Much like the “people” they once were, gearheads tend to exhibit a vast array of opinions and ideas. Even so, there’s a few things that seem to be universal: old Lucas Electric jokes, the respect of the BMW 2002, and a cold, seething hatred of the rubber-bumper’d MGB. At the risk of a stabbing, I’m going to say this: I don’t mind the rubber-mask MGB.
Granted, this hasn’t exactly been on the forefront of the average auto enthusiast’s mind since probably the Reagan-era, but I bet at this very moment there’s people reading this who have just now finally decided that yes, I am an idiot.
I understand. Really, in all my years of being interested in cars, I can’t recall a single time anyone has ever said anything favorable about the rubber-bumper’d MGB (or Midget, which got essentially the same treatment). And for most of my life, I agreed with everyone — the chrome-bumper MGB, with its classic British roadster looks, pleasing chrome grille, and, yes, lovely, delicate chrome bumpers I just thought looked better. Almost everyone still agrees, which is why the value of the chrome-bumper MGs is always higher, and why some people will go to considerable trouble to retrofit a rubber-face MG to its ancestor’s chrome-smile glory.
The rubber bumpers weren’t the idea of some latex fetishist who took over the company, mandating rubber bumpers on every car and a mandatory gimp-suit dress code. They were the result of more stringent US bumper standards. In early 1974, MG used a stopgap measure to meet US regulations by bolting massive chamfered blocks of black rubber to the chrome bumpers. These worked well enough to hold out until the new 1975 5 MPH bumper standard, and were nicknamed “Sabrinas,” after a buxom British actress. (Fun fact! 1970s British tits looked like thick rubber blocks!)
To meet the tough US standards for ‘75, the late ‘74 MGs had a totally redesigned face, with the bumper and grille replaced with a sort of black rubber mask that comprised the bumper, grille, and housed the indicators. These bumpers did add some weight to the car (some sources say around 70 lbs) but they were very tough, and passed the US standards with no trouble at all.
But the reason I’m writing any of this at all is that after recently hearing yet another tirade about the travesty of these bumpers, I decided to look — I mean really look — at them and try and evaluate them with a clear head. And you know what? I like the way they look.
I’m not just being some contrarian here — that’s a damn good design, especially considering what these bumpers need to do. In an era of massive diving-board bumpers, the designers at Austin-Morris managed to make something that looks integrated with the overall car and not some tacked-on afterthought. The divided rubber grille mimics the old chrome design just enough to suggest its origins without trying to be something it can’t.
I love that MG didn’t feel like they had to try and stick some useless chrome on the bumper, either. It was the style of that era to start to get away from excess chrome anyway, so why not embrace the blacked-out look?
I’ve seen MGBs with these bumpers whack into things with almost no damage; the same shunts would have made a chrome-bumper MGB look like a kid who tried eating Cheetos off of a belt sander. They do their job very, very well.
If you have a rubber-faced MGB or Midget or MGB GT, and are sick of enduring the holier-than -thou mockery of the chromed elite, just know I’m now in your corner. Your rubberized MGs are much more practical, usable classics, and, dammit, I’m going to come out and say I prefer the way they look. And I may not be alone.