It appears that after years of flatlining values, the venerable MGB’s time has finally come. Values of the roadster have been steadily increasing for a number of years, now, but the fixed-head GT – often referred to as ‘the poor man’s Aston Martin’ – is finally following suit. Ironically, its enduring popularity meant that it was an increasing anachronism by the early 1970s, and yet still it soldiered on until 1980.
Modern Exterior of Classic Car Reviews – 1969 MG MGB
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Assume that all the usual wings and rear arches are susceptible to tin worm, but pay particular attention to the sills. The MGB is a monococque with no separate chassis – so the inner and outer sills and castle sections are a major structural part of the car. Surface rust isn’t a problem – as long as it’s tackled quickly – but anything more serious will compromise the car’s structural rigidity. Many proper checks can only be done from under the car, ideally on a ramp or lift, but you can feel up to the box section behind and above the front wheels to check for corrosion.
Lift the carpets front and rear to check the floorpan for corrosion. Then remove the battery box covers (there are two on pre-1975 cars) beneath the rear floor to check that the surrounding metal isn’t rotten. Easier to check is the inner rear wing – groping inside the wheelarch reveals a hidden ledge where road detritus collects and corrodes metal.
Engine & Gearbox
Don’t automatically dismiss a ’B whose engine isn’t whisper-quiet, as the 1.8-litre B-Series ‘four’ had wide factory tappet clearances when new. A relatively noisy top end, then, is not necessarily a problem, but keep a weather ear out for a noisy timing chain and big or small end.
Be highly suspicious of an oily engine, since it is a provenly oil-tight unit. Blue oily smoke from the exhaust could be down to something as simple as a blocked crankcase breather, but excessively worn valve guides create similar symptoms and can demand a reconditioned cylinder head.
Pre-1967 cars lack synchromesh on first gear; persistent attempts to engage first while these cars are still moving will soon create selection problems. Second gear is notoriously weak on these cars too, especially when changing down from third – a proper test-drive is the only way to check for this.
Laycock overdrive is a popular option – check it engages and re-engages promptly and smoothly. Erratic operation could be down to iffy electrics or low/poor quality oil, but worn units can be pricey to replace, so factor this into any price haggling.
A discernible ‘clonk’ while drive is taken up wasn’t uncommon when these cars were new, thanks to super-generous factory tolerances, but excessive noise points to either worn universal joints or a worn rear axle. Front suspension checks should include the kingpins and bottom trunnions. Do this by selecting neutral at low speeds and gently applying the brakes – if there’s a ‘clonk’, then these areas will need attention. The steering column top bush wears over time and causes vertical play in the steering wheel. The brakes are generally sound, but the handbrake was only ever marginal when new, and sticking compensators can reduce handbraking to MoT failure levels.
INTERIOR & ELECTRICS
Look out for the usual issues of baggy seat foam, damaged or torn seat covers and sodden carpets. Check the hood for rips, tears, ‘milky’ windows and missing or damaged fasteners. Most other interior trim is readily available, with leather a popular upgrade.
A good MGB is a joy. The gearbox has a short, tight throw, the engine has a distinctive bellow and the handling/ride balance is near-perfect. With optional overdrive, this is a consumate grand tourer. Exceptional parts support and a vast international club network make the ’B as much a way of life as it is a classic car.