Classic Cabrio Comparison

MGB V8 v’s Alfa Spider by Matt Nichols
When it comes to choosing an entry level two seat convertible to savour on high days and holidays then included on your short list should be Alfa’s 105 platform based Spider and MG’s model B. Both cars are available from Great Escape Classic Car Hire so you can ‘Try before you buy’ and in performing this comparison I chose their 1991 Series 4 Alfa Spider and 1971 MGB V8. The age gap may seem quite stark but the origins of the run out model Italian go all the way back to the 60’s and despite its plastic body kit and more modern interior design, it has a similar front engine rear wheel drive chassis set up to the MG.
First impressions
The acid test here is when both cars are presented to you with the keys in the ignition, which one do you get in and drive away, tricky isn’t it? The Alfa attracting you with its air of sophistication and Mediterranean flair, whilst the MGB sits there quintessentially British, albeit appearing much older in looks and styling. Which way you go I think will be a mixture of your preferences on country, era and abilities with a spanner? Buy an MG and you would be bonkers to think that you’ll never have to lift the bonnet yourself whilst with the later fuel injected Alfa you could easily step into ownership planning to rely on a single visit to a specialist each year for servicing and an MOT.
Sat inside
If your personal car compass was faltering on initially approaching these two sports cars then I guarantee you’ll either stay sat inside the MG or immediately get back out and run to the Spider. Because although the Alfa has fingers in both old and new world pies the seating position and interior design are all bang up to date. Conversely the MG is locked in a time warp combination of low slung seat, tiny windscreen, sweet smelling leather and mix of traditional dials and switches. If that doesn’t do it for you, or you don’t enjoy the handbrake pressing into your left leg then the Alfa is probably a more suitable place for you to be.
Engine and exhaust note
Now I have to admit straight away this is slightly unfair on my part in choosing an MG with a Rover V8 and raucous exhaust fitted. Press the starter button on this car and it goes up several star ratings instantly courtesy of the guttural throb emitted out the back, echoing off of every building, wall and bridge you pass under. The oversized engine also delivers lots of delicious torque from the off to provide great cruising and overtaking ability. OK so the Alfa is on the back foot in giving away four cylinders and 1500cc, but its 2.0 litre twin cam is no slouch providing equally strong cruising ability and a sporty, albeit far more subtle, exhaust note. The Spider just misses the inevitable punchy acceleration and overtaking ability the extra power gives the MG. If the latter were a more conventional 1800cc model then maybe the tables would get turned, so best keep an open mind in this department.
Out and about
On the highway these cars start to feel much closer in era with both delivering their power through live back axles. The MG’s ride crashes more over broken road surfaces whilst this particular Alfa squeaked its way along, possibly due to a warn bush or something requiring a spot of lubrication. Surprisingly it’s the MG that feels more modern, save for its steering which has a slightly odd artificial feel, being the same static or on the move despite the absence of power assisted steering. The Alfa’s newer shape and cockpit hide its original underpinnings very well indeed as on the move this car feels every bit a classic dominated by the heavy live axle that is firmly weighted to the road. The sensations you get inside the car are largely from the rear body being pushed around by the connecting rods and bars that hold the axle in place enhanced further by some slack introduced over time. The MG definitely has it on dynamics when pushing on, the Alfa being much more refined, but both transport you back in time whilst on the move.
Ownership prospects
Alfa Romeo is the first choice of car for many enthusiasts and collectors and it is not difficult to understand why. There is something, DNA if you like, that draws you in allowing your heart to rule your head on any purchase. Alfa’s are cars you fall in love with and get passionate about and the Spider fits this mould perfectly being less risky than some models as many have lived their entire lives safely stowed during winter months. Also when you buy one the chances are it will be an original specimen and not modified in anyway. MGB’s on the other hand, with some exceptions of course, will have had at least one re-build by now and therefore inevitably ‘improved’ in some way. This one received a Rover V8 and 5-Speed gearbox, whilst others will have got power steering or uprated suspension and converted from rubber to chrome bumpers, or given a set of period wire wheels. I think therefore in choosing between the two cars you can either tread the relatively low maintenance path of an up together Spider or the continuous improvement path that virtually every MGB in the land must find itself on at some point in its life.
Overall

As weekend tourers both cars will do a job for you and so your decision should be based on exactly how you would prefer your classic car experience to pan out. Handy with a set of spanners and keen to have a go, get stuck and make changes to the car then the MG is the car for you with excellent access to parts and panels. Simply want a car to drive and enjoy whilst leaving the oily bits to others then an up together Spider should fit into your life very nicely, particularly if you have a warm and dry place to keep it when not in use.
Driving
MGB - Great dynamics, although the ride can crash over bumps at times
Alfa - A lot of fun and feeling every bit a classic despite its relative newness
Engine
MGB - 3528cc Rover V8 combines well with the 5 speed gearbox delivering both punchy acceleration and great cruising ability
Alfa - 1962cc twin cam engine and 5 speed also work well together in the mid-range, although lack a few horses to be on a par with the MG’s V8.
Brakes
MGB - Discs up front and drums at the rear start to struggle when pushed
Alfa - The all-round servo assisted disc brakes on the Alfa are brilliant
Handling
MGB - Very little body roll and firm ride mean you can corner confidently at speed
Alfa - Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, agile and engaging
Desirability
MGB - Prices vary massively with original matching numbers chrome bumper cars changing hands at well over £10,000
Alfa - Good Series 4 Spiders are holding strong at around £8,000 with original Series 1 cars also fetching well over £10,000
Pro’s
MGB - Entry level classic car that offers its own unique British sports car experience with easy access to parts and panels
Alfa - Fun car for any occasion that comes with classic Alfa DNA
Con’s
Buying a MGB: None really, just with so much choice out there make sure you get the right one for you Renting: None
Buying an Alfa: Mechanicals are robust and reliable, but rust can be an issue, so make sure it’s a good one Renting: None
Overall
MGB - 4/5
Alfa - 4.5/ 5

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