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Just a Simple Wrench

by Jake &Ann Snyder

On the Reliability of LBCs

Please excuse the acronym- anyone who reads the postings of the MG List will know it stands for Little British Car. And with the British Car Festival approaching, we are reminded of those who have stopped by the CMGC cars and mentioned the MG they once owned and all the problems it had. It is too easy, without thinking, to just chuckle in agreement. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Reinout Vogt said it well just after completing the MG Grand Tour Mark V Endurance Trial. In that "high" that comes after driving/co-driving for 20 or more hours straight, he said, as well as we remember "Isn't it great that you can take this car, that you maintain by yourself, and go a thousand miles in one shot year after year! And we're just amateurs- we're not professional mechanics!" We are among those who rely entirely on our MGBs for transportation throughout the year, and we and others do not hesitate to use these cars that were built 28 or more years ago for trips of substantial distances.

When CMGC members discussed next year's NAMGBR convention in Vancouver, the obstacle to driving was not whether the cars would make it, but whether members had enough vacation time to be able to drive there. In fact, Marjorie and Joe Carroll of the Canadian Classic MG Car Club have driven an MG from Vancouver to every NAMGBR annual convention, most of which have been east of the Mississippi. In the recent Midwestern Council races at Road America, an MGC ran very well in the Vintage class, bested by only a 'Vette and a Porsche. The same weekend one of us had a dream ride- twice around the track in a beautiful silver XK 140. Think of it: 100 mph through the Kink in a British car built in 1950! Why then this extreme difference in the perception of the reliability of British cars?

Last October we purchased a '74 1/2 B GT. Because these are relatively rare, we stored it over the winter and retrieved it just in time for the trip to the NAMGBR convention in Hagerstown, MD. The car was in reasonably good shape, but there were a few problems (starter, overdrive lockout switch) that we repaired before leaving. We drove hard to Hagerstown and took US 50 through the mountains of West Virginia on our return. On the return trip, we stopped to make two repairs. Just after leaving Hagerstown we installed Grose jets, and after traversing the mountains on winding, two-lane US 50, which hasn't changed noticeably since we last drove it years ago, we had to stop to change the water pump. So we had taken this car, that we had hardly driven previously, on a 1500 mile test drive with only these two easily solved problems. Still, had we little or no experience with MGs, we might have been quite disappointed with this purchase. And, yes, Bill Hedrick was literally correct when he reported at the next meeting that everyone had problems on the return trip. Nevertheless, most of these were easily solved.

At the convention car show, John Twist presented one of his rolling tech sessions: a series of cars were brought in for diagnosis and correction of a variety of problems. He solved every one, including getting a car from Alaska to fire properly for its drive home.

Time out to replace the water pump...

Were these cars unreliable before he worked his magic? Were they really different afterwards? It's not magic- just a matter of education and a willingness to get to know your car. And, because these cars are all nearly 30 years old or older, parts which wear must either be replaced or carried as spares. But what other car built in the 60s and 70s is seen as frequently on the road? If these cars were so inherently unreliable, how is it that nearly half a million of them, counting MGBs alone, were sold? And how many newer cars of non-British manufacture does one see stopped on the side of the road?

It's not the reliability of the British cars that is a problem, but the assumption of many consumers that all they need to do to a car is add gas and turn the key. So if anyone at the British Car Festival starts complaining about reliability, we will try very hard to refrain from asking them who programs their VCR for them.

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