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“MG lovers can rest content – it is every inch an MG.” Road test of the MG RV8, Sunday Times, 30th May 1993
Firstly, some lockdown home schooling; pay attention you at the kitchen table. Way back in the mists of the early 1960s, the MGB took up the cudgels from the A, which with its separate chassis it is fair to say had its roots in the pre-war design period. Charming though the MGA was, the B’s unitary construction moved the game on by some margin as far as the driving experience went. Still the quintessential sports car for the average bloke, if anything it could have done with a little (if not a lot!) more power. The venerable push-rod iron blocked four cylinder B Series unit could be encouraged to clear the 100bhp mark reasonably easily but with room for a bigger unit altogether, some saw the best tool in the quest for more poke as the Buick designed all-alloy (and hence lightweight) 3.5 litre V8 available from within the parent company’s Rover organisation. Internal politics and some frankly rubbish excuses such as ‘It won’t fit’ to ‘Fast, open cars are too dangerous’ (right up there with ‘the dog ate my homework’ in our opinion) prevented the marriage of American-derived muscle with true-blue British sportster, at least by BLMC. This didn’t stop creative chaps-in-sheds doing it themselves, most notable of who was Ken Costello. The suits eventually relented but only with the coupe GT body and a mild state of tune for the V8 so it was still left to the tinkerers and fettlers to produce what the market obviously wanted; the open MGB with decent helpings of power and torque.
Fast forward to the early 1990’s and the massive homogenous conglomerate that was the now labelled ‘Rover Group’ realised that actually diversity was the way forward and that they were sitting on a goldmine of loved and respected brands dating from the heyday of the British Motor industry, with the perennially appealing MG the jewel in the crown. The MGB, let’s not forget the world’s best-selling sports car in its day, had finally been consigned to history in 1980 and the marketing types at Rover needed to add a Sports Car to the brand’s range of high performance variants of relatively mundane saloon cars pronto. With the new open two-seater MGF in development but still some years away from the showrooms, the answer was something relatively off the shelf that could be put into production quickly. A tall order in anyone’s book, the solution came from the unlikely source of the company’s British Motor Heritage arm who by then had been producing new MGB body shells for some time. One such shell was acquired by the Rover Special Projects team tasked with bringing ‘Project Adder’ (other snake named V8 roadsters are available) to fruition on a tiny budget and this was mildly restyled with good old modelling clay, giving the 1960s shape some 1990s flares, bulges and a more integrated bumper arrangement.
These updated looks allowed for mechanical improvements such as fuel injection and considerably wider wheels and tyres while maintaining the perennial appeal of the classically styled open roadster worthy of its octagonal badge. It was a successful marriage of new and old to bring in a younger buyer while still appealed to the cloth cap brigade. With the benefit of thirty years of MGB development, mostly it has to be said carried out by owners and specialists, the engineers had access to a raft of tried and tested suspension upgrades such as modified leaf springs and telescopic dampers. The evergreen Buick derived V8 was enlarged to 3.9 litres and treated to Lucas multi-point fuel injection resulting in 188 BHP and 235 lb ft of torque; considerably more heft than the Range Rover specification units the Factory cars had to make do with in the 1970s while making the RV8 the most powerful MG to date. Mated to a five speed gear box and limited slip differential the result was a genuine 135 MPH and zero to sixty in under six seconds while ventilated disc brakes reigned in this impressive performance.
Despite being based on the B for expediencies sake, modern tastes, quality benchmarks and safety standards resulted in less than 5% of that machine’s original components being utilised. Relatively low production numbers forced Rover’s hand towards Abbey Panels for the outer bodywork though the upside of this was their exceptional quality standards which resulted in minimal fitting fiddling and pre paint preparation being required. Modern protection standards and treatments such as zinc coated panels ensured the RV8’s life expectancy was extended somewhat relative to its ancestors while burr elm woodwork, Connolly leather and thick pile carpets made it considerably more luxurious.
The RV8 had its launch at the October 1992 UK Motor Show, almost exactly 30 years after that of the MG B, and went on sale in April 1993. However, at £26,500 it was expensive relative to other V8 roadsters from the likes of TVR and when one considers the MX5 (another 1960s inspired two seater) was just £8,000, one can appreciate the MG was bound to have a limited market. Japan, the Land of Retro, turned out to be its saviour when in October 1993 the RV8 was the undisputed star of Tokyo Motor Show and some 1,300 orders were taken over its duration. Ultimately, 75% of all production went to Japan though the pendulum has now swung the other way and strong UK demand has resulted in many returning to these shores. When the final car rolled out of the Cowley factory on 22nd November 1995 it was only the 1,983 example to do so.
Manufactured in 1995, it is assumed this particular MG RV8 initially went to Japan though interestingly, unlike the vast majority of those that did, its stay there was remarkably short and it returned to England less than three years later. On 25th February 1998 it was UK registered ‘M281 DBY’ and sold, via a Rover Main Dealer with a full Rover warranty, to a Miss Joanne Hayden. It received a full set of UK specification books and manuals and one can assume was fitted with an MPH speedometer at this point. A very well specified machine it features the later, stronger Rover R380 five speed manual gear box and a raft of optional extras including air conditioning, discrete factory front wheel arch flares, full tonneau, Pearlescent Woodcote Green paint (£750 in itself), Panasonic 6 CD stacker and floor mats.
Today, though it is hard to be absolutely sure, the Pearlescent Woodcote Green (code HPE) paintwork looks to be the MG’s original. It has a rather nice ‘lived in’ feel, lightly marked in places (please see the photo gallery) we suspect a good machine polish would bring what most people agree is the best colour for an RV8 back to its former glory. There is one minor depression in the boot lid which should respond well to a ‘Dentmaster’ type repair though it is so minor we couldn’t even show it on a photograph.
There is virtually no chrome on an RV8 (just a fuel filler cap and a couple of door handles) but what there is is all in good order. Crucially the no longer available rear lights are in great condition which is just as well as the last one we saw sell on a certain internet auction site (others are available!) went for £422! The fronts are also perfect but as they are borrowed from one of those cheap and cheerful 911s, supply is less of an issue.
Moving inside the MG (to do which you do not need to be a contortionist even with the hood up) you find yourself in a snug, luxurious environment in good condition. The lovely leather shows no wear with just some light creasing and though Stone Beige (code SMJ) is not the easiest of colours to keep clean (but then all RV8 interiors were so hued), this example is particularly nice. The luxury extends to the dashboard and door caps with the burr elm veneer still in excellent order. The boot contains both full and half tonneau’, a full sized alloy spare wheel, MG logoed tool kit, jack and wheel brace plus the bows to support said half tonneau.
The quality cloth hood looks to be original and is in good shape with just a little wear to some of the stitching, though the zip-out rear window has turned slightly opaque but this would not be expensive to replace.
The tyres have plenty of tread left on them while the very attractive spoked alloy wheels have no scuffs or dinks though the lacquer is lifting on a couple of them allowing some oxidation.
The engine bay is reasonably clean and tidy and the V8 looks hansom with prominent MG logo atop the plenum chamber. A K+N air filter is fitted along with a set of good quality silicone plug leads. It is nice to see the original brake fluid label still in place though it would be rewarding to give the rocker covers and other bare alloy components a bit of a polish.
Underneath, the MG appears absolutely rock solid with no signs of any structural corrosion and pin sharp seams throughout. There is some surface rust on suspension brackets, wishbones and brake callipers but this is merely a cosmetic issue. Adjustable shock absorbers are fitted at the rear.
The driving experience is certainly engaging with steering that is a tad weightier than its 1960s relatives but the whole car feels well engineered, tight and ‘up together’. Perhaps strangely we would suggest it is a good thing that this RV8 has not been fitted with the common aftermarket handling kit which incorporated a Panhard rod arrangement but was known to make cars a little ‘wilful’ at the legal limit.
The history file contains the aforementioned Rover warranty information, hand books and manuals along with a ‘Repair Information Manual’ (AKA workshop manual) in CD form. A current V5C showing just four former keepers since its return to the UK and an old MG Owners Club membership card are also present.
These hand-built luxurious sports cars are an attractive proposition twenty five years down the road and a tiny production run by MG standards make it one of the rarest models today. MOT tested and with the bonus of a model appropriate number plate, this RV8 is ready to be enjoyed by a lucky new owner.