Try Before You Buy MGB V8 Roadster

by Great Escape road tester Matt Nichols
I’ve always thought of early chrome bumper model MGB’s as an affordable alternative to the E-Type Jaguar. Back in the day they were sports cars built for the masses and these days that translates into an excellent entry into classic car ownership. The MGB is a sort of scaled down version of the Jaguar where everything has been slightly reduced from the width of the sills, which are not as wide or for that matter as tricky to clamber over, thanks to the more conventional chassis layout. Then there is the stylish dashboard, which is only a few dials and switches shy to be on a par. So OK it doesn’t quite have the sophistication and panache of an E-Type but then equally there are the much reduced running and maintenance costs when compared to its upmarket cousin.
Sit in the Cotswolds based MGB V8 and you know straight away that you are in a classic British sports car from the sweet smell of leather and a seated position that leaves you particularly close to the road and rubbing shoulders with your passenger. It is cosy no question but at the same time once inside there is plenty of space to give the driver enough elbow room to firmly hold and turn the thin rimmed steering wheel devoid of power assistance. And the passenger lots of lovely leg room to stretch out and enjoy the ride. Behind both seats is also some very useful space to stash soft bags and coats for an overnighter or weekend break if you don’t fancy your stuff sharing the boot with the full sized spare wheel and tyre.
Safely installed, roof down and the fixed seat belts suitably adjusted you find yourself peering underneath the sun visors and through the tiny windscreen giving the sensation of the car shrinking around you and feeling closer in size to the smaller Midget. Press the throttle a few times, turn the ignition key before thumbing the starter button in the centre of the dash, and the car grows back up in size once more as the silence is broken by the glorious resonance of the Rover V8 motor. An engine that generates a noise that has been turned up several notches by the single exit sports exhaust. Suddenly E-Type analogies seem far less appropriate and baby TVR ones much closer to the mark. This MGB is starting to come alive and we haven’t even turned one of its lovely looking 15” alloy wheels yet.
On the move I can confirm that Great Escape Classic Car Hire has done it again with this cracking Nightfire red MGB V8 convertible combining classic car styling and looks with the newer retrofitted Rover SD1 engine and 5 speed gearbox. The drivetrain combination enables you to purr along in a 30mph zone whilst listening to and sharing with passers-by that lovely V8 warble. Then enjoy a rewarding, best taken at half throttle, climb back up through the meaty feeling gearbox to snick it into 5th and cruise at 60mph with no more than 2,500rpm dialled in once back out on the open road. Keeping up with modern traffic is therefore no problem at all and slower road users easily despatched with overtaking manoeuvres that can be executed in 3rd, 4th or 5th gear depending on how much road you’ve got to play with.
This car genuinely travels along at a decent pace with no real effort offering great style and reasonable comfort. The distinctive engine note tracks your journey as you navigate country lanes and save for the crashing noises that indicate a broken road surface or dreaded pothole the ride is firm but not uncomfortable. There isn’t much body roll either and keep some power on through the bends and the 195 profile tyres hold on particularly well giving a nice neutral front to rear balance that marks this MGB V8 out as a very well sorted car. The non-assisted steering is also well judged and seems to feel the same whether stationary or on the move. In terms of classic car traits the only ones I experienced were the indicators not always cancelling themselves and a tendency for the engine to try and stall at junctions, something I compensated for by a couple of blips on the throttle under braking, any excuse to hear that glorious engine note once more.
Having started with pre-conceived ideas about how this car might feel out on the road the only conclusion I can draw is that it is very much its own car. The MGB V8 has a harsher ride than the E-Type Jaguar's I’ve driven and a soundtrack more akin to the TVR Tuscan. The handling is a joy and the ability to effortlessly cruise at 60-70mph quite uncanny. The heater works well with the roof down, a roof that also appears to fit nice and tightly once back up again. All the controls are easy to use and overall I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this classic British sports car and if in the market myself I think I might go all out for a V8 with Sebring body conversion fitted with slightly wider versions of the 15” alloys on this car just to fill the arches.
Verdict 1971 MGB V8 Convertible
Low revving V8 means decent pace can be easily maintained over a wide range of roads without any real effort. Ride can get a bit crashy if the road surface has broken up.
Rover V8 works well mated to the 5 speed gearbox and performs best in the mid-range
Surprisingly quick if you want it to be, but personally I think best driven as a characterful tourer
Brakes are a match for keeping up a good pace but push on a bit harder and you may need to start the process of slowing down a bit earlier than you might say in a modern car
Very little body roll and firm ride mean this car will corner confidently at speed. Worth keeping some throttle on all the way through the bends so that everything stays nice and tight
Prices are on the up with good ones fetching decent money these days
Entry level classic car that offers its own unique British sports car experience and easy access to spares
Buying – The usual and with so much choice out there make sure you get the right one for you
Renting – None.
Overall 4/5