The MGB was remarkably long-lived, continuing without basic change through 18 years and over half a million units. Of course, its maker could hardly have imagined such longevity when launching the B in 1962 to replace the popular MGA, itself the first sports car to break 100,000 production. Yet even then, there was something in the B’s simple lines, stout mechanical heart, and rugged-yet-cheery character to suggest this MG would be a car for the ages.
The B was certainly that, even though post-1974 models were increasingly compromised in style, performance, and desirability by patchwork solutions to U.S. safety and emissions rules. Not that there’s anything wrong with a B GT, the neat hatchback coupe version announced in 1965 and sold through the bitter end in 1980. But without question, the 1960s roadsters were the purest and most satisfying of the breed.
Technically, the open B was a convertible, as it had wind-down windows (to the chagrin of many MG fans) and, eventually, a folding top fixed to the body. But as an MG, the B was definitely a sports car. It was also a better MG, with the marque’s first unitized body, and more cockpit space than the MGA despite a three-inch shorter wheelbase. Under the bonnet buzzed an upsized 1.8-liter “B-Series” four, which became smoother and stronger in late 1964 with a switch from three to five main bearings.
Horsepower through 1974 was 95, delivered to a four-speed gearbox with available electric overdrive, making this the first MG capable of keeping pace with rival Triumphs. Steering, brakes, and suspension were also from the A and thus rather dated, but they made for foolproof handling and a surprisingly supple sports-car ride.
In 1967, the B was treated to a “Mark II” update featuring a new grille, synchronized first gear -- at last -- and MG’s first automatic transmission, a rare option with only about 5000 fitted. It then soldiered on with little change until its depressing “federalization” of 1975-80, which created cars even MG fans didn’t warm to. But early Bs still engender great affection, one reason lovingly cared-for examples remain a common sight today. That’s the way it is with MGs, and probably always will be.