Get Caught in the Rain in an East-coast MGB
MGB’s are one of the all-time classic sports cars, a quintessential British roadster, and one of those “must-drive” experiences. Bob Rippey, an enthusiastic and friendly guy from Pennsylvania, owns a particularly nice example with an interesting history. Recently, he very graciously cleared a few hours from his schedule to allow us to photograph it and ask him a few questions about what it’s like to own the lovely old girl.
Q: Tell us a bit about your car.
A: Well, it’s a ’71 MGB with an 1800 motor and overdrive four-speed, which I installed. It’s fun because it gives you a total of six gear ratios, and I like to flick back between high and low while in third or fourth—it’s great while driving the twisties and gives you all the range you need for most corners.
I got the car from a coworker in 2005. She was just divorced and didn’t know how to drive stick, so one day she was bragging to me that the was going to the wreckers the next morning, and that it wasn’t going to cost her a dime! I knew the car had been well taken care of, as her ex was an airplane mechanic, and I thought it’d be a shame for it to end in a junkyard, so I offered her $100 and told her it’d be gone the next day—she jumped on the deal.
Q: Is it all original or has it been restored?
A: I did a bare-metal restoration shortly after buying it—stripped everything back besides the chassis undercoating (which incidentally is what kept it from being a real rustbucket, I think). I did a little sheetmetal repair around the headlights and rocker panels, but all in all, it wasn’t bad for an East Coast car. The engine as configured stock has its twin SU carbs sitting right over the exhaust manifold cooking the gas, so when I rebuilt it I fitted it with an aftermarket aluminum crossflow head, now it’s got slightly larger SUs sitting on the opposite side of the header I put on. It’s been bored .040 over and has a pretty nice street cam too—it’s nothing on a modern, turbocharged four, but it moves the little car well. In the end I did all of the work myself except for the respray.
Q: What do you love about it?
A: Hmmm… Well, you really have to drive it. It has no power steering, and you have to feel the car through the steering and the seat of your pants. You’ve got to feel the road and be on top of it, as opposed to a modern car which may easily outperform it but in a very isolated way. It handles great—I’ve got 15” wheels on it (up an inch from stock, with wider rubber too). It’s got a nice free-flow exhaust that makes a great burble when you back off—to me it’s music. People love it, too; it gets a lot of positive attention everywhere, especially from the younger generation who don’t even know what an MG is.
Q: What’s your idea of the perfect drive in your car?
A: An open, empty, twisty road, 75 degrees out, top down, and with my girlfriend Megan next to me. That’s my idea of the perfect drive. It’s also really nice to get out there when the leaves are changing in autumn, to see the foliage and take in the colors.
Q: Has the Prince of Darkness (AKA Lucas Electrics) reared his ugly head?
A: [Laughs] Well, I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about Lucas Electrical gremlins, but I guess I’ve been lucky because besides a replaced alternator, mine’s been perfectly reliable. I’d better knock on wood.
Q: What’s its most frustrating or endearing quirk?
A: Hmmm… The most frustrating is definitely the top! It’s a real challenge to get it up and down, especially taking care not to stretch the plastic rear window. It’s a very complex and tricky mechanism compared to some of the older American convertibles I’ve owned. Let me put it this way, if there’s a sudden downpour you’re getting wet!
Q: Any advice for potential new MGB owners?
A: They’re great little cars. Among the easiest to restore and work on, with parts widely available and inexpensive—I can think of at least four catalogs of parts right off the top of my head. I’ve restored a few cars before, but none were quite as easygoing as the MGB.
Q: Any other droptops you’d like to try someday?
A: Well, I once restored a ’69 427 ‘Vette convertible back in the day, a 4-speed car, sky blue over black leather. I miss that one a lot. When I think about what I paid for it and how much I sold it for (about $6,000), and the way they’re valued nowadays, I could kick myself. That was a great car.
Photography by Kyle Eagleton