To gush enthusiasm and express affection for MGBs, which held the record as the world’s top-selling sports car for decades, we should really go back to the original model that debuted to the public in 1963. That’s when car enthusiasts first fell in love with them.
MG designers Syd Enever and Don Hayter must have been channeling the goodwill of the automotive Gods when they started work on the successor to the popular MGA. They wanted a more comfortable, practical and powerful machine. The DNA developed for the MGB was so perfect in inception that the car was a huge hit from the start and was produced for 18 years with few major changes.
For purists, the first model, sold from the 1963 model year until April 1965, is the best expression of what the designers—and the Gods—intended and envisioned. Sure, various model changes followed over the years, but the original model reserves a special place of respect and honor in the heart of MG fans everywhere.
Those first cars are easily identified by their unique door handles. Simply pull the entire handle to open the door.
A Revolutionary Launch
Production started on the MGB in May 1962 at the Abingdon factory. The car was considered revolutionary when it was launched in September at the London Motor Show due to the monocoque chassis combining body shell and frame, making it light yet stiff.
Designers got rid of the MGA’s long curves and gave the new car an understated straight styling line from headlight to taillight, plus a demeanor that seems cheerful in every color. The roll-up windows were also a marked improvement.
The model is lightweight (1,920 lbs.), quick handling and peppy in power. It originally featured 90 bhp at 5500 rpm with 97 lb.-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm, top speed of 105 mph, and a zero-to-60 mph time of 12 seconds. It could keep pace with Triumph’s TR4, which launched a year earlier.
A three-main-bearing engine—1798cc inline four-cylinder overhead-valve—powered the car for the first two years, and was switched to a five-main-bearing engine for the 1965 model year. Since the door pull handles weren’t switched to push-button until April 1965, there were some pull-handle MGBs originally fitted with five-main-bearing engines.
The car’s suspension system consisted of independent wishbones, anti-roll bar, coil springs and lever shocks in the front, and rigid axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs and lever shocks in the rear. It also had disc brakes on the front, drum brakes on the rear, and solid steel wheels, although wire wheels were optional.
The car also received a generator, positive-ground electrical system, non-synchronized first gear, mechanical cable tachometer, dual SU carburetors and a manual choke. The comfortable interior had leather seats with contrasting piping and a black crackle-finish dashboard with toggle switches.
A total of 57,885 pull-handle MGBs were produced, and good examples are still easy to find at affordable prices. To get the car into the shape you want, Moss has the parts needed. Typically better power, comfort and looks are simple bolt-on changes.
These cars are uncomplicated and easy to work on. And there’s a strong group of enthusiasts to provide support. It’s no wonder that condition and performance determine a MG’s value rather than originality.
When shopping for pull-handle MGBs, check the three key elements that could cost major money: fuel tank, engine and body rust. The MGB received a new fuel tank starting in 1967, and the replacements for the original piece are handmade and expensive.
It’s also getting hard to find parts for the three-main-bearing engine, especially the block and crank. If the engine is shot, you’re better off replacing it with a five-main-bearing engine, says Kelvin Dodd, Moss technical expert.
The concept of a rust-free car doesn’t exist; there are just different levels of rust, Dodd explains. Key areas are the dogleg in front of the rear wheel, the top of the rear wheel arch, and the bottom part of the front fender. “Every MGB either has rust in the dogleg or it has been repaired, usually poorly,” he says.
Look at the area around the dogleg in front of the rear wheel where it joins the rocker panel, Dodd advises. Make sure there’s a joint line there and it isn’t covered over with Bondo. That’s not the right way to do the repair; the Bondo will crack and the rust will start bubbling again in two or three years, he says.
“Unless you see photos of the metal work before painting, chances are it wasn’t done correctly,” says Dodd. “I’d rather buy a car with rust and ensure the repair is done right than pay for a pretty paint job that won’t last long-term.”
Further, check for wear on the SU carburetors, front suspension kingpins, lower wishbone bushings and brake shoes. And make sure the rear leaf springs aren’t sagging.
Door Latch Repairs
Most importantly, understand you will have to replace the pull door handle latch mechanism, says Dodd. It’s not just that the doors don’t open and close right, they actually fly open when going around a curve. “It always seems to be the passenger door that flies open, and the passenger is in shock and staring at the road, so the driver has to reach across and pull in the door with lots of apologies,” he explains.
The zinc castings in the door handle mechanism are brittle and tend to crack, and the pin wears down so it’s barely going into the socket. Moss has a repair kit with instructions. Dodd suggests owners replace the rubber bumpers that the door closes against and keep the doors adjusted properly.
The most popular upgrade for dependability is to switch out the points-equipped distributor for a Pertronix electronic ignition, says Dodd. Other helpful upgrades include an electric cooling fan and a gear-reduction starter motor.
Dodd also recommends replacing the square tin brake cylinder—a piece that’s no longer available—with a see-through plastic piece. Although the new master cylinder doesn’t look original, it allows a quick visual check, and it’s easier to add brake fluid through the wider diameter opening.
Dodd also recommends a Hopkirk gas pedal extension (part #900-315). Up until 1967, the MGBs had a 3/4-inch square accelerator pad; the larger aluminum plate bolts onto the pedal with hand tools and provides more control, especially for heel-and-toe shifting, he explains.
The original fan blades can fatigue and fly out, and the factory manufactured a plastic replacement part in the ’80s, which has not been available for a long time. Moss is developing a replica of the plastic replacement fan offering efficiency and safety, and MGB owners can expect to see it in the catalog by the end of the year.
For performance, adding overdrive to the stock four-speed transmission can be expensive since it’s hard to find, but Moss offers an alternative T-9 five-speed bolt-on conversion kit that provides the benefits without the complexity, says Dodd. Don’t plan on inserting a later all-synchro MGB transmission—it won’t work with a three-main-bearing engine because the input shaft is too large to fit the crank pilot bushing.
Other performance options include a five-link rear suspension, larger air filters and a ported cylinder head that can add up to 30 hp. A polished stainless steel Tourist Trophy performance exhaust will make the car sound awesome. Dodd says the ultimate upgrade is the supercharger that gives the car a 40 percent improvement in power and can be installed with basic hand tools.
Modifications that will improve handling include stiffer springs, improved bushings and larger swaybars. You could convert the back shocks to tube shocks for a more comfortable drive and more stability at high speed. For better braking, there are drilled and slotted rotors, improved friction materials and stainless steel flexible line kits.
For looks, Dodd says the interior kits are the best on the market with high quality leather on seating surfaces and panels made with plywood backing boards, all made in America. The original steering wheels tended to break, so Moss has original replacements that are much stronger. There are spiff aftermarket bolt-on steering wheels too. If your MGB is fitted with a stowaway top frame, Moss sells tops with zip-out rear windows in either vinyl or canvas.
Approximate Pull-Handle Production Numbers
62-65 MGB Popular Replacement Parts
643-280 – Panel Kit, Black
641-170 – Leather Seat Set, Black
242-650 – Vinyl Convertible Top by Robbins, Black
453-090 – Chrome Front Bumper
454-635 – Chrome Wire Wheel, 14×4.5 in., 60 spoke
454-760 – Leaf Spring, 6 leaf
456-880 – Radiator
190-808 – Clutch Kit, Borg & Beck
264-365 – Rebuilt Front Shock Absorber
180-525 – L/H New Caliper Assembly
459-085 – Stainless Steel Exhaust w/Header
• For model inspiration, MG designers used the EX181, the record-breaking vehicle that Stirling Moss piloted across Utah’s salt flats at 245 mph in 1957. They worked in a wind tunnel until they came up with the timeless MGB body style.
• There were more MGB roadsters produced in 1964 than in any other year.
•The price of a new pull-handle MGB was $2,658 back in the day.
• Pull-handle MGBs in running condition yet needing a full restoration start around $2000. Really nice examples tend to fetch around $20,000.
• The trunk wasn’t originally outfitted with carpet or covers to protect luggage from the spare wheel. Trunk carpet kits and spare wheel covers are popular additions.
• The details matter. How about MG-crested lug nut covers, valve stem caps, billet pedal covers, embroidered floor mats, engine valve cover nuts or fender work covers?
• The MGB shared many parts with the MGA, including the design of the door latch, although the MGA had no exterior door handle.
• A Safety Gauge was a dashboard feature on MGBs until 1967 showing oil pressure and water temperature. The crackle-finish dash is considered the best of the MGB dashboards.
• Few pull-handle MGBs came with overdrive, and they’re tough to find now.
• The tail lamps of the U.S. specification early MGBs had a two-piece red lens. In the UK and other countries, an amber flasher lens segment was used.
• Pull-Handle MGB Registrar: Bill Barge, (260) 665-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Repairing Your Pull Handles
All MGB door pull handles need to be repaired at some point. Thankfully, Moss has a door latch repair kit to return your 1963-’65 MGB to its quirky glory. All it takes is some detailed work, including riveting.
There are step-by-step instructions with close-up photos posted on the website with the part (#401-117). You must remove the door pull, inner door handle, window regulator and latch mechanism to begin assembly with new catch casting, cover plate, plunger and spring. It’s not a project for everyone, but you’ll appreciate it when done! And you won’t have to worry about losing passengers when the door flies open around a curve.
By Kathleen M. Mangan