Now here is a car that you don’t see every day, since oddly enough, most of them went to Japan: a mid-nineties MG R V8 convertible. It looks rather like an MGB on steroids, or perhaps one left out in the sun for too long. There is a bit more to it than that of course, and supposedly only 5% of its parts interchange with its ancestor. And it did act as a bridge between the classic and modern MGs, which allowed for a revival for the storied MG brand in the 1990s, such as it was.
The MG R V8 story begins with the demise of the much loved MG B roadster in 1980. What started as a reasonably modern design in 1962 was looking rather dated by 1980. Interestingly, there was still buyer demand for the B, but the closure of the Abingdon factory brought things to an end. The often-troubled British Leyland was not in position to replace the B or any other niche car. The Triumph Spitfire also ended production in 1980, with the TR7/TR8 following in 1981. It was the death of the great British sports car era. An interesting side note is that there were a few attempts by outside parties to restart B production, including even Aston Martin.
Perhaps we are getting a bit too far ahead of ourselves and should first mention the two previous bigger engine versions of the B, the MGC (CC here) and the MG B GT V8 (an alphabet soup name if there ever was one). A quick summary shows that the MG C was created to help fill the gap after the demise of the big six powered Austin Healey 3000. MG engineers tried a few engines but ultimately settled on the C-series engine from the Austin 3-Litre saloon. The engine is essentially an updated version of what was found under the bonnet of the 3000. It is a big heavy lump of an engine and made a 145hp with gobs of low end torque. The sheer size of the engine required a swap to torsion bar front suspension. The result was more of a grand tourer than big wooly sports car like the 3000 or light and sporty number like the B. Rather maligned back when it was new the MG C is easily sorted these days with proper tires and suspension set up.
The MG B GT V8 was the next step in expanding the performance capabilities of the B. While several aftermarket specialists had been wedging the Rover V8 into the B for a number of years it took until 1973 for the factory to do it. Oddly it was only into the GT hatchback body style. While a V8 engined MG B seemed natural for the North American market it never happened. The official line was a shortage in supply of the V8 engine. More profit in Rover luxury saloons than sports cars I suppose. Another theory is they didn’t want to compete with the V8 powered Triumph Stag which was also a part of British Leyland Motor Corporation at the time. No doubt gas shortages and fluctuating prices at the time didn’t help its case. The MG B GT V8 enjoyed rave reviews but modest sales thanks to premium pricing and production ended in 1976.
After the demise of the B the MG marque didn’t disappear but the MG octagon found its way onto badge engineered versions of Austin saloons like the Metro and Maestro. There were body kitted and turbo versions of each sold in small numbers but nothing to really getting a MG traditionalist’s blood pumping.
Then back in 1988 it was decided to put the old MG B body shell back into production to cash in on the booming classic car restoration market. With over half a million sold the B was the perfect candidate for getting a heritage shell made. Though expensive up front the new shell could be an excellent investment to restore a rusty car and had decent success as well as reminding Rover Group (what the remains of British Leyland was now called) executives that the MG marque still had value despite being a bit abused. The Mazda Miata MX-5 had also been introduced in 1989 to great success showing there was still strong demand for a traditional roadster.
The MG R V8 was developed using a much modified MG B as the base. The engine was a Rover V8 with a five speed gearbox similar to the earlier Rover SD1 and Triumph TR8 as well as contemporary Range Rovers.
In 1993 the MG R V8 was introduced at the Birmingham motor show with very positive response to the return of a sporting MG and the retro styling. Very high quality materials were used though out the interior and the hand built nature of the car caused price to be a major issue at £26,000. With its future in real jeopardy the stars aligned when a spot at the Tokyo Motor show was available. It was a hit in retro mad Japan of the time and had over 1400 orders just at the show.
Japan actually took the bulk of the R V8 production. Almost a whopping 80% or 1583 out of 1983 cars went to Japan which also snapped up a good number of Rover Minis as well. The car was a panned in the British press for being rather old fashioned which, of course, it was under the skin. Despite the 185hp fuel injected engine the rear suspension was a live axle suspended by leaf springs. At least the front suspension no longer used the B’s lever shocks but instead used more modern telescopic dampers (tube shocks). On the plus side straight line performance was rather impressive with 0-60mph acceleration being clocked at six seconds. Top speed was a 135mph.
Believe it or not these are Porsche 911 headlamps.
I talked to the owner of this one briefly and he sourced it from Japan after a largely fruitless search in the UK. Canada’s import laws allow most vehicles fifteen years or older to be imported. He mentioned that he knows of four others in Canada.
While the R V8 was probably not a money maker for parent Rover it did pave the way for the more modern MG F which appeared in 1995. The MG F was a whole different car with a mid engined four cylinder engine and Hydragas suspension but still evoked the classic MG styling. I think it is safe to say the R V8 is probably the ultimate variant of the B and likely to be a sought after classic for years to come.