Why you’d want an MG RV8
A misfit when new, the RV8 is coming into its own as the ultimate factory derivative of the MGB, with strong performance, relaxed cruising, good looks and relatively little rust due to its electrophoretically coated shell.
When launched in 1993, it was criticised for the hard ride and unpredictable handling from its live rear axle and leaf springs; today, you either accept that as part of the character, or replace it with bespoke independent rear suspension.
David Bishop at British Motor Heritage reintroduced the factory MGB shell in 1988, and persuaded Rover to develop the RV8.
Rover was planning to launch a modern sports car in the mid-’90s and needed to give MG’s tarnished image a boost.
There had never been a factory-built V8-engined B roadster – just the GT V8 – so there was potential to make something really special with the Heritage bodies.
A tiny (by car-manufacturer standards) budget of £5million was allocated and 15 months later the RV8 was born, using 5% standard B parts, 20% improved B bits and 75% new components.
Around 15 cars a week were turned out by 18 staff at the Cowley plant.
Abbey Panels of Coventry provided subtly flared wings, and a sculpted nose slightly improved the 1960s aerodynamics. A leather and burr-elm interior gave a quality image, but headroom was restricted with the hood up, requiring tall drivers to hunker down to see through the windscreen.
Road testers – and customers – didn’t know what to make of the RV8. It was fun to drive and felt faster than it really was.
The handling was appalling by the standards of the day, yet it reintroduced a challenge to good drivers that most modern cars lacked.
The TVR Chimaera, at a similar price with a more powerful version of the same engine, was so much better that it was almost embarrassing to compare them.
But when the car was shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1993, the Japanese ‘got’ it. Enthusiasts there were heavily into retro-look modern cars, and orders flooded in for the (Rover-badged) RV8: 80% of the 1983 built went to Japan.
Years later, however, with values low due to its punitive tax bracket, used RV8s began returning: perhaps as many as half are now in the UK. A kph speedo is a giveaway, as is a radio that doesn’t pick up European stations. Service history may be limited, but otherwise there is little reason not to buy an import.
Images: Tony Baker
MG RV8: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Frequent oil changes are vital to preserve the health of the Rover V8 engine – its oilways are prone to sludging up if the lubricant is not changed at least every 3000 miles, or annually for little-used cars.
Slight oil weeps are normal, but excessive leaks are not. Check the oil filler for any emulsion, suggesting head-gasket failure.
The alloy V8 needs corrosion inhibitor, regularly changed, or the radiator will silt, the engine overheat and the heads warp. Look out for signs of coolant loss.
Wheels and suspension
The RV8 alloy wheels corrode and infrequent use causes drum brake cylinders to seize. Rear suspension upgrades are popular, from better dampers to IRS.
Balljoints replace kingpins and the RV8 suspension is a popular B upgrade. It’s worth uprating the dampers, and check for cracks in the steering-rack mounts.
At VIN 0644 the gearbox changed from the LT77S (reverse up-left) to the R380 (down-right).
Both are strong, but pump lubricated so shouldn’t be towed far.
Superbly executed beige leather and burr-elm wood trim gives a luxury feel; veneers can crack and need careful restoration to avoid a poor match.
The hood is similar to the MGB’s and likewise rot-prone along the header rail plus around pivots and fittings.
Make sure the cover and its frame are there.
MG RV8: on the road
Test drive with the hood up, to make sure that you fit (the seat rails can be lowered by 1½in) and to hear any untoward noises.
The optional Krafthaus hardtop is a desirable rarity.
Don’t expect modern handling, but the car should feel taut with good grip on smooth roads, deteriorating over bumps.
A modified front crossmember with balljoints in place of kingpins, plus torque-reaction arms to locate the rear axle, improved the suspension over the B, and there were Koni telescopic dampers in place of lever-arms.
The steering is heavy for some – powered conversions are available, either electro-hydraulic or (simpler) electric using the MGF’s EPAS set-up.
The live rear axle means high unsprung weight, leaf springs and limited travel, but an independent rear suspension conversion is available from Hoyle Engineering. It uses Ford Sierra parts with coil springs and dampers, which ought to improve both ride and handling.
The engine should feel relaxed and potent, with a surge of power available at almost any revs; uprated plug leads and ignition amplifier, plus an Optimax chip, are popular upgrades. Listen for a rattle from the catalytic converters, indicating replacement is needed.
Air-conditioning was optional in the UK but standard in Japan; it restricts passenger legroom, plus check that it works because restoring it can be costly.
The Rover ’boxes are sturdy; check for weak synchros and rumbling in neutral, indicating that a rebuild may be needed soon. A wobbly, graunchy change may just be worn linkage bushes at the lower rear end of the ’box (£26 to replace).
MG RV8 price guide
- Fair: £9800
- Good: £12,400
- Excellent: £15,800
- Concours: £22,100
MG RV8 history
1991 Apr Rover Special Products begins evaluating a V8 MGB project
1992 Jan First prototype unveiled to dealers
1992 Oct Launched at British Motor Show, NEC
1993 Mar First production car completed
1993 Oct RV8 shown at Tokyo Motor Show
1994 Jan First shipment to Japan
1994 VIN 0644, revised gearbox fitted
1995 VIN 1225-1250, front arch flares deleted
1995 Nov Last RV8 built (MGF in production)
MORGAN PLUS 8
If the RV8 is too soft, and you prefer 1930s looks, dire weather equipment and worse ride, the Plus 8 is for you. Character in abundance, but it can need a rebuild every 20,000 miles.
Sold 1968-’04 • No. built c6000 • Mpg 15-25 • 0-60mph 6.1 secs • Top speed 121mph • Price new £24,898 (1993)
The most numerous and usable V8 TVR is streets ahead of the RV8 in pace, handling and ride. Chassis rot is a significant issue requiring great care when buying.
Sold 1992-’03 • No. built 5256 • Mpg 12-29 • 0-60mph 5.2 secs • Top speed 158mph • Price new £26,250 (1993)
MG RV8: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Before buying an RV8, drive one to be sure you can live with it (or are prepared to modify it to suit you).
There are many excellent, low-mileage cars around, so don’t buy a neglected one.
Two-thirds are Woodcote Green: if you want a blue or red RV8, be prepared to wait and pay 10% more. Is it the ultimate MG? There are strong arguments in its favour...
- The finest MGB (given sympathetic upgrades)
- Terrific torque makes it great for touring
- Fabulous V8 woofle and roar
- Good parts availability
- Gutless compared to a TVR
- Handling and ride poor by 1990s standards
- Often mistaken for a home-modified MGB
- Cramped interior
MG RV8 specifications
- Sold/number built 1993-’95/1982 (1583 Japan, 307 UK, 92 Europe in LHD)
- Construction galvanised steel monocoque
- Engine all-alloy, overhead-valve 3946cc V8, Lucas electronic fuel injection; 190bhp @ 4750rpm; 234lb ft @ 3200rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual, driving rear wheels via Quaife automatic torque-biasing differential
- Suspension: front wishbones, coil springs rear live axle, semi-elliptic springs, lower links; telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering rack and pinion, 3.1 turns lock-to-lock
- Brakes 270mm ventilated front discs, 228mm rear drums, with servo
- Length 13ft 2in (4010mm)
- Width 5ft 7in (1694mm)
- Height 4ft 4in (1320mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 8in (2330mm)
- Weight 2422lb (1101kg)
- 0-60mph 6.9 secs
- Top speed 136mph
- Mpg 15-27
- Price new £25,440 (1993)