The “R” in the MG RV8 stands for Rover, and thereby hangs this tale. In 1968, when the MGB was but six years old, its maker, British Motor Corporation, combined with Leyland Motors, home of Triumph and Rover, to form British Leyland. BL could do little right. By the mid-1980s, a string of unhappy cars and crippling sales losses had reduced a once-broad stable of makes to just Austin and Rover. By 1990, only Rover was left.
The beloved MGB was then a decade dead, but demand for replacement parts remained strong. One day, two British enthusiasts stumbled upon 1000 tons of original B tooling, including jigs and dies for making complete bodies. Rover was only too happy to sell, so the pair bought the lot and founded British Motor Heritage to serve dedicated B-keepers under Rover auspices. Meanwhile, the success of Mazda’s Miata had Rover pondering a return to sports cars. With retro roadsters hot and BMH established, a revived MGB was a natural.
Enter the RV8, in 1993, as an updated open version of the 1973-76 B GT V8, a low-volume Britain-only coupe model. Although the V-8 here was a 3.9-liter from the posh Range Rover, it stemmed from the same all-aluminum ohv Buick design that Rover acquired in the late ’60s.
Restyled body panels (save doors and trunklid) freshened the traditional B appearance, but the RV8 chassis was pure 1962 except for telescopic shocks replacing antique lever-arm dampers. Wheels, tires, and dash also were modernized, and the cockpit was swathed in leather and walnut worthy of a Jaguar. Unfortunately, expected 1990s features such as power assists and anti-lock brakes were conspicuously absent considering the stiff $40,000 price.
Predictably, familiar old B failings were now present in the fastest production MG ever. Autocar magazine was typical of the British press in calling the RV8 “an anachronism, albeit a strangely likeable one...easy to enjoy and even fun to drive in an agricultural, vintage manner.” But good value? Hardly.
Still, Rover had no trouble selling the modest 2000 RV8s it planned to build; interestingly, about half went to Japan. All had righthand drive, and this, plus the lack of several required safety items, precluded U.S. sales. The MG sports car had risen from the grave, and there was more to come.