King of Sports Cars Bites the Dust (1980)

Octagon Newsletter Ö August 2001

The following article is a reprint of the column "On Wheels" by Ted Laturnus in the Vancouver

Province of Sunday, July 13th, 1980. I apologize to all owners of Post-1975 MGB models Ö Al Fraser

Well, itís been decided at last. MG is no more. Despite the fact that rumors of Japanese intervention abound, the company that perfected the concept of open-air driving for the masses will definitely be put on the shelf at the end of this year.

And even if Japan, or anyone else, rescues it, the MG of old is gone forever. With it goes Abingdon, the only automobile manufacturing plant in England that managed to stay strike-free in its 60-year existence.

Morris Garages, progenitor of virtually every mid-priced European roadster on the road, literally shaped our definition of todayís sports car. The MGB (and to a lesser extent, the MG Midget) introduced more high school graduates and junior executives to the joys of top-down, seatĖofĖthe-pants highway driving than did any other automobile.

Probably every grand prix driver born after 1920 learned his craft behind the wheel of a stripped-down breathed-upon MG somewhere along the line. Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill certainly did.

More than anything else, MG brought the idea of economical transportation coupled with true sports car handling to everybody. They put fun into driving. If you could afford a pair of shoes, you could afford an MG.

"They may not have been as sophisticated as Alfa Romeos or even Fiats," says Michael Twigg of the BC MGB Club, "but they epitomized the funky little sports car that everyone could afford. They were also accessible to the average guy in terms of repair work. Anyone could tinker with an MG."

MGBs, made up until 1969, offered their buyers spoked wheels, leather upholstery and electric overdrive as a matter of course. A properly tuned 'B' delivers just under 50 kilometres a gallon and on the highway, with overdrive, theyíll do 100 km. at about 3,000 revolutions per minute, giving at least 60 kilometres a gallon.

As well, MG in 1966, introduced the first affordable hatchback sports coupe at least five years ahead of anyone else in the form of the GT. Today, hatchback design is de rigeur for any manufacturer willing to address himself to the mass market.

The British Motor Corporation 1800 cubic centimetre power plant produced in the mid-50s set the standard for all automobile makers competing in the small car market. Indeed some, notably Volvo and Nissan, copied the BMC powerplant outright. With solid lifters, a modified camshaft and oil cooler, it pumps out just under 100 brake horsepower and is about on a par with the VW Rabbit or Honda CVCC in terms of acceleration.

The little cast-iron four-banger from England has probably set more speed and endurance records than any other motor in history and British Leyland, inheritors of the BMC, have, to their credit, kept the engine design intact. Itís probably one of the few things theyíve done right.

Which brings us to the big question: How could Leyland let the MG marque slip away like this? The future of the 'B' and Midget seemed - at least nine or 10 years ago - to be as certain as the Rock of Gibraltar. What happened?

Itís quite simple, actually. They got sloppy. It began in 1970, when they dropped the leather seats and spoke wheels, and continued up until 1975, when things got especially sordid.

At the risk of offending those who own them, it must be said that any MG made after 1975 isnít worth owning. Leyland, faced with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations, took the easy way out and jacked up the car, added oversized bumpers, weighed down the motor with anti-pollution controls and went from the reliable twin SU carburetors to one temperamental Zenith downdraft.

In one fell swoop, they robbed the car of its handling powers, annihilated its styling, and neutralized its power and reliability.

That is why they went out of business, not because of an "outdated" design but because they cut too many corners.

As the owner of a 1967 MGB (with 126,000 miles on it) I think itís just as well that they donít make them anymore. They never made them like they used to. Pity.

Return >†Link - Return†< Return