MGB - Thirty Years Later

Octagon Newsletter … October 1992

By Alan Fraser

It was thirty years ago, at the October 1962 Motor Show, that Abingdon introduced the monocoque MG Tourer, series MGB, priced at 834.6s.3d, inclusive of purchase tax. Thus commenced an eighteen year run of a model that was to number 512,880 units boasting just eight variants at a time when the automotive world was changing its focus and many companies succumbed through inability to react to legislated modifications. If this was not amazing enough, eight years after its demise, the MGB body was reincarnated for enthusiast restorers and in 1992 the basic MGB is forming the basis of the MGR-V8.

In an article in the June 1992 MG Enthusiast, Don Hayter, the last Chief Engineer at Abingdon dis­cussed the origins of the MGB. Hayter began his automotive career with the Pressed Steel Company at Cowley in 1942, where he was initially involved in production drawings for aircraft such as the Spitfire, Wellington, Lancaster and Typhoon. Post-war, he was involved in production work for the Jaguar XK 120 and MG Magnette saloon. He moved on to Aston Martin where he prepared the outline body style of the DB4 before joining MG in 1956. At Abingdon, Hayter became involved in planning the replacement for the MGA, code named EX 205/1, which under his supervision became a full-size mock-up. Working with Syd Enever and Roy Brocklehurst on the chassis side, Hayter used his experience from Pressed Steel to develop the mono­coque body. After unsuccessful experiments with IRS the new model, now code named EX 214/1, used MGA live axle rear and similar front suspension. Hayter's 1/4 scale drawings were passed on to the model maker and the model was completed in six weeks in the summer of 1959. After receiving ap­proval from John Thornley at Abingdon, the model was approved by Longbridge, given the ADO 23 project number, a full-size mock-up was prepared and the BMC top brass approved the project. The interior was 18" longer and 5 1/2" wider than the MGA and with roll-up windows and other amenities was as different as "chalk and cheese" from the MGA. Amazingly, the final packaging by Enever and his design team re­sulted in a car three inches shorter than the MGA. Even the seats were specially designed for greater comfort over long distances and their Pirelli Webbing under-frames were continued throughout the production of the model. The initial mock-up was basically identical to the production model, another indication that the designers got it right the first time.

The first cars were produced in May of 1962 with the initial 500 destined for the North American mar­ket. Hayter takes pains to point out that the introduction of the MGB was only the start of a con­tinuous development program which ran right through until the O-series engine change was aborted toward the end of the model's life. The stylish GT model was introduced in 1965, the MGC in 1967 and the GT-V8 in 1973. On the MGB, overdrive was offered in 1963, a five-bearing crankshaft the follow­ing year and a Salisbury differential after 1965. Increas­ingly stringent pollution and safety regulations in North America necessitated the continual modifi­cation of breathing and fuel systems and in 1975, the body was raised 1 1/2 inches and given huge five-mile-per-hour impacting absorbing plastic bumpers whose weight, combined with the de-smogging of the little engine reduced the performance of the car significantly. Despite rumours of a replacement, originally considered for 1970, the MGB soldiered on until the Abingdon plant was closed in 1980, the only British Leyland plant that had never had a shut-down and which had successfully met every re­quirement to keep its product competitive despite a lack of imagination from Leyland management.

Syd Enever, who led the team that created the MGB, continued as Chief Engineer until his retire­ment in 1971 when Roy Brocklehurst took over. He was followed by Don Hayter who was to be the last Chief Engineer of the Abingdon plant. These three men supervised the design, con­struction, updating and demise of the MGB over the eighteen years of production. A final tribute to the car and to Syd Enever comes from Don Hayter - "... the enormous success and popularity of the MGB is the best possible tribute to him".

1967 MGB

1979 MGB

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