Welcome back! It’s day two of our countdown to the 46th annual Portland All-British Field Meet, and today we’re looking at a couple of great-running cars that are nowhere near the spec they were when they left their homeland. But before we get to those, let’s finish up with yesterday’s garage ornaments:
Well, it looks like the majority of you are shopping in the Husky department. As it happens, I agree; I dig Sprites of all ages, but I think if I ever got another two-seat roadster, it would be Italian. An oddball orphan wagon, though; that does sound like fun.
The reputation that British cars have for unreliability is not entirely deserved, but it’s also impossible to shake off at this point. Everyone loves the idea of them, but most enthusiasts are scared of the potential realities. This has had two effects on the market for British cars: First, it has kept prices low, so no one really cares about originality; and second, it has created whole cottage industries dedicated to making them more reliable. Today we’re looking at two staples of the low end of the British car market – the MGB and the Jaguar XJ6. One has been messed with cosmetically, the other mechanically. But both are in drive-away condition, according to the sellers. Let’s see which altered beast is a better deal.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD
Location: Pasadena, CA
Odometer reading: 72,000 miles
Runs/drives? Great, according to the seller
All right, let’s address the obvious right off the bat. Yes, the wheels are awful. They’re horribly unsuited to an MGB both in form and function. They make it look like one of those awful cheap die-cast toys you see at the drugstore, and I guarantee you they will absolutely obliterate both the ride and the handling. They simply have to go. The good news is that they’re probably worth something to someone, to put on some lesser car, and you only have to drive on them once, to get the car home. Then you can shop for more suitable rolling stock.
So let’s just look past that unpleasantness and see what else we’re dealing with here. 1976 isn’t a particularly desirable year for MGBs; by this time the US-market cars had to make do with a single-carb, low-compression engine, and all of them had the black urethane 5 MPH bumpers. But the wonderful thing about these later cars is that all those indignities simply bolt on, meaning they can just as easily be taken off and replaced. This MGB eschews bumpers altogether, in favor of aftermarket fiberglass “Sebring” filler panels. These give it a racy look, especially combined with the early-style “waterfall” grille. Personally, I think it needs big round driving lights and maybe some white number roundels on the doors to complete the look, but that’s just me. I can’t tell you how original it is under the hood without a photo, but the seller does say the engine has been rebuilt, and runs well.
The British racing green paint isn’t great; it looks like a homebrew job, with lots of orange peel, and I don’t really understand the shaved door handles. Lose the side trim, sure, but the MGB’s push-button chrome door handles are part of its character, and why get rid of a simple mechanical linkage for a potentially troublesome electrical one? (Most of the time, cars with shaved door handles have solenoid-actuated “poppers” to unlatch the doors.) I guess what’s done is done, and the MGA never had door handles, so there’s some precedent.
Inside, things look much better. We 1968-71 MGB owners are always envious of earlier or later MGB dashboards that actually have gloveboxes; we have to make do with a stupid little map pocket in the passenger’s side footwell. The seats don’t look original, but I can’t place what car they’re from. If someone recognizes them, please let me know in the comments. The convertible top is also new, and that’s no small thing, as anyone who has ever paid for a replacement one will tell you.
Engine/drivetrain: 5.0 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Harbor City, CA
Odometer reading: 91,000 miles
Runs/drives? “Very neatly,” per the seller
Jaguar’s XK-series inline six has a long and rich history, dating back to 1948 and continuing all the way into the early ’90s. It powered everything from LeMans winners to luxury sedans. Powerful, smooth, physically beautiful (at least the early versions with the polished cam covers), and durable, this marvel of engineering defined Jaguar cars for four decades. If you insist, then, on pulling it out and replacing it with something else, that “something else” had better have just as long and rich of a history, be just as known for durability and performance, and if it isn’t pretty, it had better be able to sing. Surely, no such powerplant exists, right? To that, General Motors says “hold my ice-cold watery beer.”
Chevrolet’s small-block V8 isn’t quite as old as the Jag six, hitting the market in 1955, but its production totals exceed the XK’s many times over, and it has had its share of competiton glory. The vehicles in which it was installed may not have been as classy (think IROC Camaro vs E-Type), but millions of hot rodders can’t be wrong – the SBC is a legend. Installing a Chevy engine in a Jaguar is a controversial move, but what’s done is done, and in this case, it appears to have at least been done well. The center-bolt valve covers tell me that this car’s 305 V8 is a redesigned 1987 or newer small-block, which would originally have had throttle-body fuel injection. It now receives its fuel/air mixture from an Edelbrock four-barrel carb, and transmits power to the Jag’s independent rear end through a 700R4 overdrive automatic.
Apart from the V8 engine, the rest of this car is standard-issue old Jag, meaning wood and leather inside, and chrome and rust outside. Not much rust, but it is originally a Midwestern car, so a thorough check is in order. Close up, you can tell the paint isn’t in great condition, but it’s also a forty-year-old car now. As long as it looks good from ten feet away, though, and is structurally sound, who cares?
Plenty of purists will scoff (or worse) at a car like this, but personally, I’m fine with it. It’s a very pretty car, comfortable and pleasant to drive, and now it makes cool V8 noises too. Would I suggest that someone remove a good-running XK engine and replace it with a 305 out of (probably) a Chevy truck? Of course not. Would I happliy drive an XJ6 already so equipped, in this condition, for three grand? Hell yes.
Hacking up British cars to make them look different or go faster is a time-honored tradition here in America. I do sometimes wonder what they think of our creations. Which do you suppose is a greater sacrilege: a stylistic mishmash of an MGB, or a carefully-done V8 heart transplant in a classic Jaguar? But more to the point, which one do you prefer?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)