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Sebring MGB Roadster – The Race Cars that Saved MG

This gorgeous MGB factory lightweight is one of three BMC Competition Department cars which was campaigned at North America’s premier endurance race, the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1964. No.48 was one of the very first MGB’s shipped to the colonies and helped to kickstart one of Britain’s most lucrative exports ever; over the next two decades nearly 400,000 MGB would be built, with nine out of every ten cars being shipped to eager MG fans in the USA.

In 1964 MGBs had only just found their way onto American forecourts and a good result at Sebring was essential to get sales moving again in BMC’s principal export market. MG’s top brass instructed it’s boffins in the US to modify a trio of stock LHD export spec’ MGB Roadsters (already painted in factory shades of red, white and blue) and a host of racing goodies were rushed over from Abingdon to give the cars the full Works treatment; Perspex windows, aluminium doors, bonnets, boot lids and wings were fitted as well as recessed grille lamps, fibreglass hardtops, spun Raydot mirrors and Lexan headlight covers to complete the racing look – classic inspiration for any Café Roadster fanatic.

 

The 140bhp 1798cc four-pot engine received new pistons, revised porting and custom camshafts, and had a single side-draft Weber and a close ratio 4-speed gearbox . These were fed by twin petrol tanks to improve range over the 12 hour enduro and multi-speed windshield wipers were added in readiness for the expected rainstorms.

For Sebring, the white #46 would be driven by Jack Flaherty and Jim Parkinson, while Jack Dalton and Ed Leslie would pilot the red #47. Jim Adams and Merle Brennan would drive the blue #48 car we see here. The MGBs got off to a good start when the flag was dropped – their key rivals being a pair of factory-supported Porsche-Abarth Carreras – and the strategy was prove reliability and outlast the fragile Porsches over the next 12 hours. However, the team’s resolve was quickly tested when, after just 15 laps, the white #46 car was forced to retire from a ruined diff.

As the race continued, the remaining red and blue MGs pressed on, slowly working their way through the field. After a grueling twelve hours the plucky MGBs finished 3rd and 4th in their class, with the red car taking 17th overall and the blue #48 car taking 22nd; very good results for the newbie British roadsters.

 

Just 10 days after Sebring the little blue MGB was sold off to an amateur racer called Bill Schmidt who had fallen in love with car as a spectator. Bill wasn’t a rich man but stretched his finances to get the No.48 car and had to use it as his daily driver over the next two years to get by. Today, if you wanted to have this pedigree Café Roadster as your weekend plaything you’ll be looking at the thick end of £100k when it comes up for auction on the 2nd of May with Sotherby’s in Fort Worth Texas.

However, if you do want a piece of MGB memorabilia to adorn your man cave why not build a 1:32 scale recreation of that famous 1964 Sebring circuit in Scalextrics and campaign this charming cheap alternative … bet you can’t race it for 12 hours!

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