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MGB - The Illustrated History.


Jonathan Wood and Lionel Burrell.
ISBN 978-0-85733-111-3
Published 2012. (Hardback, 239 pages).
Review date August 2012.
Book on the MGB car

UK RRP 30.00.

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If ever a British car were to be voted as the most straightforward "classic" sportscar to own, in terms of ownership experience, spares and technical support, and overall usability, the MGB would be a leading contender - whether in early chrome-bumper form, or in later rubber-bumper guise. Built around tried-and-tested engine and running gear, its popularity has never wavered since its launch, and there have been leagues of enthusiastic owners, both during and after the car's lengthy production run, ensuring that they never disappear from view on the country's roads. To support these owners, an entire industry has been created, producing the smallest of components, through to complete bodyshells.
Unsurprisingly there's been no shortage of authors penning works on the model either. This book, titled "MGB - The Illustrated History" first saw light of day in 1988 and has seen several updates and reprints since that date. The latest re-worked edition, launched to coincide with the B's 50th birthday, brings the story right up to date, building on that written in earlier prints.
Given that the car was an evolution of an earlier model (the MGA), utilising the B-Series engine that had already seen service in a variety of sporting and saloon cars during the 1950s, it's amazing to consider that the MGB remained in production for 28 years - and was awoken once again in the 1990s with the launch of the RV8.
Returning to the start of the MG's story, the reader is introduced in Chapter One to some of the key MGs that came and went prior to the B's launch.These include the MG Super Sports of 1926, the T-series cars, and of course the MGA on which the B was in-part based.
Chapter two walks through the genesis of the new car, including some tantalising original shots of how the final car could have looked. These include a rakish design penned by Frua, and built onto a 1500cc MGA chassis. Scale models of the design process shed light on how the MGB Roadster (the first version to be launched) evolved, leading to the prototype - code-name EX214 - being built in 1960. Period black and white photographs of the prototype's interior, engine bay and coachwork from different angles, can all be found reproduced in this book, allowing comparisons to be made with what actually rolled off the line in 1962 as the finished article. Weight issues with the separate-chassis proposals led to the design team opting for a monocoque bodyshell, and this is covered throughout the chapter in the text, accompanied again by relevant images from the archives.
Production of the new car then follows, along with some original promotional material used to introduce the car to the public. The photograph of an early B Roadster parked alongside a BOAC airliner is particularly eye-catching (although it's captioned as a VC10, whereas in fact it's a Boeing 707, a minor quibble!). Press shots from 1962 intertwined with recent images of concours-prepared cars in preservation and cutaway drawings, help tell the story and explain the features unique to the very first cars. The Berlinette, a fastback GT born in Brussels and built in limited numbers only, also receives a mention, leading into the description of the new MGB GT for 1965, still under the guiding eye of BMC.
Production under the ownership of BLMC (later British Leyland) is the focus of Chapter four, and the revisions that were introduced across the range to freshen up the design for the start of the 1970s. While exotic-looking design proposals were passed around and discussed in depth, none made it into reality, leaving the B - still with its ageing 1800cc B-Series engine - to soldier on, taking the fight to the likes of Triumph, with their Spitfire/GT6/TR4 line-up, themselves not exactly in the first flush of youth either.
The 1970s would see many revisions to the MGB's design. A plastic grille replaced the chrome-plated type, while Rostyle steel rims replaced the plain-jane originals and British Leyland badges made their appearance on the front wings. These were but mild updates when compared to what would appear in 1974, with the "rubber bumper" cars. Gone were the (relatively) lightweight chrome-plated bumper blades, replaced by black, weighty, rubber jobs, wrapping around the car's intake and front corner, no doubt making it safer but doing nothing for the car's looks. To add insult to injury, the ride height had to be raised, compounding the butchery of the once-neat Roadster and GT styling for good. Plastic dashboards and stripey seats would jazz-up the design in the following years, but there was no getting away from the B's increasing age, especially when compared to Triumph's rakish TR7, which - while hardly an icon of product design and desirability - was at least a (then) modern design for modern times. The evolution of the B throughout these troubled times, receives fair coverage within this book's pages, aided by the stories of the people who were there at the factory.
The cars soldiered on until 1980, with a final series of limited editions drawing the veil down on production, after 28 years.
No book about the MGB would be complete without its six-cylinder cousin, the MGC, receiving a mention, and indeed a chapter is devoted to the model, and the extensive re-working of the structure that was required to shoe-horn the straight-six in. Although it had a reputation as being nose-heavy, thanks to the weight of the 2,912cc engine, I think the MGC GT is the one I'd go for if ever I planned to buy a '60s MG, preferring the sound of a six-pot engine up front to the four-pot. Alternatively, perhaps the MGB GT V8 would be a better bet, given its aluminium engine and respectable performance? A chapter explaining the merits and design behind the V8 version follows that for the C.
The MGB's competition history is explained next, describing the numerous successes it had on both track and in the forests, something that continues with regular appearances in historic events to this day.
The RV8, built around new Heritage shells to re-awaken interest in MG as a sporting brand (as opposed to being a badge nailed onto some tuned-up middling Austin-Rover saloons and hatches of the 1980s), paved the way for the new two-seater MGF of 1995. A great deal of fettling to the tub was required before this hand-built machine could go on sale, the majority going to foreign shores. The transformation of these shells, and the design of the RV8 as a whole, is recounted in detail. There then follow a few words regarding recent developments of the MG brand, not least its purchase by a Chinese concern, intent on returning the marque to the buying public's consciousness. Time will tell how that plan goes.
The remainder of the book is given over to a list of production changes and the chassis numbers at which they took place, plus tables of production figures, test vehicles, EX experimental car codes, and a brief mention of the cars built up from CKD kits in Australia.
For anyone who is new to MGBs, this is well worth considering as a guide to the model from beginning to end. Existing owners may already have earlier incarnations of this book, so only a visual inspection of the new-for-2012 edition will demonstrate how much content is new, and how much has already been said. Overall though, a fine book on one of the iconic Brit sportscars.
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