Story and Photos by Zach Mayne
There are a few classic cars so rare that one of the only ways to experience one is with a recreation. Among those is the car pictured here, the MGC GT, more specifically the Sebring version. According to the historians, out of five (some say six) MGC chassis that were originally destined to be turned into full blown racecars by the BMC Competition Department in 1967, only two fully functioning cars were actually officially produced and raced. MBL 546E and RMO 699F went on to race promisingly at storied venues such as the Targa Florio, the Nurburgring and of course the eponymous 1968 Sebring, where a GTS won its class.
Unfortunately, what could have become an illustrious career was cut short when the Competition Department shuttered its doors in 1969 after MG was acquired by British Leyland. Obviously anyone who wants an original Sebring is pretty much out of luck. The alternative of course is building or buying a Sebring recreation. Like many MG enthusiasts, and car enthusiasts in general, Southern Californian Steve Simmons has always had a special place on his list of must have cars for the MGC GTS.
If ever there was an enthusiast who should own a dead-on MGC tribute, it is this dyed in the wool MG nut. Simmons’ passion for cars with the MG moniker is a generational thing that has been handed down from years of being exposed to the cars thanks to his father. “I spent much of my youth riding around in my father’s 1965 MGB,” says Simmons. “He got it from his father and after driving the car daily for over a decade, it eventually became my problem.”
When he was handed the keys to the GT by his dad, the MG became Simmons’ first car. Obviously, the old British hatchback wasn’t that much of a problem, since he went on to use it for years. Indeed, it’s still parked in Simmons oversized suburban garage. It’s one of five MGs that he currently owns. When I arrive for the photoshoot at Simmons’ place, it’s immediately obvious that he has the bug pretty bad. His garage is stuffed to the rafters with two lifts, containing a 1949 MG TC, a 1958 MGA roadster, a 1965 MGB roadster, the aforementioned ’67 GT and of course the Sebring. And get this. He still uses the ’67 GT that he inherited as a daily driver in the grind of Los Angeles traffic. When he tells me this, I have a sudden awe-inspiring vision of Simmons dodging lumbering SUVs and staying out of the path of speeding semis in his right hand drive vintage hatchback. He may be borderline masochistic, but using the GT as a commuter car makes him a hero in my eyes. “I’ve never owned a more practical and fun car and it’s no less reliable than most of the newer cars I’ve owned,” adds Simmons. “More than likely, I’ll never own another modern car.”
Owning a Sebring recreation was high on Simmons’ list of must-own MGs as well as occupying a prime slot on his bucket list. Simmons became familiar with this particular MGC long before he actually became its owner. “The first time I saw XRX was on a club outing,” he explains, referring to the car by its number plate. “The then current owner had just acquired the car and was just getting a feel for it.” The MGC had been built by English MG tuners MG Motorsports into a pretty wild beast before being sold to a U.S. enthusiast and then shipped across the pond to these shores. To say that Simmons was smitten by the wildly flared, bright red MGC is an understatement. He never forgot about it. “Several years later I heard it was for sale and saw a few photos taken at a local car gathering,” he recalls. At the time Simmons was awfully tempted to buy it. He already had his a garage full of MG projects though and after struggling with the decision, he managed to put the Sebring out of his mind.
It must have been fated for him to own the car though, since it kept on popping up his radar, tempting him with its bright red paint, ostentatious stance and throaty straight-6 engine. A couple of months later he found out it was still for sale. “Apparently the seller was not very motivated and was looking for the ‘right’ buyer,” Simmons continues. “It took me over a month to muster the courage to look at the car in person.” The last thing he wanted to do was make an impulse purchase of a vintage automobile and he knew that seeing the car in person and driving it would just about make it a done deal, no matter what the logical side of his brain told him. “It was too late because the car had already gotten beneath my skin,” he admits. The seller thought he was the right buyer, too. “A week later it was in my garage,” sighs Simmons. “Despite the drop in my bank account, I never regretted the decision I made that afternoon.”
What he now has is a very faithful recreation of a factory MGC GT Sebring. Starting with a 100,000 mile-plus ’69 MBC GT that had undergone a few color changes during its life, MG Motorsports had performed a nut and bolt restoration on it while also converting it to Sebring specification. The exterior of the car had been modified with GTS-style fiberglass fender flares, the defining visual signature of the GTS and which allow for a far larger wheel and tire package. Up front is a hand-rolled aluminum valance while the rear has an MGC-style valance as well. The hood is a lightweight aluminum piece with a power bulge to clear the 6-cylinder motor and is held on with an evocative leather strap. Riveted on Sebring headlight covers, a massive exterior fuel filler, dual Lucas foglights and large brake-cooling ducts complete the picture. The exterior cosmetics are one of the few areas where Simmons has had to really have any work done. “In 2008 the car went to a high-end restoration shop for a full body and paint makeover,” he says. The body was repainted in the correct Tartan Red- MG’s official race color- with white number plates on the doors, hood and hatch.
Most run of the mill Sebring replica’s are powered by either a hotter MG four-cylinder or a transplanted V6 or even V8 engine. This however is no run of the mill job. This being an authentic MGC, under the alloy hood of Simmon’s example is a genuine 3.0-liter MG straight six, an engine that can easily make a Triumph TR6 2.5-liter tremble into its Strombergs. The motor had been rebuilt shortly before Simmons acquired it and has not needed very much in the way of mechanical maintenance. The aluminum head has been gas-flowed for optimal performance and works with a re-profiled cam. There are also high-lift rockers and an adjustable vernier cam gear that allows precise cam timing to the higher lift camshaft. Elsewhere is a lightened flywheel that allows the motor to rev quicker. On the fuel side of things are a trio of massive 45DCOE Weber carbs that work with an alloy intake manifold. A Facet Red Top fuel pump ensures a reliable supply of fuel. The exhaust features “Downton” style headers that feed into a dual 1.75-inch exhaust that terminates with two 24-inch glass-pack mufflers.
The ignition on the MG consists of a Luminition electronic ignition and a Lucas Sport coil. The distributor has been recurved as well and now allows 18-degrees of advance to be dialed in. The standard MGC radiator is augmented by a 10-row oil cooler mounted behind the front valence. Simmons estimates that the 3.0-liter motor is producing around 200-hp to the wheels (about twice what it put out originally!). We don’t have a dyno run to back that claim up, but it sounds reasonable, given the displacement and state of tuning.
“I have to admit that the sound of this car is intoxicating,” Simmons tells us from the driver’s seat during a spirited drive in the winding roads that criss-cross the Malibu hills just above the Pacific Ocean. “Sometimes I have to restrain myself from acting like a 16-year old by flooring it just to hear the exhaust roar. There is nothing like the feel and sound of a heavy-breathing straight six engine. You can actually hear the air being sucked into the carburetors over the engine.”
In order to keep all that power safely harnessed, the suspension and brakes have been appropriately beefed up. The front torsion bars are larger and the original shocks have been replaced with Spax adjustable shocks. There is also a quick-ratio steering rack and a suspension alignment that has quite a bit of negative camber dialed in. The standard size front swaybar has been retained. At the rear are revalved lever arm shocks, competition leaf springs and poly bushings. The brakes on the MGC use stock front rotors and rear drums which benefit from the addition of EBC Green Stuff pads up front and larger, competition-spec cylinders at the back. There is also an upgraded Girling servo and braided steel lines for a firmer pedal feel. 8x15-inch Compomotive alloys are fastened to the center locking hubs at all four corners. These wear sticky Dunlop Formula R D84 tires that measure 205/60R15.
Inside, the MGC strays from its competition inspiration in order to remain useable for street driving, which Simmons does as often as work and a busy life allow him. The seats are original MGC GT spec, but have been redone with black leather and red piping. Wilton wool carpeting adds comfort, while a 15-inch “Works” style Moto Lita wheel and wrinkle painted roll bar add a dash of race flavor.
All in, Simmons’ MGC recreation is about as cool it gets when it comes to this particular breed. “Other than nostalgia, I think what attracts me to MGs is in no small part their simplicity and raw motoring experience,” he says. “Throughout history these cars have offered a no-frills, in-your-face ride, from the first models in the 1920s through the incredible racing successes of the 30s and right into the late 60s. That’s when the cars lost me. The older and more pure they are, the more I love them.”