LE50 is all-new old MGB

2012 is the 50th anniversary of the MGB.  Just because the car has been out of production for more than half of that time doesn’t mean it does not deserve a proper tribute.  The people at the British tuning company Frontline Developments seem to agree.  They have commemorated the golden anniversary by creating a new car called the MG LE50.

The LE50 may look like a pristine classic, but the body is a brand new unit built by British Motor Heritage LTD.  Frontline has re-imagined the MGB by keeping all timeless pieces (the looks) and improving the elements that needed work (everything else).

It is worth noting that although this is the 50th anniversary of the MGB roadster, the LE50s are only going to be made out of MGB GT coupe bodies (which did not show up until 1965.) We don’t know why Frontline Developments chose to do this, but the better aerodynamics and rigidity of the GT body means we won’t doubt their decision either.

The heart of this reborn beast is comes from the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which is somewhat ironic. When Mazda introduced the Miata, the idea was to offer the simple driving joy of a British roadster like the MGB but with legendary Japanese reliability.  So, Frontline utilized bits of a car that was inspired by the car they were re-imagining (don’t read that last sentence twice unless you want a headache.)

photo: Gez Hughes

But Frontline did not just yank the engine and six-speed transmission out of a Miata and declare the LE50 a new vehicle.  The 2.0-liter engine was tuned and added new performance parts like a billet crank, billet rods, Teflon coated forged pistons, and solid lifters.  The result takes the horsepower from 167 to approximately 212.

Since there is no a donor car, Frontline recreated all new wiring for the engine from scratch.  It may seem like a small addition, but it means big gains in reliability.  There are plenty of good jokes to be made at the expense of Lucas electrics, so it is worth mentioning that none of them made it into LE50.

Aside from the electrics, the suspension and handling are two of the greatest areas that have benefited from decades worth of technology since the MGB first hit the road.  The LE50 features an aluminum arm front suspension and a custom five-link rear, both fully adjustable.  Stopping power is greatly improved with four-piston front brake calipers and ventilated discs.  These are covered by Jaguar Le Mans style knock-off wheels.

The original MGB was about being a little cheap runabout, but this one wants to rewrite history with a little extra luxury.  It comes standard with interior panels trimmed in Alcantara, Dynamat sound insulation, custom Smiths gauges, a JL Audio system with subwoofer, and plenty of leather.  Options include heated seats, air conditioning, and power steering.  This is hardly the spartan sports car like the original, but adding a little extravagance is necessary since the car now runs in much richer company.

The MG LE50 retails for £49,900 in the U.K.(click here for full features and pricing list)  That kind of British cash can purchase a 320 hp Porsche Cayman S or the 335 hp Audi TT RS over there.  Frontline has pegged the LE50’s 0-60 time at 5 seconds, which would make it a tenth slower than the Porsche and about a second behind the Audi.

The story does not get much better in North America.  The unfavorable exchange rate means the LE50 currently costs about $77k, plus shipping.  This is rapidly approaching Porsche 911 territory.  The good news is the 1960s title from the U.K. should allow it to skirt the U.S. customs import duty.

But the LE50 is not about going head-to-head with its new money crowd contemporaries.  This is a rolling collector’s item for MGB enthusiasts.  There should be a wanting market of drivers looking to discover or recapture some nostalgia with the quiet exclusivity this sports car offers.  In fact, the name LE50 stands for “Limited Edition 50”.  So Frontline’s production stops after it builds one for every year the MGB has been on the earth.

The final piece that has us convinced that the LE50 is a faithful tribute to the MGB is simply where the new car is assembled.  MG loyalists know the English town of Abingdon.  This was the spiritual home of MG from 1929 until the last MGB rolled off the assembly line in 1980.  While no cars are built there today because the old factory is now a business complex, Frontline Developments is hand assembling the LE50 just five miles down the road from the original site.

The LE50 is quick, cool, and completely incognito.  Love it or hate it, the MGB is back.

photography by Gez Hughes

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