Home » Red, Rare, And Only Kinda Rusty: 1969 MGB GT vs 1980 Fiat Brava

Red, Rare, And Only Kinda Rusty: 1969 MGB GT vs 1980 Fiat Brava

Sbsd 11 23 2023
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Good morning, Autopians, and happy Thanksgiving! Before you eat yourselves into a food coma, I thought you might like to ease your way into the day by checking out a couple of old cars with me. Today we have one car I know very well, because there’s one in my garage, and one that I wish I knew better, because I’ve always admired them.

First, though, let’s get the final tally from yesterday’s Toyotas. From the sounds of it, most of you agreed with me that there wasn’t really a bad choice here. The Geo took the most votes, but I don’t think many of those were against that Tercel, really. I mean, just look at it; how can you not love a cute little car like that? It’d be like voting against a puppy.

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The Prizm is probably the better bet, unless you’re just looking for a toy, though. It’s still just “old” and not yet “classic,” and parts are easier to get. But as for me, given these two choices, I gotta go with the Tercel, for the simple reason that I’ve already had a Corolla the same age as that Geo, so why not try something new?

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Now then: I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, really: a beautiful, clever, kind wife who puts up with my terminal grouchiness and my weird little hobbies; a decent day job that pays the bills; a sweet side-hustle working for a really kick-ass website; a lot of cool toys; and some great friends, most of whom I don’t get to see often enough, but that’s all right. And I’m also thankful for my dad’s weird taste in cars, which rubbed off on me and has led me down some unlikely automotive paths in the past. MG and Fiat are like old friends to me because of that. I have one, but I’ve never had a chance to own the other. Not yet, anyway. Let’s see which path you’re willing to take with me.

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1969 MGB GT – $5,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter overhead valve inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Kingston, WA

Odometer reading: 120,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

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Confession time: I don’t actually like MGB roadsters all that much. If I were going to get a little British roadster, I’d much rather have an MGA or a Triumph TR6. But raise the windshield top, add that lovely Pininfarina-designed roofline, subtly tweak the shape of the front fenders, and something magical happens. One hundred and twenty-five thousand two hundred and eighty-two MGB GTs were built – less than a quarter of the total MGB prodction – and I wanted one ever since I was eight years old. Now I have one, and you can, too.

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Under the long bonnet is BMC’s B-series four, a long-stroke powerplant that was never really meant for sports car duty. In the MGB, it displaces 1,798 cubic centimeters and is fed by a pair of SU carburetors. It puts out 95 horsepower to a simple solid axle on leaf springs through a four-speed manual gearbox. Some of these were fitted with an electric overdrive unit that operates in third and fourth gears; I have no idea whether this car has one or not.

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This one runs and drives fine, the seller says, but “needs some tuning.” That’s easy enough; SU carbs are a lot more user-friendly than people give them credit for. The mechanical side of these cars is easy, and so, frankly, is the electrical side. The trouble here is that old automotive nemesis: rust. It has attacked this car’s rocker panels and floors, according to the seller, and there’s some sheetmetal replacement to be done. I wouldn’t worry about structural damage; MGBs are stout structures, especially the GTs. And patch panels are readily available.

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One thing I would caution about on this car is the wire wheels. They look great, but they’re a pain in the ass to deal with. They require tubes for the tires, for one thing, as well as occasional truing and spoke-tightening. You can’t just have Les Schwab slap some new tires on this one, like I did with my nice simple Rostyle steel wheels; you’ll have to find someone who knows how to deal with the wire wheels, And such specialists are getting rarer all the time.

1980 Fiat 131 Brava – $4,995

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Bremerton, WA

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Odometer reading: 54,000 miles

Runs/drives? Indeed

Here we have a car barely known in the US, but famous in Europe and elsewhere. The Fiat 131 was the successor to the famous 124 sedan, which of course lived on in license-built form as the Lada 2101 and its successors. The 131 was sold in the US as the Brava, Fiat’s top-of-the-line model, above the front-wheel-drive 128 and later Strada (Ritmo in Europe). It’s powered by the two-liter twincam “Lampredi” four, and sadly, in this case, a three-speed automatic. But this car has enough of a following that finding the parts for a manual swap shouldn’t be too hard.

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Or I suppose you could leave well enough alone and just drive it as-is. It does run and drive well, according to the seller. This is not known as a reliable car; Bravas were routinely panned for mechanical failures and build quality problems. But if you want reliable, buy that Tercel from yesterday. This is a bona-fide Italian legend, a car with rally racing pedigree. It is capable of amazing things. It just breaks a lot in the hands of American owners, apparently.

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Sadly, rust has begun to have its way with this one as well, mainly in the rear wheel arches and the back edge of the trunk lid. There is absolutely nothing anyone could have done about this at any point in this car’s history; Fiats of this era just rust. In saltier parts of the country, these poor cars didn’t make it past the Reagan administration.

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I would still love to own an Italian car someday, and a Fiat Brava would be a fine choice. Of course, a two-door with a manual would be more fun, but this would be acceptable as well. It’s not worth fixing the rust on this one; just keep it as clean as you can for as long as you can, and enjoy it.

That’s all I’ve got for you; go forth, and enjoy your feast and football. Tomorrow, I’ve got something special in store, but you’ll have to check back in to find out what it is. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Alex Kwanten
Alex Kwanten
4 months ago

I’m late to the party on this one, but having owned two MGB/GTs and an automatic ’81 Brava sedan, well…

The Fiat isn’t that hard to get parts for, in part because most of the service items are shared with 124 spiders. Cosmetic parts? Trim? Replacement panels? Sure. But most of the stuff you’ll actually need? Not really. I’d be much more worried about how crusty it is, given what you can see on the surface.

With the manual, the choice would be easy. The Fiat is just a much better driver, and more interesting. But that automatic, oof. It’s a slow boat to anywhere. It’s a GM TH-180, which was an expedient solution but not a good one. Fiat had little interest in developing its own automatics for its rear-drive cars as European demand was so low, so it bought them from GM. (It was also used in Spiders and 132s.) But it pretty well blunts the Twin Cam’s enthusiasm and the Brava is geared really low to compensate (4.10:1, IIRC), which isn’t so fun on the highway.

It was a nice car to drive, but vastly better with the five-speed. Mine was a lovely shade of Metallic green though, and I missed it as soon as it was gone.

The swap isn’t that difficult, but while the automatic in the 131 is shared with the Spider, the manual box is not. So getting one would be the hard part.

MGB/GTs look great. And they can drive great too, but after a combined eight years living with two of them, ehhhh … all done.

Dewey Proctor
Dewey Proctor
4 months ago

I do get the draw of the MGB GT. Although I never owned one I’ve always been drawn to them stylistically. Of course a tractor engine as a power plant is a bit of a drawback. I do remember looking at the B when I bought my Fiat and all the salesman could think of as a pitch of the B over the Spider was the three windshield wipers!

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
4 months ago

MGBGT is the answer! Such a beautiful classic car. Panels shouldn’t be super hard to make and weld. The overspray in the engine compartment looks yucky though 🙁

I did have the 2 liter twin cam 131 engine in my old 1968 124 Spider once. Boy that thing could go – and sound great! 🙂

Last edited 4 months ago by Jakob K's Garage
Dewey Proctor
Dewey Proctor
4 months ago

I am one of those loonies that has owned Fiats. Not one or two but 5 or 6 or them! My first was a ’72 124 Spider bought new. It was essentially trouble free believe it or not for the 6++ years I owned it. Yes, some rust due to the Russian steel they used, I found out later. It never left me stranded and except for the convertible top that leaked (a period issue as much for sport cars as Fiats in particular) it was a great car. I also purchased new a 1980 Brava nee 131. It also was a great car that never left me stranded and also rusted out along the truck edge but fortunately for me there was a warranty on the problem by then and my dealer offered to do the repair. The Brava/131 was built on the same underpinnings as my 124 Spider including the 5 speed and DOHC 4 cylinder hemi. And did I mention the 4 wheel disc brakes? And just as an aside, among the other Fiats I owned there were a few X1/9’s, an amazing handling sports car.

Torque
Torque
4 months ago

Easy choice for me (MG B GT), because I’m biased. My mother ‘bought*’ my father a factory color purple) 1974 MG B GT which is manual with the 5th gear electric overdrive in 1985. The car which of course we call ‘the grape’ is sitting in the 3rd stall of my garage and will always be in the family, certainly as long as I’m alive. It has the four spoke steel wheels and twin webber carbs.

*she bought the car for him with his money b/c she knew he’d never have bought it himself, although when they met he had an early Porsche 356 ‘A’ and growing up he was on the look out for a 911E or 912. I remember him seriously checking out a nice looking 912 at Road America one year (probably around 1989), which unfortunately he didn’t end up buying. I never did hear the story about how he found that 356, other than supposedly it was kinda in rough shape.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
4 months ago

This is a tough one for me, I have had an MGB GT, they are nice cars, but mine also had rust. It comes from the bottom end, I side out, they are unibody, and the rockers are have a couple inner pieces that are probably shot too. Mine also rusted on the rear leaf spring mounts, to the point where one snapped off.

I have never owned an Italian car, and the Fiat would be my choice if it wasn’t an automatic (and a little rusty too).

But given that I am guessing the slushbox takes most of the joy out of driving the little Italian people mover, I will take the crusty MGB.

Kevin B
Kevin B
4 months ago

I live 10 miles from Moss Motors. They and the MG will gladly drain my bank account.

Ron888
Ron888
4 months ago

It’s super interesting how many chose the Fiat,in what i thought should be a slam dunk for the MGB.
I’ve met a couple of Fiat fans earlier in life so know those cars have *some* redeeming qualities.I just dont know what they are

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
4 months ago

Both, this is case where an engine swap is worth the effort. just make sure that you put the right engine in the right car.

Hiram McDaniel
Hiram McDaniel
4 months ago

Completely agree that this Brava would be a challenge to get parts for here in the US, but for a lot of Fiat models, Midwest Bayless in Ohio has a good supply of most things. And for this Brava, learning how to shop for parts from Europe based parts houses would get you most of what you need. They made a gazillion of these things.

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