BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The MG RV8 is one of the stranger chapters in British motoring history. Just as we like to ponder how it would be if dinosaurs walked the earth today, a similar thought might have been running through the collective consciousness at Rover's Special Projects division in the early nineties. To be fair to these enthusiasts, they only had a shoestring budget and a keen sense of historical rectitude to work with, but it seems the fruit of their labours has become something of a forgotten venture. Powered by a hulking 3.9-litre V8 many saw the RV8 as the car the MGB would have become had it not been left to wither on the vine. Emerging on the heels of the MG Metro, Maestro and Montego, the RV8 would probably have been welcomed were it spectacularly inept due to the fact that it was a two-seater roadster with retro styling. That it was merely reasonably ill-sorted didn't deter those clamouring to put down a deposit at the Birmingham Motor Show in 1992. As a used purchase, the MG RV8 will certainly guarantee a degree of exclusivity as well as nodding appreciation from the sort of gentleman who smokes a pipe and calls the local bobby whenever they see a suspicious looking foreigner. If the automotive equivalent of Hugh Laurie is your thing, the MG RV8 will certainly appeal.
Models Covered: 2dr Roadster 3.9 petrol
Some time after the earth cooled, dinosaurs died out and the general public realised the MG Montego was not the way forward, a germ of an idea was hatched at Rover Special Projects based at the Gaydon test facility in Warwickshire. Heading up this nucleus of 30 or so engineers was a gentleman called Steve Schlemmer, a man with an eye on what was happening up the road at the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust. The sheer unmitigated awfulness of the MG Maestro had provoked much wringing of teeth and gnashing of hands at BMIHT and rather than merely petition their local MP, they decided to manufacture entire MGB body shells in Faringdon, thus keeping the MG dream alive. Recognising that they'd never have the systems in place to build an entire car, the fruits of BMIHT's labour were appropriated by Schlemmer and his 'Adder' (think parochial Cobra) team. Work started in 1990 and resulted in the car being offered for sale at the end of 1992 priced at a heady £26,000.To put this into perspective, a 4.0-litre TVR Griffith retailed for £24,802. Take up was slow, due in no small part to a decidedly lukewarm press reception.
What You Get
The MG RV8 is little more than a beefed up MGB with a 3.9-litre engine and slightly less archaic suspension. Anybody expecting it to rival a TVR Griffith in the handling stakes is likely to end up pondering their error from the comfort of a bush, but taken as it was supposed to be enjoyed, namely as a grand touring 'sporting' car of the old tradition, the RV8 is a qualified success. The interior is well appointed with a nice blend of leather and wood, although taller drivers will find headroom limited. The styling is chunkily elegant, retaining the classic MGB lines with just enough of its own identity to ensure that it was never accused of being an unimaginative pastiche. The curves and bulges that accommodate that big V8 and the wider wheels and tyres are neatly integrated and the removal of the side quarterlight windows gives the car a clean profile when the hood is dropped. This is helped by the fact that the hood stows flat, a trick which some manufacturers (step forward Jaguar and Aston Martin) still haven't got to grips with today. One of the problems with developing on a shoestring is that ancillary parts need to be sourced from a number of manufacturers. It's a tribute to the guys at Rover that they managed to make Porsche 911 headlamps, the same CDO instruments seen in TVRs, Jaguar XJS door handles, column stalks from the Rover 800 and door mirrors and air vents from the Metro look complement each other so well.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Check the wire wheels for corrosion as the TV*'s alloys are particularly prone. The windscreen wiper blades also foul the lower edge of the glazing rubber if not adjusted and this causes the windscreen rubber to become worn. The engines are, by and large, fairly indestructible and many owners have found the RV8 runs more smoothly on a diet of Shell Optimax premium unleaded petrol. Rust can be a problem, especially on the windscreen surround. If you're buying an ex-Japanese model, rust can be more of an issue on ancillary parts, but the main body panels are all zinc coated. A far more important problem with Japanese market cars is that their distributor vacuum advance pipes emerge from the wrong side of the plenum chamber. This causes the timing to be advanced all the time meaning poor throttle response and ruinous fuel economy. Fortunately rectification is a mere five-minute job. Finally, it's worth noting that there's a small hole drilled into the lowest part of the exhaust between the silencer boxes. For optimum exhaust flow make sure these remain unblocked by using a 1/8" drill bit.
Whilst many of the mechanicals are shared with cars like the Range Rover and certain TVRs, some of the MG RV8's ancillaries are devilishly hard to get hold of. Your best bet for sourcing such items is via either the MG Car Club or the MG Owner's Club. They will be able to inform you whether that snapped air vent is a unique gold-dust item or one that can be replaced by pulling one out of an Austin Metro for 50p at your local breaker's yard.
On the Road
Whoah! Steady on with that right foot. The MG RV8 can accelerate to 60mph in less than six seconds but you could also probably eat twelve doughnuts in less than half an hour. Neither are experiences you'd want to repeat on a regular basis. Although Rover replaced the MGB's frankly catastrophic lever arm dampers with more modern tubular units, roadholding is still best described as interesting. On anything less than billiard smooth tarmac there's still a good deal of hop and skip from the back end and all of that V8 torque soon overwhelms the rear tyres. If you're used to the grip levels of today's roadsters a mental readjustment is required before a spin in the RV8. The gearchange also takes some getting used to, the stick moving around only in vague approximations of up/down and left/right to select a ratio. Other aspects of the RV8 are far happier. The unassisted steering weights up beautifully at cruising speeds and the brakes are beyond reproach. Wind intrusion isn't bad at all and the response from that 3.9-litre V8, despite only having 187bhp to call upon, is nothing short of electrifying. On it's day it can be enormous fun. When conditions conspire against it, the RV8 should really be left in the dehumidified garage.
It's a one-off, uniquely British story that resulted in a car that some will love to the core of its existence whereas others will deride with barely disguised contempt. One thing's for certain. A used MG RV8 will never be the safe, predictable choice. There are enough Mazda MX5s on the road today. Reincarnate a legend and you'll dine out on it for good.