The last MGB convertible rolled off the production line at the Abingdon plant on 22 October 1980, ending an era of sports car motoring, not just of the MGB but of MG sports cars in general. The first MGB to come off the production line at Abingdon bore chassis number G-HN3 101 and left the factory in June 1962, and although the MGB was launched in 1962, it continued to be produced in similar form until the end of its production run. During these 18 years of uninterrupted production, the basic shape of the body remained the same, apart from the later models, which from 1975 onwards were fitted with impact-resistant black front and rear bumpers.
The MGB was designed as a replacement for the very successful MGA as early as 1958, before the last model in the MGA range, the MGA 1600, went into production.
The project, codenamed EX205 by Abingdon, took four years to complete – the MGB was expected to be in production for only seven! The MGB was in many ways a new car and was distinguished by its unified body and chassis structure. However, it was not the first British sports car to be built in this way, as this type of construction had already been used on the Austin Healey Sprite, Sunbeam Alpine and MG Magnette in 1959.
The MGB offered much more, both in terms of accommodation and performance, without adding much weight over its predecessor. Although the MGB was technically brilliant and had striking features, it was very difficult to manufacture and tooling costs were very high. To recoup these costs, a long production period was required, which, as mentioned earlier, was estimated at seven years.
Originally, two engine types were envisaged at the design stage, the 1622 cc B-series overhead valve engine as used in the 1600 MGA, and the 1588 cc twin cam engine. Although the engine had become larger, the MGB was mechanically very similar to the MGA. The gearbox was almost identical and had the same innards, although the first gear was not yet synchronised, but as it was mounted further forward in relation to the driver, it did not need a gearbox extension. The rear axle was virtually identical, but had a higher gear ratio than that of the MGA.
An important feature of the MGB was safety: for the first time an open MG had door locks with attractive pull handles and a boot lock, plus a lockable glove box and roll-up windows. The dashboard design was similar to that of the MGA, but in the centre of the dashboard was an elegant bracket for the optional radio, with the speaker in the console formed by the bulkhead reinforcement.
When the MGB was launched in the autumn of 1962, the basic price was £690 plus £260 road tax. This was a very reasonable price compared to the Triumph TR4 at £750 and the Sunbeam Alpine at £695. The MGB was initially only available as an open tourer, although a removable factory fibreglass hardtop was launched within a few months. A closed GT version did not follow until autumn 1965 and proved to be a very practical, stylish three-door hatchback.
From 1970 there were noticeable styling changes, such as the luxury of reclining seats and the addition of pressed steel wheels and a different, recessed front grille. In 1973 there were further changes, most notably visual improvements to the interior and a distinctive ‘honeycomb’ radiator grille.
The most drastic changes then took place in 1975 in the form of modifications for the American market. These cars received the controversial heavy black polyurethane bumpers front and rear, and the vehicle height was changed to comply with American regulations. This measure had a significant effect on handling, causing excessive body roll when cornering hard. However, this was rectified in 1976 when a thicker anti-roll bar was fitted which virtually eradicated the handling and road-holding problems. At the same time as the bumpers were introduced, US-spec cars had to be fitted with emission control systems, which meant that the cars were slightly less powerful for the domestic market.
The MGB continued to be built in this form until the end of production in October 1980, when sadly the last MG rolled off the production line in Abingdon. Throughout these 18 years of production the basic body shape remained unchanged. It was a design ahead of its time and still looks good after 45 years!