Thursday, July 11, 2013
The Sweet Little B
The MGB was introduced in 1962, a year before my own summer jobs with a sports car store. In that job, I had a chance to drive many of the sports cars of the late '50's and early '60's, from MGA's and Sprites and Triumph TR-3's, through Alfa Spiders to Porsche 356's. Without a doubt, the B was the best value for money. It sold for about $2500, compared to $4000+ for the Alfa Giulia Veloce, my favorite "affordable" car then. (I had champagne taste and no savings: easy for me to opine.) The 356 was even more expensive than the Alfa, about as much as a no-options Corvette Stingray. (There was no Mustang, of any specification, yet.)
The B's great advance over its predecessor, the MGA, was its unit body with a roomy cockpit and roll-up windows. While the B retained a "some assembly required" roadster top, anyone who has fooled with side-curtains regrets not their passing. Its chassis was stiffer than the A's and Triumph's body-on-frame construction, but with softer suspension. It didn't squeak or rattle. The unit body also made possible a lower seating position and center of gravity compared to the A and the TR-3. It held a line through a bumpy corner better. This was in spite of a solid rear axle hung from semi-eliptic springs (no improvement over the A's or the TR-3's rear end). The bucket seats without bolsters were nothing to write home about. But the rest of the cockpit's ergonomics were faultless. The B lacked the TR-3's torque--and its shortcomings too.
The B's shortcomings, compared to an Alfa Spider or a Porsche 356 were in the grand touring department. The Alfa handled better because its rear axle was better-located. It was far more sophisticated technically and had an engine that delivered power right up to its 6500 r.p.m. red line. The B's pushrod valve train in a non-crossflow head was red-lined at 5500 r.p.m. and ran out of breath before that. The 356 was quieter. Both had longer legs for Interstates and the Alfa had an overdrive 5th gear. The B's 4-speed and 3.90 rear axle ratio made it buzzy at high speeds.
Ah, but on a country road on a sunny day! The B had better low-end torque than any other car, the TR-3 excepted. It had the best shift linkage, a short throw, and a light, progressive, clutch. Its rack-and-pinion steering was precise and made it easy to set and hold a cornering line. In tight quarters like the Tail of the Dragon, the B would be my choice among the vintage affordables.