Super Bee

According to British Leyland, the fastest MGB in the world in 1971 raced in Australia, competing in the Prodsports class and was a member of the British Leyland (Australia) factory team known as the Leyland Young Lions.

“Fastest MGB in the world” was a big claim, for sure, but while impossible to confirm (or deny), it probably was.

This car, known locally as “Super Bee” had lap records all over Eastern Australia, with one lasting eight years. It was faster than the 2lt Autodelta lightweight Alfas; it was more highly developed than the British Leyland backed MGB’s in the UK; and in Australia it set similar lap times to the V8 Mustangs of the day. Simply, Super Bee was a brute! I should know, because I built it and I was the driver.

If its sheer speed is not enough, there is another amazing facet to the saga of Super Bee, because after I sold it, it spent 30 years sitting in a shed until it was purchased by an enthusiast in 2008 and restored faithfully to its condition as it was in the early 1970’s.  Perhaps the world’s fastest barn-find?

However, to understand this Aussie MGB, a little of its history is required. 

After I raced an MGA for a couple of years my wife Carole and I went to the UK to complete my medical degree in 1967, and while there met up with BMC-backed MGB driver Bill Nicholson. This led to an invitation to visit the MG factory in Abingdon, and an introduction to all the engine parts needed to convert a standard MGB 1800cc engine to Stage 6 tune. The decision was made in 1968 to return to Australia and build an MGB purely for the race track.

I had worked my passage back to Australia as a ship’s surgeon on a cargo ship, the Adelaide Star, and with me was a suitcase containing a nitrided steel crankshaft, a competition camshaft, four 80-thou oversize competition pistons, eight nimonic valves with hidural valve guides, strengthened rocker posts, and 16 competition valve springs. These were all the subject of a somewhat dodgy invoice just in case the customs people got interested.

I was a little worried about getting all these parts into Australia, but had a lucky streak. After signing off from the ship’s register in Melbourne, I returned to my cabin to pack, but delayed my entry into Australia until late that evening. With my arm muscles bulging, the important suitcase and I walked along the docks to be accosted by a customs official.

“Where are you going?” he asked. I replied, “I’m the doctor from the Adelaide Star.” “Oh, OK then Doc, good night,” and I mercifully clanked into Australia with the makings of an MGB race car.  (Thank goodness the statute of limitations has been exceeded. I was luckier than Al Capone!)

Returning to my home in Brisbane, the next step was to find an MGB to prepare and I bought a nice 1965 model. In fact, it was too nice to race, but the five-bearing engine was yanked out so that work could start on building the Stage 6 power plant.

The road car was then put on blocks and I continued to look for a tatty MGB.

Once more I was lucky, and an MGB shell was found in one of the local wrecking yards. This car had been stolen, stripped and then set fire to, but the damaged shell was just perfect for my needs. 

It was a lightweight, as the fire had removed all the sound deadening insulation, and all the lead from the body seams had melted and run away. The shell was brought home and put on blocks beside the road car.

A word or two about the workshop won’t go amiss at this point. Think of the high-set houses on stumps in Queensland. The underneath had a dirt floor and the headroom was 5’10”. At 6’ tall I spent the next few weeks in a state of semi-concussion.

We had no tools other than an electric drill, a lead-light and some spanners and the most important self-grip wrench! “We” was myself and a young pharmacy student, John Campbell. My wife Carole made the coffee.

We built the entire car in six weeks, but it was an exhausting six weeks working 6pm to midnight Monday to Thursday, then all night Friday through to Saturday, then, after a break, Saturday 6pm until 10pm. Sunday was the day of rest, but nothing of biblical significance: it was just sheer exhaustion.

The front cross member and suspension came directly from the road car. My basic engineering knowledge came from reading as many books as I could lay my hands on, and that extended to re-working the front suspension geometry to get the lower wishbones and the steering rack parallel to each other and the road. We bent the steering arms at a friend’s garage, and just hoped we hadn’t weakened them.

Heavier front springs were sourced from the local spring works and the valves in the Armstrong shock absorbers were turned upside down and screwed into the shocks. At the rear, the bottom two spring leaves were put on the top and anti-tramp bars fitted. The rear axle was also lifted from the road car, which was then destined to stay on blocks for the next few years.

The shell had come without door hinges either, so we devised “reverse gull-wings” as I called them, hinging the doors from their lower edge. There was also no grille, so I made one from alloy sheet, pop-riveting the grille bars in place. As we were fitting wide wheels we made four flares at the same time, out of Mini Cooper fibreglass ones.

Wheels came from one of the chaps in the MG Car Club with the knock-off centres and steel spokes and rims. They were very heavy, but should have been strong. Time was to prove the opposite.

Another engineering shop made me a small alloy fuel tank, which we put in the boot with the outlet leading to a swirl pot and then on to the carburettor.

It was starting to get there as a recognizable MGB, but it needed painting. Once again I struck it lucky. The chap next-door was tired of all the noise each night and came over to complain. It turned out he was a spray painter and he quickly worked out that the sooner we finished this project, the sooner he would get a good night’s sleep.

He prepared the body and sprayed it in a Wildfire Green colour: I think this was the cheapest paint he could get. The bonnet and boot had been made in fiberglass, using the road car for the moulds.

There was no dashboard either, so I made one up, again out of alloy and fitted a tacho and water-temp/oil-pressure gauge.

Finally we got the engine and gearbox in, wired it up, turned the key and fired it up. The sound of the engine running was music to our ears.

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