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MG RV8

MG RV8 Published: 17th Oct 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

MG RV8

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Proper original cars
  • Worst model: Ratty examples
  • Budget buy: Re-pats
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): LxW 4010 x 1694mm
  • Spares situation: Usual MG
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Starting to gain in stature
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Surely, as MGBs go, the best of both worlds?
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Extensive rework of the stereotypical MGB that combines old world character but with modernised manners. Good value plus boasts all what’s good about owning an MG yet a surprising number are quite tatty so take extreme care when buying

It’s the MGB V8 that enthusiasts always dreamed of, but the RV8 is much more than a bigger engine. Conceived well over a decade since the old warhorse MGB was killed off, MG throughly revitalised the old design to make a special edition stop gap sports car until the MGF came along to take on the MX-5.

Thank goodness for classic cars – because if the bodyshell for the old MGB hadn’t been put back into production by Rover’s Heritage division during the late 80s, then the RV8 simply wouldn’t have happened. But, unlike the BGT of 1973, which got away with the least amount of modifications, the RV8 is almost a new car, even if it doesn’t look or feel it. And yet surely that’s the attraction of this modern MGB?

From the moment the car was revealed in the early 1990s, comparison with the TVR Chimaera was inevitable because they were roughly the same price and both cars were also old-school hairy-chested roadsters, powered by the same venerable Rover V8 power unit. The Blackpool-blaster was also more aggressive in looks and nature, with the MG a more classic looking softer touring alternative. Today, for the same money as a top-notch MGB, the RV8 makes a splendid and sensible substitute to both the TVR and arguably a Big Healey, too but at a fraction of the cost. Here’s why.

History

1992 Short and sweet this section as the car, after years of development (the initiative came from the Heritage division and Rover Special Products – the team that created the MGF) was shown in late 1992. Built early in ’93 and bowing out by ’95, 1982 were made with over 1500 going straight to Japan.

Unlike the BGT V8 of the 1970s, the MG RV8 was substantially different – a commendable effort since the budget was a measly £5m. The V8 had grown to 3.9-litres and further tuned by TVR to produce 190bhp. A five-speed transmission replaced overdrive and although the live rear axle, with a limited slip diff, stayed, the suspension design was revamped and the track was widened.

In fact, it’s claimed only five per cent of the RV8 was carried over from the old BGT V8; 20 per cent of the car used modified and re-tooled components, with the remaining 75 per cent of bits new. In other words, if you’re thinking of making an RV8 from an old MGB, just forget it – headlamps came from a Porsche 911 (964), for example!

MG hoped to build just 2000 examples of the RV8 as it was only for lovers of the Octagon badge anyway, and, by the time production ceased in 1995, a creditable 1982 cars had been built. Of that number, a staggering 1583 cars went to Japan, although many have now returned to Blighty, to join the 307 originally sold here. The first car rolled off the production line on March 31st 1993 and carried chassis number 251, in memory of the Abgindon factory’s telephone number! The final car edged out of the famous gates on 22nd November 1995, just as the MGF was starting to usher in a new era of MGs – or not as it sadly turned out.

Driving and press comments

Despite MG’s fine efforts, the best way to describe the RV8 is that it’s an improved 1960s car, rather than an all new one built for the 90s such as the MX-5 – or the TVR Chimaera, of which comparisons were soon drawn with more overtly hairy-chested in your face machine. Comparisons with the factory BGT V8 and Costello cars are also inevitable, and there’s no doubt that – thanks to the benefit of decades of experience and modern materials – the RV8 is the best big engined B of the lot.

There’s more power for a start that’s huge advance on the low compression Range Rover unit of 45 years ago. With almost 50bhp to the good at 190bhp and 236lbft of torque on tap, the RV8 is a relaxing and yet rapid experience, dashing to 60mph in under seven seconds, before maxing at 136mph – far better than the BGTV8 ever achieved. But, it’s the extra mid-range urge that driver’s truly revel in, where overtaking becomes a favourite party piece.

The RV8’s major downfall was that the handling wasn’t improved enough to match the added grunt. For all MG engineer’s work with an entirely new front suspension featuring coil springs and telescopic damping all round it was too flabby thanks, mainly, to cost cutting by Rover during development.

It’s believed that instead of fitting bespoke dampers that would have made the car handle well, off-the-shelf down-to-a price Koni units were specified instead doing nothing for the car’s dynamics at all. Fitting better aftermarket Koni or Spax items transforms the driving experience say pundits. Powerassisted steering was never available when the car was new, but it can now be retrospectively fitted.

For all that though, many will be satisfied with the revamped MGB if for no other reason there’s a genuine Healey-like character about the RV8 which includes an old-fashioned driving position and howling wind noise just like MGBs of old, negating the plush feel of the new MG’s wood and leather cockpit that has a whiff of Bentley about it.

Overall, if you are stepping out of an MGC, or the original GT V8, you’ll find the 90s development a useful improvement, yet without spoiling that quintessential MGB character while you’ll love the posh interior if it’s still in good nick.

The press had a difficult time trying to judge the RV8 perhaps because many testers hadn’t driven a stock MGB before? “Reach for the stringbacks… some had feared the RV8 would be an overdressed version of a rickety old car; it’s far from that” although its main criticism was in the driving – “its handling leaves rather a lot to be desired” was Autocar’s verdict a year after launch.

Car concurred. “Point the car at the lanes that MG people dream of driving it down, though and it turns rude” although the monthly somewhat contradicted itself by saying that RV8 felt “well planted” most of the time and admitted that “its vintage deportment isn’t unappealing… car feels antiquated in many ways, but that’s part of the charm” while the magazine praised the new MG’s appearance. “And, important this, the RV8 looks good too” was Car’s final comment.

Values and the marketplace

Until fairly recently, RV8 values were pitched not much above a top MGB roadster but a notable gap has formed and the best RV8s demand a cheque of £25,000 for ownership of the keys. Strong numbers, this Queen B on par with mollycoddled BGT V8s although less than a similar MGC roadster. Deduct around £5000 for nice examples with average ones (of which there’s fair few on the market) £15,000 or so. Beware of shabby cars for under ten grand as they can be a money pit to bring back into line.

Nigel Guild’s Oxon-based Former Glory (01844 281700 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) is probably the UK’s leading MGB retailer and currently has two RV8s in his showroom where as last year “I couldn’t get enough of them”.

Nigel’s cars are priced at £22,500 and £24,000 but says a 420mile example is on sale for double (thecarwarehouse.co.uk). He values Japan expats around £5000 less and UK cars in red or blue slightly above green cars, the most common hue.

The problem with the RV8, contends Guild, is that “they don’t wear too well” and he agrees with parts specialist Clive Wheatley that a surprising number of cars are sadly tatty: “It’s the three Ws as Clive puts it – Wheels, Wood and Windscreen (surround). Clive Wheatley mgv8parts (http://www.mgv8parts.com) adds that a good number of owners are just sitting on them in a hope that they’ll appreciate on their own. But get a good one and it’s the best V8 MGB of the lot.

Improvements

Where the RV8 chiefly disappoints, say experts such as RV8 guru Wheatley, is in the damping department where low rent Konis are specified by Austin Rover to save a few bob instead of the brand’s better designs although it’s well to remember that the originals are also adjustable – see the V8 Register for top tips here – although adjustment is chiefly to take up wear rather than fine tune the handling.

Spax seem the preferred choice for the R V8 and Wheatley has them made specially to his own spec – he’s sold some 250 kits he says. Worn upper and lower inner wishbone bushes can be uprated easily and cheaply enough, with better polyurethane items, for longer life and a better feel although the ride sill probably suffers as a result.

The steering is unique to this MG, coming from a modified Land Rover Discovery set up, without power assistance but electric power steering can be installed and it’s works well we’re told by owners; Brown & Gammons has a set for under £2000.

Shropshire-based Wheatley put the three-piece wheel rims used on the RV8 prototype back into production some while back at around £300 a go. The originals were 15-inch items, but his later 17-inch units need fatter lower profile rubber but it’s an added bonus he says.

With almost 200bhp on tap as standard, most will find an RV8 quick enough as it is for today’s roads although the tuning potential of the old stalwart of a V8 is considerable as TVR has shown. Best cheap tweaks are better air filters and a sports exhaust (a service good replacement as the standard design is rot prone) before looking at heads, cams and perhaps a 4.2 or 4.6-litre Range Rover engine.

Running gear cheer

As in the case of many classics lack of use is the RV8’s biggest enemy, with the most likely victim being the brakes. The pistons in the rear wheel cylinders tend to seize up after a while, but even fitting a new one won’t break the bank as they’re just £25 each. It’s the same at the front, with the four-pot callipers sticking all too readily. They are the same as were fitted to the Ambassador and Princess (and fairly attainable) but the discs are unique to the RV8. Check for worn upper and lower inner wishbone bushes. They can be replaced easily and cheaply enough. Bumpstops also wear out all too readily, but polyurethane ones are available. Front springs tend to settle, leading to a nose-down stance.


Husband believes it’s a marriage made in heaven

If you went to the NEC motor show in 1994 you probably gazed at the white gold RV8 that adorned the Rover stand drawing in the crowds to look at this new MG. One of just a dozen RV8s finished in this colour, the car is now owned by Roger Husband who bought the MG eight years ago. Says Roger: “The car was first registered in March 1995, making it one of the last RV8s to be put on the road, but it wasn’t the MG’s provenance that initially attracted me to it. In fact, I didn’t know at first that this was the ex-motor show car – I was just looking for an RV8 and saw this one advertised in a club magazine.

“I’d been into Minis for years and I fancied something more comfortable - something with a lot more pulling power that could cope with long journeys more easily. The RV8 fits the bill perfectly because that V8 provides all the torque you could want, while the high gearing means on the motorway the engine isn’t too busy.

“If I want to overtake something it’s just a question of prod the pedal and go – it’s never short of power.

“Before I bought this car I looked at several other RV8s, most of them in Woodcote Green. None of them seemed all that special and some were Japanese imports which meant there was an intrusive air conditioning unit in the passenger footwell – who needs air-con in a car like this? Then I found this example which is completely original, although it does have a few accessories fitted. All of them were on the car when I bought it; they include 17-inch wheels, chromed roll hoops and a more free-flowing stainless steel exhaust.

“The MG has covered 30,000 miles from new, and since I bought it the car has been almost completely reliable. The clutch was playing up at one point, because the original release bearing was worn. It was under-engineered but I’ve replaced it with a TVR item machined from a solid billet of steel and it’s transformed the gear change.

“Not that I have to change gear all that much as it’s almost like having an automatic, such is the level of torque available. But despite the available performance it’s easy to get 25mpg on a run,” says Roger.

“Since I bought my MG I’ve taken it to France and Germany, on European tours. With a decently sized boot it’s not short of practicality, with things improved significantly by swapping the original spare wheel for a Saab-sourced space saver. It’s a mod that a lot of owners have made – I reckon it’s half the width of the original which really frees up the boot space which makes the MG even more suited to long-distance touring”.

What To Look For

General

The RV8 is catered for by the V8 Register who supplies an exhaustive amount of technical information and support for these cars, including a fat buying guide. Specialists abound and can supply all the parts and tuning/customising add-ons you need.

Amazingly, given their rarity (around 350 UK cars but the total tally is now 483 thanks to re-imports), it’s surprising how many RV8s there are in a sorry state – RV8 expert Clive Wheatley (01746 710810 http://www.mgv8parts. com) says that, although simple and sturdy, the car costs a lot more to run than an MGB, perhaps too much for many pockets, which is why a fair few are sadly neglected.

No official changes but there’s plenty of aftermarket stuff around, so it’s up for you to decide on their worth (such as engine and suspension mods).

 

Body beautiful

Thankfully, as all MGB Heritage bodyshells come electrophoretically dipped when new, they don’t rot like anything as badly as old MGBs and so should be in good shape, save for the windscreen surround. This is made of steel box sections and you need to look out for the windscreen rubbers lifting, indicating rot underneath. Sometimes repairs are possible but it will only return if bodged – and a fair few have been. Why not opt for a new surround and have done with it? Clive Wheatley markets his own carbon-fibre and glass-fibre equivalents for under £1200, or you can choose a normal a steel unit from Brown and Gammons for similar money.

 

Colours count

As you’d expect, the majority of RV8s came in green, with Woodcote (surprisingly not BRG) the most popular shade (1269); good old BRG found 205 takers. Oxford Blue accounts for 258 cars, ‘White gold’ 12, Nightfire Red 150 and Flame Red 16 and both reds and blues command better values. The rarest of them all is Old English White; just five cars were so painted – so check for crafty recent repaints to make a fast buck!

 

Transmission troubles

All RV8s are five-speeds. At first, Land Rover’s LT77 unit was used, and from commission number 641 (production started at number 251) the same company’s R380 went in. Earlier types are more durable and cheaper to rebuild; the later ’box suffers from worn synchromesh. Check for whining from the Quaife LSD rear axle, which is based on the Sherpa van’s (as are the rear drum brakes), but with a crown wheel and pinion specific to the RV8. Clive Wheatley has a back axle reconditioning service based on complete reconditioning of owners’ existing back axles, including both the crown wheel and pinion and limited slip differential. An exchange service is not available alas.

 

Vet that V8

Frequent long journeys will see this engine deliver 300,000 miles of faithful service, but occasional short journeys leads to the camshaft and followers wearing rapidly – perhaps within 30,000 miles if the oil and filter changes have been lacking (annual changes are advised). Listen for ticking from the top end that gives the game away; putting it right costs £250 for the parts and the same again for the labour. Check that the engine doesn’t overheat when left idling – if it does, it may be because the radiator has become partially blocked internally by debris, as a result of the cylinder head breaking up inside. The Lucas fuel injection is ok; it’s the same as what you’ll find under the bonnet of a Range Rover or Discovery. As a result, it’s uncomplicated but effective – much like the engine management system but the exhaust is rather rot-prone.

Three Of A Kind

MGC
MGC
First of the big-engined MGBs back in 1967, it didn’t go down too well initially, slated for its lazy, if lusty engine, and ponderous steering. Today, the MGC is liked for its lazy, lusty nature, while attention to the suspension plus modern tyres has made it turn corners too. Compared to the RV8, it has a more vintage feel and this includes the cockpit. Arguably, the RV8 is the better car but MGC has more character.
Austin-Healey 3000
Austin-Healey 3000
Flashback 60 years ago and the Big Healey was the RV8 of its day and it certainly remained better loved than the MGC that was designed to replace it. There are three versions of the 3000, all improved and refined as the years went on, although there’s no escaping its vintage feel. More a rival to the MGC, of course, as the RV8 is from another era, but no less appealing to traditionalists as their soaring values prove.
TVR Chimaera
TVR Chimaera
Without doubt the nearest rival to the RV8 and in fact they share the same engine, although it’s far higher tuned in the TVR. Classical in style and in nature, the Chimaera is one of last ‘hairy-chested’ sports cars with truly scintillating pace and no-nonsense RWD handling. They are value too, as long as you get a good one. If you do strike it lucky, hang onto the car as they are becoming hot property but watch for chassis rot.

Verdict

The perfect pastiche? The RV8 offers the best of both worlds to MGB fans. On the one hand, it’s still the sports car that we know and (mostly) love while on the other, it’s been made modern where it matters yet without diluting the car’s everegreen character. As a cut price Big Healey 3000 or Morgan Plus 8, this modern antique is a Queen B.



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