After a decade of knocking out hatchbacks and saloons and spurred on by the success of the Mazda MX-5, MG launched the RV8 in 1992. Based on the MGB shell produced by MG Heritage and making use of the Rover parts bin, the RV8 was a plusher, faster MGB for enthusiasts who rejected the new-school MX-5 and craved simpler motoring pleasures. Only 1983 cars were made between 1992 and 1995, making the RV8 a rare classic. Find a good example and you’ve got one of the best MGB-derivatives the company ever made.
While the RV8 could trace its roots back to the MGB’s shell, 95% of its body panels were new. The result was a fresher, more muscular looking sports car. That, coupled with the huge Range Rover-derived V8, wider track and flared arches made it the MGB’s weight-training, protein shake-glugging brother. The RV8 handled poorly by the standards of the day, but this only endeared it more to MG enthusiasts. The MX-5 and TVR Chimaera were in a different league, but here was a car with all the modern day luxuries that behaved like a sixties roadster. Its flaws were its ace card. The RV8 proved that speed and ability wasn’t everything. A sports car needed charisma, and the MG had it in spades.
Thankfully, not everything about the RV8 was old-school. The body was galvanised, with rust only seeping in if the car had suffered an accident and been badly repaired. A particular weak spot is the steel windscreen surrounds. A tell-tale sign is if the rubber seals are deformed, so check underneath if they are looking ropey. You could be looking at a new surround if the rust has gone deep. Another trouble spot is the wheels. The RV8 was fitted with unique 15-inch rims that are known to corrode, so make sure they are in good condition. Finding replacements is not the work of a moment.
The 3.9-litre V8 the most obvious upgrade from the MGB. Thanks to its American heritage the engine is low revving and low maintenance. The engine can last up to 300,000 miles if it has been well-serviced and maintained, but the number drops rapidly if it’s lived a hard life. This doesn’t mean low-mileage is necessarily better. If the car has only been used for short, rapid trips then the camshaft can wear prematurely. Any problems are usually exposed by a tapping sound from the top end of the engine. Ask the owner if the oil has been changed every year with semi-synthetic oil, as this is the key to a long engine life. Listen out for a blown exhaust manifold, as it is a well-established issue with the RV8. If there is a problem it's best to replace all the gaskets at the same time as any one of the four may have blown. On the subject of the exhaust system, the exhaust itself is vulnerable to corrosion. When you start the car up, leave it ticking over for a few minutes to assess the cooling system. The radiator will likely have become blocked if there’s a problem due to internal corrosion. Make sure you check the fins at the bottom of the radiator too, as they have a propensity to rot and cause leaks.
The RV8 was fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox. At first MG used the LT77 transmission from Land Rover. Unsurprisingly it was crude and quickly replaced by the R380 unit. You can tell which gearbox a car is fitted with by checking the gearing layout. LT77 cars have reverse next to fifth, while later cars have reverse below fifth. Don’t dismiss the older gearbox too soon though, because it lives longer and is cheaper to rebuild. Pay careful attention to the differential. It shared its roots with the system on the Leyland Sherpa van, which says much about its age and quality. Listen out for any unusual whining sounds. The MG incorporated a Quaife limited slip differential, making rebuilds eye-wateringly expensive.
MG fitted the RV8 with Koni dampers from new, although you might not guess it from the woolly handling. A common trick is to manually adjust them to the stiffest setting which will give the RV8 some much needed body control. It’s worth giving the suspension some care and attention by upgrading the dampers altogether. There’s nothing mechanically wrong with the standard suspension but the ride and handling could benefit from some modern tweaks. Also inspect the steering rack mounts for signs of cracks.
Some owners find the steering to be overly heavy. Power steering conversions are available, with either electro-hydraulic set-ups or a simpler electric option (using the MGF’s EPAS system).
The interior is one of the most obvious changes between the RV8 and the MGB. The cabin is covered in leather and wood, making it a lovely place to be in - if it's been well maintained. While the cream leather (standard among all RV8s) looks splendid, it shows marks and stains scarily easily. Nothing ages an interior more than sagging, blotchy leather seats, so make sure the cabin has been kept clean. The burr-elm wood trim can also become delaminated over time. Restoring the wood is usually preferable to replacing trim because it’s tricky to match the colour and grain of the wood.
The first thing you’ll notice when you set off is the heavy steering. While power-steering upgrades are available (as listed above), the steering is one of the RV8’s old school characteristics, and suits the car’s personality. The RV8 is also a great deal softer than other Nineties sports cars, which, in a time of neglected, pot-hole peppered roads, makes the RV8 ahead of its time. While this softness swallows bumps impressively well, it can also spell trouble if you decide to blast it down a b-road. The MG has very poor body control and can get away from you if you ask too much of it. The rear end becomes twitchy over changing cambers and bumps, and there’s not enough stiffness from the dampers for you to catch the slide. Instead, treat it like a luxury cruiser and you can better enjoy the considerable talents of the big V8 up front.
Thanks to its rarity and performance, RV8’s command far higher premiums than older MGBs. Nevertheless, for its age and performance it still represents tremendous value for money. Cars in average condition start at around £10,000, rising to the £15,000 mark for excellent examples. If you’re after a RV8 in mint condition it will set you back around £22,000 - £25,000. Because the specs and trim was so standardised, cars in unusual colours are often worth 10% more. The majority of cars are painted Woodcote Green, so sourcing Nightfire Red or Oxford Blue cars is time-consuming and expensive. While the RV8 sold well in the UK, it was a huge success in Japan and a great many were exported over there. Thirty years on, many of these exports have trickled back onto the UK market. Tell-tale signs include a radio that can’t find European stations and KPH-reading speedometers. There’s no real problem with buying an import, but be prepared for a patchy service history.
The RV8 is a relatively low-cost classic to run on a daily basis, V8 thirst aside. Much of the outlay revolves around aftermarket modification. For instance many owners overhaul the suspension and dampers, tweaking the settings to their liking. Like all aftermarket parts, this can get pricey. Modifications are often also made to the steering. Inexpensive electric systems are available.
The MG RV8 is the ultimate iteration of the MGB. Fast, affordable and dependable, it may have been an oddity in period due to its retro styling and poor handling but its matured into a desirable classic and the perfect antidote to modern road surfaces and hard-riding sports cars. The forgotten MG has arguably become the very best.
Clubs & Websites