Introduced to mark the 30th anniversary of the evergreen MGB, the RV8 was built around a modified Heritage bodyshell and became the advance guard for the MGF. Here’s how to buy
Words: Iain Wakefield
It’s fair to say that the launch of the MGB RV8 in 1992 at the British International Motor Show resurrected the V8-powered MG but although the profile looked similar to the earlier model, under the skin the new MG was a completely different beast to the original Ken Costello-developed and later Abingdon-produced MGB V8. After the MGB was put out to pasture in 1980, the famous Octagonal badge had been kept alive with a series of hot hatches and saloons for most of the decade and fans of the breed had almost written off any chance of a corporate-owned MG ever building another sports car with a folding roof.
Interestingly, the idea for a new MG sports car didn’t come from the Rover Group. The seed for a new sports car had been sewn when British Motor Heritage started to remanufacture MGB monocoques on resurrected tooling that had produced the originals. A bold idea by Heritage’s managing director, David Bishop, to look into the possibility of producing an updated version of the MGB was thought too complex for the company’s limited resources and the project was eventually handed over to the Rover Group, BMH’s then parent group.
The Rover Group’s Gaydon-based Special Products division had been created in 1990 as a separate division to look at projects like this and the team quickly went to work carefully modifying a Heritage bodyshell and squeezing a fuel injected 3.9-litre V8 into the engine bay. The result was the 1992 introduced RV8 and British Motor Heritage was kept busy producing an average of 15 modified MGB shells a week for the new car at its Faringdon plant.
Versions of the remanufactured MGB bodyshell used to build the RV8 were constructed to a far more modern standard, as buyers were expecting a brand-new car. To maintain quality Rover based inspectors at Farringdon to check each shell as it came off the assembly line before the approved body was sent to Cowley for painting and final assembly. Although the RV8’s basic body style was the same as the MGB, the shell for the new V8 powered car featured redesigned front and rear wings, a restyled bonnet and moulded plastic bumpers.
Extended wheel arches could now accommodate 15-inch wheels shod with 205/65 profile tyres, while modern telescopic dampers replaced the standard ‘B’s antiquated lever arm shock absorbers. A discrete bonnet bulge provided extra head room to accommodate the Lucas fuel injection system for the RV8’s lusty 3946cc V8, which when provoked could muster 190bhp at 4750rpm and go on to propel the car to a licence burning 136mph.
Although the reprofiled wings and bonnet line gave the RV8 a far more purposeful stance than the standard MGB V8, the suspension set up, steering and braking system hadn’t been that drastically altered, and the layout would be very familiar to anyone who’d previously worked on a MGB. Power was delivered to the rear wheels though a five-speed gearbox mated to a live rear axle fitted with a limited slip differential. The RV8 may have looked more like an MGB that had been to the gym, but the designers had done a great job maintaining the look and image of the original.
The Rover Group unveiled the RV8 at the Tokyo Motor Show and by March 1993 the first cars were heading out to Japan, which turned out to be the RV8’s major market. This resulted with a mere 307 RV8s being sold on the home market but over the years scores of examples have been repatriated from the land of the rising sun and these ‘grey imports’ now outnumber the number of official UK sold cars. By the time the RV8 bowed out in 1995, it had reawakened MG’s position as a producer of interesting sports cars and the scene was well and truly set for the introduction of the what was probably the most talked about MG ever – the mid-engined MGF.
The easiest way to tell if the example being viewed is a Japanese-spec model is to see if it is fitted with driving lamps. If these items are missing, the car is definitely a ‘grey import’, which isn’t necessarily an issue, as many examples were purchased by enthusiasts who did very few miles and had the car serviced by the book. Although this can be an opportunity to purchase what looks like a pampered, low mileage RV8, make sure all the service records come with the car and are up to date.
The reason RV8s that ended up in Japan weren’t fitted with spotlights is that these items were deleted in order to locate the radiators for the air conditioning, a feature UK bound cars didn’t have as standard – but don’t forget you can always drop the hood if the car doesn’t have air con!… When it comes to inspecting the bodywork, look out for signs of accident damage or any poorly carried-out repairs. Unfortunately, like its older sibling, the RV8 isn’t immune to corrosion but having said that, the car’s overall resistance to rust was greatly reduced by using zinc-coated steel for the bodywork along with a generous application of factory applied rust preservative inside all the cavities.
Probably the most important area to check on a RV8 is around the windscreen frame. If a car is showing any signs of serious rot in this area, our advice would be to walk away and view the next car on the list. However, if the car in question is competitively priced and this seems to be the only issue, specialists, like Brown & Gammons can supply repair sections, as well as individual panels and even a complete body to re-shell an accident damaged RV8. Paintwork condition is another important factor with any RV8 purchase, as the cost of a good quality respray may render invalid any saving you make by buying a car in need of a cosmetic makeover. Finally, if the car is fitted with a hard top, take a look at the condition of all the seals and the fit around the rear deck, as any gaps will let water into the cabin.
Engine and transmission
When new, all RV8s came as standard with the latest 3946cc version of Rover’s legendary V8, by then fitted to the Range Rover in the same larger-capacity format. It’s a long-lived and reliable unit, being under-stressed and generally very robust. However, it’s an engine that does require regular oil and filter changes (ideally every 3000 miles or annually, depending on which occurs first) as the oil passageways to the rocker shafts are prone to sludging. It’s therefore important to check that any RV8 you’re thinking of buying comes with proof of regular maintenance; if the engine oil looks dirty upon inspection, alarm bells should ring.
It’s equally important that the compressible washer on the sump plug is renewed with every oil change. Again, any knowledgeable owner or specialist will be aware of this, so it’s another good sign of a well-cared-for car. Unlike
the original MGB GT V8, the RV8 tends to escape any overheating issues thanks to improved airflow through the radiator, as well as hot air escaping through the exhaust holes in the inner wings. However, it’s not unknown for the plastic expansion tank for the coolant to deteriorate due to age, which can obviously result in loss of anti-freeze. It’s important to regularly check the coolant level as a result.
Loss of coolant can also occur when the bolts securing the inlet manifold to the cylinder head work loose, which isn’t uncommon. Make sure these bolts are regularly checked as part of your maintenance programme. Interestingly, every MG RV8 was fitted with a catalytic converter, although Japanese-spec cars also came with Catalyst Overheat Warning Lights in order to comply with legislation there. A rotten catalyst will obviously be an MoT failure point, although stainless steel replacements are available for around the £250 mark.
The RV8’s V8 powerplant was linked to a five-speed manual transmission, with the original Rover LT77 unit fitted to the early models replaced by the R380 gearbox from chassis number 644 onwards. The type of transmission can be identified by the position of reverse gear – up to the left on earlier cars, down to the right on later examples. Both gearboxes are strong and reliable and either unit should be problem-free unless a car has been seriously abused or messed around with over the years.
Suspension, steering and brakes
To cope with the 190bhp produced by the 3.9 litre V8, the RV8 was fitted with a limited-slip differential and redesigned suspension with torque control arms between the axle and the front spring mounts. Telescopic shock absorbers replaced the MGB’s lever-arm dampers, while the front featured a modified MGB crossmember. The end result was drastically improved handling compared with the original MGB GT V8; but with all that power on tap, an RV8 can still be a handful for any inexperienced driver, especially in the wet.
As a large proportion of today’s RV8s have covered relatively low mileages, there’s every chance that the suspension set-up will be problem-free. Carry out the usual checks for wear and leaks, but make sure the car doesn’t feel unusually ‘wallowy’ on a test drive. Without power-assistance, a standard RV8’s steering can seem heavy to anybody more used to modern vehicles, though many owners like the ‘classic’ feel that this provides. Some cars, however, have been retro-fitted with power-assisted steering, which helps to make the RV8 a more manageable machine round town. If the car comes with PAS, check that the conversion was carried out professionally and ask for evidence of exactly what was done.
When inspecting any RV8, make sure the steering rack mounts are checked, as there have been cases of these cracking and compromising the safety of the car. In extreme cases, the rack could actually become detached, so make sure this is part of annual service check-over too.
The RV8’s servo-assisted brakes comprise of ventilated front discs and rear drums and were adequate for their intended purpose. However, the lack of ABS was unusual for a sports car built in the early ’90s with so much power at its disposal – and reinforced the fact that this was an old design brought more up to date rather than a genuinely new car.
On the plus side, this helps to make DIY maintenance a straightforward affair. There are no particular weak spots with the RV8’s braking system, so it’s simply a case of carrying out the usual checks and ensuring that everything is in good order. It’s particularly important to check that the front discs aren’t scored or damaged, as replacements can be expensive.
Interior, trim and electrics
The RV8 was the most luxurious MGB-based car ever produced, featuring deeply upholstered leather seats and high-quality elm veneer dashboard and door cappings. The leather upholstery and trim in every RV8 was finished in Stone Beige, a neutral colour that suited just about any exterior paintwork choice. Tall drivers may find that the RV8’s extra deep seat squabs position their eyeline level with the top of the windscreen frame – okay when the hood’s down but a pain when the hood or hard top is in place.
Deleting the traditional quarter lights on the RV8’s doors was necessary to fit internally adjustable door mirrors and also helped to bring the RV8’s appearance more up to date. Beware that examples fitted with air conditioning will have restricted leg room on the passenger’s side of the car. This is due to the A/C system being located at the base of the footwell, although a quite a few owners may have removed the equipment on a reimported VR8 to provide more space.
It’s important to check that the leather and wood veneer inside a RV8’s cabin are both in excellent condition. Although cracked leather isn’t unusual, it’s vital that the hide is ‘feed’ regularly with a leather treatment. Leather and/or veneer repairs can be carried out by a specialist repairer, but obviously this will be an expensive task. Replacing a damaged or worn hood on an RV8 is no more complicated than with most roadsters, but it can be a fairly pricey procedure if carried out by a professional.
MG RV8: our verdict
The RV8 was an instant classic and a good one will make a very practical long-distance cruiser. It may lack the practicality and ubiquitous parts support of its older sibling but the RV8 has exclusivity, V8 power and luxury on its side.
Some guides may price a home-market RV8s slightly higher than a re-imported car from Japan, but this isn’t always the case. Values of British- and Japanese-spec MG RV8s tend to be broadly similar. A high mileage, overall condition and the level of original equipment will far more likely to affect value of a RV8 and so will the colour of the bodywork surprisingly enough. Woodcote Green was by far the most popular choice – with 1269 RV8s finished in this shade, and that’s why these days an original car with a rarer and more costly paint scheme (£750 when new), such as Old English White (just five cars), Flame Red (16 cars) or Black (18 cars) will be far more expensive today than green cars.
When it comes to prices, MGB RV8’s have been on the rise over the last few years and it will be difficult to find a decent one under £12,000, but at that price it will probably have covered a comparatively high mileage and may have various cosmetic issues to deal with. Far better to invest £15,000–20,000 in a genuinely well cared for example with a lower mileage. Meanwhile, buyers with larger budgets will be able to afford the best (or rarest coloured) RV8s on the market. At the time of writing topflight examples are changing hands for around £22,000 plus, while a currently advertised imported ‘investment opportunity’ that’s allegedly only covered 687 kilometres (426 miles) from new is priced at a very ambitious and wallet busting £50,000.