Spanish descent — MG, rain and drum brakes

Car: MG B Roadster

Drive: Sa Calobra, Mallorca (13km) 


‘The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain’, or so the old saying goes.

The hell it does! We’re far from any plain, high in the mighty Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, close to the north-west coast of Mallorca, and drops of the wet stuff are starting to spot the windscreen. 

Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be more than a minor inconvenience, but we’re in an MG B roadster, top down, and just about to make the devilish descent to the small, sheltered bay of Sa Calobra.

What’s more, mist has descended and visibility is poor. But, I’m determined to hold my nerve – the roof stays down.

We’ve driven our hired MG B up from the historic town of Alaro.

A handsome, Roman-era aqueduct marks the spot where the Ma-2141, to use its official name, starts at the junction with the Ma-10.

Ma-2141 goes on to scrape between two ravines, Morro de Sa Vaca and Morro de Ses Felles.

It takes in upwards of 50 curves, mostly hairy hairpins and has an average slope of more than 7 per cent. 

From a height of 682m, it descends nearly 10km to Sa Calobra bay, effectively a dead-end.

There is only one way out – the very same 10km in, now a corkscrewing climb back up to the summit — the Coll dels Reis. 

Designed in 1932 by visionary Italian engineer Antonio Parietti, the Ma-2141 took six years of construction.

Built in such a way as to avoid tunnelling and using only manual labour, some 31,000 cu m of rock were removed and then used to level the road. 

To reduce the amount of excavation at this point, Parietti incorporated the Nus de Sa Corbata (Knot of the Tie) where the road curves some 270 degrees, passing under itself.

Today, Sa Calobra remains a triumph of engineering and a monument to human brilliance, ingenuity and sheer hard work. 

We start our descent, me tippy-toeing the MG in search of grip on a surface dark-grey from rain showers, but at least the precipitation has stopped.

It should be said at this point that care needs to be a constant driving companion. 

With no centre line markings or extensive guardrails, and heavy traffic (especially in summer), it’s extremely narrow and impassable for two cars in places.

It sees the Ma-2141 rated one of the most dangerous roads in Spain. 

As a child of the ’70s, our particular B has the standard-fare, sports car set-up of solid discs front and drums rear, a combination that will usually give acceptable retardation — but doesn’t like over-use. So, 2nd gear it is to assist with engine braking.

The tough-looking Minilite wheels and 21st century rubber (195/65 R14 Yokohamas) provide a reassuring contact patch in the dry, though not so sure-footed when we hit a wet patch in the lower gears. 

Fortunately, the earlier showers have warned off the packs of cyclists that are drawn to the challenge of the Tramuntanas.

This mighty mountain range’s profile soared after Bradley Wiggins (later, Sir, CBE) put the lung-burning roads to effective use training for the 2012 Olympic Games where he, of course, claimed gold.

Soon, Brit cyclists were emulating their hero and homing in by the Easyjet flight-ful.

At Sa Calobra bay, we park the B and take a walk around, partly to re-caffeinate but mostly to give the brakes time to cool down and see if the weather improves.

It does, and we set about the climb to the Coll with both sky and spirits much brighter. 

What is a warm thrum on start-up grows into a rorty cackle when the MG’s B Series 1.8-litre, single-cam four-pot goes to work.

1st gear is devoid of synchro, of course, and downshifting from 3rd to 2nd short of silky, but the four-speed box brings out the best in the torque band.

Still, it’s asking a bit of a 40-something year-old car to undertake a gruelling climb like this.    

The steering, with no power assistance nor wheel adjustment, feels typically slow and heavy by modern standards, lock-to-lock taking two and a half turns, so the change of direction demanded by the constant switchbacks makes for a solid workout.

I’m up for it, though, and keep a watchful eye on water temperature and oil pressure gauges.     

On occasions when the road straightens, at around 3000 rpm in 4th and Smith’s speedo showing 80km/h, the MG’s four-pot emits a warm, oaken (as in solid) note which washes over the surprisingly roomy cockpit.

The car tracks true but get too eager, too soon, under cornering and understeer will flick into oversteer though not sharply. 

The ride is compliant, except over large blemishes, of which Sa Calobra has little, and the bucket seats feel comfy despite no height or lumbar — and limited — slide, adjustment. 

We make it to the top, nowhere as quickly as, say, a modern hot hatch might, but much faster than a Tour de France champion. 


1976 MG B Roadster

Basic price (Euro spec): N/A

Engine: 1.8-litre pushrod OHV inline 4-cyl

Power: 62kW @ 5250 rpm

Torque: 138Nm @ 2500 rpm

Transmission: 4-spd manual

Weight: 1045kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 13.4 secs


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