MG Classic File

It was probably a bit self-indulgent to include the 1964 O-series MGB (above) in the model-by-model section of Classic MG File. I described it as a project by the author, one of several MGBs rebuilt with an M16 engine representing, it was hoped, what the B might have developed into had MG survived the dog days of British Leyland.

It was not to be. I describe in the history section of The Classic MG File how a hundred thousand MGAs and half a million MGBs had come out of the quaint little factory in rural Abingdon on Thames. MGs had become cult cars. Nothing else was ever so brim full of nostalgia. Yet the celebrations surrounding the fiftieth year of production in Berkshire turned within weeks to dismay, when Sir Michael Edwardes, chairman appointed by the government to stem BL’s disarray, announced its closure. The nationalised corporation claimed it was losing £900 on every MGB it made, but there was deep scepticism that this was an accountant’s fiction. MG simply did not fit with Lord Donald Stokes and Triumph-dominated BL’s plans. It was scant reward for the 1100-strong workforce’s exemplary industrial relations, but Edwardes could see no future for the symbiotic relationship MG founder Cecil Kimber had forged between sports cars and volume cars.

Like generations of enthusiasts I had affection for MGs. Friends had TAs and TCs. My brother had a TD. I followed several Sprites with an MGA (left)
and I navigated TDs and a TF in rallies. I followed the works team of TFs on the Circuit of Ireland Trial. My friend Roger Stanbury took me into the Vintage MG world in his 18/80. I was still a new road tester for The Motor in October 1962, when I drove MGB 523 CBL to Charterhall the weekend before the first road test the following Tuesday. The car was still technically secret but nobody minded much.

It was exactly 30 years later that I featured The MG That Never Was in The Sunday Times magazine. Heritage shell, chrome wire wheels, it was painted in a Rolls-Royce paint shop it looked stunning but unfortunately it was a project that ran out of cash. The M16 engine fitted exactly with a Sherpa van bellhousing, and SD1 5-speed gearbox.
Here is the entry in The Classic MG File.

For an engine whose origins went back to the dark days of the war, the pushrod B-series had an astonishing lifespan. It was subject to continuous development along with a number of attempts at its replacement, such as the E-series built in a new plant at Cofton Hackett. Quite a small power unit developed for front wheel drive transverse engined cars; this could have had two cylinders added for bigger cars. It would still have been difficult to fit into an MGB, however, and among the alternatives explored were a narrow-angle V4 and even a V6. Instead a 2litre version of the 5-bearing B-series was designed as something of a stop-gap. This was the O-series, with an overhead camshaft aluminium cylinder head, which unfortunately took a long time to develop as US emission control measures grew more demanding. It was fitted in the Rover SD1 2000 in 1982 and tried experimentally in MGBs in the late 1970s. With the B approaching the end of its useful life however, it remained a tantalising might-have-been. The O-series evolved into the M16 twin overhead camshaft fuel injected Rover 820 engine, mooted as a possibility for the revived MGB of the 1990s. The V8 was chosen instead, leaving a number of private owners, such as MG expert Roger Parker, to build one-offs that represented how the MGB might have been developed.

BODY roadster and GT, 2 doors, 2 seats; weight approx 2442lb (1108kg) (GT).
ENGINE 4 cylinders, in-line; front; 84.4mm x 89mm, 1994cc; compr 9.0:1; 101bhp (75.3kW) @ 5250rpm; 50.7bhp (37.8kW)/l; 120lbft (161Nm) @ 3250rpm.
ENGINE STRUCTURE single toothed belt driven overhead camshaft; cast iron block, aluminium cylinder head; two SU HIF 44 carburettors; contact-breaker ignition; 5-bearing crankshaft.
TRANSMISSION rear wheel drive; sdp clutch; 5-speed manual synchromesh gearbox; hypoid bevel final drive.
CHASSIS DETAILS steel monocoque structure; ifs by coil springs and unequal wishbones; live axle with semi-elliptic springs, anti-roll bars front and rear; Armstrong lever arm dampers; Lockheed hydraulic brakes with vacuum servo, front 10.75in (27.3cm) discs, rear 10in (25.4cm) drums; rack and pinion steering; 11gal (50l) fuel tank; 165SR -14 tyres; 5J rims.
DIMENSIONS wheelbase 91in (231.1cm); track 49in (22.9cm) (124.5cm); turning circle 30.5ft (9.3m); ground clearance 5in (12.7cm); length 158.25in (402cm); width 60in (152.4cm); height 49.25in (125.1cm).
PERFORMANCE 11kg/bhp (14.7kg/kW).
PRODUCTION nil, development cars only.
The late Wilson McComb, MG historian and PR man at Abingdon for many years, poses with an MGA.