B Unique

5th January 2021

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By Andy Knott Photos Colin Grant and Andy Knott

In September 1979, John Butler along with 499 hopefuls were readying their Abingdon-built cars, which not only included MGs but Austin Healeys and Rileys as well, for the Golden Jubilee Concours celebration in Abingdon.

The Golden Jubilee Concours was held during the week-long celebrations in Abingdon marking the 50th Anniversary of the iconic MG marque being in the town. John, a staunch MG Car Club member, drove down in his Green TF to enter.

During the celebrations John got to meet and talk to lots of the MG employees, including Chris Peacock who was at that time the Manufacturing Manager. They were soon to correspond with each other on a regular basis about the unique MGB featured in this article.

As the celebrations drew to a close, the winner of the concours was announced, with John taking the overall win with CJK 5, his stunning Green TF. Understandably, this was an extremely proud moment for John and something that he decided he would like to commemorate. He approached Chris Peacock and mentioned that he would like to purchase a new MGB, but would like it be somewhat different to a standard MG to commemorate his prestigious win. Chris decided to give it some thought.

During October John wrote to Chris with a few questions and suggestions, asking if there were any special edition MGs planned for the UK market, similar to the US-marketed cars. Chris replied on October 25 stating that he had no knowledge of a planned special edition, particularly in MGCC colours, although if the company’s proposals are implemented it is conceivable that a limited or special edition may be built for the UK. Chris then went on to say: “We do not build a UK version of the USA limited edition. However, if you bought a black tourer with the optional alloy road wheels we could supply a set of silver transfers. The boot rack and alloy wheels should not give you too much trouble. If you confirm with me in, say, one month I may also be able to assist with a spoiler.”

The USA special edition was limited to 1,000 cars built in 1979. They were all black roadsters with alloy wheels, side stripes, chin spoiler, boot rack and with commemorative plaque on the dashboard. They were built to celebrate 30 years of MG sports cars being sold in the USA.

John decided this was the route he wanted to take and set about trying to obtain a black Roadster from several dealers, including Wadham Stringer (Southsea) Limited with whom he placed an order with the factory’s assistance in November 1979. This wasn’t to be, though.

As black was normally a special order colour, the car would not have been built until 1980 and as John specifically wanted a car built in the Jubilee year, the whole project looked in trouble. It wasn’t to be until early 1980 that John managed to finally find a black roadster, built on December 18 1979. Chris Peacock, now Director of A Plant, had a brainwave and contacted John Simmonds of the Piccadilly showroom, who was due to display a Black MGB tourer.

Being the premier Piccadilly showroom, the cars that were built to display there were of a higher specification than the normal cars, known as the Piccadilly finish. Chris wrote to John Simmonds on January 16 saying: “John Butler, a very keen MG enthusiast, has contacted me to try and assist in locating a Black Tourer for him. I would appreciate if you or Graham Powell, Regional Manager, could keep me in touch with the situation so that I can advise John as to the likelihood of him being able to buy this car.”

The rotation of cars in showrooms was fairly regular, so it was agreed that when the Piccadilly showroom was due to change cars after the eight-week period John could purchase the Black 1979 MGB Tourer, and it would be shipped to an appointed University Motors dealer to have some of the US specification extras fitted. John wrote to University Motors as he was keen to have a few items fitted that would improve the MGB and personalise it for him.

He insisted that the car be fully rustproofed and undersealed, but making sure that the underseal is kept off as many component parts as possible, and there was to be absolutely no underseal in the engine compartment or under the bonnet as he was keen to prepare the car for concours events.

John also insisted that a suspension lowering kit, supplied by Brown and Gammons, and a Moto-Lita 14″ flat polished steering wheel, supplied directly by Moto-Lita, be fitted.

On February 18 John Simmonds sent a letter to Chris Peacock at the Abingdon Factory to say that the MGB would be released to University Motors, Hanwell, on March 11 1980. When it arrived at University Motors it was fitted with the parts that John had specified in his letter.

In addition to those parts, the North American specification wheels (not varnished like the UK LE wheels, and a black centre not red) were fitted to the MGB before it was taken to Abingdon to be fitted with rest of the parts to complete the North American spec conversion. These included the chin spoiler, side stripes, boot rack (of which Leyland imported approximately 20) and a set of Collinburn custom-built black leather seats.

John finally got to pick up his new unique acquisition from Abingdon in some secrecy, as by this time British Leyland did not approve of either special cars being built or the public going into the works. John was in fact nearly thrown off the site by a director who gave him quite a stern lecture.

As a last finishing touch to the MGB, John decided to take it to a local printing company and had the Jubilee badges silk screened on to the top of the doors just below the mirrors. And the unique MGB was almost complete, but not quite, as in September 1980 John received a letter from Chris Peacock asking him if he’d like an American spec boot carpet as the Abingdon factory had made a few sets from an American Sample.

Finally the unique MGB was finished and John was happy with his car. Sadly, though, John had to part with the car in 1981, as when he purchased it he did so through his company which he later sold to an American concern, so the MGB had to go as well.

After John Butler parted with the car, it enjoyed three further owners before being bought by another MG enthusiast, Geoff Pearson, in September 1986. Geoff knew none of the history of the car when he purchased it, but from the look of the car and the graphics, he knew he’d purchased something special. After contacting the MG Clubs and not having much joy, he decided to take the car to the MG Car Club’s annual Silverstone event, getting there early and parking it by the MGB Register marquee.

It just so happened that John Butler was attending that event in his TF and passed by the MGB leaving a note on the windscreen that read: “I was the original owner of this car and it has a special history, contact me on….” Subsequently Geoff Pearson met John Butler, who gave him all the MG correspondence and photographs of the car being collected from Abingdon. Geoff used the MGB on a regular basis, keeping it to John’s original specification, apart from an engine rebuild to stage two by MG Motorsport, before selling it to a lady owner in 2000.

Subsequently she advertised it through Bonhams auction house in 2011, but it failed to sell so she decided to advertise it in the Classic Car press. This is where the current owner, Martyn Lucas, saw it advertised, and after looking at other MGBs including an LE which weren’t what he was looking for, Martyn decided to make the trip to Witney in Oxfordshire to have a look at the unique black roadster.

This was to be his first foray into the world of MG ownership after joining the MG Car Club at the NEC a couple of weeks previously. A deal was soon struck with the lady owner and the MGB was accompanying him home to Wiltshire shortly afterwards. Since 2011 Martyn and the B have been regulars on the show scene, having the car displayed twice at the NEC on the J.U.L.E. Club stand, as well as taking the car back to Silverstone for the MG Car Club’s event. The MGB now also shares the garage with an MG Rover TF Spark, but that doesn’t mean it’s used any less, as this unique MGB is still attending local and national events on a regular basis for all to see and admire.