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1970 MGB owned by Jon Rosenthall

Jon Rosenthall

Jon Rosenthall says he bought the wrong car 30 years ago, but this hasn't stopped him from turning his 1970 MGB into a particularly nice example of this popular sports car, which will be joining about 260 of its brethren descending on Belleville, Ont., this week.

This bounty of Bs, two thirds from the United States, will be taking part in the North American MGB Register's annual convention. Hosted by the MG Car Club of Toronto, it is being held for just the third time in Canada.

Rosenthall will be looking after the car show element of the five-day event (June 23-27), not unfamiliar territory as his day job includes responsibility for the Cruise Nationals and Classic Concourse displays at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. Plus he's got past experience to draw on, having run the car show at the 1992 convention in Peterborough, Ont.

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The MGB remains one of the most popular classic British sports cars today for the same reasons it did before the half-million original purchasers passed them on to sports car posterity. As MGs have been since the 1920s, they're fun, fairly fast, affordable and fixable.

The MGB arrived in 1962, the successor to MG's first really new post-war design, the MGA of 1955. Work on the B began about three years later and it took four very deliberate years of fine tuning to bring this modern monocoque design to market.

Chris Harvey in his book, MG: The A, B And C, says: "They did their work so well the car achieved well-nigh immortality as the most popular sports car the world has ever seen. No manufacturer has been able to offer anything better at a lower price and so readily available since."

That was written in 1980, the last year for the B, which had originally been planned for just a seven-year lifespan - and just a decade before Mazda reprised the concept with its MX5, which has reached sales of about 900,000 by offering all the same things the B did.

Further proof the B's designers got it right was that the roadster version remained essentially unchanged over those two decades, only being updated to meet changing regulations and marketing considerations. An MGB GT with rear hatch, a six-cylinder MGC and even a V-8 model were also produced.

One of the 2,500 or so V-8s built in the early 1970s will be in Belleville along with a 2005 MG TF. The MG brand is currently owned by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.

The original B of 1962 was a two-seat roadster, weighing 920 kg, with a roomy and comfortable cockpit, a folding top, independent front and live axle rear suspension, disc front/drum rear brakes, a 1.8-litre, overhead-valve, four-cylinder engine making 95 hp at 5,400 rpm and a four-speed gearbox. It could hit about 175 km/h and took just over 12 seconds to get to 100 km/h.

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Rosenthall says he went about acquiring his B in 1980 the wrong way round. "I should have joined the club first," he says. "As a result, I bought the wrong car."

Even though it looked good, he soon discovered 1970 was a bad year for Bs. But he persevered with "Neville" as it was soon christened and it has "become part of the family."

Neville has now been fully fettled and its interior extensively redone, including the addition of a very classy wood-veneered dash. Neville has also acquired a better half in the form of a trailer made from the aft section of another MGB.

And typical of Rosenthall's cars, it has also rolled up an impressive number on its odometer, some 305,000 miles. It's driven every day in the summer, he says.

Rosenthall, now 64, grew up in Montreal and says his interest and affection for things with both four and two wheels "began about the time I was able to recognize shapes."

His first motorized ride was a Honda 50 motorcycle, followed by a Lambretta scooter and then a 56 Harley-Davidson, "which was a handful."

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Then, at the urging of his parents after a near-fatal motorcycle near-miss, he switched to four wheels, buying a 1959 BMW Isetta, purchased when he was 17. "From then until I was 19, I went through 14 cars," he says. "My mother, who had to sign for me, and the people at the licence bureau were on a first-name basis."

After earning his mechanic's certificate, he became a service adviser at a Chevy dealership, driving to work in a Peugeot 403. His first new car, in 1968, was another one, this time a 204 Cabriolet. Prophetically, perhaps, his alternate choice had been an MGB.

"The Peugeot beat it hands down," he says, but adds that by 1971 - after suffering through Montreal winters and a move to Toronto to work for Golden Mile Chevrolet - "it virtually dissolved."

Rosenthall then changed careers, becoming a travelling salesman for his father's textile products company, and later creating his own business selling laces, trimmings and sewing notions.

After rolling a Mercury Comet on black ice, he decided big cars were a better idea and a succession of American iron followed, on which he racked up monster mileages. Some 450,000 miles on a 1977 Olds Delta 88 and then more than 400,000 miles on a 1985 Lincoln Town Car, both fitted with a Recaro driver's seat and a wooden-rimmed Nardi wheel.

He returned to imports with a 1988 Volvo 760 Turbo Wagon - "a sweet car" he rolled the odometer up to 450,000 km on - then a C-Class Mercedes that topped 400,000 km.

Rosenthall wound his company down in the mid-1990s and launched a new one selling promotional products, which he still operates on a limited basis.

His involvement with the Canadian International Auto Show began more or less by accident in the early 2000s, helping out with its then-new Sports Compact Revolution component. By 2004, he was an employee and is now events supervisor for the popular Cruise Nationals competition and the dazzling Classic Concourse displays of the world's great cars - which isn't a bad gig for a car guy who drives to work most days in an MGB named Neville.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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