MG RV8 – (1992-1995)
The MG RV8 is an updated incarnation of the MGB Roadster fitted with a 3.9-litre Rover V8 fuel injected engine, a Rover five-speed manual gearbox and significantly uprated suspension, brakes and interior trim. This means that aside from the normal list of checks that apply to buying any MGB or MGB V8, most of which revolve around the body integrity, there are RV8 specific aspects.
Whilst the RV8 has a quite different external look compared to the MGB, the underpinnings are pretty much the same. As a result, the general corrosion weaknesses that affect the MGB can affect the RV8 too, and so this guide should be read in conjunction with the B Roadster guide on pp48-50. However, the Rover engineers were able to build a more durable body in 1992 than MG had managed in 1962, with improvements including zinc coated steel body panels and the standard Rover underbody and cavity wax anti-rust treatment that came with a six-year anti-perforation warranty.
Coated steel and wax treatment don’t eliminate the possibility of rust of course, but they have so far kept most issues to largely cosmetic proportions. This means that aside from the structural areas of the body that are at risk as detailed in our MGB guide, individual RV8 corrosion issues are few. However, a common one is the windscreen frame as water ingress results in corrosion breaking out in the lower cross tube, generally towards the ends. This is repairable if not too far gone, but if rust has really taken hold then a replacement from V8 specialist Clive Wheatley will save the day as original replacements have not been available for a considerable time.
Minor ‘spiders web’ corrosion creeping under painted surfaces can be found wherever typical MGB corrosion occurs, such as where the front wings bolt to the screen panel, and similar issues starting around untreated stone chips. However, as the front and rear bumpers, the headlight surrounds and side cover sills are plastic, stone chips only create cosmetic blemishes there.
Equipment fitted to the RV8 includes Bosch headlamps originating from a 1980s Porsche 911 model which should not give replacement problems if needed (once you have funded the £195 being asked for each reflector, plus another £60 for each lens). The main rear lights were unique to the RV8, and the best price we found for a replacement one of these was a hefty £235. The additional subordinate round lamps (front and rear) were off the shelf items so should not present too many difficulties to replace. The hood and frame is similar to, but not the same as the later MGB, specifically in the different way the rear of the hood is anchored to the RV8 rear deck – new ones cost over £1000.
The RV8 majors on very plush interior trim, hugely more upmarket than any MGB. Usually the biggest problem found here is the need for comprehensive cleaning as the very light coloured trim materials looked stunning when new, but show dirt very quickly and so demand more maintenance. If this has not been given, then aside from looking tatty it presents a much bigger cleaning job, though one that is usually successful. Gear knobs may well be worn beyond saving, but replacements are available for £70, with gaiters from £45.
One area that gives problems is the veneered dash and door cappings. Original parts were all from one piece of wood so have a clear related natural grain pattern, and it is not uncommon to see damage caused by water or exposure to the sun. Individual replacement parts would not be from the same piece of wood so will always look odd, but Clive Wheatley will refurbish your dash and door cappings for £780.
That luxury interior was partly to help justify the very high initial asking price, a price that was not just to maximise profit but also to create a restriction on orders for the car – the BMH body facility could only make 15 bodies a week, with an occasional surge to 18. Had the car been priced in the more appropriate sub-£20,000 zone, then demand could not have been met. It seems this was too effective, as fewer than 400 cars were originally sold in the UK. Fortunately the vast majority of the 1983 RV8s made were sold in Japan, and many have subsequently returned to the UK.
That raises the subject of which is best, an original UK or Japanese car. For some years there was a clear value advantage with the UK cars of around 10-15% in like-for-like condition, but today this difference has shrunk due to the more important consideration of condition with changing market conditions. There were small technical differences between UK and Japanese market specs that dictated minor conversion work, including changing the speedo from Km/h to MPH, the radio to one receiving European frequencies and altering the distributor vacuum advance position, but other specific Japanese market aspects such as catalyst overheat sensors were usually left.
Mechanically the RV8 uses a 3.9-litre Land Rover V8 Hot Wire fuel injected engine rated at 185bhp, but as with most Rover V8s, once run in and correctly set up they often developed closer to 200bhp and over 240lb.ft of torque. This well-proven engine still has good spares back up, even though it is over 15 years since Land Rover stopped making it.
Initially the gearbox used was the Rover five-speed LT77S, then the improved Rover R380 took over. It is easy to identify which gearbox is fitted as the LT77 has reverse next to first gear, and the R380 has reverse underneath fifth gear. Generally both gearboxes are understressed in the lighter RV8, although slightly stiff gear changes are more of a characteristic on some.
Clutch operation is hydraulic, with weight and feel very similar to that of the MGB even though the clutch is much bigger and has a very much stronger spring rate. Clutch problems are mostly confined to failing hydraulic seals, and these are easily and cheaply sorted.
The RV8 used a unique live rear axle based on a light commercial vehicle axle fitted with a gear-driven Quaife limited slip diff with a unique 3.31:1 final drive that delivers 28.1mph per 1000rpm in fifth gear. Replacement axles are unavailable, and if there is a problem you would need to have the original rebuilt. Alternatively, the Hoyle fully independent rear suspension conversion has been fitted to an RV8.
The Rover V8 runs with hydraulic cam followers (AKA lifters or tappets) that automatically provide correct valve clearances to deliver silent valvetrain operation. On initial starting whilst the oil is yet to circulate fully you may hear a very noticeable top end rattle, but this should vanish within a few seconds. If it doesn’t even with a fully warmed engine, then this can often be an indication of wear in the cam and followers. This is usually associated with doing shorter town journeys and/or poor maintenance.
The Rover V8 was originally an American engine and these run with very much lower oil pressures than four-cylinder MG engines. In fact they are so low that when the V8 was introduced in the MGB GTV8, the standard oil pressure gauge had to be recalibrated so the needle moved across the face more to stop owners from getting worried. It is therefore no surprise that the RV8 doesn’t have an oil pressure gauge, just a low pressure warning light.
The RV8 uses an updated version of the MGB front crossmember and double wishbone suspension set-up with coil springs and Koni adjustable telescopic dampers. Importantly though, the suspension uses balljoints rather than kingpins. At the rear the suspension uses parabolic leaf springs, anti-tramp bars and Koni telescopic dampers. Steering was only ever a manual non-power assisted set up, and this has always been seen as a mistake for a car of this class and price range. However, the same suppliers who offer certified power steering conversions for the MGB also cater for the RV8 with hydraulic, electro-hydraulic or full EPAS systems. Prices for full kits will be close to the £2000 mark, plus fitting.
Brakes are dual circuit with a direct servo operating 270mm diameter front ventilated discs clamped by four-piston AP calipers, whilst the rear uses drum brakes. This provides a powerful and progressive system, more than adequate for standard and mildly tuned performance levels.
RV8 wheels are unique alloys and can be affected by corrosion that, if not dealt with early, can make refurbishment difficult. If this occurs, then alternative wheels of a very similar style are available from Clive Wheatley at £400 each. Original tyres were 195/65 VR 15 Michelin Pilots, and on many low mileage cars it is not unusual to find they are running on 20+ year old tyres. This is a major safety issue, so tyre sidewall dates need to be checked and tyres over ten years old should be renewed.
The RV8 is a cosseting cruiser that is able to provide very satisfying and competitive acceleration when needed. Fuel economy is obviously not as good as modern cars, but can be surprisingly close to the four-cylinder MGB, though actual mpg will be closely related to the driver’s right foot. Expect anything between 18-24mpg around town, rising to 24-28mpg for mixed town and out of town work, to over 30mpg for really long steady runs. The RV8 has two catalysts in the exhaust, so only use unleaded fuels.
A pre-purchase inspection is advised where you are not confident in your abilities to accurately assess any car you are actually about to hand money over for. A professional examination will help to identify any issues, and more importantly put them in context of how difficult/costly they are to repair. This not only makes for additional negotiating leverage, but also provides the opportunity to walk away when the issues are too involved or expensive to resolve. Finally, do a data check on the car to ensure no hidden history that could come back to bite you.
WHAT TO PAY?
A good car will probably cost around £15,000, but always be aware that dealers usually charge more and the London influence raises prices, though some cars more than justify this. Occasionally examples may be around £10,000, but these will usually need more than a general clean up and professional repairs will soon take you past £15,000. And if you have £15,000 burning a hole in your pocket but don’t fancy an RV8, there are plenty of other options. Going back in time you could get a very nice pull-handle MGB, a mint Y-Type or perhaps a T-Type at auction that can be driven but needs improving. Alternatively, you can waltz into your local MG dealership and plonk your money down on a brand new ZS.