Here’s a joke told by the owners of English sports cars: Question: How do you know the British didn’t invent laptop computers? Answer: They don’t leak oil.

06 MGB Australian built 1963Unveiled in 1962 and brought to market in 1963, the MGB was launched with the slogan ‘Safety Fast’, being one of the first sports cars to adopt the idea developed by Mercedes-Benz of controlled crumple zones. It used a 1.8-litre four-cylinder motor with twin SU carburettors yielding 70 kilowatts, driving through a four-speed manual transmission with optional electronic overdrive. A three-speed automatic was also available but sold in very low numbers.

So the MGB’s power was less than inspiring and its handling markedly short of the Austin Healeys and Triumph TRs available at the time, but it sold on price and looks, and proved very popular. Close to half a million sold worldwide and around 9000 found homes in Australia.

MGBs were not imported from England. Locally sold models were assembled here from CKD kits shipped in from England and assembled in Sydney, from 1963 until 1968 by the Pressed Metal Corporation in Enfield and then at British Leyland’s Zetland plant until 1972, when they were forced off the market by new government rules requiring 85 per cent local content to avoid punishing tariffs. The local content of the Australia-assembled model was around 45 per cent. Sales in England continued until 1980 with a six-cylinder model and a V8.

Be prepared to make compromises if you drive one. The steering wheel is huge and sits plum in your lap, the steering is heavy and slow and the gearbox isn’t fast either. A heater and radio were optional and as for power and handling, a well driven current Corolla will run rings around one. But second-hand MGBs do present top-down motoring at a good price, just watch for leaks from the soft top when it’s raining. And oil leaks from just about any component requiring oil. Shannons sold a mark one MGB at auction for $17,500 late last year, but cheaper examples can be found online.

Posted February 2020.


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