1980 MGB LE Roadster: the last of the Abingdon MGs

It's been 40 years since MG's Abingdon plant closed and the MGB stopped production, but a few of those final cars still exist.

1972 MGB
MGs were built at the company's Abingdon factory until the company shut the plant in 1980.

Forty years ago a special edition car often took the form of a long-running model with a lowly specification enhanced by a radio and a vinyl roof. But Peter Cobb’s 1980 MGB LE Roadster commemorated the demise of one of Britain’s most familiar vehicles and the Abingdon factory. On the 24th October of that year, many enthusiasts believed that MG had gone the way of Riley, Wolseley and so many other famous marques.

Peter Cobb's MGB Limited Edition Roadster

MG – ‘Morris Garages’ was established in 1924, and five years later, the concern moved to Abingdon. The 1st September 1979 heralded nine days of events celebrating the works’ fiftieth birthday, including a carnival and a display by the Red Arrows. On 10th September, with a stunning lack of timing, British Leyland announced the end of car assembly at the famous plant.  The Midget would cease production in December with the B continuing until 1980. 

BL’s management claimed that they were losing approximately £1,000 per unit and that the currency crisis impacted on US sales. Nor was the B able to comply with the exhaust emissions requirements of California, without requiring significant investment. MG devotees counter-argued that Abingdon still exported two-thirds of its output and that B’s popularity in the States was such that it impacted on the Triumph TR7. 

The MGB Roadster and MGB Coupe went out of production in 1980, with the financial crisis and emissions restrictions in California cited as the reasons for its demise.

The company stated its intentions to “retain” the brand, but many remained cynical as to BL’s plans for MG’s future. The owners’ clubs embarked on a “Save Abingdon” campaign, but it was to no avail. A B replacement was planned by a consortium led by Alan Curtis, the then chairman of Aston Martin, but they were unable to raise fund for their ambitious scheme. 

And so the 1,000 LE ‘Limited Edition’ MGs marked the factory’s swansong, with the final example made on the 23rd October 1980. Advertisements offered the chance to acquire a “rare and final edition of the most loved, most famous sports car that has ever been built”. The ‘Bronze Metallic’ Roadsters were quite a bargain at £6,445, while the ‘Pewter Metallic’ GT coupe cost £6,937.

Don Hayter (second from the left) with the 500,000th MGB.

By that time, the MGB was virtually a part of the British landscape, with the first examples dating from September 1962. Publicity from that era conveys a lost realm of Brylcreem, club blazers and James Fox look-a-likes on the verge saying “Gosh”. Its elegant lines were a tribute to the work of MG’s Chief Body Draftsman Don Hayter, who died aged 94 on the 9th October this year.  Motor thought the B as “a delightful modern sports car with a marked bias towards the ‘grand touring’ character”.

The Bronze Metallic Limited Edition MGB Roadsters cost £6,445 when new in 1980. 

As a long-term MG enthusiast, Peter Cobb would almost certainly agree with this opinion.  He acquired KEW, believed to be the 245th of 420 LE Roadsters, in 2019; “it was built on the 3rd – 4th October 1980”. The Roadster is more than capable of keeping pace with modern traffic and with the overdrive giving “a kick on the top-end”.

As a Limited Edition, Cobb’s MG boasts a “special distinguishing livery” – i.e. stripes – a front spoiler, alloy wheels and cloth upholstery. He regards the interior as akin to returning to the 1960s, albeit far better equipped than the original B which listed the heater as an extra. At that time, many drivers then regarded an Abingdon product with drop windows as further proof of declining standards. 

1,000 examples of the Limited Edition MGBs were produced during the Abingdon plant's final months. 

BL revived the octagon badge in 1982 as a sporting version of the Metro, and in 1992 the Rover Group unveiled the RV8. Meanwhile, MGs such as Cobb’s Roadster demonstrate that a formula which harked back to the early 1960s still possess a vast amount of verve and sheer charm.  As Autocar noted in 1975 “one does not envy the body designer who has to follow such a pleasant looking sports car, which is still, in spite of its failings, many of the things a sports car should be”.

 

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