1969 MGB Roadster
No surprises, just solid, reliable parts and careful assembly to make one of the most entertaining roadsters you can own for under $20,000.
The MGB represents the ideal introduction to 2-seat British sports cars. Fun, easy to maintain, stylish enough to be loved around the world, and suddenly gaining value as a collector vehicle, it’s a great hobby car whether you’re young or old. Today, well-sorted examples are tough to find, but when they’re right, these are rewarding cars to drive. And quite honestly, it’s hard to imagine a better way to get to work on a sunny summer day than behind the wheel of a convertible with a smart exhaust note and a joyful manual gearbox.
This bright yellow 1969 MGB roadster is one of the more desirable chrome bumper versions, keeping with the purity of the original design before the feds started meddling with bumper standards and wrecking all the great European cars for us Yanks. But that’s not to say that it’s totally stock, since it has been smartly upgraded by an enthusiastic owner who intended to ship it to Australia for a summer of rallying. That dream never came to fruition, but the effort was well-spent, as this is the most enjoyable, competent, and downright quick MGBs available anywhere. It stays true to the purity of the original design and it’s not anything ridiculous like a V8 conversion, it’s just a balanced approach that makes this B a fantastic dance partner. The entire build was done with the factory Special Tuning manual in hand, resulting in a durable, reliable car that’s designed to stay together and run hard all day long.
Originally hailing from California, where it was first purchased by a student at Stanford University, it lived a pretty good life before undergoing a comprehensive restoration in 1999-2000. Even the nicest MGBs often require sheetmetal work, and this was no exception, so it went to the pros at PanelWerks in Mentor, OH, who specialize in Porsche 356 restorations. To them, the MGB was a snap and it received new quarters, floors, and rockers. Every seam in the car was fully stitch-welded instead of spot-welded to increase the strength and durability, a difference that can be felt from behind the wheel. The front fenders are original steel units and the hood is aluminum. Fit and finish are quite good, although the intention was not to create a show car, and the bright yellow color was chosen from a GM color palette and is called, not surprisingly, Commercial Yellow. Most of the chrome is original and in good shape, and anything that’s not to your liking is available from the aftermarket at very affordable prices. Currently it wears a factory Works hardtop wearing its original white paint, and all the weather stripping throughout the car has been replaced, so it seals up better than most open British cars of the period.
New black leather seat covers were installed at the same time, with fresh foam underneath so they’re supportive and all-day comfortable. The leather is a nice upgrade over the usual vinyl, which, after a day in the sun feels like it might permanently bond with your clothing. New carpets were also fitted, with the rear package tray slightly modified for the 4-point roll bar that was fitted for rallying (and subsequently removed but included with the car). The door panels and dash appear to be original to the car and in excellent shape, which should tell you a lot about its care and storage over the past four decades, and all the Smiths instruments are fully functional. A modern Sony AM/FM/CD stereo was fitted, although after you hear the brawny engine note, you may never use it. The trunk was painted to match the rest of the car and is completely rust-free, carrying a matching fifth wire wheel and spare tire, as well as the original MG tool kit. In addition, there is a brand new, never-installed black convertible top included with the car.
The snarky 1800 cc inline-four was extensively rebuilt by the pros at Francis Engineering and maintained since then by Rick Bennett at the Sports Car Factory. It received an .040” overbore, a Piper ¾ race camshaft, oversized valves, twin 1.75-inch SU carburetors (stock MGs run 1.5 inchers), and a long-tube exhaust header and a Piper exhaust system. As many of you may know, Rick Bennett builds Chuck Stoddard’s racing 356 engines, so you know it’s in top condition and really runs superbly. Don’t let the spec sheet fool you, it starts quickly and easily, and once it’s warmed up, it idles well and has plenty of torque for lugging around town. However, this is the first MGB engine I’ve ever driven that loves to rev, and you may frequently find yourself forgetting to upshift simply because the little four feels like it could continue to pull forever. With an upgraded Borg & Beck heavy-duty clutch, gear changes are a breeze and the 4-speed shifter feels tight and well-directed, even at speed. While it won’t compete with a modern Porsche’s performance, it is unlikely that you’ll ever drive a street-legal MGB with its original engine that’s capable of charging from, say, 50-90 MPH faster than this one. Given enough room, it’ll run well past 100 MPH without strain and it just seems to work better and better the harder you push it.
The engine bay is detailed with more bright yellow paint, a big Setrab stacked-plate oil cooler up front, a special oil pressure gauge up top for monitoring the engine during tune-ups, and a Crane electronic ignition system. K&N filters help the big SUs inhale, and battleship gray engine enamel was used on the engine to highlight leaks—if this is how the guys at TRACO did it, then it works just as well here, right? No surprises, just solid, reliable parts and careful assembly to make one of the most entertaining roadsters you can own for under $20,000.
Underneath, the chassis has been given a light coat of body schutz for protection, and the rear suspension was enhanced with a fabricated Panhard rod to keep the rear axle located under hard cornering, but the rest of the suspension is pretty much stock MGB so it rides nicely, too. The brakes are fortified with upgraded performance friction materials, but are also stock, and they live behind a set of wire wheels that were stripped and powdercoated gloss black for a sinister look on the little yellow roadster. Recent 185/75/14 Michelin radials were fitted and they look right and ride quite well.
An extensive list of spares are included with the car, including the aforementioned front fenders, new convertible top, roll bar, and various other bits. Receipts for all the work are available and will accompany the car. This is a fully-sorted highly energetic MGB with no stories. Ridiculously over-built, it has never turned a wheel in anger and has instead spent the last 12 summers tooling along quiet country roads at modest speeds. This MGB drives the way all enthusiasts wish their cars would run, and the bulletproof build means that it’ll always deliver on the fun that its wonderful looks promise.