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MG RV8

Modern Antique Published: 24th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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 x1694mm
  • Spares situation: Usual MG
  • DIY ease?: Excellent
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: We think so, soon
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A great buy
Rover badges! Rover badges!
V8 engine is far better than earlier Range Rover unit V8 engine is far better than earlier Range Rover unit
Cockpit is nice mix of modern and retro although the trim quality isn’t that good Cockpit is nice mix of modern and retro although the trim quality isn’t that good
Check hoods as they are expensive Check hoods as they are expensive
RV8 is the MGB enthusiasts had been waiting for yet when it fi nally came sales were small. Today they sell for the same price as a top MGC or Costello V8 and far better sorted RV8 is the MGB enthusiasts had been waiting for yet when it fi nally came sales were small. Today they sell for the same price as a top MGC or Costello V8 and far better sorted
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Does the MGR V8 offer the best of both worlds, making a good TVR and Healey alternative? You bet!

Pros & Cons

MGB character, TVR pace, useful modernising, fair value
Wind noise, tatty examples around, dated 1990s colour-coded body kit?
£9000-£20,000+

Take an MGB roadster, thoroughly modernise it, then fit the evergreen Rover V8 and what do you get? Well, for a start, it’s the MGB V8 that enthusiasts always dreamed of, but the RV8 is much more than that. 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 hairychested 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 classiclooking 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.

History

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, then the RV8 simply wouldn’t have happened. With the MGF still some years away, Austin-  Rover needed a quick fi x to get the MG brand back into view, to stimulate demand for the MGF when it arrived. The revamped MGB seemed to be the answer. By spending a few million quid on developing the old design, a stop-gap model could be built. The initiative came from the Heritage division and the concept became known as project Adder. Even though the MGBGT V8 was hardly a new idea, turning the B into the RV8 wasn’t as straightforwardas it may have seemed on the surface. In fact, it was practically a new car. Experience with the BGT V8 showed that the old timer’s running gear didn’t really offer the ideal marriage with such a big engine. Although the live rear axle stayed, the suspension design was revamped and the track was widened, in an attempt to improve roadholding. Having said that, and despite MG’s fi ne efforts, the RV8 remained pretty archaic to drive and buyers had to view it as an improved 1960s car, rather than a car for the 1990s. No matter, since MG hoped to build just 2000 examples of the RV8. It was only for lovers of the Octagon badge anyway, and, by the time production ceased in 1995, 1982 cars had been built. Of that number, a staggering 1583 cars went to Japan, although many have now returned to the UK, to join the 307 originally sold here. The fi rst car rolled off the production line on March 31 1993 and carried chassis number 251, in memory of the Abgindon factory’s telephone number! The fi nal 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. Well, that was the game plan back then!

Driving

Comparisons with the factory BGT V8 and Costello cars is inevitable, and there’s no doubt that – thanks to the benefi t of decades of experience and modern materials – the RV8 is the best of the bunch. With 190bhp and 234lb.ft of torque on tap, the RV8 is a relaxing and yet rapid experience, dashing to 60mph in a little under seven seconds, before maxing at 136mph – far better than the BGTV8 ever achieved. But, such bare fi gures don’t convey the whole story. As you’d expect from a lusty V8 that‘s been tuned from 137bhp in the 1970s, up to 190bhp, it’s the extra mid-range urge that driver’s truly revel in, where overtaking becomes your party piece. Yet, for all its grunt, the RV8 is no hot-rod but is more of a cruiser, which can generate a fair turn of speed without having to try too hard. It all sounds great but, like the BGT V8, it had a few too many shortcomings thanks to cost cutting by Rover during the development phase. So what‘s new! For example, instead of fitting bespoke dampers that would have made the car handle really well, off-the-shelf units were specifi ed instead – which did nothing for the car’s dynamics at all. Fitting quality aftermarket Koni or Spax items – which are actually the units Rover should have specifi ed from new – completely transforms the driving experience. There’s something very Healeylike about the RV8, because, although the design has been modernised to cater for a new buying base, it can’t escape its past either. The cockpit is plush but old in feel and wind noise is considerable, even at the legal limit. Power-assisted steering was never available when the car was new, but it can now be retrospectively fi tted. The MG Owners’ Club can help perform the necessary surgery, but you’ll need to fi nd around £2500 for an easier time. If you are stepping out of say an MGC, or the original MGBGT V8, you’ll fi nd the 1990s development a useful improvement, without spoiling that essential MGB character

Prices

There aren’t many RV8s to go round, but you still need to look at several before buying. Many of the cars on the market have been brought back over from Japan, which means they’ll have air-con fi tted as a bonus. Whatever the car’s history, don’t spend less than £10,000, because you’ll forever be spending money on it. If you can stretch to £16-£17,000 you should get a nice car that needs little work and will be suited to regular use. The best RV8s command £20,000, which about the price of a cracking, if not concours, MGC.

Improvements

With almost 200bhp on tap as standard, most will fi nd an RV8 quick enough as it is. Thanks to a far more modern suspension, it handles better than an old MGB ever did. Nevertheless, there’s scope for improvement, especially to the suspension, which was spoilt for the sake of pennies. First step is better dampers because the originals were so poor. Worn upper and lower inner wishbone bushes can be replaced easily and cheaply enough, with polyurethane items, for longer life and a better feel although the ride may suffer. Power-assisted steering was never available when the car was new, but it can now be retrospectively fi tted. The MG Owners’ Club can help perform the necessary surgery, but you’ll need to fi nd around £2500 for an easier time. The interior trim, although plush looking, was never that robust, but specialist Clive Wheatley can provide this and much more for the car.

What To Look For

  • Accident damage will be betrayed by corroded panels – these cars don’t rust because the bodyshells were electrophoretically dipped after the metal had already been zinc-coated, which has proved to be a very effective treatment.
  • There is one area that corrodes, though, andthat’s the windscreen surround. It’s made of steel box sections and you need to look out for the windscreen rubbers lifting, indicating rot underneath. Sometimes repairs are possible; if not, you’ll need a new surround. Clive Wheatley does a carbon-fi bre and glass-fi bre equivalent at £935, or a steel unit from Brown and Gammons is some £200 more.
  • The 3.9-litre Rover V8 doesn’t give many problems, unless it’s done a high mileage and has been neglected and/or thrashed. The real killer is lots of short journeys, so an ultra-low mileage car isn’t necessarily good news.
  • Frequent long journeys will see an 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 fi lter changes have been lacking. 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. If the car isn’t used regularly, the oil and fi lter need to be changed much more frequently than the standard service schedule suggests – such as every 2000 miles or so.
  • Check for blown exhaust manifold gaskets. There are four separate gaskets fi tted across the exhaust ports (they’re in pairs), so you might have to replace more than one. Clive Wheatley has had higher quality replacements made and they’re the best bet at well under £20 for a full set. Lift the bonnet and listen for blowing from the manifolds – it’ll be immediately obvious if there’s a problem.
  • The exhaust can give problems as it’s rot-prone – despite being made of stainless steel. There’s a good chance that, by now, a replacement will have been fi tted. However, if a new system is required, you can choose from a single-box system (£235) or twin-box (£270).
  • The Lucas fuel injection is reliable; it’s the same as what you’ll fi nd under the bonnet of a Range Rover or Discovery. As a result, it’s uncomplicated but effective – much like the engine management system.
  • As with any alloy engine it’s essential that a decent quality anti-freeze is used, and that it’s kept up to strength. 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.
  • All RV8s were fi tted with a fi ve-speed manual gearbox. At fi rst, 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 cars (which are more durable and cheaper to rebuild) have reverse next to fi rst, then it moved to below fifth. The later gearbox suffers from worn synchromesh, which costs £300+ to fix; if the gearbox isn’t caught in time, the bill will escalate to well over £1000.
  • Check for whining from the rear axle, which is based on the Sherpa van’s, but with a crown wheel and pinion specifi c to the RV8. There’s a Quaife LSD fi tted and once the crown wheel and pinion are damaged it’s a £1000 touch to rebuild the unit.
  • Check for worn upper and lower inner wishbone bushes. They can be replaced easily and cheaply enough. While you’re at it, it’s worth going for polyurethane items, which are longer lasting. Bumpstops also wear out all too readily, but new polyurethane ones are available. Front springs tend to settle, leading to a nose-down stance – new units can be had for under £60 each while rear anti roll bar bushes go for £16.34 a pair at RV8 specialist Clive Wheatley.
  • The standard dampers aren’t ideal as, while adjustable, are not bespoke. It’s possible to get them re-valved, but a decent compromise is to stiffen them up by removing them, compressing them and twisting them clockwise for stiffening. New ones a quick and easy fi x that sharpens up the handling usefully. Alternatively, Clive Wheatley offers Koni and latterly Spax replacements, which are better suited to the car with the Spax units costing 116/£129 front and rear respectively.
  • Wheelbearings wear out, so listen for rumbling from the corners of the car. At least you can now buy the bearings on their own (for £76 per side); until recently you had to buy a whole hub assembly at over £300.
  • Power-assisted steering was never available when the car was new, but it can now be retrospectively fi tted. The MG Owners’ Club can perform the necessary surgery – but you’ll need to fi nd around £2500 for it.
  • 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 fi tting 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 calipers sticking all too readily. They are the same as were fi tted to the Ambassador and Princess (but with a wider spacer in the middle so unique to the RV8). Easy to source, but expensive at under £200 each.
  • If you’re keen to retain originality, make sure the wheels are undamaged; they were made especially for the RV8 and are no longer available.
  • Clive Wheatley has put the three-piece units used on the RV8 prototype back into production, at £290 each. The originals were 15-inch items, but 17-inch units can be obtained at £350 apiece.
  • The interior is beautifully trimmed, with lashings of wood and leather. The woodwork can suffer from the veneer separating from its backing. In the case of the door trims and glovebox it’s not too tricky to effect repairs reasonably cheaply, but if the dashboard need remedial work it’ll be pricey as it has to be removed. It’s always better to restore than replace because the wood was matched during the build process. If the whole set is refurbished now, it’s possible to get them done as a matching set again. Bank on £350 to get the work done. The leather soon gets baggy, and beyond 30,000 miles a good valet will be needed; all interiors were fi nished in cream leather.
  • Make sure that the hood is in good condition as, if it needs replacing, you’ll have to pay the thick end of £800. The frame and covering are basically from the MGB, albeit modifi ed – if the whole lot has to be replaced the parts bill alone is some £1400. If the rear window is damaged it can be replaced independently.
  • Japanese-market cars were fitted with air conditioning; in the UK it was an option that was rarely specifi ed. The system is reliable but there is a small penalty to pay, in that the passenger footwell is slightly smaller to accommodate everything. It needs to be recharged every three years or so, but that’s not a problem.

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: MGC has more character.
Austin-Healey 3000
Austin-Healey 3000
Flashback more than 50 years ago and the Big Healey was the RV8 of its day; and it certainly remained better loved than the MGC. There are three versions of the 3000, all improved and refi ned 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 rising values prove.
TVR Chimaera
TVR Chimaera
Without doubt the nearest rival to the RV8and 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 scintillating pace and RWD handling. They are excellent value too, as long as you get a good one. If you do strike it lucky, hang onto the car as they will become hot property in years to come

Verdict

Look at the RV8 as a faster, better developed and more stylish alternative to the MGB and you won’t go wrong ; treat it as a modern sports car, and you’ll be disappointed. Our view? We’d have one as cheaper alternative to a Big Healey and be well satisfi ed



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