Britain's Motoring News (weekly newspaper)

At last - V8 power for the MGB

THE idea of dropping a V8 engine into the MGB has been under active consideration ever since the Rover 3500 was introduced in 1968, and the project was given the go-ahead two years ago spurred on, perhaps by the praise bestowed on Ken Costello's limited production version. This week on the 50th anniversary of original MG produced by Cecil Kimber, British Leyland announces the MGB powered by their 3.5-litre alloy block V8.

as published in British V8 Magazine, Volume XVI Issue 1, May 2008

Re-printed unedited by exclusive written permission of "Motoring News".
This article originally appeared in their issue for the week ending August 16, 1973.

Externally the new model is almost identical to any other Grand Touring version of the "B", distinguished only by the special Dunlop alloy/steel wheels and the V8 badges around the bodywork. There is still only one exhaust tailpipe, so from the front and rear views there is nothing but a tiny chrome badge to give the game away. Perhaps a lot of people will be disappointed that the eight-year-old GT design couldn't have been given a facelift, but it remains one of the most attractive compact sports cars on the market and the V8 version sells for the not unreasonable price of $2293.96 plus Kangol automatic front seat belts ($15.85), delivery, number plates, etc.

Even ten years ago the MGB (with the 1.8-litre engine which continues in production) did not have enough power for everyone's needs, so we can say that better late than never the B-V8 has been given a tremendous power boost which should suit most customers, and becomes an extremely practical and desirable road car. Mechanical changes include heavier road springs at the back, thicker brake discs, and a repositioned steering rack. The end product is a model which will accelerate from rest to 70 mph in 12 seconds, cruise at 110 mph all day in overdrive with 4000 rpm showing on the rev-counter, and still return better than 20 mpg (on 3-star petrol) in normal conditions.

Vee-eight powered sports cars have always had special appeal for enthusiasts, and models like the Daimler SP250 and the AC Cobra are still fondly remembered... even the Sunbeam Tiger raises some good memories, through chassis development was rather lacking. The MGB GT (fixed-head) has none of the torsional stiffness problems that other British V8 powered sports cars have suffered from, and the marriage of this chassis and the Rover engine seems so natural that it's hard to understand why it wasn't done before. The all-alloy V8, nee Buick, is in fact 40 pounds lighter than the B-Series 1.8 litre four-cylinder, and produces 137 bhp DIN with the compression ratio lowered to 8.25:1. By the time the engine is installed it weighs a few pounds more than the B-Series due to the fitting of an alternator and all the exhaust emission equipment needed to suit the American market. The front/rear weight ratio is 49.4/50.6% compared with 47.8/52.2% for the four-cylinder.

The extra weight at the front however is compensated for by moving the steering rack forward one inch, reducing the Ackerman angle and making the steering more direct. It certainly doesn't feel heavy, and the V8 model has no drastic understeer tendencies - it is, in fact, everything that the ill begotten MGC was not!

Contributing to the extra weight at the front are thicker 10.7in. diameter disc brakes, half an inch in width, also having new Lockheed calipers and larger pads to increase the swept area: a servo is installed as standard equipment.

The V8 engine slipped into the available space without too much shoe-horning, and accessibility is very good all around. Helping here is a pair of electric cooling fans in front of the larger radiator, reducing the overall length of the engine. The principle modification in the engine bay was to the front cross-member, but what immediately strikes the eye is the clever induction manifolding system. So as to avoid having a big power bulge in the bonnet to cater for the twin SU HIF6 carburetters, the Abingdon engineers devised a new dual manifold which allows the carbs to sit at the back of the engine, close to the bulkhead. It is said that the new manifold reduces temperature scatter from one cylinder to another compared with the penthouse manifold, which should make the engine smoother running. Hydraulic valve lifters feature on this V8, which limits engine speed to 5200 rpm and inhibits all but the most persistent engine tuners, although the emission equipment on the engine and low compression ratio account for something like 25 horsepower.

Detail modifications have been carried out to the all-synchromesh C-type gearbox and rear axle. The gearbox casing has been redesigned to accept the larger Borg-and-Beck diaphragm spring 9.5 inch clutch, which has a ballrace withdrawal instead of the more usual carbon thrust bush. The DIN power figure is increased by almost 50% compared with the MGB and the torque is practically doubled at 193lb.ft., so the intermediate gear ratios have been raised to match the power and to reduce the torque load into the box. The final drive ratio is 3.07:1, compared with 3.91:1 for the 1.8-litre version, giving very long-legged cruising capability indeed.

Suspension changes are fairly mild, entailing the usual upper and lower wishbones with heavier coil springs, though with the same lever-type dampers and an anti-roll bar. At the rear, heavier semi-elliptic springs are fitted, again with unchanged lever-type dampers, to cope with all the extra torque, and it must he said that this has a significantly detrimental effect on the low-speed ride. Also interesting are the Dunlop 5J x 14 wheels, which have alloy centres rivetted to chromed steel rims. These are very handsome, having the MG octagon motif on the hubs, and are said to be the strongest wheels ever fitted on an Abingdon product. The test batch withstood three million reversals, and one wheel was still intact after six million reversals on a test rig.

Apart from the AC Delco alternator, other equipment included in the MG's standard, basic equipment includes Laycock LH overdrive on top gear only, the Dunlop wheels, a brake servo, a door mirror, and tinted glass all round; the windscreen is laminated, and the rear window electrically heated. An oil cooler is another item of standard equipment.

MGB GT V8, registration plate YWM 120M

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The MGB GT concept does not need much introduction, but it is some time since the writer has driven one and time has done much for the car. The cloth trimmed seats are infinitely more comfortable and offer much better location than the skimpy leather seats did, and the backrests are fully adjustable. The steering wheel is still rather large, but the 15.5 inch diameter wheel is now vinyl bound and pleasant to handle. The Smiths instruments are slightly smaller than before (3.13 in. diameter instead of 4 in. diameter) to make space for the collapsible steering column, which is now mandatory for cars sold in America.

There is ample headroom and legroom is more than adequate for the driver and passenger although, with the seats well back (as the driver's needs to be, to get a decent arm's length approach to the steering wheel), there is no space whatsoever for legs dangling from the vestigial back seat. A small child could sit or lie across the back seat, but that's all. On the other hand with the back seat folded flat, there is a generous area for luggage and the tailgate door makes access very easy.

Primarily this is a car for one or two people, who can make themselves comfortable and settle down to enjoy long distance motoring. The bulkhead mounted pedals are in line with the drivers lap, which gives a direct line of attack, and are well laid out for heel-and-toe downward gearchanging. There is also plenty of foot-room not always found in sports cars.

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Full choke is needed to make the engine start readily, even in summertime, and the engine maintains the infuriating BMC trait of needing plenty of choke to keep going while it is warming up; that means that the engine is kept revving artificially at the lights. That's about our only criticism, for the smooth, quiet V8 (it has a well baffled two-into-one exhaust system) relies on its tremendous torque to send the car surging forward in response to the throttle. Give or take a mile or two per hour, the maxima in the gears are 40, 60 and 100 mph, with 122 mph available in fourth and approximately 126 mph in overdrive. These speeds are achieved with the minimum of fuss and effort, yet with the appropriate amount of satisfaction.

Naturally the car is extremely tractable and it will pull from below 20 mph in fourth gear without snatching. The clutch is not particularly heavy, so the 'B' is ideal as ever in traffic (perhaps better, with the high first gear which reduces gear-changing in rush hour conditions), and a real goer on the open road,

As we mentioned, the ride on poor surfaces is distinctively hard at low speed, and potholes can really jar one's teeth. This isn't so noticeable at higher speeds, though a big bump can put the car slightly off line, and on the credit side there is hardly any body roll to make life more difficult.

Steering is taut, with plenty of feel, at low speed and this no doubt is why the MG development engineers keep going with the now unfashionably large steering wheel. At higher speeds, and particularly when the car is being driven hard, a driver might wish for a smaller diameter rim.

On the road, understeer is the predominant steering characteristic though it's not pronounced, and can be neutralized by lifting the throttle. Generally it feels a nicely mannered, well balanced car. Opinions among our staff divided sharply when we pushed the car harder at our Chobham test track, for the understeer/oversteer characteristics became very marked on the handling course and it would take a fairly experienced driver with his wits about him not to get into trouble.

The understeer is very pronounced with power on, but releasing the throttle (perhaps to get round the corner at all) sends the tail out with a lurch and the inside front wheel paws the air several inches off the surface. An experienced driver will use this characteristic to advantage, but we thought that an 18-year-old millionaire pop idol could easily make headlines if he got caught out on a slippery road.

The B-V8 made an interesting comparison with the Dolomite Sprint and the Ford Escort RS2000, which we were enjoying on the same occasion. The Dolomite understeered dramatically and couldn't touch the B-V8 on our favourite snake course, while the Escort had handling clearly superior to either of them but lacked the power of the MG. By the time we had finished, though, we thought that the British motor industry has plenty to offer keen drivers these days, so why devalue the pound any more by buying foreign?

Straight line acceleration is clearly impressive. Such is the traction provided by the Goodyear 175HR14 tyres that our first start with the fifth wheel attached merely slipped the clutch and a slow time was recorded, but using 4000 rpm the rear wheels break away cleanly and the tail end of the car snakes strongly on dry tarmac. The gearchange is rather chunky and notchy, though the movements are swift and short, and the small gap between first and second ratios is rather noticeable. Third is a long, strong gear though, taking the car up to 98 mph. and we just managed to record a zero to 100 mph time, 26.9 seconds. More impressive is the 19.8s time to 90 mph, performance clearly dropping away when fourth is selected.

The engine is very lightly stressed and is smooth right through its range. At 100 mph the wind noise begins to build up, but the mechanical noise is unobtrusive and 110 mph is an honest, untiring cruising speed. Figures released by BL show that it averages 20 mpg at a steady 100 mph in overdrive, and our creditable overall fuel consumption of 22.8 mpg means that the 12-gallon petrol tank will allow a cruising range of at least 250 miles.

The brakes felt rather heavy, but progressive, and the pedal still felt firm after several rapid laps of the handling course. Lucas sealed beam headlamps are specified, with a 75 watt main beam and 50 watt dipped beam, and with these we were quite happy to cruise at 100 mph at night.

Controls are quite a lot better than they used to be, the main functions performed by two stalks from the steering column: the right-hand lever works the indicators and dips and flashes the lights, the left-hand lever controlling the wipers, washers, and although obscurely marked, also controls the overdrive which needs just a little practice to disengage without a transmission bump. The ignition key has one of these new-fangled button overrides, which means that you can't get the key out without pressing the adjacent pimple. We expect there's a good reason for it, but it escapes us.

Heating and ventilation is much better than it used to be, though not so efficient or controllable as Ford's, and the comprehensive equipment sheet includes things like a dipping mirror, a centre armrest with a tiny cubbyhole underneath, a maps pocket by the passenger's legs, twin reversing lights, and rubber capped overriders.

The underside of the bonnet is felt soundproofed, and the engine is very neatly installed with excellent accessibility to the coil, distributor, alternator, carburetters, and dipstick. A couple of the plugs would be awkward to reach without a universally jointed socket spanner. To finish the job off, the rocker covers are nicely made in ribbed alloy with the MG octagon displayed prominently; the ancestry of the engine may be far removed from Abingdon, but there's no need to remind everyone on MG's 50th birthday!

We were impressed with this MG, no doubt about it. There are cars, even saloons with 3-litre engines, which accelerate faster and ride better, but they're not sports cars with those indefinable "fun" characteristics, and apart form the excellent Ford Capri 3000 they cost two or three times the price. Despite a hard ride, despite the fixed roof, despite its two seat only capabilities, despite its clumsy and tongue-twisting name (why not the Magna?), the MGB GT V8 is going to make a lot of friends. To finish with the good news, production was built up to 50 cars a week a couple of months ago, and the initial run is reserved for the home market. Please form an orderly queue.



Engine: All alloy 90-deg V8, front mounted, driving the rear wheels. Water cooled, with twin thermo fans. Central camshaft, pushrods and rockers. Bore and stroke. 88.9 x 72.1 mm. Capacity 3528 cc. Maximum power 137 bhp DIN at 5000 rpm, maximum torque 193 lb/ft DIN at 2900 rpm. Compression ratio 8.25:1 (3-star fuel). Carburation by twin SU HIF6 sidedraught carburetters.

Transmission: BL C-type 4-speed all-synchromesh gearbox, Borg and Beck 9.5in dia diaphragm spring clutch, hypoid bevel differential with 3.07:1 ratio. Laycock LH overdrive on top gear only. Gearbox ratios: 1st. 3.138; 2nd, 1.974; 3rd, 1.259; 4th. 1.0; overdrive 0.82: Reverse, 2.819:1.

Mechanical: Suspension front, independent with upper and lower wishbones, coil springs, lever dampers and anti-roll bar; rear, live axle with semi -elliptic leaf springs, lever dampers. Brakes, Lockheed hydraulic with l0.7in dia discs front, lOin drums rear, with servo. Steering, rack and pinion 16.417 ratio, 2.93 turns on 15.5 in dia steering wheel lock to lock.

Dimensions: Overall length 12 ft 10.75 in; width 4ft 11.9 in; height 4 ft 1.9 in; front track 4 ft 1in; rear track 4ft 1.25 in; turning circle 33 ft 7in (avg); fuel capacity 12 gallons; kerb weight 21.6 cwt.


    mph --- secs
    0-30 --- 2.8
    0-40 --- 4.0
    0-50 --- 6.5
    0-60 --- 8.6
    0-70 --- 12.1
    0-80 --- 15.9
    0-90 --- 19.8
    0-100 --- 26.9

Speeds in gears:
    1st --- 39 mph at 5200 rpm
    2nd --- 60 mph
    3rd --- 98 mph
    4th --- 122 mph
    o/d --- 126 mph
Standing start 1/4-mile: 16.4s.

Speedometer accurate at 70 mph.                                
Fuel consumption: 22.8 mpg.

Price: 2293.96 plus seatbelts, etc.

When Motoring News originally published this article, they illustrated it with three black-and-white photos. Our copies weren't suitable for reproduction, so we've substituted a photo from Ken Smith's personal collection. Here, for the sake of completeness, are the original captions:

Photo 1: "The MGB V8 goes through its paces at Chobham, pursued by the Dolomite Sprint which we report on next week. These two fine British Leyland cars display opposite extremes in handling. The Dolomite understeering strongly and the MGB lifting a wheel on trailing throttle."

Photo 2: "The V8 engine goes neatly into the MGB's bay with small alteration to the front cross-member and the wheel arches. The carburetters are located well back, on a new induction manifold. An oil cooler is located in front of the two "pusher" electric fans."

Photo 3: "NEW-LOOK interior for the 'B' includes a revised fascia with a centre console, a gaitered gear lever and cloth seat upholstery."

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