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Big B With More Sting Published: 28th Jul 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

What The Experts Say...

In his younger days Brian Lane owned both models when they were contemporary – all GTs, incidentally. He remembers the V8 more fondly simply because it gave the performance what he thought the MGC should have provided. Likewise he found the V8 the nicer handler although admits this was back in the mid 70s when little was known about MGC tyre pressures… If he did miss the C then it was because it was an auto although admits the V8 was almost a two-gear car. Today many MG specialists are seeing the MGC in a new light and certainly as a lesser used classic, perhaps driven at a gentler pace its lazy nature is something to savour.

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MG was probably the only sports car manufacturer to offer four, six and eight cylinder engines in the same bodyshell. Unfortunately, MG was also, at the time, part of the ill-fated British Leyland, an appallingly-run organisation littered with failed good ideas. The success of the original four-cylinder MGB was possible because, in those days, MG still had some independence and the original holding company BMC had not yet suffered the politics of the merger with Leyland.

Many think that the 3-litre lump in the ‘C’ was the same as the Healey but it was completely different, with seven main bearings instead of four. It was much heavier and, while that wasn’t too much of a problem for its other application, in the huge Austin 3 Litre, it completely ruined the sweet handling of the MGB. Added to that, the initial press cars had incorrect tyre pressures which exacerbated the understeer and led to a slating in all the motor magazines of the day.

The annoying thing is that, with a little bit of engine tuning along with a few steering and suspension mods at the factory, it could have been a great car from the outset, with Healey chuckability but much better steering, thanks to its superior rack and pinion set-up. MGC would then have been a much more practical and refi ned car than the old Healey and better received.

MG had first tried to shoe-horn a V8 into the MGB in 1967, when it fi rst had access to the Turner-designed V8 from the Daimler SP250. However, that came to nothing, owing to lack of funds and politics, and it was left to Mini-tuner, Ken Costello to first create a production MGB V8 in 1971, by installing the Rover aluminium V8 with outputs varying between 150bhp and 180bhp.

MG, now aware of the possibilities, produced its own version in 1973 and, needless to say, stopped supply of V8s to Costello. Nonetheless Ken managed to produce around 250 and, unlike MG, actually produced 35 roadsters.

Only 2591 offi cial V8s were produced of which 752 wore those infamous rubber bumpers. While the V8 received a much better press than the C, it was still tepid at best, with complaints of the ‘new’ MG being too old-fashioned in every department. At £2294 it was practically 50 per cent dearer than a four-cylinder B and, more importantly, 26 per cent more than the much more modern and refi ned Ford Capri 3000 GXL.

Fast forward two decades and, using heritage shells, the MGR V8 was born using a modern make up (3.9-litre V8, EFI, fi ve-speed ‘box, reworked chassis), to make the big-hearted MGB everybody had yearned for. But let’s talk classics now! History has been much kinder to these Bs with more sting, but what’s the best one for your needs and tastes?

Which one to buy?

All have their merits For a start, if you want an open car you will have to settle for the MGC, unless you can fi nd one of the 15 MGB Roadsters left out of the 35 Costello V8s built. These are spread around the world, as are the remainder of the 215 GTs also converted. MGC Roadsters, on the other hand, are relatively easy to come by, although they are rapidly appreciating – a very nice one recently fetching a surprising £34,000.

Of course, there are hundreds of homespun MGB V8s around using a variety of engines, and some are extremely well done indeed. But, there are some poor ones too, so you need to vet DIY cars with care.

As far as the bigger-blocked GTs are concerned, the V8 is generally accepted as a much better developed car, with more willing performance and far better handling, thanks to so much less weight over the front axle.

In view of this, it is surprising that the MGC GT, which was actually made in larger numbers, fetches higher prices than the V8 GT, although both are available in good condition for around £10,000.

It may be that, in the same way that the MGC was ten or more years ago, the V8 is more a ‘sleeper’ and will one day take off in value, like the originally unloved Aston Martin DB6, or even the MGC. But right now, it’s the six pot C which has the most interest, as an increasing number of enthusiasts see this much maligned MG in an entirely new light.

Although the RV8 usn’t included in this comparison you can’t ignore it as it’s a roadster and the chassis is well sorted plus a proper fi ve-speed ‘box is fi tted along with a high standard of trim – all for £10k!

What’s the best to drive?

In many ways, perhaps an MGB…
No contest here; thanks to the aluminium V8 engine, which is even lighter than the B’s four-cylinder, the MGB V8 handles so much better and feels more agile than the heavier ‘C’ and, for that matter, the four cylinder car – but only to a point. The nose heavy ‘C’ is a great motorway cruiser, with its smooth, quiet six gobbling up the miles at the ‘ton’ (where permitted!) with just 3500 revs on the dial. The muscular V8 is so more responsive and willing even in detuned Range Rover form. MG quoted 145bhp for the MGC, and 137bhp for the Range Rover-engined GTV8, yet in terms of ‘go’ the V8 is signifi cantly faster, with magazine Motor clocking one to 60mph in an outstanding 7.7 seconds – over two seconds to the good of the sleepy C, which, with its seven-bearing crank, was always reluctant to rev (a lightened flywheel makes a world of difference, we’re told).

The ‘C’ has one benefi t, however, and that is an overdrive which operates on third as well as top (not so the V8, due to its torque), which is very useful for overtaking – just third and overdrive-third is all that is required on give-and-take roads, using the overdrive switch like the paddles on a modern automatic. And, talking of autos, the MGC is the only one so equipped and it suit’s its touring character well.

A bit lumbering compared to the V8 and the MGB it may be, but the that heavy old engine gives great stability at high speeds in cross-winds. It’s not that the V8 is particularly unstable, but the ‘Police’ spec rear springs used made the rear twitchier than with a standard B, and the ride almost intolerably harsh.

Owning and running

Eights are great!
Neither of these cars are diffi cult to own or run, with generally good availability of parts, and all MGCs and early V8s will be road fund licence exempt, with cheap classic car insurance prices. Both have tremendous support from the various MG Owners Clubs and there are lots of specialists around the country. Fuel economy on all is in the low to mid 20s but parts supply is what you’d expect from the badge.

The V8 is easier to maintain than the ‘C’ as more parts are available, thanks to wider use of the basic components, plus the V8 has been in production for decades and used by a variety of manufacturers.

Even complete brand new bodyshells are available from British Motor Heritage, albeit at £8350, whereas MGC shells still have to be repaired to save them.

The MGC can easily be upgraded and spruced up to make it the car it should have always been. Up to 180bhp can be coaxed and the handling improved. There’s even a fine and good value power steering kit to make the tiller more manageable.

There are dedicated specialists for the 1990s RV8 and, certainly, replacing items like the puny stock suspension bushes and dampers is a good move. The 195bhp in standard 3.9-litre trim is more than adequate we reckon…

And The Winner Is...

Diffi cult choice this; the V8 is quicker, handles better and is more economical, but the C is somehow purer and, with its leather as opposed to cloth seats, more traditional. Arguably, the best of them all is the Austin Rover MGRV8 which is all the old BGT V8 should have been 20 years earlier, and a genuine cut price Big Healey it genuinely is, yet it costs the same as a normal B or C to buy. But, can you live with those less graceful looks?

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