Last week was 60 years since the first MGB rolled off the production line. The Auckland chapter of the MG Car Club marked the occasion yesterday with a drive-in for MGB owners with the hope of having at least one car of each year and variation - MGB Roadster, GT, 1800cc, V8 etc. Jennie and I decided to do the 360 km round trip to represent 1972 and to meet other members, seeing as we live out in the boondocks!
A great drive to Auckland using twisty country roads, with city driving for the last 15-20 minutes - perfect! In lovely spring weather, close to 100 MGB's turned up, plus a handful of older models from the 1940's and 50's - amazing!
Our 1972 GT in Blaze Orange
There was even a vary rare Costello MGB V8 in attendance. Back in the 1960's, enthusiasts pushed hard for a V8 version to complement the 1.8 litre 4 and the 3 litre straight 6. Senior executives at British Leyland were adamant that this was not feasible. Enter Ken Costello who was an engineer and successful race car driver. In 1969, he shoehorned a Rover P6 V8 into an MGB chassis which was favourably reviewed by the motoring press. He decided to put it into production which inevitably attracted the attention of British Leyland. BL started producing their own version in 1973 which effectively killed off the engine supply to Ken Costello. Incredibly, BL didn't consider selling the V8 to the US market which I guess was a good example of poor decision-making endemic in the British motor and motorcycle industry at that time.
A V8 example
The 3 litre straight 6 was somewhat problematic because of indifferent handling when it was first launched and production only lasted for a couple of years.
The MGC 3 litre straight 6
The following photo shows a metallic blue V8 which I wish I'd paid a bit more attention to the detail of in retrospect. It had clearly undergone a major (and phenomenally expensive) ground-up rebuild with the interior completely modernised as shown by glimpses of the bucket seats and roll cages. Everything under the bonnet was polished alloy and chrome and someone remarked that the engine put out about 380 bhp. Not a classic restoration but it was a real work of art.
Electric blue MGB V8 special (photo: Roger Fleming)
Some of the MGB's on display
MGB's of all sorts are active in classic racing and in the photo below, a number of them are on display at the left end of the line-up.
Part of the line-up including race-prepped versions
Other members of the MG car club turned up in their MGA's and older T-series cars which made for a colourful spectacle. Considering that there are branches of the MG Car Club in many other regions of NZ, it looks like the future of this make is in good hands.
T-series MG's and MGA's - beautifully restored
Just as we were about to head home, who should turn up to have a look but my Institute of Advanced Motorists mentor Philip McDaid, who coached me from someone who thought he could ride but couldn't, through to an IAM Examiner in the space of 6 years. As well as his voluntary work with IAM, Philip runs the renowned Riderskills motorcycle training school in Auckland. Unquestionably, the best rider and coach I've ever encountered, as well as the most ego-free. All in all, a wonderful day and kudos to the organisers for putting it on.
As the title says, it's been 12 months since finally taking ownership of the MGB GT. It's good to take stock of how it's gone and might be of interest to anyone who entertains the thought of classic car ownership at some stage.
Regular readers will be familiar with the thought processes which helped to decide what to buy HEREand the handover problems we had with an unhelpful government transport agency HERE . The purchase of a vehicle in good condition was the primary consideration as I didn't want to spend vast amounts of time and money stuck in the shed doing a major rebuild. I had enough of that building and campaigning a drag bike decades ago and it wouldn't be fair to Jennie who's suggestion that we buy a classic car kicked the hunt off. Hitting 75 next month meant that actually getting out on the road and using it was the priority although routine tinkering is just fine (and fun, although the CEO just rolls her eyes).
The 1972 MGB GT on a sunny day at Te Kouma
Making the purchase
My close friend Rick in the UK and an acquaintance in NZ both recommended an MG as they were generally reliable and parts available internationally at reasonable prices. It also appealed emotionally in terms of looks - an important factor. The car was spotted for sale online and had been restored by the previous owner in 2017/18 with all receipts available for the work undertaken. It was in pretty much stock trim apart from 185 section tyres which were standard on the V8 version. It also had Spax adjustable rear shocks and electronic ignition to improve reliability. There was no rust whatsoever, it had been rustproofed and the original Blaze Orange livery respray used an expensive 2 pack lacquer. We paid NZ$22,500 for it (Approx. USD/EUR 14,000, GBP 12,000, AUD 20,000) which we thought was a very reasonable price for something so beautifully restored. The interior is flawless and is like new.
New carpets and interior linings throughout
Building up knowledge
In terms of reading material, it came with a Haynes manual and a full parts list from an MG specialist in Auckland. YouTube is a fantastic source of knowledge for MGB's and there's nothing like watching someone doing a job to avoid all the potential pitfalls through just reading about it. However, it didn't stop me spilling oil from the upright filter on my first oil change all over the concrete drive! Fortunately, it cleaned up ok. Another awesome source of knowledge is the MG Experience international website forum. The members have decades of experience and go out of their way to help. The NZ MG Owners Car Club is also a great source of knowledge. Chewing the fat with my classic car and bike-owning mate Rick in the UK has also given valuable insights.
An engineer's porn - a parts catalogue
Part of the knowledge-building is the ability to have a good poke around in the car and underneath it. A normal roadside jack isn't a safe option for grovelling under the car so I bought a good quality 3 tonne trolley jack, not an el cheapo from popular auto store chains. I also bought some good quality adjustable axle stands for further confidence. If greater access is required, then it's off to our village garage owner and his hoists for the price of a few beers.
The 3 tonne trolley jack
Any classic car is going to require more maintenance than a modern one but one of the positive aspects is that much of it can be done by the owner without too many special tools or an electronics degree! I ended up supplementing my meagre collection of Imperial spanners and sockets plus one or two other odds and ends which didn't involve much expense.
The previous owner mainly relied on one of his local garages for routine maintenance. I can't be sure whether he got value for money or not because the Zerk grease nipples on the suspension and driveshaft looked dirty and dry of grease. Based on these observations, I started keeping records of the maintenance I performed to set up a baseline maintenance schedule - all done on an Excel spreadsheet, sad bugger that I am.
Many (most?) classic vehicle engines require a high zinc content non-synthetic oil and the priority was to find a reliable local source, which was less challenging than expected. The oil was changed just after initial purchase as part of a routine maintenance timeframe, along with the filter. Part of the reason why I dumped oil on the driveway when removing the filter was that with its vertical orientation, the anti-drain back device didn't appear to work properly. It was replaced with a filter which received favourable reviews from MG owners. We'll see how good it is when the oil gets changed in the very near future.
Easy access under the bonnet
Incidentally, the car has covered a little over 3000 miles/5000 km in the last 12 months. In that time, I've topped up the oil with ~300 ml, which is fine. There's a slight weep from a pushrod access cover but overall, it's pretty good. There's also a very slight weep from a cover on the overdrive and steering rack but neither require my immediate attention. All part of classic car ownership!
In the last 12 months, we've spent a little under NZ$2000 on the car. This includes oil, filter, antifreeze, spark plugs and other items required for scheduled maintenance, plus a USB port for phone charging. The biggest single expense has been a complete rebuild of the SU carbs by a specialist in Auckland. This was prompted by a constant slight smell of petrol and evidence of leakage on the overflow pipes. The rebuild cost was a shade over NZ$1000 and was worth every cent. Far more bottom end and mid-range performance than previously. The photo below shows the carbs cunningly braced together for removal and replacement to stop the linkages flying apart!
A strategic bit of fencing to stop the carb linkages falling apart
Now that we have a routine, maintenance shouldn't be too onerous in future. There's one job which is being left for the Auckland MG specialist but isn't urgent. Changing the diff oil revealed some small amounts of copper/bronze swarf.
Diff thrust washer bits
It's common for diff thrust washers to progressively wear out. With the aid of a proper vehicle hoist, they can be changed in about 4 hours by someone who knows what they're doing so I'll be taking the easy way out!
The choke cable didn't lock out and a replacement was purchased at a very modest cost. The manual simply says "remove choke cable from the dashboard". No mention that you need hands of a 5 year old and that you're going to bleed profusely whilst attempting to loosen the locknut. Fortunately, one of the MG Experience forum members posted a photo of a tool he adapted from a cranked ring spanner. I made one too and even at one flat per movement, it made life so much easier. Told you they were great people!
Special choke cable locknut removing tool - easy peasy!
A few minor improvement opportunities have also been implemented. The battery on the MGB GT is a bugger to get at (a technical term). I've made up a power supply attached to the battery which can be easily accessed from inside the car for trickle charging if the car isn't going to be used for some time. I've also made up a funnel attached to a length of fuel line for filling the gearbox on some future occasion. Access is behind the lower part of the dashboard in a cramped position which is perfect for spilling oil everywhere. Far better to have the funnel tied to the steering wheel with clear access!
Ready for future gearbox lubrication
So what's it like to drive?
The million dollar question, seeing that we bought it to drive and not be worked on. In short, it's great fun and brings back waves of nostalgia. The steering effort is ok when you're on the move but the lack of power steering makes it hard to park in restricted spaces. Not a big deal though. As you might expect, handling is harsher than modern cars but roadholding is surprisingly good. I had to stiffen the damping of the Spax aftermarket rear shocks but it's good now. The brakes don't have power assist and were initially a bit daunting. However, it didn't take long to learn to leave a bigger gap when following other traffic! The motor has a reasonable amount of grunt and there's no issue keeping up with traffic and tackling decent gradients, especially with the electrically-operated 2 speed overdrive. It's a car that rewards well-considered driver situational awareness, just like a motorcycle and is a lot of fun to drive. Absolutely no regrets buying it. Mind you, in another 5 years, I'm not sure that an 80 year old body will find getting in and out of it a piece of cake. Better keep up my fitness routine!
The MG was originally designed to run on 100 octane leaded fuel. It runs just fine on 95 octane with a small amount (1ml per litre ) of lead replacement additive added to the fuel tank every time it's filled up. No hassle at all.
Where to from here?
At present, Jennie isn't keen to drive it because of the extra physical effort required in combination with a manual gearbox but is more than happy to be a passenger so that's ok. We have near-neighbours who own classic cars and the Coromandel Peninsula is a perfect venue for impromptu runs.
Social run to Cook's Beach with neighbours Vic and Denise
The MG Car Club run regular events and later this month, it's the 60th anniversary of the MGB. We'll be attending a gathering/photo shoot in Auckland of around 100 MGB's representing every year and model variation. In February next year, we'll also be attending the Brits at the Beach 3 day weekend. Should be a lot of fun!
As a final remark, insuring the "B" was extremely reasonable. Fully comprehensive insurance for any driver over 25, limited to no more than 10,000 km annually was approximately NZ$250.
So that's the journey so far - plenty to keep occupied after a lifetime of motorcycling. I also hope it's been of interest to anyone who might be considering a classic car purchase at some stage.