British Motoring Monday: Which MGB For You?

MGB Camparo

After spending all weekend with about 400 other British car enthusiasts, I came home full of fresh ideas for future household vehicles. One of those is an MGB, as I have several MGB engines and transmissions floating around as a result of accumulating spares for the race car. Looking here and here on eBay, the same seller in McMinnville, Tennessee has two 1972 MGB’s both in the same shade of blue for sale. The project version is listed for $1,300 buy-it-now but they are accepting offers, while the nicer car is listed with a buy-it-now of $5,000 or bidding starting at $4,900.

Project engine bay

Let’s look at the project first. The seller mentions that he has a block and transmission for this car, but no cylinder head or carbs. I’m guessing that the head and carbs may have ended up on the nicer car; MGB heads are prone to cracking (I have several cracked ones if you’d like a piece of cast iron sculpture…). On the bright side, it does have the steering rack and most of the other items in the engine bay I would expect to see, although I’d be asking questions about the radiator and oil cooler.

Project interior

The floors have some holes, but without looking in person it’s hard to tell whether localized patching would work or not. I do cringe at the sight of rust on a unibody car like the MGB; having replaced one set of sills (all three panels), I will never be doing that again. I am encouraged by the relatively complete dash with all gauges. There’s a lot to do on this car, though, even with a relatively solid body, and there are no close-ups of those all-important dog legs just in front of the rear wheels which are the first place most MGB’s rust.

Runner engine

Now, looking at the other MGB. THIS is what an MGB engine compartment should look like! Not concours by any means, the better of the two cars is said to be a good runner and has a lot of new components as well. The only thing I see missing is the air pump and its rail, which for most folks isn’t a bad thing. The oil cooler is in place, along with carbs that have been rebuilt recently according to the ad.

Runner interior

While the interior isn’t concours either, it does look pretty darn nice, with new leather upholstery, a nice looking dash and decent carpet. It’s unusual to see an undamaged center armrest, and I’d speculate that it’s new also. The only things this car needs according to the seller are a few blemishes in the paint repaired and a new convertible top.

Wire wheel

It’s also nice to see a set of new wire wheels and new tires; something else a prospective buyer would not have to worry about. In both advertisements, the seller mentions making a package deal for both cars; this would lead me to believe that they feel the project is really a parts car. I don’t think it is, I believe it could be restored, but I can’t see taking the project car to the level of the other car for the difference in price between them. If I were purchasing, I’d buy the nicer car and leave the other one for someone else. The parts it has are already nice on the other car, and I’d just have to make room for it. I’m interested in your thoughts, Barn Finds readers.  Assume for a moment you are going to buy one of the two; would you prefer the “blank canvas” of the project car, or the largely finished version that may be finished in a way you don’t prefer? Let us know in the comments!


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  1. James g

    Neither! Are you crazy? Italian power 100% 5 gears reliability no worrying about wiring. Bigger and won’t get ran over and flattened by a truck.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      What are you referring to James? Fiat, Alfa…?

  2. Union Jack

    Go with the better car. The cost of rust repair and new paint alone would cover the difference in cost.

    And a properly sorted MGB is just about as reliable as a Toyota pickup truck. With reasonable maintenance they’ll run forever.

  3. jim s

    i would buy them both. then strip all the parts off of the parts car and sell the tub. daily drive the runner. very interesting finds.

  4. Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

    At first glance, the project car seems like the bargain, but after looking at the photos it quickly becomes evident that it is grossly overpriced. The second car on the other hand, seems like a great bargain after looking at what all is there. The leather seat covers and wire rims make up almost half the asking price! If you don’t have the $5k needed for it, you had better keep looking.

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Jesse, that’s where I was. Actually, I just ran across a $1300 BGT (non-running but solid) and I have a spare known good running B engine in the garage. Any reason now that you have one I shouldn’t look at it?

      • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

        Go for it Jamie! I’m starting to think B stands for bargain. Some people want too much for theirs, but there are still many good cars out there at realistic prices. They may not be the most eye catching car ever, but the experience is right up there with much more expensive sports cars. In fact, I have regretted the sale of my Alfa Romeo GTV up until now. The MGB fits me better, is much cheaper to maintain, and I don’t have a nagging fear that it is going to get damaged or rust out. It really is a car you can drive guilt-free!

      • Alan (Michigan)

        Love it Jesse…

        A new axiom for Barn Finds: “A car you can drive guilt-free!”

        Works for me!

  5. Mitch

    No brainer. Buy the nicer one. You will be under water soon on the restore cost. Always buy the car closest to being a daily driver.

  6. George

    If you’ve found a $1300 BGT get it and use one of your spare motors and tyrannies to make it a daily driver. They are too hot in summer in our area, but fun drivers and you probably won’t see one sitting next to you at a stop light

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Great looking racer George!

  7. Rufus

    Jesse, you pose an interesting situation. If it weren’t for the rust, the project could be a neat beater/driver/rat. But,,, Its rusty. I’ve got a GT in about the same state of disrepair, and for me, they aren’t worth spending a bunch of money on.
    If the other car has zero rust, then it becomes a pretty decent driver. After a coupla years, the interior will wear enough that it will blend into the original paint, and you’ve got a driver that looks like its supposed to. I think they call that Patina. It appears he pulled this one from somebody’s garage where its been asleep. New interior, top, rebuilt carbs, now,,, off to the next one. I wonder if he did hubs when he did wheels?

    Have fun

  8. Bruce

    would go with the cheap project and fix it up the way i wanted it and if i changed the color it would be good to. helps since i have all the stuff to fix a car and even have a friend who can do the paint job :)

  9. ClassicCarFan

    I have to agree with just about everyone else here…. The better condition car is a much more sensible buy. The project car has just too much to sort out and will end up costing way more than the other car. Jesse is quite right, the leather seats kit and fitting, plus the wire wheels would cost half the asking price – especially if the car was not fitted with wire wheels out of factory. The wire wheel set up on the MGB involves quite different axle/hub set up at the rear (compared to the usual Triumph conversion which is simple bolt-on external hubs).

    The sad fact with that project car is that it has dropped into that scary region where the cost of bringing it back to even usable driver condition probably doesn’t make much sense. Why spend $10k + on that one just to get it back into the same sort of condition as the $5,000 car? I see a lot of Spitfires, Midgets etc which fall into this category unfortunately and many will end up scrapped and parted out. What would one of the best really well-kept, nicely sorted Spitfires out there cost you? $7,000, $8,000 maybe? It is far too easy to spend that sort of money trying to bring a rough car back up to standard.

    Of course, sometimes it’s not all about the economic argument. I spent many years and many hundreds of workshop hours restoring my Triumph TR4 from ground up. If I totaled up all the dollars spent on parts and services over the years (I’m not even going to think about putting a dollar figure on my labor!) then the total would probably have allowed me to buy quite a nice ready-restored car. However, there were good reasons why I wanted to do the job myself.

    Firstly, it is my hobby and I really enjoyed doing it. There is a great sense of reward in driving around in a car you have restored yourself. I wanted a “project” and I enjoyed overcoming challenges and learning a lot of new skills along the way. I can now truly say that I know every inch, every nut and bolt on the car.

    Secondly, it gave me the opportunity to choose the spec of my car as I went along, body color, engine build etc. Thirdly, buying a relatively cheap project as a starting point and working on it over several years is a sort of ‘installment’ plan. I probably could not have justified spending the ‘total’ figure I referred to above all at one time but the duration of the project allowed me to spread the cost over time which was more acceptable.

    And finally, sometimes a project has some additional emotional significance. I restored a Triumph Spitfire a few years back which had belonged to my brother. It had been in the family for quite a few years (and still is). That car had sentimental value within our extended family and we preferred not to let it go. I know this is the case for many folks. So, back to the MGBs…..while I say the $5,000 car is a more rational buy, I do hope there is someone out there with time, funds and patience to rescue the project car.

    • Alan (Michigan)

      Well said, Sir, very well said.

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