Des Grinter slides into the driver’s seat of his MGC GT, snicks the automatic gear selector into Drive and pulls out into the traffic. Gently pressing down on the throttle sees the engine noise rise a little, as the speed quickly climbs. Pushing the pedal harder sees the car quickly gaining the maximum speed limit, while the engine is quietly burbling along.
The car is smooth, and the engine quiet, with a subdued but meaningful exhaust note, as it gobbles up the miles. “As a touring car, you just can’t beat it”, Des says without needing to lift his voice above normal.
There is no doubt Des loves his MG, but there is a very practical reason why his had to be automatic and the GT version.
Des had always been car mad, with some of his earliest memories being of visiting the speedway and motorbike racing with his dad. He was a carpenter/joiner by trade, having been apprenticed to his dad in 1955, and enjoyed boat building, fishing and camping.
Like so many of his time, Des longed for an MG TF but knowing his dad would not provide the necessary funds, he bought a far more practical Ford utility.
In 1961, he did get his first sports car, an Austin-Healey 100/6. With a tow bar fitted, he often used to tow a small camper trailer to spots along the Surf Coast, but in 1964 necessity caused him to sell the Healey and buy the first of what would be a string of mundane, if practical, Holdens and Fords.
The Need for Automatic
Des met his wife to be, Jill, a nurse, in 1961 and they married four years later.
Des was also a keen footballer in his youth, winning the Best And Fairest award with his local club in the mid-1950s. But an accident during a match in 1965 changed everything.
Those were the days of nail-on stops on football boots, and injuries were not uncommon. Unfortunately, during a match Des received a severe gash on his left leg from another player’s stops. The wound healed, but a lump developed that was eventually diagnosed as bone cancer.
In those pre-chemotherapy days, the answer was to have the leg amputated, so Des lost his above the knee, as he recalls. “That was the only solution in those days, really. We were married for three months when it came to that and it gives you an incentive to get off your, you-know-what, and get moving. Because, what else are you going to do? You need money, and there’s only one way you’re going to get it and that was to continue to do what I knew, which was carpentry.”
Getting back to work naturally took time, but getting around was another dilemma. Automatic cars weren’t very common, but Des, being a hands-on kind of bloke, devised his own methods of activating the clutch in a variety of manual cars, before automatics became more prevalent and affordable.
So, his missing leg never prevented him from doing the things he really wanted. He continued to enjoy his outdoor activities and boat building, and worked as a builder until 1974, then continuing until his retirement as a building inspector and building surveyor with local councils.
However, Des still longed for a sports car and in 1981 he bought a Series 1½ E-type Jaguar 2+2. Naturally, it was automatic, but it took some dexterity to climb in and out.
He still enjoyed watching motorsport, but in the 1980s became involved with go-karting, with his son James. Not content with sitting on the sidelines, Des was soon behind the wheel. But the foot-operated clutch was impossible for him to use, so he again devised his own method of operating the clutch. His modifications were approved and he enjoyed many years of karting.
It was also in the mid-Eighties that Des bought a twenty-year-old MkX Jaguar, which he described as a wonderful cruising vehicle. A couple of years later an XJ-based Daimler Sovereign 4.2 joined his stable.
Finding a C
Around 2002, Des started looking for another sports car that would combine the touring ability of the saloon cars, with the sporty appeal of the E-type. “I did a fair bit of research and I tried lots of sports cars out as far as access”, he explains. “That was the main thing, and the MGB or MGC was the easiest to get in and out for me. The GT was a bit better than the soft-top with the roof on, because the windscreen is a couple of inches higher and that makes a big difference getting in and out.”
“Of course, we were looking for an automatic and I just thought the six-cylinder would have a bit more torque, so decided to go for the MGC. So I started looking for one, and they’re not that easy to find. I eventually got this one somewhere out of Brisbane.”
That difficulty in finding one is not surprising, as not a large number were made, with very few coming to Australia. In total, there were 556 automatic MGC roadsters and 764 auto GTs built.
Although exact numbers brought here aren’t known, according to former British Motor Heritage Chief Archivist Anders Clausager, in his book Original MGB, only 64 MGC roadsters and 99 MGC GTs were built as right-hand-drive export models. Of those, only two roadsters and eleven GTs were automatic.
The Unloved MGC
At first glance it is difficult to distinguish the MGC from the MGB. In fact, the only external differences are the bonnet, which has a pronounced bulge to clear the engine and a smaller bubble to clear the carburettors, the letter C on the rear badge and the slightly larger diameter wheels – 15” instead of the B’s 14”.
Apart from that, appearance wise at least, the bodies are identical. However, underneath, the front of the floorpan also came in for a significant change in order to accommodate the new front suspension. More on that shortly.
Mechanically, however, the MGC is substantially different from the MGB; most importantly with the engine.
In the early to mid-1960s BMC had three top-selling sports cars: Austin-Healey 3000; MGB; and Sprite/Midget (one car sold under both badges).
The big Healey was the rorty, agricultural, hairy-chested racer; the MGB was the mid-priced, nimble choice for lovers of twisting roads; while the Sprite/Midget was for the fun-loving, cash conscious, mostly youth market.
But even by this time, the nature of the Austin-Healey had changed with the car becoming more refined with wind-up windows, a proper convertible hood, 2+2 seating, a timber dash which even included a lockable glovebox, quieter exhaust, and softer suspension (see previous story).
As such, it had become much more of a touring car, than the all-out sports/racer of the original. With the Healey’s progressively more civilised role, it is not surprising that when BMC came to replace it, they looked at something to continue along this path.
The other problem facing BMC was a lack of funds to undertake a “clean sheet” approach to designing a replacement for the Healey. It therefore became a necessity that the new car would be a development of the MGB – after all, it was already the biggest selling sports car of all time, to that point.
So it was, that the MGC was really a compromise vehicle that failed to excite the market place or the media, basically because it was misunderstood.
Essentially an MGB with a six-cylinder engine like the Austin-Healey, most road testers seemed unable to look at it on its own merits, rather than comparing it with one or the other, or both.
Motor Sport magazine said; “One feels that if there had never been an M.G.-B or big Austin-Healey then the ‘C’ would have had better prospects…while the M.G.-C is an enjoyable and tireless as a touring car, suitable for those unending continental roads, it is not a sports car in the Austin-Healey and M.G.-B sense.”
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The BMC Experience Issue 19. Oct-Dec 2016 Magazine
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