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Dave Burns spent $3,000 in 2001 for this 1973 MGB and has since spent countless hours to make it look great and run superbly. (Dave Burns)
Dave Burns spent $3,000 in 2001 for this 1973 MGB and has since spent countless hours to make it look great and run superbly. (Dave Burns)

Classic Cars: Toronto Triumph Club’s British Car Day

MGB: a classic British charmer Add to ...

We’ve now motored through three decades since the final MGB was built, yet it remains one of the most popular of all British sports cars with an ever-faithful following that this year has staged events around the world to mark its 50th birthday

The culmination of Toronto-area MGB owners’ contributions to these global celebrations takes place Sunday Sept. 16 as a featured part of the Toronto Triumph Club’s British Car Day. Started in 1984, this event now annually attracts more than a thousand cars to Bronte Creek Provincial Park about 40 km west of downtown Toronto, making it the largest single-day all-British car meet in North America.

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MBG owners will have to share the limelight with Triumph Spitfire and Lotus Elan owners who are also marking the birth years of their favorite models, but the MGB fans will likely end up with the edge in numbers. The MG Car Club of Toronto is expecting more than 250 of its members’ MGBs and others from further afield to turn up to backdrop a stadium style display of significant models from the early 1960s to the end of production in 1980.

The MGB was launched in 1962 as the successor to the 1950s-era MGA. of which some 100,000 had been built. The MGB would eclipse that number over the next 18 years with total production reaching 512,243 before the end arrived. Three quarters of these were roadsters and most of the rest the hard-topped MGB GT, plus a couple of other variations. Some 80 per cent of roadster and 38 per cent of GT production came to North America.

It was a modern design with a monocoque structure and conservatively shapely two-seater bodywork with a full-width grille and headlights nestled in cut-out scallops. The cabin was roomy, fitted with carpets, leather bucket seats and roll-up windows. With the soft-top erected, it made a comfortable tourer.

The front suspension was independent with a live axle on leaf springs at the rear; it had front disc and rear drum brakes, rack-and-pinion steering and weighed just 2,040 pounds (925 kilograms).

A neat little V-4 engine had been envisioned but it arrived with the proven 1.8-litre, inline-four B-Series instead with twin carbs that put out 95 hp at 5,500 rpm, mated to a four-speed gearbox. Acceleration to 100 km/h required about 12 seconds and top speed was about 170 km/h.

It was priced affordably and was fun, attributes that still make it popular today.

Among the MGBs at Sunday’s British Car Day will be one that, in typical fashion, went through a number of hands, not all of them wearing kid gloves, before being rescued by its current owner, Dave Burns of Mississauga, Ont., after sitting for 10 years in a friend’s garage.

He’s spent the past decade turning a car likely destined to take its final trip to the scrap yard into a shining example of the MG breed, and his labours have been deemed a heavenly benefice.

Burns says a minister approached him at a car show after eyeing his restored, bright-red roadster and told him God had blessed him with a beautiful car. To which he replied, “Thanks, Reverend, it’s true, but you should have seen it when He gave it to me.”

Burns was feeling anything but blessed and having doubts the 1973 ‘B’ he’d paid $3,000 for was much of a bargain after the post-purchase drive home in 2001. It chugged to a halt by the side of the road and made the rest of the trip to Mississauga on the end of a friend’s tow-rope.

Now 67, Burns became a B enthusiast later in life although he says he’d always liked and had an interest in British sports cars. Born in Toronto, he acquired a degree as a chemical engineer and joined Kodak Canada, spending the latter part of his career in a variety of management roles, before retiring for health reasons 11 years ago.

The MBG was acquired to help with the transition from the working world to retirement, he says, and he has spent more than a few hours since making it look great and run superbly again.

“It wasn’t one of those strip it down to the bare bones things where you take everything off and then later try and figure where ... it went when you go to put it back,” he says, but done was piece-by-piece.

During the winter, he’d remove various components, restore them and replace them in the spring so he could drive the car during the summer. Along the way, he returned many botched repairs using non-standard parts to originality. But bodywork repair – “there was a lot of rust” – and paint was turned over to local pros, although Burns did much of the hands-on prep work.

Now knowing the B inside and out, he describes it as “a unique little car, a very tough little car. And pretty well designed despite all the crazy stuff you hear. If you make sure that things are put together properly, they work just fine. They’re very reliable if you look after them. And they’re still around. You can get a decent one for $5,000-$10,000.”

His is now in the “reasonably original” state of grace he had in mind when he began working on it. “I’ve had to correct a lot of stuff. But I don’t get fussed. My objective was to end up with a nice, clean-looking car that would be a joy to use and I feel I’ve accomplished that.” Nice enough, as it has turned out, to win some car show awards over the past few years.

Burns says his B doesn’t get driven a lot, but at least once a week between April and December thus continuing to serve in the role these still charming and thoroughly enjoyable cars have been fulfilling for half a century. And who knows, may still be performing half a century from now.

For information on British Car Day go to torontotriumph.com

Back in 1962

Artist Andy Warhol unveils his work Campbell’s Soup Cans in Los Angeles, a series of 32 canvases sized 20 by 16 inches each of a soup can representing the 32 varieties offered by the company.

The influential film Lawrence of Arabia hits the screens featuring a who’s-who list of stars, Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins and Anthony Quinn.

Golf great Arnold Palmer ends the year as top PGA money winner with $81,448, or just about enough to cover the bar bill of most of today’s top pros.

British Formula One driver Graham Hill wins the first of his two World Driving Championships at the wheel of a BRM.

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