Costello V8 MKIIas published in British V8 Newsletter, Volume V Issue 2, August 1997
by David Michel
While most MGB V8 owners and admirers have read brief articles about the
original MGB V8 conversions by Costello, relatively few MG enthusiasts in
the USA have actually seen one of the original Costello V8's, in either
MGB-GT or in MGB Tourer (convertible) form. Although photos of the Costello
converted cars have been published, both in books and in occasional UK
magazine articles these cars are most unusual, especially in America,
because none of the Costello V8's produced (240 total, circa 1970-73)
were built for USA export.
So it was that, while attending a car show and viewing several nice MGB V8 conversion cars during the summer of 1994, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was similarly viewing the MGB V8's. The thrust of his comments were that while the conversions were exceptionally well done, they were considerably different in underhood appearance and detail when compared with his car. When I inquired whether his car was at the show for examination, he noted that it was parked in the carport of his home in Annapolis, Maryland. - but that I could call him at a later date to arrange for a viewing. Not knowing what to expect, I imagined that the car might be yet another unknown V8 conversion. However, because of my interest in MGB V8's, I decided that it might be an educational experience to view the car regardless of the circumstances. So, I arranged to visit the gentleman the following Saturday morning to view the car.
Upon arrival at his home, I was greeted by a black, chrome bumper, MGB
Tourer parked in the driveway. Nothing too unusual, I thought initially.
WRONG! Walking toward the rear of the car, I noticed an unfamiliar
'V-Eight Costello' emblem near the left rear back-up lamp. The grille was
an unfamiliar black 'egg-crate' style and the bonnet exhibited no unusual
bulges. The engine installation was most unusual in that the radiator, brake
master cylinder, and brake booster were all from an MGC. The upper radiator
hose, from the coolant expansion tank, passed through the loop of the
alternator drive belt, and the carburetor was a Weber DCOE 40 mounted on an
unusual rear-facing intake manifold. The dashboard was UK home-market style
with black wrinkle paint and the car was right-hand drive. The car was fitted
with a very large bore (3" ID) all stainless steel exhaust system, and rode
on MGB V8 wheels fitted with French 185/70-14 radial tires. The car was not
at all like any other MGB that I had ever seen! After searching my memory
bank, and finally remembering the few black and white photos in Graham
Robson's book, I gradually came to realize that I was looking at one of
the very few Mk II Costello V8 Tourers built. (Only about 40 total MkI
and MKII tourers were ever built.)
The gentleman offered a test-drive, and I eagerly accepted despite the initial awkwardness of the right-hand drive configuration. A quick turn of the ignition key and the Rover V8 fired instantly and settled into a very smooth idle. After slipping the gearbox into first, I eased off the clutch and the tremendous torque of the V8 instantly propelled the car forward. What an exhilarating feeling to drive an MG with more than adequate power available on demand! I was hooked. This MGB V8 was the car for me!
Upon completion of the test-drive, the gentleman invited me to come inside for coffee, where I was given an opportunity to inspect the scrapbook which contained the collected invoices and documents concerning the car. These included the original 'window sticker' for the car as well as photos and invoices detailing the work done to the car. The gentleman was the second owner; he had acquired it in the mid-1980's from the original owner. Only after I reviewed the documentation did the gentleman suggest that he was considering selling the car. He noted that he was ready to 'move on to other things' and, if he decided to offer the car for sale, he asked would I have an interest in purchasing it. The thought of the opportunity to purchase a car this unusual was almost beyond comprehension. I instantly indicated that I would indeed be interested! After a thorough review of the documents and a further inspection of the car, there was no doubt that the car was one of the original Mk II Costello V8 Tourers. With continued discussion, we arrived at a sale price and delivery was set for the following Tuesday evening.
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Tuesday evening arrived, and the transfer was accomplished rapidly. The
drive home quickly demonstrated the tremendous power available with the
V8 and the seemingly effortless ability to cruise at (or above) the legal
speed limits. The car was, and still is quite remarkable, effortlessly
cruising at 65mph at 1900 RPM.
A detailed inspection of the car following the purchase revealed that, while all of the systems (brake, fuel, cooling, etc.) were fully functional and safe, the previous owner had not been overly diligent toward routine servicing of the car. Consequently, considerable time has been devoted to systematically servicing all systems on the car during the past several years. By 1996, the car was ready for the trip to MG '96 in Indianapolis. While at MG '96, Ken Costello took the opportunity to become reacquainted with the car, and spent about one-half hour going over the car. Ken's comments concerning the car were most interesting, and indeed he remembered the car as one of the few Mk II Costello Tourers which his firm built in 1972-73. Ken's comments and recollections were consistent with the documentation which came with the car.
This documentation shows that the car was based on a 1972 home market (UK)
MGB originally delivered to a Dr. N. Lewtas. The Annapolis gentleman's
recollection was that Dr. Lewtas, a medical doctor from the UK Royal
College of Surgeons, was the original owner who had purchased the car
for his personal use in motoring competitions. After purchase, and prior
to such usage, the car was converted by Costello Motor Engineering to a
Mk II Costello V8. Dr. Lewtas owned the car until 1985.
In September 1985 the car was purchased by an American diplomat, the Annapolis gentleman, stationed in the UK. The documentation shows that the car received complete body work in 1986-7 to rectify the battle scars of competition (provided by the Dr. Lewtas). This included new black paint (the original color was BRG), complete rust-proofing, and a new interior. In 1989, through the personal attention of Mr. Malcolm Beer, the car received a new Rover 3500 engine to replace the original Buick-based engine with Rover ancillaries, installed by Ken Costello during the original conversion. The engine installation is remarkably clean, and provides an uncluttered engine compartment with easy access to all components. The invoice for the Rover 3500 engine provides no detail concerning the internal modifications, if any, but the external markings indicate that the compression ratio is 9.6:1. The exceptional smoothness of the engine suggests that the entire assembly is fully balanced and, consistent with Malcolm Beer’s reputation for performance vehicles, the engine 'feels' as though it may well be a performance version with up-rated components. Installed with the new Rover engine was a beautifully constructed, stainless steel exhaust system - an amazing work of art which must be seen to be appreciated. Mr. Beer also arranged for the installation of a Rover five-speed gearbox (virtually invisible to all but the most observant) to complement the new engine and to eliminate the weak and potentially troublesome MG four-synchro gearbox used by Costello in the original conversion. Mr. Beer also secured the necessary documentation which permitted the car to be legally exported from the UK and registered in the USA upon the return of the Annapolis gentleman and his family in March 1990.
According to a recent article entitled "Talent" in the February 1997 issue of "Thoroughbred and Classic Cars", David Lillywhite notes that well under 100 of the original Costello V8's built survive today. And, because the majority of the Costello V8s were MGB-GT's (200 of the 24O cars converted by Costello), my car may well be one of a very few surviving Costello V8 Tourers. Perhaps during the next few years, many of the U.S. members of MGB V8 Register will have the opportunity to view this most unusual MGB V8 and to see for themselves the engineering details of the Costello conversions which established the standard for all to follow.
When we originally published this article, we illustrated it with one black-and-white photo of Dave's car in side view. That photo wasn't very clear, so we decided to replace it here with two color photos graciously provided by frequent British V8 contributor Jake Voelckers.
BritishV8 Magazine has assembled the largest, most authoritative collection of Costello V8 information you'll find anywhere. Access our Costello V8 (and "factory" MGB GT V8) article index by clicking here.