Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Roadsters Remembered #1 MG MGB

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The British climate is not the most conducive to driving open cars but with summer on its way I’ve been thinking about all the open 2-seat cars I’ve driven. The MGB is more than just a car – it is practically a national institution. There is something about the B’s simplicity, size and good looks that give it enduring appeal.

There is no better way to see how cars have changed than to drive one that is 40 years old. It is a physical car; the steering is heavy, the pedals demand firm inputs, the ride is restless and there is persistent background noise. You get used to carrying a can of WD40 to spray on the engine when the weather is wet – otherwise it won’t start – and the fact that the rain will find somewhere to come round the edge of the convertible roof.

Old virtues also emerge, the steering is also more direct than a new car, the gear lever feels pleasantly mechanical and there is overdrive to get used to. Overdrive was a way to give 4-speed cars a 5th gear for relaxed high-speed cruising and on the B was operated by a switch on the dashboard. When it worked there was something wonderful about flicking a switch to change gear – but there was no guarantee of an instant response or even any response at all. Overdrive units have a tendency to get sticky with age.

What the MG needs to be enjoyed at its best are the right kind of roads; lightly trafficked, country roads. Do not try to drive as quickly as possible, you will expend a lot of effort for little reward and it is better to relax, enjoy the view and the beat of the exhaust. Repeat the exercise at night; the view may be diminished but the sounds and smells are enhanced. If you are used to closed cars it lends a whole new dimension to driving.

You may not want to do it all the time but driving an MGB is something you should try at least once.

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