JOIN IN THE ANNIVERSARY FUN AT BROOKLANDS!
MG had been considering a six-cylinder version of the ’ B as early as 1961 and by the mid-1960s there was the further issue that the US Federal Safety Regulations, which were due to take effect on in January 1968, would make it too expensive to reengineer the Big ’ Healey to meet the new standards. The resulting MGC would look like the B – for Abingdon’s budget was limited – but underneath it was radically different. The C-series engine, as used in the Austin-Healey 3000, was deemed to be far too heavy for the ’ B’s shell and BMC’s management decided that the latest MG would be powered by an updated unit designed by Morris Motors. There were respaced cylinder bores, a shortened crankcase and seven bearings instead of four, and the plant, in a lower tune, was to be used in another new BMC offering for 1967, the Austin 3-Litre.
Unfortunately, when Abingdon ‘s engineers tried to fit this engine in a standard MGB, they found that it was mission impossible. The plant may have been 44lb lighter than the old C-series but it was still 209lb heavier than the standard B-series. To create the MGC, the radiator was relocated eight inches forward, sandwiching the oil cooler with the grille, and the engine’s taller dimensions meant that the ’ C also had to sport a distinctive bulge in the bonnet. The front suspension had to be extensively altered with longitudinal torsion bars and tubular shock absorbers plus a new crossmember while the bulkhead and floor panels were strengthened.
There were also vacuum-assisted Girling brakes in place of the B’s Lockheed system and a thicker front anti-roll bar. In order to compensate for a frontto-rear weight balance of 56/44 as compared with the B’s 52/48 the ’ C boasted 15in wheels and a new steering rack.
As the ’ C was developed during BMC’s badge-engineering era, the initial idea was that it would
be partnered by an Austin-Healey 3000 MkIV, but this idea was dropped at a late stage in the face of opposition from Donald Healey. And so, the ’ C was launched solely as an MG at a price of £1102 for the Roadster and £1249 for the GT – just £153 and £155 more than the ’ B. The 120mph top speed was certainly impressive compared with the ’ B but the response from the British motoring press was mixed. There were complaints about understeer – the press cars were subsequently found to have incorrect tyre pressures – and the often-acerbic Car magazine asked: ‘Abingdon, home of the British sporting tradition, did you have to do it like this?’
However, such remarks should be balanced against Autocar’s test of a ’ C GT fitted with the optional BorgWarner automatic gearbox, which concluded that it ‘more than succeeds in what it sets out to achieve more than does the open sports car.’ Furthermore, Motor found that its ’ C Tourer ‘amply satisfies one of the prime requirements of grand touring – the ability to cruise with complete effortlessness at high speeds.’ More positive publicity was gained from the London Met’s ’ C traffic cars and when Andrew Hedges and Paddy Hopkirk drove a lightweight MGC GTS racecar to a class victory at Sebring in March 1968. Best of all, the future Prince of Wales chose a ’ C GT as his first car after a test drive at Buckingham Palace; that car, SGY 766F, subsequently passed to Prince William.
MGC production ended in August 1969 and some 200 unsold GTs were bought by University Motors, London’s largest MG dealer, which treated them to 175bhp Downton engine conversions. It was a further demonstration of the ’ C’s potential and 50 years after its launch it seems that the MG suffered from a problem that was to subsequently afflict the Jaguar XJ-S – it was too often compared with a very different previous model rather than being accepted as a car with its own distinctive character. The earlier-mentioned Motor test also noted that ‘enthusiasts familiar with the masculine behaviour of the Austin-Healey 3000 may find the performance of the new car disappointing’ but the ’ C was rather different form of transport.
From a 2017 viewpoint, one mistake BMC did make concerned the MGC’s level of equipment – having to pay an extra £15 1s 2d for a heater was anachronistic even in 1967 – as an improved level of standard fittings might have further established its individual identity as a comfortable two-seater. Anyone experiencing the MGC would almost instantly note how it boasted a better ride than the ’ B and in many ways, it was an ideal choice for anyone seeking a high-speed tourer that retailed at a very reasonable price. Today the ’ C’s many and various merits, as one of MG’s most interesting postwar offerings, are now fully established.
forget the nay-sayers – there’s no need to cling on to the window ledge when cornering hard in an mgc.