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“…one of the best British GT sports cars of the 1960s you can buy and own.” Classic Motoring 4th August 2011.
Conceived as a replacement for the venerable but slightly long in the tooth Austin-Healey 3000, (or not, there is a divergence of opinion on this) a higher performance derivative of the MGB was being developed for the majority of the 1960s before the ‘C’ eventually arrived in 1967. Hamstrung to a degree by looking virtually identical to its B brother and subject to a somewhat lukewarm reception by the press, it came and went in just two years. Easy then, it was an ill-advised dead end typical of the short sighted BMC management of the time. Well, actually no; though we have been guilty of subscribing to this trite point of view in the past, ignore the prejudices of the time which have been perpetuated ever since, dig a little deeper and you, like us, could well be in for a pleasant surprise. Yes it looks like an MGB but who doesn’t want a ‘Q’ car that can surprise those taken in by the delicate good looks of both cars. Did the press get it wrong then? The fleet of poorly prepared road test vehicles certainly didn’t help (note to the PR guys, check the tyre pressures) but the scribes were possibly looking for the MGC to fulfil a role it wasn’t intended to; the B was the sports car, the C the long legged cruiser for Grand Touring with its higher axle ratio giving 100 MPH at just 3,700 RPM of its lolloping straight six. Its short production run and less than stellar sales mean that there were only ever 4,542 MGC roadsters made compared to a frankly amazing 386,789 Bs so if you want something that was eighty-five times as rare, the C is the one for you!
Going back to the Healey question, though ostensibly fulfilling the same role in that they were both convertibles powered by straight six engines of around 3.0 litres, the MGC’s C-Series, seven bearing unit was both lighter and shorter than the Austin-Healey’s lump as well as being somewhat smoother thanks to those three extra main bearings. Equipped with twin 1 3/4” SU carburettors, it gave a handy 145 BHP at a surprisingly high 5,250 RPM (so not the plodder people would have you believe) and 170 lb/ft of torque. While 53% more power easily put clear blue water between itself and the B, it was level pegging with the 148 BHP Healey, 120 MPH flat (cap) out and the 0-60 benchmark dispatched in 10.0 seconds being quoted for both cars. Where the MGC really scored over the 3000 was with its unitary construction body as opposed to the Healey’s separate chassis and on the road the decade of difference in designs was more than apparent. The downside was that the MGB body shell required a considerable amount of re-engineering to accommodate the heavier and bigger six cylinder engine, though it did prove that BMC were fully committed to the project. To get it to fit the front cross member had to be modified and the coil springs swapped for torsion bars though the associated substitution of telescopic dampers for the original lever arms was a coincidental win. Even then height and length of the engine required a full width bonnet bulge plus a further ‘teardrop’ bubble to clear the for’ard carburettor. Once they managed to get the engine to fit, the boffins back at Abingdon turned to its resultant improved performance. Wisely, bigger brakes were first on the shopping list which in turn required 15” wheels which were wrapped in Pirelli’s excellent 165 profile Cinturato tyres. A stronger four synchromesh gear-box and beefed up back axle were deemed sensible and the steering was given a slightly lower gearing so Olive Oyl could also drive the car.
This particular MGC, specified with the optional extras of wire wheels, overdrive on third and fourth gears and a heater, was registered new on 18th April 1968 to a Mr Michael Bowman of Middlesex, although he apparently had to travel to Buckinghamshire to acquire an example that matched his exact requirements. Taking it with him when he moved North West to Sale a couple of years later, he used it extensively for the early part of its life before taking it off the road. It was eventually entrusted to renowned marque specialists Naylor Brothers for a thorough, top quality, photographic restoration, which was completed in March 1998. There is a Naylor Brothers valuation for £22,000 from March 1998 on file and it is understood the total cost of the work carried out was very close to this. Mr Bowman then continued to enjoy the MG for a further nigh on twenty years with the odometer (reset on completion of the restoration) creeping up to just over 1,400 miles by the time his pride and joy was eventually sold in April 2017 for the first time in nearly fifty years, to a retired airline pilot local to him. The second owner’s tenure was somewhat shorter and with a further 700 miles covered, a freak cycling injury (two wheels good, four wheels better as Orwell nearly said) has precipitated the sale of the MG to what will be only its third owner.
Though the work was carried out some twenty-two years ago, the condition of ‘CKX 323F’ today speaks volumes for its outstanding quality. The old adage that any restoration looks good for a time but the true test of its quality is its longevity certainly applies in this instance and we strongly recommend you have a good look at the ‘warts and all’ photo gallery to fully appreciate this, mostly because there are virtually no ‘warts’ at all.
The C’s bodywork is as straight as a die with not a single dimple, ripple or blemish much less hint of corrosion. Notorious for starting and perpetuating body rot, the beaded rear wing seams all appear to be absolutely problem free and the MG displays excellent panel fit and alignment.
The Mineral Blue paintwork is still bright with great shine and no shrinkage or unevenness at all. It has also avoided that ‘boiled sweet’ look that can affect recently completed resprays, in perhaps unsympathetic materials.
Presumably new at the time of the restoration the Moss supplied hood and full tonneau look to be virtually unused. Professionally fitted, the roof is taut and the MG is super snug inside, reward for its slightly labour intensive deployment and its windows are clear and free from scratches.
The generous amount of chrome on the car is in excellent shape with no pitting or dullness let alone corrosion evident. The waist trim strips do show some very slight deformation but one has to be very observant to notice this (and picky for it to be a concern).
Inside the seats have recently been re-trimmed in beautifully soft leather, the smell of which permeates the cabin (assuming the hood is up). The carpets are in excellent condition while it is nice to see the correct rubber sill covers and textured foot-well mats are in place with no splits or tears. The Britax lap and diagonal seat belts are also in fine condition in both the webbing and metalwork departments. The generous ‘Banjo’ steering wheel actually makes a refreshing change from the ubiquitous aftermarket wood rim replacement. The standard dashboard houses a hansom set of easily read instruments which are all in good cosmetic and working order. The finish inside the boot is better than that of many cars’ external panels and a spare wire wheel, jack, lead hammer, hood frame bag and tonneau cover supports are all present and correct.
The painted wire wheels are in excellent condition, clad in generously treaded Cinturatos and nicely offset by the chrome spinners.
Clambering underside (OK we had the benefit of a lift, as would you should you wisely choose to view the MG to really appreciate its outstanding condition) it looks as if the work was carried out two years rather than two decades ago. Finished correctly in ‘direct to metal’ body colour (no blown over underseal here), the floor pans, castle rails and jacking points remain unblemished as do the sills. All the correct seams, mouldings and drain holes are evident and pin-sharp. Again, it is well worth while spending a little time examining the photos in the gallery. Yes there is a little bit of light surface rust on some suspension components and a minimal amount of mud splatter but these are easily improved cosmetics. A couple of new 12 volt batteries give improved cranking power and are more reliable than the original 6’s while the Bell stainless steel exhaust system still has its maker’s sticker on it.
As one might expect by now, it is much the same story under the bonnet where everything is clean, tidy and finished correctly. Also not surprisingly we again recommend you have a good browse around the photo gallery.
The enhanced battery arrangement helps turn the big six over easily and it fires readily with a bit of choke, settling quickly into a 900 RPM idle with 40 PSI showing on the oil pressure gauge. Though we can’t claim to have verified this on our brief test drive, it is worth noting that cars specified with overdrive received a lower final drive ratio giving more sprightly acceleration while having a genuine ‘overdrive’ top, maximum speed remained unaffected. What we are able to testify is that the gear-change is slick and precise and neither the clutch nor steering are overly heavy, though admittedly the lock is not in the Triumph Herald class. Not renowned for its bottom end torque we were pleasantly surprised to find a hill start in 2nd gear was achieved with ease by the C.
Though not enormous in terms of bills and receipts, the MG’s history file plays the quality over quantity card to perfection. The emphasis is on ‘history’ with a lovely selection of key items from the cars life since 1968 present; buff logbooks (original and continuation), the original warranty and service book along with a fascinating item of social history in the form of a ‘Motor Fuel Ration Book’ which was issued during the 1973 oil crisis though rationing was never ultimately imposed. Another item of historical interest is Mr Bowman’s original University Motors customer impression card thingamajig (sorry no, we have no idea what it is actually called). MOT tested virtually every year since it was restored with just one fail for a dodgy brake light switch and any advisories attended to, there are some seventeen old certificates on file. Also included are some old tax discs with a Camden Motors of Leighton Buzzard holder (given that since 1970 the MG has been in North West of England, they were quite possibly the original Supplying Dealer) and various V5s including the current one. The previously mentioned photographs of the C’s restoration along with the 1998 valuation complete the paperwork and though there is not much in the way of bills, we feel the MG’s condition really speaks for itself.
Regardless of whether or not the MGC was a replacement for the Big Healey or not, how do they compare in today’s classic market? With nothing to choose between them in terms of performance, the MG comfortably has the upper hand from a refinement perspective even if the Healey is more of an out and out sports car, though in the case of the last of the line ‘wood and windows’ MK 3 even that is debatable. What clinches it for us is that, especially in the case of this more than sensibly reserved example, the MGC is around half the price of an equivalent Austin-Healey.