Saturday, 7 April 2012

MGB vs MX-5 - which would you rather have?

A COUPLE of MX-5 enthusiasts I got chatting to a couple of weeks ago gave me a slightly bewildered impression when I told them I drove an MGB as well. Why, if you own an example of the world's best-selling sports car, would you spend your money on an antique built badly by British Leyland?

Let's face it. The MX-5 is faster, stronger, better built, kinder to the environment and a better handler than the thirsty old MG ever was. I should know, because - and I'm not bragging - I own both.

But choosing between them, on an Easter weekend where the sun shines even occasionally, is like choosing between your left leg and your right. On the face of it, both of these cars do the same things for the same reason, but in reality they do them completely differently. I love them both.

Driving the Mazda's a little like ordering a Bacardi Breezer on a night out; it is, depending on who you're with, a little bit girly, but it's cheap and fun in a giggly, youthful sort of way. It's a 22-year-old and behaves like one, with its modern mechanicals, cheap and simple soft top and its sprightly but not scary handling meaning the joys of driving one is accessible to just about everyone.

The MK1 version is usefully more delicated than the ones that followed and yet tougher than the sports cars of the MGB's generation, which is why it's not surprising that it's the best selling sports car of all time. As a sports car recipe, I don't think it's ever been bettered.

But... but... it's the MGB that gives me the bigger buzz. Driving it - in fact, doing anything with it - is like ordering a pint of Adnams Tally Ho on a night out, which might mark you out as a bearded real ale enthusiast to the casual observer but has an ineffable depth of character the alcopop just doesn't. It is a car you describe not with figures and statistics, but with the carefully-chosen phrases best known to Observer wine critics.

The Mazda is, I think, tomorrow's must-have classic because it's more fun more of the time than the MG, firing faithfully into life day after day before dancing deftfully from corner to corner wherever you go. The MGB, with its carburettors which constantly demand your attention and its heavy steering and ocean liner handling, is rubbish by comparision.

But it looks and sounds like a proper sports car of the old school where the MX-5 doesn't, and paradoxically I prefer it because it's slightly worse.

I'll take both.

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