Thursday, March 19, 2009

University Motors MGC

From Autocar Magazine, Week ending 17th December 1970

University Motors MGC 1 (by retromotoring)University Motors MGC 2 (by retromotoring)

It is hard to say exactly what killed the MGC, but the most likely cause was the bad press the car received, together with its failure to sell in the USA. Our own road test, published in 16 November 1967, was far from enthusiastic about the engine, gearbox, handling and fuel consumption. Exactly when production ceased is hard to determine, but it was sometime last year. University Motors bought the last batch of cars and have been selling them successfully since. Their theory was that, with only a little attention, the model could be improved significantly and as they still have some 20 or so cars in stock, we decided to test one to find out for ourselves.

Basically they are offering an MGC GT in standard paint, with wire wheels, delivered with number plates, seat belts and four months tax for £1,370. At the Motor Show in 1968, the listed price was £1,337 without any of these extras, or even a heater. By today's standards this is about £130 less than a Triumph TR6 coupe and not very much more than a GT6 delivered to the same specification.

To improve the appeal though, they are also offering a long list of extras, most of these being fitted to the test car. Added together these came to another £460, making the test car £1,830, or about as much as an Alfa Romeo 1300 GT or a little more than a BMW 2002. Some of these make so much difference as to be near essentials, while others like the stereo tape player and radio (£92) are pretty obvious luxuries.

Items like the Downton engine conversion make such a difference as to qualify as essential extras and the overall effect on the car leaves one wondering why it could not have been made like this in the first place, and if it had, would the fate of the model have been more successful? It would certainly have been much more enthusiastically received by our staff.

As a single item the Downton kit costs £l75 fitted. It comprises the usual kind of head improvement, coupled with special manifolds and a complete transformation of the induction system. In standard form the MGC is a real pig when cold, developing hardly any power until warm and never idling reliably. The Downton—converted car suffers from none of these troubles, pulling eagerly straight after a cold start. More than just this, the conversion gives the engine the "right" kind of sporty response, which it never displayed in standard form, climbing "on to the cam" at about 3,000 rpm with a real bark to its straight—through exhaust. In many ways it reminds one of the works rally Healey 3000, both in overall response and the noise it makes.

Actual improvements in acceleration time are not spectacular, but very worthwhile none the less. In top, for example, about 2sec is knocked off each 20-mph increment. Standing start times show similar slight improvements, and we could probably have made the differences greater if we had not been fooled by the rev counter, which over—read by almost 500 rpm at the top end.

As well as improving the performance, the conversion works wonders for the overall fuel consumption. Driving the car hard we got very nearly 20 mpg, which compares with only 17.5 mpg for the standard product.

The standard gearbox, with its enigmatic choice of ratios, remains unchanged, as does the final drive ratio with its long-legged 26.95 mph per 1,000 rpm in overdrive top. The test car was fitted with Cosmic light alloy wheels (£60 for five) which did little for the roadholding, but improved the appearance no end. They were fitted with the standard Dunlop radial-ply tyres.

Another worthwhile improvement came from the substitution of Koni dampers (£16 the pair, fitted) at the front and a 15in. dia. Motolita laather-trimmed steering wheel (£12 12s). Standard wheel size was 16.5in., so the steering becomes that much more responsive and the view out ahead that much better. Wooden packing strips under the seat runners also improved the driving position, which on the standard car was far too low for anyone much under 6ft tall.

Giving less leverage, the smaller wheel increases the already heavy steering effort, making fast cornering quite a muscular struggle. Excessive understeer from the extra nose weight of the six-cylinder engine makes the MGC a much less lithesome car than the MGB, but it is impressively stable in a straight line as compensation. Poor turning circles (almost 36ft between kerbs) hamper one when manoeuvring.

It would be wrong for a true sports car enthusiast to look at the MGC and expect it to be one better than the MGB. In the vital qualities of handling and engine response, it is no match for the four-cylinder car. But as a long—distance touring car, where a lot of the distance covered will be on motorways, it definitely has a place and in University Motors' guise begins to look much more attractive. At £1,545 (£1,370 plus the essential Downton conversion) it has few direct competitors, and anyone worried about spending this much on an obsolete model can take comfort in the fact that its rarity alone may one day make it a sought-after classic. According to factory records, only 2,199 MGC GTs have been delivered in the UK.

No comments: