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When launched in 1967, the MGC was panned by the motoring press.
The installation of the non-Healey, BMC-sourced 2912cc Austin engine seemed to attract ire, as did the fact that the C looked almost identical to the B. And, at the time, the whole MGB/C engineering package was well past its sell-by date. Unfair, we feel.
Road testers complained that the 145bhp six-cylinder engine was too heavy and too far forward in the chassis (to allow for the bulky automatic transmission for the American market), which created ‘terminal’ understeer. In addition, the car was regarded as being too slow, although it could crack 120mph when the B managed only 106mph.
In fact, the C’s weight distribution is 53:47 front to rear, which does not seem that extreme, nor does its overall weight of 1116kg. Also, there’s a motoring journalist rumour that the early press cars were sent out with totally the wrong tire pressures. It was also noted that the journos were lulled by the C’s quiet and refined power delivery, so did not realise quite how fast they were travelling into the first few corners.
MGB GT owner and Octane managing editor David Lillywhite says: ‘The difference between a B and C is remarkable. The B feels sportier but is harder work over long distances; the C is much more refined. I like this MGC for its period feel, but I admit I’d tweak any C just a little to sharpen up the engine and suspension and make it the car it should have been.’
So let’s find out how the MGC behaves in today’s world of classic sports cars. This absolutely pristine example was brought along by Gerry Wadman, proprietor of Sussex Sports Cars. Gerry is a gentleman dealer of the old school and has been in the business forever. He knows a good car from an average one, and believes this C is one of the best. ‘There are professional restorations and there are love jobs, and this is most certainly the result of a labour of love,’ he says. Looking at the C, finished in the best colour combination of Snowberry White with matching piped black leather interior, shod with correct, narrow, 15-inch wire wheels, the C appears totally straight and very pretty. The bulge on the bonnet and large twin exhausts exiting from the rear add a promise of more grunt than you might expect.
The C’s interior is extremely attractive and the driver’s seat is very soft and comfortable. A lovely steering wheel with its deep red MG boss and chrome spokes offsets the crackle-black dashboard. The unstressed engine needs some choke to get it fired and idling smoothly. Once it is warmed through, the well-placed gearshift lever snicks into first with a mechanical feel and the C trundles off. The engine emits a sonorous six-cylinder sound. It has the gruffness of a B to start with, but the note soon smoothes and quietens.
Approach the first corner with trepidation and the C simply eases through it. The rack-and-pinion steering remains light and the torsion bar front suspension pliant. The rear end does exhibit a bit of live axle jitter just like a B’s, but the car’s demeanour is one of gentleness. Try harder and it remains the same, probably helped by the new radial tires being at the correct pressure. It is the refined Austin-Healey that MG intended to build. It is not especially fast, but get it into overdrive and the lusty engine piles on speed with ease.
Fair enough, the MGC is the least sporting of this line-up and is really a grand tourer. But in this better-than-new condition it is a beautiful classic and a pleasure to drive. A totally charming motor car.
The MGC doesn’t have quite such a perfect parts availability as the MGB, but it’s not far behind – and that makes it an extremely easy car to own.
Nigel Guild of London-based Former Glory has specialised in MGs since 1986. ‘Check for rust, especially in the sills,’ he warns, ‘because unlike the MGB, new bodyshells aren’t available for the MGC, and it’s a lot of work to convert an MGB Heritage shell to the C’s torsion-bar front suspension.
‘The sills are notoriously involved to replace, but for a clue to their condition check that there’s a visible vertical seam dividing the sill and the rear wing, just below the trailing edge of the door. If the sill has been badly repaired, the seam won’t show. Look out too for rust around rear spring mountings, in inner wings, in the twin battery boxes, the seams at the tops of the wings and in the boot floor.
‘The engine is tough; just make sure that oil pressure is more than 40psi above 2500rpm and check for oil leaks from either end of the motor. Listen as well for rumbling from worn main bearings. Brakes are simple and cheap to overhaul.
‘On modern tires with correct pressures these are great cars, very smooth and relaxing.’
If you do want more, we’d go for a performance exhaust manifold and system, free-flow air filter, uprated torsion bars and a high-ratio steering rack.
Engine: 2912cc straight-six, OHV, twin SU carburettors Power: 145bhp @ 5250rpm Torque: 160lb ft @ 3500rpm Transmission: Four-speed manual with optional overdrive, rear-wheel drive Suspension: Front: independent by torsion bars and wishbones. Rear: live axle, semi-elliptics Brakes: Front discs, rear drums Weight: 1116kg Performance: Top speed - 120mph. 0-60mph - 10sec