Home » First Drive: These Stunning MGB Restomods Come With a V-8 or Electric Motor. We Tested Both.

First Drive: These Stunning MGB Restomods Come With a V-8 or Electric Motor. We Tested Both.

by multimill
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America loved British automaker MG back in the day, especially its MGB model. More than half-a-million of the B roadster and BGT coupe variants were built between 1963 and 1980, with 60 percent of them sold stateside. Today, it’s still the archetypal classic sports car.

As a Brit and a car enthusiast, I should probably love the MGB too. But I grew up in the 1980s, when hot hatchbacks like the Golf GTI made the homegrown roadsters my father lusted after seem instantly antiquated. Then I drove an MGB, and didn’t change my opinion: the engine felt asthmatic, the steering was vague, the headlights were hopeless, and it smelled of damp.

Frontline's limited-edition LE60, a restomod version of the classic MGB model from MG.

Frontline‘s limited-edition LE60 is a reimagined version of the classic MGB model from British marque MG.

Frontline

Thankfully, the cars created by Frontline are a long way from ordinary MGBs. Based in Abingdon, Oxfordshire—just a few miles from the former MG factory—the company has been modifying the MGB since 1993. “We were building ‘restomods’ before the word existed,” explains Frontline founder and chief engineer Tim Fenna. “I bought an MGB for my wife and couldn’t believe how dull it was to drive. It all started from there.”

Thirty years later, and in the MGB’s 60th anniversary year, Frontline has enhanced this British classic in ways the (occasionally rather militant) line workers at Abingdon could scarcely have imagined. The gray BGT is a new limited-edition LE60, powered by a 375 hp Rover V-8. And the green BEE GT is fully electric. Can either of them win over a dyed-in-the-wool MGB skeptic?

I start with the V-8 (admit it, you would too), not least because it looks so damn cool. Frontline has given the pretty, Pininfarina-designed car a muscular makeover, removing its bumpers and stretching its fenders to accommodate 16-inch Dunlop-style alloy wheels. Look closer and you’ll spot that the indicators are now hidden within the LED headlights, while the fuel filler has been relocated to the C-pillar.

The 4.8-liter V-8 engine inside Frontline's LE60, a restomod version of the classic MGB model from MG.

The LE60’s 4.8-liter V-8 engine delivers 375 hp and 297 ft lbs of torque.

Frontline

Once wiggled into the LE60’s aluminum tub seat, which is individually fitted to each buyer (and their passenger, if requested), you will find that the interior is devoid of any glaring touchscreens or plastic parts. However, it does provide Bluetooth connectivity and an impressive JL Audio sound system, while the manual window winders have been cleverly repurposed into push/pull electric switches. The leather trim is sumptuous, quality is first-rate, and it definitely doesn’t smell of damp.

Nobody with even a drop of gasoline in their veins will be able to suppress a grin when the 4.8-liter V-8 roars rambunctiously to life. It causes the vehicle to throb like Detroit’s muscle cars, and the sound fills the air like a physical presence. It also produces nearly three times the power of a stock MGB’s engine. With 297 ft lbs of torque, the 2,474-pound (curb weight) car reaches 60 mph from a standstill in 4.0 seconds and has a top speed of 170 mph. 

All this sounds like a fast track to ending up backwards in a hedge, but Frontline has also strengthened and upgraded the MG’s chassis. New parts include Nitron dampers, six-link rear suspension, adjustable anti-roll bars, six-piston front brakes, and a limited-slip differential. Don’t expect any electronic traction or stability aids, though—you need to up your game as a driver, too.

The interior of Frontline's LE60, a restomod version of the classic MGB model from MG.

The interior of the LE60 is devoid of touchscreens and plastic parts, but it does provide Bluetooth connectivity, an impressive JL Audio sound system, and sumptuous leather trim.

Frontline

On the undulating country roads where MG test drivers first developed the original model, the new LE60 is a revelation. It feels poised and planted, steered by the throttle as much as its wood-rimmed Nardi wheel, with a wonderfully notchy Tremec manual gearbox and thoroughly modern brakes. The vague and leaden responses of my previous MGB experience already seem like a distant memory.

That hand-built engine is the star attraction, though. Unlike some lazy Detroit V-8s (sorry, American readers) it absolutely loves to rev, piling on speed with a hard-edged metallic snarl. Frontline’s demonstrator has an unsilenced exhaust, so it drones insistently at a steady cruise, but the payoff is a spine-tingling soundtrack elsewhere. I reckon I could live with it.

From the sublime to the . . . silent? The all-electric BEE GT is much quieter, of course, although the rising, high-pitched wail of its 100-volt electric motor, which spins to 9,000 rpm, has a distinctive character of its own. No question, I missed the bombast and theater of the V-8 for the first few miles, but I soon began to appreciate the calmer progress offered by the battery-powered option.

Frontline's BEE GT, an all-electric restomod version of the classic MGB model from MG.

Frontline’s all-electric BEE GT.

Frontline

The BEE (B EV Edition) looks more subtle, too. It doesn’t have the squat, purposeful stance of the LE60, and all the chrome brightwork is still present and correct—including the fuel filler by the rear license plate, which flips open to now reveal a Type 2 charging socket.

Beneath those classic curves are seven battery packs, four beneath the hood and three behind the seats for perfectly balanced 50:50 weight distribution. A single motor delivers 120 hp to the rear wheels, good for giving the car a zero-to-60 mph time of 8.8 seconds and a top speed of 120 mph, while total battery capacity of 40 kWh means a fully charged range of 140 miles. 

This BEE GT is still a prototype, and Fenna promises a range in excess of 200 miles very soon. Customer cars will also offer 150 kW charging ability, allowing for replenishing from 10 percent to 80 percent in 30 minutes. Unlike the LE60, which only comes as a coupe and is limited to 30 examples, the BEE is also available as a roadster and production numbers aren’t capped.

A look under the hood of the Frontline BEE GT, an all-electric restomod version of the classic MGB model from MG.

This prototype of the BEE GT carries a 40 kWh battery and a single electric motor good for 120 hp.

Frontline

The work-in-progress status of this BEE GT means its interior isn’t finished to the same standard as its V-8 sibling, with a stock MGB dashboard and seats from a Mazda MX-5. The most unusual feature—for an EV, anyway—is the gear lever sprouting from the central tunnel, which is linked to a five-speed manual ’box (also from an MX-5). “The throttle is mapped to make power delivery more progressive, like a combustion engine coming on cam,” says Fenna. “It’s not simply an on/off switch like in some electric cars.” 

Unlike with a regular manual-transmission vehicle, the BEE GT is impossible to stall. The electric motor doesn’t idle when the car is standing still, so you don’t need the clutch to stop or pull away. On the move, it feels like it’s powered by a very free-revving combustion engine, the subtle crescendo of sound indicating when to grab the next gear. You can even blip the throttle for smoother downshifts.

Frontline's limited-edition LE60 (left) and BEE GT (right), restomod versions of the classic MGB model from MG.

Frontline’s limited-edition LE60 (left) enamors us with its soundtrack, while the BEE GT (right) would be an ideal daily driver.

Frontline

If the LE60 is for special occasions, such as Sunday morning blasts to Cars & Coffee, the BEE GT feels like an MGB you could realistically drive every day. It doesn’t grab you by the lapels like the V-8, but it has vastly more charm than any showroom-fresh EV. 

A restomod redemption for the MGB, then? Absolutely. I even feel a bit patriotic. Did you know King Charles used to drive an MGB? Perhaps he should ask his valet to give Frontline a call.

Click here for more photos of Frontline’s MGB restomods.

MBG restomods from Frontline.

MGB restomods from Frontline.

Frontline



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