In its 18-year production run - from 1962 to 1980 - the MGB was purchased by more than half a million people. It was - and still is - one of the most successful two-seaters ever made, and, even today, stands up well….there are still thousands of them putting around the world and the parts/service network for aficionados is extensive.
Part of the reason for the “B”s massive appeal was its entertainment per pound factor. It was an enjoyable car to drive and, with minimal modifications, could be made into a go-fast little corner-carver. At club races and events throughout the world, MGBs still show up in significant numbers and usually acquit themselves quite well. Many buffs consider it to be the greatest sports car ever made, purely because of its accessibility and fun factor.
It wasn’t perfect. Fickle electrics, a nasty susceptibility to rust, and a drive train that was out-dated almost as soon as it was put into the car are negatives, and some versions – from 1975 to the end, for example – were so hamstrung by emission equipment, they could scarcely get out of their own way. When the end came, in 1980, the B had earned its place in history, but it was well past its prime.
But a new kid on the block was just over the horizon. The Mazda Miata – or MX5 – hit the road in 1989 and has been a tremendous success for the company ever since. As of this year (2016), Mazda has sold well over a million of these cars, worldwide.
Not hard to see why. It has the same basic character as the MGB: rear wheel drive, durable four cylinder engine, monocoque body construction, above-average handling and braking, and huge fun quotient. Like the “B”, it’s a favourite with amateur boy and girl racers everywhere. Some of the first models are actually considered to be vintage racers now and it’s not unusual to see them going up against MGBs at club and autocross events.
But, from someone who has spent plenty of seat time in both of these cars, the MX5 is a superior automobile in just about every way. It has better handling and braking, a much more appropriate engine, better rust-resistance, and a manageable soft-top. When it came time to lower/raise the roof, MGB Mk. I models, from ’62 to ’68, were ridiculously complicated and user-unfriendly. The soft-top on today’s MX5 takes seconds to deploy and you can use just one hand to do it.
But that’s not all. With 155 horsepower on tap, the latest generation of MX5 will run rings around the “B” and because of its relatively lightweight construction (1058 – 1078 kilograms), is actually one of the livelier cars on the road. No longer, just “cute” or “charming”, it has matured and will surprise you with its performance and handling. 0 to 100 km/h times are in the six to seven second range, which is almost twice as fast as the old MGB.
One note: the shift mechanism. It has rifle-bolt precision and is perfectly matched to the free-revving 2.0 litre four-banger. It reminds me of the shifter on a Lotus SuperSeven: short, direct, and perfectly spaced. My GS had the six-speed manual, but you can also get an automatic….which would be kind of defeating the purpose, it seems to me.
As befits a contemporary automobile, the MX5 has all the modcons and goodies. My tester came with a hill launch assist, air conditioning, headlight leveling system, cruise control, power windows/door locks, and Bluetooth. No suffering behind the wheel here and you can drive this one come rain, sleet, or snow.
That said, I don’t care for the new styling job, and it now has a driver interface system with a dash-mounted monitor and Mazda’s “Connect” system. This set-up is found on other Mazda products and it’s annoying and counter-intuitive. The radio controls in particular, are….well, just stupid.
And let’s not forget price. After the dust settles, this one will set you back almost forty-two large, which is getting up there. It’s an entertaining car to drive, no argument, but ain’t the affordable little runabout it used to be.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 2.0 litre four cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive: Rear-wheel drive
Horsepower: 155 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 148 ft. lb. @ 4600 rpm
Price: $35,300 (base); $41,795 as tested.
Fuel Economy: 8.8 L /100 km (city) & 6.9 (hwy.) Regular fuel.
Alternatives: BMW 2-series Cabriolet, Audi TT Roadster, Jaguar F-Type, Chev Corvette, Nissan 370Z Roadster, Fiat 124 Spider.