3 Nov 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on MG RV8



(January 2006)

If classic looks coupled with modern performance is your bag, the MG RV8 could be for you

January, 2006

Having clung to survival during the 1980s via a string of uninspiring sedans, MG’s return to the ranks of sports car manufacturers seemed highly improbable. Then in 1992 came news of a revamped and re-engineered version of the MGB; a car that at the time of its demise in 1981 held the all-time record for sports car production.

By the early 1990s the name that traced its lineage to a Morris Cowley modified in 1924 by Cecil Kimber was owned by Rover and the revamped ‘B’ was to be developed by the company’s boutique offshoot, Rover Special Products. And a special product it was indeed.

The car that became known as the RV8 would use a 3.9-litre fuel-injected engine lifted from the company’s successful Range Rover. The body was almost entirely restyled and the car’s plush interior owned nothing to the vinyl and black ‘crackle’ finish of its progenitor.

Using zinc-coated bodyshells supplied by British Motor Heritage, the basic underpinnings and general outline of the RV8 harked back to the 1960s. But there ended any homage to retro design. All of the external panels were reshaped and just five percent of the car’s components were the same as those used by the original MGB, while updated components and improved steel quality contributed to enhanced durability.

The RV8’s overall shape bore similarities to its 1960s antecedent but there was a distinction of style with overtones of Rolls-Royce Corniche and Jaguar. Only from the rear did the car’s heritage become apparent and even then the look was more akin to a late-series Midget than the MGB.

Inside, the influence of Rover was all pervading – a full-width wood veneer dash and door cappings, leather seats and steering wheel, instruments as far as the eye could see plus a decent sound system and optional air-conditioning but no central locking or electric windows.

Power from the fuel-injected V8 was a very understressed 143kW, produced at 4750rpm and delivered through a five-speed manual gearbox that was designed to handle Range Rover levels of abuse and was further uprated during the RV8 production run. Top speed was better than 210km/h with 0-100km/h taking around 6.5sec. Braking was by ventilated front discs with drums at the rear but few RV8 owners were perturbed by the lack of a four-disc layout.

Redesigning the suspension to eliminate many of the four-cylinder car’s foibles was a priority. Ball joints replaced kingpins at the front, with telescopic shock absorbers and a massive anti-roll bar. Not much could be done about dependence on rear leaf springs, but at least the design of the leaves was updated and modern shockers plus a torque-sensing differential employed.

RV8 production began in 1992, with cars painstakingly hand-built in a dedicated workshop within Rover’s Cowley factory that at its peak had just 18 employees. Output was pegged at 2000 cars, with almost 1600 earmarked for Japanese delivery and recognisable by their extended wheel arches and ‘Rover’ badging.

Russell Ball’s trophy-winning RV8 was bought new in Japan by an Australian and returned home with its owner. When acquired by Ball in late 2003 the car had travelled just 11,000kms and was in virtually unmarked condition.

It had been used so little that the rear wheel cylinders had seized and needed to be replaced to pass the pre-sale roadworthy, Ball said.

Since its acquisition, the car has undertaken several MG Club jaunts and impressed Ball with its comfort and cruising ability.

I originally went looking for a Healey but found it too uncomfortable, he explained. Then I tested the RV8 and it’s proved to have the perfect combination of strong performance and sporty feel.


Providing your expectations aren’t unreasonably high there is a lot to like about the RV8.

First off there’s the engine – willing and responsive with plenty of torque and satisfying sound effects despite a relatively restricted exhaust system. Burying the accelerator away from the traffic lights brings an almost unavoidable shriek from the rear tyres and a near immediate upshift as first gear runs out of puff at around 55km/h. The remainder of the ratios are well spaced, with second gear good for almost 90km/h and third running to 130km/h.

Tests of new RV8s criticized the gearchange for its notchy characteristics but the car that provided me with an entertaining weekend a few years back had spent five years and 15,000km in the hands of a Japanese owner and its shift had become buttery smooth.

Japanese market cars were all air-conditioned and fitting the A/C compressor left no space for a power steering pump, so the RV8’s steering demands some effort in tight situations. If the absence of assistance translated into pin-point response on the open road you’d probably forgive its omission, but holding a chosen line through quicker bends demands concentration and minor but constant jiggling of the wheel.

Testers who drove the car on a wet racetrack determined that the rear was easy to slide and while that’s probably right, you need to be pushing pretty hard under normal driving conditions to encounter serious strife. Bumpy bends and corrugations will get the back end hopping but for cruising down to the bay on a warm evening or eating kilometres on decently smooth highways an RV8 has few peers.

Those who’ve spent time in the draughty and rattle-prone confines of an MGB cockpit will be entranced by the RV8 interior. The leather-trimmed seats are soft and reasonably supportive, instrumentation is excellent and everything – thanks to the narrow cabin – is within easy reach. Tall drivers will find the high-set seats a bit of a trial and the windscreen header rail disconcertingly at eye level.

They will also have real problems driving with the top up as its design significantly reduces headroom when compared with the space available in a 1960s ‘B’.

Fuel economy and long-distance cruising are not among the RV8’s fortes. Space limitations restrict the fuel tank capacity to 51 litres which, combined with average consumption in the region of 15L/100kms, means a visit to the Premium Unleaded pump every 300-350kms.


RV8s weren’t sold new in Australia and the vast majority of cars in our market are grey imports from Japan. Less than 150 have been imported and Stewart Radcliff of Sydney-based RV8 Cars says that good quality stock remains available but is becoming more expensive.

Japanese cars are the only ones we are able to comply under RAWS (Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme) and with British importers in the market as well it’s getting a bit difficult to find low-kilometre cars at reasonable prices, Radcliff said. Red cars are the most popular and expensive but it’s certainly still possible to import and comply a very good RV8 for less than $45,000.

Cars that have been in this country for close to ten years and showing 50,000-80,000km can be acquired for less than $35,000, with untidy examples needing trim repairs and mechanical work in the $25,000-30,000 bracket.



Zinc plating of the body structure should have protected RV8s from noticeable rot. Not so the windscreen surround that can suffer surface corrosion, especially at the base. The fibreglass bumpers need to be checked for cracks and poor repairs as replacements are expensive and difficult to source. Make sure that the boot support struts are still doing their job and insist on seeing the hood erected to check for tears as replacements currently cost $1800.

Australian-complied cars must carry an Import Approval plate in the engine bay, be fitted with a high-mount stop light on the bootlid and have plates in the door shut faces indicating that intrusion bars have been fitted.

Engine Transmission

Low kilometres aren’t always a guarantee of untroubled motoring, according to Stewart Radcliff who replaces the water pumps on any cars his business imports as a matter of course. Also check the car’s service records to see if all the fuel filters – including one in the tank – have been recently replaced. Once the engine reaches operating temperature, ensure that the underbonnet cooling fans are working.

Gearbox problems are seldom seen and the differential should be noiseless – if not avoid the car as UK-sourced replacements cost more than $3000.

Front suspension sag causes tyres to foul the inner mudguards but is easily corrected by fitting reset coil springs. Steering is naturally heavy at low speeds but should operate without any notchiness. Retro-fit power-steering – previously not available on air-conditioned cars – can now be obtained.

Cars that have covered minimal kilometres often suffer inoperative rear brakes due to seized wheel cylinders. The wheels are prone to corrosion but refurbishing is possible at around $150 per rim.

Interior Electrical

No Lucas ‘Prince of Darkness’ problems with this MG. Electrical gremlins are rare but check that the A/C blows cold air and the fan operates on all speeds. If the remote locking control battery fails the car won’t start, so carry a spare battery in the glovebox. Neglected leather that feels hard and crackly can be revived but splits or failed stitching demand the attention of a quality trimmer. Timberwork should be free of cracks and discolouration.

Make sure that the leather-bound tool-kit is present and that the boot-mounted CD stacker operates.



BODY: unitary construction, all steel, two-door roadster

ENGINE: 3.9-litre pushrod V8 with Lucas multi-point fuel injection

POWER TORQUE: 142kW @ 4750rpm, 318Nm @ 3200rpm

PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h – 6.7 seconds, 0-400m – 15.9sec

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