Britain's Motor Magazine (weekly)

Road Test:   MGB GT V8

For :   smooth, flexible engine; well-chosen gear ratios and overdrive;
           roomy for two; good visibility.

Against :   poor low-speed ride; haphazard instruments and controls;
                 dated decor; high wind noise at speed; rather expensive.

as published in British V8 Newsletter, Volume XV Issue 3, December 2007

Re-printed unedited by exclusive written permission of "Motor".
This article originally appeared in their issue for the week ending August 25, 1973.

Telling British Leyland what they ought to do has become a national pastime, and one of the most common demands (from Motor among others) as well as one of the mostly widely forecast events has been the marriage of the popular MGB GT body with Rover's 3.5 litre V8 engine. The two together seemed natural, especially after Ken Costello had shown the idea to be practical.

Why then the delay? The answer is basically twofold. First British Leyland have to observe all the fine print in the regulations of the countries where the BV8 will be sold, a burden Mr. Costello does not share. It is interesting to note that the BV8 will not be sold in the States - the cost of Type Approval would presumably be prohibitive. Secondly, and possibly more important, buyers expect different standards when buying a modified car compared with a production model - and quite rightly too. They might forgive shortcomings in a modified car from a small specialist which they would find unacceptable from a large manufacturer.


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With a two-year gestation period behind it, the BV8 has been a long time coming. And it really is something of an enigma. Does one judge it as an uprated BGT or as an entirely new car? On price it is firmly in the latter category, being expensive for a car which is basically over 10 years old and which up to now has been in the £1600 class, even though it more than holds its own in the performance stakes. So familiar though, are the BGT and the Rover V8 that one tends to regard the V8 as an old friend transformed - and what a transformation it is too.

Ken Smith's MGB GT V8, number 1214 in Damask Red
Ken Smith's MGB GT V8 (damask red / car number 1214)

Initial impressions are always illuminating, and among Motor's often cynical staff the reaction was quite enthusiastic. The BGT has always been regarded as a very attractive car; what it lacked, among other things, was performance and mechanical refinement. Even in its relatively de-tuned (one should say de-toxed) state the Rover engine certainly answers these two criticisms and gives the car a new lease on life. In most respects the combination is first class, combining the American idea of a large engine and straightforward suspension with European standards of compactness, steering and handling. The body itself is very strong - it was used as a base for one of the special cars sent to America recently as an example of British efforts on the safety front - so it did not require much strengthening to take either the extra power or to meet the now fairly rigid crash barrier tests of the EEC countries. The engine itself is no heavier than the B-Series it replaces, but the ancillaries are: the weight penalty is therefore only slight. As a corollary the suspension changes only had to take the increased torque into account.

So appealing is the BV8 package that when the failings start to show themselves there is a sense of disappointment. Remembering that the car costs a hefty £2300, the ride, especially at low speeds, can only be described as poor, almost unacceptably so. Loud wind noise at anything above a modest cruising speed takes all the enjoyment out of the car on long runs and the dashboard layout is rather crude and austere, despite new fingertip switches and the introduction of face-level air vents (in 1972). Considering how much more expensive the BV8 is, one would have thought that British Leyland could have come up with a more modern, not to say ergonomic layout.

In its price class the BV8 has some pretty strong competition. The Reliant Scimitar GTE has more usable internal space, is more attractive internally and rides better; the same can be said for the Datsun 240Z; and the roomier Capri 3000GT has a better ride if not handling. The Lotus +2S 130 (admittedly for a lot more money) provides similar performance with much superior standards of road-holding, handling and ride.

As a poor man's Aston Martin V8, the new MG has a certain charm but we feel that modernization inside, even more performance (which might reasonably be expected from a 3 litre 2-seater) and a smoother ride could have made it a worthy alternative to the Aston.

Ken Smith's MGB GT V8, at a V8 Register meet

PERFORMANCE     (4 of 5 stars)

To comply with the EEC emission regulations MG have opted for the low compression (8.25:1) variant of the Rover V8 with modifications. Relocation of the SU carburetters via a forked spacer manifold is claimed to give a slight increase in mid-range torque, but the main purpose of the move was to fit the carburetters under the standard bonnet. With a quoted output of 137bhp (DIN) at only 5000rpm the 3528 all alloy ohv engine displays the characteristic of its American ancestry in being relatively large and lightly stressed. Pump-up of the hydraulic tappets sets the upper rev limit at a lowly 5200rpm or thereabouts, so the engine is certainly not over-exerting itself.

Considered as a 3 litre sports car, the performance may be a little disappointing; it is nothing like as quick as the original 3.8 litre E-type for instance. When compared with others in its price class, however, the BV8's performance is very respectable indeed, and is considerably better than that of the standard BGT. Only the Morgan Plus 8 and the now discontinued Lotus Elan Sprint are faster to 60mph from a standing start, and only the Morgan (with the same engine and a lighter body) is anywhere near on top gear performance.

What the bald figures cannot convey is the utter smoothness, the refinement and the lack of drama with which the unit performs, and the delightful surge when accelerating hard aided by the excellent engine-gearbox match which makes full performance easy to use. It would be difficult to make a rought car when going from a four to a V8, but the general opinion is that MG have done a thoroughly professional job properly engineered - and it shows.

As you'd expect, the flexibility is remarkable, and 1000rpm in top gear is quite usable in traffic, the car waffling away steadily with the characteristic V8 burble.

Starting (during the warm weather of our test) was immediate with a little choke, and warm-up rapid - the electric fans only came on when sitting for fairly lengthy periods in traffic jams. Idling was unobtrusive with only occasional lumpiness (again in jams) cured by a quick blip of the accelerator. Throttle action contributed to the overall smoothness, being light and progressive.

Dave Wellings' MGB GT V8 engine bay (black / car number 0974)
Dave Wellings' MGB GT V8 (black / car number 0974)

Economy     (3 of 5 stars)

The overall consumption of just under 20mpg is similar to that of other cars in the same price/performance class, but it can be achieved on 94 RON (three star) petrol, a bonus for those who travel abroad, particularly in Germany where the lead content (the anti-knock ingredient) in petrol is low. The engine ran quite happily on this grade with no sign of pinking or run-on. With a 12-gallon tank the range is about 240 miles - barely acceptable for a long run overseas. Oil consumption of 1000 miles per pint is more acceptable.

Transmission     (4 of 5 stars)

The gearbox is a derivative of that used in the BGT, but with MGC ratios and modified bell housing to fit the V8 and its starter. Lever movements are short, precise, and very positive if a little stiff and notchy, but the latter characteristic should wear off with mileage - our demonstrator arrived with 1400 miles on the clock. The synchromesh was almost unbeatable but baulked snatched changes. Overdrive is standard, but only on top. There was quite a long delay before it came in too, but canceling was instantaneous, and the slight jerk could be eliminated by blipping the throttle or by dipping the clutch. The smooth and progressive clutch helps to make the engine and gearbox a good match without any really undesirable traits. Although clutch pedal load is higher than normal at 38lbs it does not feel too heavy - possibly a function of a good seat/pedal relationship.

Intermediate speeds of 39, 61, and 96mph show the ratios to be reasonably spaced. At no time was the box noisy, nor was there any vibration, and tramp could be induced only during the most severe standing starts.


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Handling     (3 of 5 stars)

To fit the engine it was necessary to move the steering rack forward slightly, making the steering lighter yet still direct and precise with a reassuring feel. Not that, by Lotus standards, is it light; parking calls for considerable effort and it appears to get heavier with lock.

Just to remind you, the MGB was introduced in 1962, and the BGT in 1965. This fact probably more than any other explains the ride/roadholding/handling compromise of the BV8. The completely conventional layout it uses can still be made to work well, but only with proper location of the live rear axle which is still suspended on simple leaf springs. And of course a properly designed fully independent suspension would give much better results.

Even so, the MG sets fairly high standards. The basic handling characteristic is understeer, since most of the roll stiffness is at the front; this may also account for the high level of traction at the rear in the dry. Power-on cornering can cause the tail to drift out so that when pressed the handling eventually changes to oversteer. Initial tyre break-away occurs at quite moderate cornering forces, and the ultimate cornering force is not exceptionally high. Where the GT V8 scores, and scores heavily too, is in its astonishing controllability and responsiveness - the oversteer can be used, and is great fun. In engineering terms the handling can be described as "fail-safe," being virtually self-correcting when the car gets out of line. Roll is hardly noticeable and has no direct effect on handling. In the wet the characteristics are accentuated somewhat, but the forgiving fail-safe capability still applies. The only time it gets a little uncomfortable is at speed on undulating surfaces, perhaps because of a trace of rear end steering.

Although the GT V8 appears to be undisturbed by sidewinds, overtaking trucks on a motorway can cause a deviation from the straight and narrow, a problem with most cars.

Brakes     (3 of 5 stars)

To cope with the increased performance the brakes have larger calipers and thicker discs, and a servo is standard. Dual circuits are available only on those models for export to countries requiring them; in other words British buyers don't get this safety feature.

The brakes were quite reassuring with barely noticeably fade at the top end of 20 half "g" stops, pulling up squarely on each occasion, although towards the end of the test there was quite a bad judder and some smell, with snatch when coming to rest. After the fade test, it felt as if "square drums" were fitted: with a steady pedal pressure there was a rhythmic binding roughly proportional to wheel speed. Only one application of the brakes was necessary to restore them to normal after soakingin a watersplash.

The servo did not inspire much enthusiasm. Although nicely progressive (lack of progression often a fault with servos) the action was slightly inconsistent, and there was a degree of "self servoing" whereby, with the same pedal pressure, the braking force increased with decreasing speed - or, to put it another way, pedal pressure had to be reduced to maintain the same deceleration. With these minor reservations, the brakes behaved quite acceptably.

Accomodation     (4 of 5 stars)

Let's kill a myth once and for all: the plus-2 part of the BGT is to al intents non-existent, the padded shelf behind the driver providing neither head nor leg room, and sitting sideways is excruciating. Considered as a two seater (and we've star graded it as such) there is a useful amount of luggage space (for a sports car) with 5.2 cu. ft. when the rear "seat" back is up or 6.6 cu. ft. with it folded. Loading is easy via the large lift-up door and a flat floor at the same level as the sill. There is a lockable glovebox on the passenger side, a map pocket in the passenger's footwell, and a narrow armrest cum hinged box between the seat. Insertion of the wider V8 has fortunately not meant any noticeable decrease in foot space, nor does any heat seep through from the exhaust pipes.

luggage accomodation
Above: with the rear seat folded flat 6.6 cu ft of luggage could be accomodated

Ride Comfort     (2 of 5 stars)

The almost vintage nature of the suspension really shows up at low speeds, the ride being harsh and lumpy even on relatively smooth surfaces. On rough roads ride deterioration is yet more marked and can only be described as uncomfortable in the extreme - you steer around bumps when possible.

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On the positive side, however, the ride improves with speed, notably on smoother (motorway type) roads, settling down to a taut rather than tight motion without any float - really quite pleasant. One feels, though, that increasing the rear spring stiffness to control the higher torque has conflicted with ride - and ride has lost out. And this in spite of a one inch increase in spring length at the front yet keeping to the same rates for both springs and anti-roll bar.

Tyre thump was not particularly prominent, while low frequency pitch and bounce are naturally almost non-existent.

Driver Comfort     (3 of 5 stars)

All who tried the car found the seats comfortable, with plenty of fore and aft movement and rake adjustment; when set up to suit the individual driver the head restraint could be used as well to give a very relaxing position.

MGB GT V8 seats - folded forward   MGB GT V8 seats - folded aft
Above: the attractive seats could be adjusted both fore and aft and for rake, are well shaped, and are very comfortable

All the major controls fall, as they say, naturally to hand. The brake pedal/accelerator relationship seems to have been altered at last, and heel-and-toeing in now possible if not particularly easy - a definite improvement on the BGT.

The minor control layout - knobs, buttons and so on - is in a real Jekyll-and-Hyde situation. Excellent stalk controls on the steering column operated the indicators/dip/flasher (right) and the wash/wipe/overdrive (left) - opinion on the latter was somewhat divided, some drivers feeling that the stalk had too much to do. The rest of the (mainly rocker type) switches are scattered around wherever there seems to be space, with the headlamp master switch almost hidden by the steering wheel rim, the heater controls over on the passenger side, and the hazard warning and rear screen switches and the cigar lighter at the bottom of the console, neatly obstructed by the gear lever. In general, the irritating trivialities outweigh the good points after a while.




Above:   (1) the fascia is uninspiring, being a mixture of old & new,
(2) the overdrive switch is neatly built into the wiper stalk,
(3) a handy if narrow armrest / box,
(4) the archaic heater controls.

As on several other BL cars, to remove the key it must be pushed in, and at the same time a small button just underneath depressed. Once the knack was acquired it is easy - but heaven help women drivers with long fingernails!

The inertial reel belts are comfortable, neither binding nor chafing.

Visibility     (4 of 5 stars)

Although you sit lower in the car than is usual these days, there is no sense of claustrophobia due to the large glass area of the Sundym glass; visibility is excellent all round with no real blind spots thanks to the (dipping) interior mirror and the door-mounted wing mirrors.

On high beam the headlights are very good, powerful, and with a wide if fuzz-edged beam. Dip, on the other hand, seemed to have the power of an undersized glow worm, and was inadequate for anything over about 30mph. The reversing light is standard and parking simplified by the front wings which are proud of the bonnet line; the rear bumper is only a few inches beyond the opening rear tailgate.

Instruments     (2 of 5 stars)

One supposes that in the interests of metrication the instrument dial diameters were reduced from 4in. (about 100mm) to mean little 80mm ones, a retrograde step. Otherwise all is as before: unexceptional. For the price - and considering some of the delightful layouts on other BLMC models - the whole of the dashboard, and come to that, the whole of the interior, could have been updated and modernized. To its credit, there is no reflection and the lighting could be controlled by a knob on the dashboard. Full brightness is still not very powerful.

Heating and Ventilation     (2 of 5 stars)

We had no opportunity to test the heater during the time we had the car since it coincided with fairly warm weather. Which is probably just as well since the heater controls can only be described as antediluvian. The top rotary knob which controls the temperatures was stiff and reluctant to turn off: the lower one did not seem to serve any useful purpose at all, since there was very little difference between the "interior" and "defrost" (and that word indicates just how old the controls are - from the Austin A60 in fact) settings. The fan was reasonably quiet.

The two center vents provided a reasonable flow so long as the rear three-quarter windows are open, and so long as the car is in motion. There is no fan boost. They also, if pointed downwards, scattered cigarette ash throughout the interior if one had the temerity to use the ashtray. Not one of the better points of the car.



Noise     (2 of 5 stars)

Perhaps the worst feature of the BV8 is wind noise. At 60mph it is noisy, at 70 it is very noisy; and above this speed it makes fast runs a misery, and a radio a mockery, hence only two stars. Almost every pane of glass except windscreen and rear window contributes to the general level. This is all the more disappointing since the engine and transmission are remarkably quiet even at high revs, when a muted induction roar is the most prominent sound. This aspect alone rather spoils the car as a trans-Continental express for which it would be otherwise well suited. At lesser speeds, especially around town, we'd upgrade the car to four stars.

Perhaps out model was still prototypical since it suffered from various other noises as well. Accelerating in first, and gently at that, produced a zing in the steering column which seemed to be produced by the engine twisting under torque and allowing the exhaust pipe to touch the column. The electric fans, alleged to be quieter and smoother than the belt-driven type, in fact rumbled loudly when operating and in addition shook the car! There was also a temporary squeak from the clutch release bearing which, however, disappeared after a while.

Fittings and Finish     (3 of 5 stars)

Aesthetically the interior is a strange mixture of the old and the new, with cloth covered seats, a moulded console, and "everything fake" modern steering wheel and air vents contrasting with the haphazard scattering of the controls, the black crinkle finish of the dashboard (complete with a pointless stray chrome strip across the glovebox) and the generally late-Fifties dash layout.

The tunnel covering is reasonably plush-looking carpet with rubber floor mats, and the whole of the luggage space is carpeted well if a little loosely. The rear "seat" is cloth covered to match the front seats, in this case in an attractive shade of dark blue. Fit and finish in general was quite good.

The list of standard equipment is fairly comprehensive, and included Sundym glass, matt black arms for the two-speed wipers, a heated rear window, a cigar lighter, a dipping rear view mirror and overdrive, to name only some.

Motor Road Test No. 43/73 MGB GT V8

In Service

The bonnet opening knob is buried above the passenger's shin; once open the accessibility is surprisingly good, with only the plugs hidden within the convolutions of the exhaust pipe. Removal of the air cleaners, though, should make them easier to reach. The amount of space around the engine is also quite surprising - no shoe horn job this, even if one or two clearances are a bit tight. The quality of the engine is pure Rover, as is to be expected, which does rather show up the MG (ie Austin/Morris) bits that surround it.

The spare wheel lives in a depression under the carpet in the back, while the pathetic tool kit (jack and wheelbrace) are housed in what appears to be a tatty bit of old carpet. Battery topping up is a real chore, the two six volt batteries sitting under the back seat, which has to be removed, along with an additional panel, before they are accessible.

Underbody protection consists of the basic electrophoretically applied paint and a bitumastic compound in the wheel arches and in other strategic areas. The well deserved reputation MGs have for longevity would seem to make this model a suitable candidate for one of the proprietary rust prevention systems.

Motor Road Test No. 43/73 MGB GT V8

Comparisons

Capacity Price Max   0-60 30-50 Overall Touring Length  Width   Weight Boot
cc£mphsecsecmpgmpgft inft incwtcu ft
MGB GT V8 35282309125.37.76.219.825.712' 9.0"5' 0.0"21.26.6
Ford Capri 3000 GT29941651119.58.67.719.424.714' 1.0"5' 5.0"21.17.8
Lotus Elan +2S (4spd)15582708121.07.78.521.026.114' 0.5"5' 3.5"16.84.2
Lotus Elan Sprint15582436121.06.77.822.230.512' 1.25"4' 8.0"13.63.1
Datsun 240Z23922535125.18.39.025.731.213' 7.0"5' 4.0"20.311.4
Morgan Plus 835281966125.06.74.820.322.212' 9.0"4' 9.75"17.24.4
Reliant Scimitar GTE 29942480113.210.27.919.227.914' 2.25"5' 5.0"22.7-
Triumph Stag29972533116.59.77.620.925.514' 6.75"5' 3.5"25.93.6
MGB GT17981547107.611.68.827.433.012' 9.0"5' 0.0"20.16.6

When Motor originally published this article, they illustrated it with fourteen black-and-white photos of a light-colored MGB GT V8 bearing registration plate "HOH 933L". We've included ten of those original photos here, plus two newer color photos of Ken Smith's damask red MGB GT V8 and one photo of Dave Wellings' immaculate engine bay.


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