A little number for summer days
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’66 ROADSTER A BUNDLE OF FUN IN THE SUN WITH THE TOP DOWN — NOT A CAR FOR WORK
Talking to Geoff and Barbara Bentham about this 1966 MGB Roadster is a bit like talking to an always entertaining double act.
Geoff reckons they’ve had the car 30 years. Barbara says, “I wanted to trade up from my little 1.6-litre LPG Toyota and asked him to go and see what would suit me, a good serviceable work vehicle — I was music teaching and had a keyboard to transport. He came back with the MG ...”
Clearly, if you want a job done right — so she went and bought herself a BMW.
They decide it can’t have been 30 years, and the debate continues, relating the purchase to family milestones, jobs held, and eventually they agree on “over 20 years”.
It’s almost exactly as it was when they bought it, painted white (it was once British Racing Green), with a Mountney GT Britain after-market steering wheel — one of the company’s first designs when it started production over 30 years ago under its founder, Albert Mountney.
The only alterations Geoff has made are the fluffy dice, a wooden gear knob and some flawless wooden inserts into the dash – he was a wood turner and cabinetmaker by trade.
They used to use the car a lot, but it’s spent the past few years parked up – coincidentally pulled out from its garage just before I rang to ask about it.
Quite apart from the cabinetmaking business he’s just sold, he’s involved with a couple of charities, and is designing and fitting adaptations to electric toy BMW cars for Gobabygo, in his garage.
“I’m just too busy to drive it, especially since our MX-5 gives us the convertible experience.”
They did monthly MG car club days and weekend runs.
“We were pretty busy making furniture and working Saturdays, but he’d use it for joy rides,” says Barbara, “We took it on an AA rally to the Hawke’s Bay one year.”
Was it comfy? “NO!” In unison… “Not compared to today’s cars,” though at least the boot was reasonably roomy. By now the photos have come out, of massed cars at rallies.
“Here’s one at Tauranga Race Course with Geoff in a Triumph Herald.” He admits he had two or three at one stage, one for parts.
Geoff does his own maintenance, so he was pleased when the MG started first time after its dust sheet came off.
“We put a new battery in, gave it a sniff of ether, and that was it!”
It sounds characterful, the 1.8-litre engine idling with a very fruity note.
“It’s the standard engine, a four-cylinder manual, with no overdrive — they used to come out with it and this has the switch for it but it was an option, and they’re pretty rare though you can retrofit them.”
Built by the British Motor Corporation, later British Leyland, this model replaced the MGA in 1962, and used a monocoque structure with an impact-protection crumple zone instead of the MGA’s body-on-frame. But the brakes, suspension and twin-carb engine were all developments of what went before, the motor producing 71kW and capable of 0-96.5km/h in just over 11 seconds.
By now Geoff’s son-in-law has joined in, having owned an MGB in the US, where they had rubber bumpers instead of chrome.
“Something to do with the low-speed impact rules.”
We put the hood down for our drive on a sunny, if chilly day. Barbara said it would drip when it rained, but Geoff corrected her, “That was the Herald. You had to take an umbrella with you.”
He’s soon reminded that the brakes require firm action, “They’re not like modern brakes, and there’s no power steering.” But it pulls well as we cruise along West Auckland’s Scenic Drive, the sun shining along the classic shape and sparkling on ageing chrome as Geoff snicks her through the gears and we appreciate the engine’s burble from the snug and surprisingly modern-looking cabin.
“It’s a summer car really,” he says, “you wouldn’t go out in a screaming storm.”
Back at the ranch, Geoff’s telling me about the spare panels, “and even a crossbeam member,” he’s collected over the years, “That’s what you used to do, just in case, and they were cheap back then, when I got them.”
Sadly he’s downsizing his fleet to make space for his charity work and hobbies. He’s already sold the 1966 Pontiac and this MGB may be next: “It’s a shame really, but it needs to be used to keep it running properly, and someone else can get some use out of it, and enjoy it.”