in California wrecking yard, RH rear view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBL build quality wasn’t so great in the mid-1970s, as unions, managers, and the British government squabbled. Still, these cars were fun to drive, and (as someone who daily-drove an MGB for years) it makes me a little sad to see one getting thrown out like an ordinary Kia Sephia. Though who knows, someday we may weep for those Sephias as well.

1976 MGB in California wrecking yard, wheel - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThese wheels didn’t do the look of this B any favors.


The sports car America loved first. Wait, wasn’t that the MGA?


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


  • avatar
    JimC2

    Ugh. I think i see a Zenith-Stromberg CD carburetor. They took a pretty decent, albeit slightly finicky concept (the SU carburetor) and developed it to make it work worse and be very finicky.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    That DOD sticker brings back memories. The Base Police/rent-a-cops would scrape ’em for idiotic violations of any and all sorts which required standing in a long line to get a new one. Some of us became adept at using a rag with acetone to surreptitiously remove the sticker from someone else’s vehicle and re-apply it to our vehicle. The cops, using only hand-written records kept in a cardboard box somewhere, were too lazy to match the sticker number with the license plate making this an easy win.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    That first picture makes it look like the even rarer MGB 4X4 and I do believe this car has probably been immobile since shortly after 1987 judging by the number I see tucked under a lot of junk on some carport

  • avatar
    R Henry

    What is the best powertrain swap options for these? Methinks there must be some reliable Japanese engine/trans package that would fit well and work well…..

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Methinks that would be a waste since an LS will fit just fine under an NA Miatas hood.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Still, pondering swaps, any Miata powertrain should work if you are simply looking to add reliability and probably a little horsepower. I’d drop an ecoboost 2.3 from a manual mustang in. Think Ford sells an off road harness that would make it straightforward to wire up. Or said LS

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      Rover aluminum V-8.

    • 0 avatar
      tylermattikow

      Just sold my 1972.. The sky is the limit with engine swaps for MGB’s. britishv8.org is a fun sight to to see the possibilities. That being said, a modern twin cab four, light a Miata engine or ford ecoboost is a a ton of work since the engines are too tall. The Rover V8 fits and fits better in rubber bumper cars but it’s not easy either. The easiest swap is probable a GM pushrod V6. Pretty much bolt in with a kit. More than doubles horsepower, lowers weight and has modern engine controls and reliability. A company http://www.classicconversionseng.com sells the kit.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      My friend restored a 77 MGB and installed a Ford 2.3 OHC and a C3 auto so his wife could drive it. Torque and reliability are better than the original. He also completely rewired it with a proper fusebox and circuitry.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    What is the best powertrain swap option for these? Methinks there must be some reliable Japanese engine/trans package that would fit well and work well…..

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    If you had those type bumpers the sticker should have gone on the windshield…You’d tear it up when you had to scrape it off when you got transferred.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    Plenty of these were laid up once their owners got their first tastes of Miatas. Suddenly they realized how technology had moved on in the twenty five years between when the MGB stopped being improved and the Miata came to market. I’m surprised they’re still trickling into junkyards. I suppose their former drivers aren’t making the calls anymore.

    The Miata did for daily driven MGBs what the second generation Prius did for Volvo 240s, only for different reasons. The Miata was a modern interpretation of an affordable two seat sports car just as the MGB was in 1963. The Prius changed what it meant to virtue signal. Suddenly the people who layered bumper stickers on Volvos found it socially unacceptable to drive something that didn’t make them feel better than everyone else. Lots of the Volvos went to the junkyards under their own power rather than after sitting in a side yard for twenty years. Their owners didn’t want to be reminded that they used to be like the polluters.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Very well put… Imagine Whirling Peas ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      Dilrod

      That’s the best observation I’ve read in a long time.

    • 0 avatar
      Gedrven

      No question of reliability and technological progress, but for all the merits of a Miata, an MGB has more personality and a much nicer interior. Brand new or in typical used condition, there’s no contest, but given two properly restomodded examples, I’d take the MG hands down unless I were chasing laptimes. The Miata’s suspension is vastly more sophisticated, but for simple driving pleasure the MG is a better car.

      That’s an astute observation on the Volvo/Prius thing. The timing was right/wrong, too: 2g Prius came out in ’03, gas prices spiked a few times around ’05 and ’08, and Cash for Clunkers came right on the heels. A perfect storm for making a bunch of 240s walk the plank.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I don’t know…I can put a full high end custom interior, canvas top w/ glass window, and Nardi wheel and shift knobs in a Miata for probably less than the rust repair on a typical MG and honestly they make excellent daily drivers.

        • 0 avatar
          Gedrven

          Bring custom work (esthetic, not just technical improvements) into the equation, and yeah, I agree with you. The only remaining advantage of the MG would be the availability of a factory hardtop. I too dailied an NA briefly, and the only thing keeping me out of one today is the fact that it’s a convertible, and remains compromised even with a bolt-on top.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    This has all the hallmarks of the owner passing away before he could complete the “project.” “Project” because it was likely on a list of things to do that never took enough priority to actually do anything with. And what was once a parking spot just until he could get it running right became its permanent home. It probably had a lovely brand new tarp securely bungeed on which, over the years, started to develop holes. The bungees rotted away and failed and then the tarp became all but useless.

    Not worth selling because it didn’t run right and after a few half-hearted attempt to get it running, it was decided that it needed professional help. But it would need to be towed and it would be too hard to get a tow truck to back up to it. A buddy promised to come over and have a look, it had been a few months, which turned into over a year. Once his buddy came out, he seemed disinterested and was probably just there out of guilt. He wasn’t able to provide any useful (read: easy) fix suggestions and so it had to continue to wait for the right time.

    That time never came.

    This is starting to hit a little too close to home.

    • 0 avatar
      Dilrod

      Oh yes, I know what you mean. Dad had a 1953 Ford pick up he’d fixed up in the 60s with paint & a ring job. As long as I can remember the truck sat & was seized up. In the early 70s it sat behind a shed. We dragged it across the county when we moved in 1976 & parked it on the fenceline. In the 80s we decided to try and get it going. He had me (burgeoning teenage gearhead) start tearing the heads off and beat it loose. Suddenly he lost interest again, I didn’t know what I was doing and it sat & rusted some more. Eventually it went with his farm auction. What a waste. I hope somebody else got in running.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      One of my neighbors had a similar MGB in his driveway for years. He and his wife divorced, and the car finally moved. Another neighbor hauled a late 60’s Camaro in and put it in his garage when he moved in. Six years later, when he moved out, the car had not been touched and his wife prevailed on him to sell it.

      Most people vastly underestimate what it will take to turn a project car into a nice driver. Most of us don’t have the shop space, or the tools, or the skills to take an old beater and make it nice. Sure, maybe you can do the mechanical work, but can you do bodywork and upholstery, and can you track down electrical problems in a 20 plus year old car? Then, when you get done with it, likely you’ll have more in it than you could have bought the same car in similar condition.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        “Most people vastly underestimate what it will take to turn a project car into a nice driver.”

        This. It is a lesson that I had to learn the hard way…multiple times. Furthermore the typical car enthusiast has pretty high standards so small things tend to annoy. You can’t do a car like this on the cheap. It makes way more sense to wait for someone elses’ baby to pop up on bringatrailer or head out to mecum auctions and get one that has been done properly for most folks.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Back when it was first introduced the MGB probably had things to recommend it compared to other cars of the era, but for this car in 1976 (or my wife’s long-gone 1977), not so much.

    One thing that always amazed me about the MGB was its soft top mechanism — although that word does it too much credit. This appalling mishmash was guaranteed to break a couple of fingernails, if not your fingers themselves, and took so long to close up securely that it wasn’t worth the bother for mere passing showers.

    Compare it to that of the Miata, where you can reach back without leaving the driver’s seat, flip the roof forward and latch it, all in a matter of seconds. And yet the roof concept and technology are exactly the same in both cars! The MGB’s ‘designers’ were simply too fucking feckless to bother to make theirs work properly, whereas the Miata’s designers paid the same meticulous attention to detail in the roof operation as to every other aspect of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      millmech

      You should experience the early MGB top, with the “hoodsticks” + memories of building shelters to guide the assembly & installation of the weather protection. Early MGB had the metal window cranks, so there was a hope of getting the windows closed.

  • avatar
    Bocatrip

    For the most part, any MGB from 1975-1980 was a throw away car. As mentioned above, between the ugly bumpers, increased height, and lack of power, these were the least desirable of the model’s run. Pre emissions cars 62-67 should be most sort after if found without rust. From 68-73 and some very early 74s were the last of the chrome bumpers. I owned a 70 MGB purchased new that I had to dispose of after only 9 months due to poor quality control and labor issues at British Leyland that kept my car at the dealership for months. I still miss the car as it was fun to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      My boss bought one so that he and his son could learn to work on cars. The kid has lost interest, but he’s still driving it some. It has left him stranded at least once.

      Compared to today’s cars, it’s terribly slow, has limited grip, and meh brakes. Unless you’re nostalgic for a B, I don’t see the appeal.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      “…if found without rust.”

      That’s too funny.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Heheheh… I laughed a bit too. Where would you find such a car? Did one roll off the production line in 1976 and straight into a vat of clean oil, where it remained undisturbed for the next 42 years?

        @Bocat, I know you didn’t mean literally 100% rust free. I agree, any decades-old car, with a well maintained body and an owner that aggressively addressed corrosion, is a great find (and examples do exist).

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    In 1976, the best available MGB was a 1966 model. Primitive emission controls left the engine gutless, raised ride height ruined handling and the rubber slab bumpers made MGB fans bleed from their eyeballs.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I know the post 74-1/2 rubber bumper models have generated a lot of hate over the years but I never minded them since they molded well into the body contours unlike many other post 73 bumper standard cars where they looked and functioned like cow catchers or diving boards. If you buy one just lower the suspension accordingly.

    I always thought those wire basket wheels were a thing of horror during their brief reign in the 70’s and 80’s. They looked out of place like a giant dish when the wire basket was missing which was often unless the owner installed the locking hub and they were a pain to clean, harder than real wires like Kelsey-Hayes or the factory ones on MG’s Jaguars and other British cars.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had a MGB GT hard top in red around 71 or 72. It was his next car after a ’69 GTO (a Judge that was special ordered in red with black vinyl top). Enjoyed riding along with him in the MG. Drove from central Iowa to Iowa City for a Byrds concert the winter of 72/73 in it. My only negative rememberance was, at times, I wished I could shift my legs more than the space allowed. Fun car!

  • avatar
    lon888

    I still miss my ’77 MGB. The cheap Brits really missed the call when they didn’t go to a 5-speed gearbox (yes, I know about the rare OD boxes), a reasonable fuel injection system and/or the Rover V-8.


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