A modernised 238bhp MGB may sound tempting, but price could prove difficult to justify

Find MG Motor LE50 deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
Nearly-new car deals
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

You might already have read about the MG LE50, brainchild of Abingdon-based Frontline Developments. It's an MGB GT, obviously, and a very old one if the number plate is anything to go by.

Yet it costs from £52,700 in its simplest form, or £55,500 in the Plus Pack guise seen here. Add some choice options and you could touch £60,000, which seems a lot for a MGB, however beautifully constructed.

But this MGB produces 238bhp at 7400rpm from its 2.0-litre Mazda engine, essentially the same unit as fitted to the new MX-5 GT, complete with the Omex ignition and fuelling systems, a throttle body for each cylinder and freer-breathing camshafts.

The existing LE50 has the same engine with different mapping and the original Mazda camshafts to give 212bhp; word is that Mazda was so impressed with Omex's work for Frontline that it commissioned its own version for the MX-5 GT.

For this LE50 Plus, though, the engine can be in Euro 4 management spec and, in a sort of Euro-previous-century style, can run without a catalytic converter because this is nominally a 1968 car. Hence that mighty 238bhp, backed up by 174lb ft of torque at 4200rpm. This sounds great until you think 1960s levels of torsional stiffness, a live rear axle and archaic lever-arm dampers, dated when the MGB was launched in 1962 and impossible even to consider now.

All of which is why these Frontline LE50s, 50 of which will ultimately be made (26 ordered so far) and which celebrate a half-century's passing since the B's launch, have a seam-welded bodyshell (brand new, from British Motor Heritage) with extra reinforcing gussets and a heavily re-engineered suspension system. Visible seams are spirited away and the rear side window apertures get bigger flanges, to take seals better able to banish wind noise. 

Back to top

Suspension is still double wishbones at the front, but just the original crossmember remains, with wishbones, hubs, Avo coilover dampers and geometry all new. At the back, the live axle stays but is properly located with four links and a Panhard rod and sprung, again, by Avo coilovers. Brakes, as you would hope, are hefty discs all round.

Despite a beautifully leather-trimmed interior and lots of Dynamat heat-and-sound insulation, this 238bhp car weighs just 941kg, spread almost equally between the four Dunlop-branded 15in aluminium wheels. These look like a racing Jaguar D-type's, and are shod with 195/65 Yokohama CDrive2 tyres.

As well as its extra urge, the Plus gets tougher brake pads, a plate-type limited-slip diff from Tran-ex (part of Quaife), an upshift light triggered at 7300rpm (500rpm shy of the rev limit) and a lower ride height (by 20mm up front and 15mm at the rear).

This drop is easily reproduced on the regular LE50, because the spring platforms are adjustable, but that's to miss the point. These cars are not just collections of aftermarket enhancements with all the scope for tinkering that implies. One look at the complex electrical system, as laid bare during production, is proof of that.

But could you really consider one of these over a Porsche Cayman?

The first impression as you power away, six-speed gearbox snicking with light, perfect precision, is of the surreal disconnect between the MGB shape you see around you and the very un-MGB sound from the ripping, revving Mazda motor. Next is the strangeness of a proper air-con system cooling you from its home under the original crackle-black steel dashboard. 

And then you meet a fast corner on the open, undulating, sweeping road along which you have been pointing the MG's pale metallic green nose. That nose dives into the bend with a precision and a tenacity utterly alien to a B and more like you'd imagine a modern front-engined Lotus to possess, if one existed. The MG balances perfectly as you aim for the apex, then as you squeeze on the power the tail squats slightly and seems both to dig into the road and allow a gentle drift as you straighten the steering and the B catapults out of the bend. 

Back to top

It's friendly and completely intuitive and inspires huge confidence, helped by the high-profile (in both senses) messages from the tyres. Surprisingly, the steering retains the original MGB rack, with the relatively slow gearing needed for a lack of power assistance. The geometry makes it seem higher geared than it is, helped by the optional, and remarkably natural-feeling, electric power steering, which is a column-powering kit by EZ.

All the while the engine blares grittily, its torque feeling stronger than you might expect thanks to the LE50's sub-tonne weight, its power really pouring forth from 5000rpm to the mid-sevens, as recorded on a tachometer that has the original Smiths design but necessarily has more figures squeezed onto its scale. The speedometer is similarly enhanced, reading up to 170mph. In an MGB?

Frontline's Tim Fenna has seen 150mph on the accurate speedometer at the end of the Bruntingthorpe test track's straight, with the LE50 Plus still accelerating, so there's substance to the 160mph claim. Substance too, in the claim of 4.9sec to 60mph given the lightweight and short-legged lower ratios. This car certainly feels very lively indeed, with none of the inertia and lugubriousness of an original MGB to which, shape apart, it bears practically no comparison. 

Only in the way it rides crests, dips and undulations does this car show a hint of vintageness, the result perhaps of that heavy, tautly sprung live rear axle. It's nothing like as choppy as an original MGB, but in this Plus version you pay the price for the lower ride height and flatter cornering. It's quite fidgety and needs a smooth road to settle properly at speed. Here, a Cayman botherer it is not, although it does deal with broken road surfaces surprisingly well.

After driving the Frontline LE50 Plus, I tried the standard car. This has no LSD to clank and click at low speeds, and isn't quite as explosive at high revs, but the engine is sweeter and the ride calmer.

On most roads it's the more pleasing version, the one that feels more as though it was fully developed by a big manufacturer, but the rawer Plus would ultimately be more fun on a track.

Back to top

Either way, the LE50 lets you regain a freedom and purity of automotive interaction while enjoying today's dependability. These are cars you could happily use every day.

It's a liberating feeling, this back-turning on the way today's cars have become, and hard to justify objectively. But who says you have to?

Prices correct at time of publication, August 2013