Cheap Winter Project Starts: 1968 MGB GT vs 1979 BMW 733i

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Happy Monday, Autopians! Today we’re venturing into the weeds to take a look at a couple of rough but saveable projects. Those of you who like your cars intact and running probably won’t like these much. But first, of course, we need to see which one of Friday’s “Catalina Cadillacs” you chose:

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And it’s the purple Western. Personally, I kinda dig that Yamaha, but I can see the appeal of the Western too.

All right then. It’s getting too cold out for golf carts anyway. It’s time to start making indoor plans. Garages count as indoors, right? If your garage is looking a little empty, here we have a pair of cheap projects to keep you busy. Let’s see which one you prefer.

1968 MGB GT – $1,275

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter OHV inline 4, 4 speed manual, RWD

Location: Placerville, CA

Odometer reading: 80,000 miles

Runs/drives? Nope

In 1965, the British Motor Coropration wanted to create a hardtop version of the popular MGB. Several design houses were approached, but in the end it was Pininfarina of Italy who created the winning formula. Instead of sticking to the MGB’s low windshield, Pininfarina made it 4 inches taller, and gave the car a long roof ending in a fastback hatch. BMC executives were so taken by Pininfarina’s design that they put the car into production with virtually no changes.

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This is a car that I am intimately familiar with, and I can tell you a few things about this one. First, it’s not as rusty as it looks. The little spot on the dogleg just in front of the rear wheel is a little concerning, but the one door sill we can see looks clean. I’d want to check the firewall and cowl carefully, and it might need floors, but structurally it’s probably solid.

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The 1.8 liter BMC B-series engine is simple and easy to work on, and as long as it spins freely, it shouldn’t be too hard to revive. The carbs are off, but the sale includes both the original twin SUs as well as the popular Weber DGV aftermarket setup. My advice: Rebuild the SUs. They’re simple, reliable, and they belong. There’s no mention of an overdrive on the 4 speed manual; if it is there, it’s a desirable option. An MBG GT without overdrive on the freeway is a noisy little monster.

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Inside, it’s, well, trashed. But that’s all fixable – it just takes money. In fact, that’s true of pretty much everything that might be wrong with this car. That’s the advantage of restoring a well-liked mass-production car; parts are not hard to find.

Really, this doesn’t look like too bad of a starting point at all. Yes, it needs a little bit of everything, but everything is available. And it will be a hoot to drive when it’s done.

1979 BMW 733i – $1,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.2 liter SOHC inline 6, 3 speed automatic, RWD

Location: Sacramento, CA

Odometer reading: 179,000 miles

Runs/drives? Not for almost 30 years

Is a small British sports car with a little Italian flair not your style? Then how about this old German autobahn bomber? The E23 chassis & 7 series was BMW’s biggest and baddest in 1979, an executive saloon if there ever was one. It’s powered by a 3.2 liter version of the venerable M30 inline six, backed by a US-friendly automatic transmission (sorry).

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This 7er hasn’t been on the road since Reality Bites was in theaters, so it will take some work to bring it back to life. You can probably assume every gasket and hose is suspect. But the good news is that it’s all there, and the body looks fine.  The interior, however… It’s actually almost impressive what 30 years of sitting around in the California sun will do to leather. I’ll bet it cracks and flakes if you so much as touch it, like a mummy.

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This isn’t a particularly valuable BMW, and while it was a nice car in its day, it’s nothing to write home about now. But it could be a rewarding project if you like to wrench and are willing to spend some time ripping stuff apart. As has been said many times, there is no such thing as a cheap BMW, but maybe it’s cheaper if you start with one that needs everything?

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Obviously, either of these cars will probably keep you busy for longer than one winter. But it’s as good a time to start as any, right? Who ya got?


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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51 Responses

  1. I briefly owned a ’74 MGB roadster when I was in my early 20s. For all its odd and fundamental mechanical issues (I actually slipped a plastic bag over the stereo so it wouldn’t short out every time it rained) it was a joy to drive. “Joy” is not a word I would use to describe a ’70s BMW 7-Series.

  2. Both are ambitious and possibly expensive projects but it’s clear many have never experienced the joy of owning a British car. Yes, that moment where you realize design, engineering and construction have all failed to produce a component or assembly that could possibly endure regular use. Ill fitting body panels, questionable electrical engineering, cheap cardboard and plastic interior pieces and leaking from everywhere. And this was when they were brand new on the showroom floor. The First 3-5-6-7 series BMWs were very well built with quality components, M30 motors are well known to last hundreds of thousands of miles. While this one looks like a parts car it could have potential if it has minimal rust. They were sold new with manual transmissions so a swap is easy. L-Jet fuel injection is well known and parts are available. Lots of good condition interior parts are available and seats from e28s fit. A good cleaning, refresh the brakes, suspension, fuel system and you’ll have reliable enjoyment of that 70’s German driving experience.

  3. I am going to go negative in this Monday and say neither too. The BMW is a hell no. Sorry, off the road for that long, there is just a whole lot more car and complexity to sort out.

    The MGB on the other hand…I like them, I had a ’67 GT and a later rubber bumper roadster too. You could get the motor running in a weekend, more time to work on electrics and brakes, but cosmetics are all well past the point of “live with the patina” which I am perfectly happy to do on a presentable car. Thing is, to make this one presentable you have to do everything. Just too much stuff, buy a running or near running ratty for a few dollars more.

    1. Actually, I have a plan.
      1. Swap in a series II supercharged GM 3800 out of a junked Buick
      2. Deal with the FWD conversion (yeah, this is the hard part. Make it happen anyway.)
      3. Theme: Retirement home shop class project. Show up to the race with walkers.
      4. At BS inspection, insist it cost $500 in 1979 dollars and it’s not your fault that your pension hasn’t kept up with inflation. Produce a mid-90’s laptop instead of receipts. Insist your grandson put them all on some internet thing and you can show them, but you can’t get this stupid computer online.
      5. Ask judge’s help getting computer online.
      6. Offer to give the judge the laptop as a bribe, since you can’t ever get it to work anyway.

      You might not even get penalty laps. Or you might. Who cares? You weren’t going to win anyway.

  4. BMW costs more to fix than its worth and will require more investment than you will ever recoup? Not even if i won the $2 billion in the lottery. I love a British sports car but prefer a removable top. I recently found a MGB in good running shape asking $3995. If i find a job im buying a running fully functioning MGB.

    1. As somebody who owns an MGB (A 1972 Roadster), if you can’t live with a million little things wrong, and you don’t have a garage to fix the thing, absolutely don’t buy one, in any world. They are very fun little cars when you can get past the constant issues.

  5. Neither.

    People talk about how cheap and simple the BGT is to work on, but it still needs a shit load of work, and even getting one painted today is super expensive. I was quoted $500 (online with shipping) for two quarts of white paint! Yes, custom mix – but…………white paint!

    And while parts are relatively easy to get from Moss or even English sellers, it will need ALL of them……it adds up.

    BTW, if I were going to do an engine swap into one of these, the 4 cyl 2.3L turbo used in the Mustang is lighter than the B motor or the Ford V-8, and makes over 300 hp – stock.

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