The cars : MG RV8 development story

Work on a new MG sports car was a running theme within Austin Rover and the Rover from 1984 onwards. The success of the MG “M” models had kept the flame of the Octagon alive, but what people wanted – and what market researchers repeatedly told the company was that the public wanted – was a roadster. As can be seen in the Sportscar Projects gallery section of this site, the ill-fated AR6 formed the basis of a proposed new MG Midget. When this project failed, work began on the F16 (which evolved eventually into the MGF), a latter-day MGB. On the back of this ongoing work, the company also investigated a larger, 3.9-litre front-engined roadster, denoted the DR2/PR5.

The problem for the company was that although there was a definite demand for a new MG, it remained lower down on the company’s list of priorities than their mid-range family cars, which were, frankly, proving to be a disappointment in the marketplace. Not only that, but the company’s development resources were so limited that they could not afford to take the risk of backing a new convertible.

However, following the sale of Rover to BAe in 1988 – and the resulting calmer financial climate that ensued – management’s attitudes towards the new MG began to soften.

The launch of the Mazda Miata (MX5) in 1989 proved to be the decisive event that upped Rover’s commitment to producing and launching a new car – and by 1990, the company had committed their resources to the PR3 project that would eventually be launched as the MGF. Management, however, were caught with a problem: even though PR3 was an evolution of ongoing projects, its development cycle would still amount to at least four years’ worth of hard work (scheduled for a 1994/1995 introduction) – and the public were clamouring for a new MG rather sooner than that.

That is where Project Adder came into the equation:

Project Adder came about in the closing months of 1989, when following the successful re-introducion of the MGB bodyshell by British Motor Heritage, the idea was floated of building new cars using this shell as a starting point. Into 1990 and the idea rapidly began to gain momentum once the management had given the project its blessing, following further positive market research. The formation of Rover Special Products in early 1990 facilitated the “new” MGB’s development without compromising concurrent Rover saloon car projects.

The brief was clear – build a new MGB using as many in-house parts as possible and keeping within a budget of just £5 million.

The interior of the RV8 was somewhat removed from that of the original MGB - luxury had replaced purposefulness, and where once resided crackle black on the dashboard there was deep, deep wood...
The interior of the RV8 was somewhat removed from that of the original MGB – luxury had replaced purposefulness, and where once resided crackle black on the dashboard there was deep, deep wood…

As a result, the Heritage shell needed no structural modification – and the choice of engine was clear: after the DR2/PR5 concept was dropped in favour of PR3, it was decided sensibly that a similarly-powered MGB would use its engine (the 3.9-litre version of the “Rover” V8 engine) and occupy the DR2/PR5’s intended market slot.

And so it was: the Heritage shell was used, but new front and rear wings were fashioned a) to accomodate wider 1990s rubber and b) to give the car an appealing, curvaceous, wasp-waisted style. The new panels were produced by Abbey Panels and matched the overall high level of quality attained with the Heritage shell.

The new car was named the RV8 to denote its Rover engine – the “B” was dropped in order to appeal to new-age fans as well as the traditional MGB enthusiast.

MG RV8 at launch; it proved something of a hit in Japan.
MG RV8 at launch; it proved something of a hit in Japan.

Launched at the British Motor Show in 1992, the MG RV8 marked the welcome return of the MG roadster.

It did not prove to be the sales success in the UK that the company had hoped for, however. The barrier to sales in the UK could be put down to two factors: 1) its high purchase price, coupled with the fact that 1992 marked a recession in the UK and 2) TVR – the company produced cheaper, faster, more focused sports cars powered by the same engine.

Autocar‘s test verdict summed up the feelings that most people had about the RV8:

“The bottom line is, and Rover admits it, that the RV8 exists as much to be a status symbol as a car in which to enjoy driving. To us the RV8 is an anachronism, albeit a strangely likeable one. It is nowhere near as good a new car as a TVR or an old one as a Morgan but on the right day, in the right conditions, it is easy to enjoy and even fun to drive in an agricultural, vintage manner. If, however, you asked us to part with £25,440 for the pleasure of its company, we would regrettably have to decline.”

Be that as it may, MG was back – and the wait for the MGF would now prove to be a little less painful…

Autocar may have given the RV8 a lukewarm road test verdict, but no-one could say that the RV8 was not going to win any beauty contests. From any angle, it looked just about stunning.
Autocar may have given the RV8 a lukewarm road test verdict, but no-one could say that the RV8 was not going to win any beauty contests. From any angle, it looked just about stunning.
Keith Adams


  1. Well one month into RV8 ownership and I am smitten. Awesome power and all the retro feel with only 25% of the drawbacks.

  2. Was one of the lucky few to have this as my Company Car for a period in the summer of 1994 in the run up to MGF launch. The car was in all honesty a bit of a dinosaur but was massive fun to drive and could be slid around like a modern drift car. I loved it to death.
    I would absolutely love to have one of these in my garage today.
    Rover Cars must have been furious when “my car” went back to them with bald rear tyres after less than 3,000 miles.

  3. The Japanese loved them. Here in NZ we have a good number of grey import RV8s, all ex-Japan. Would love one myself, but they’ve always sold at well above my budget, typically NZ$35K-40K.

  4. This car had so much potential to become a visual dog’s breakfast, yet with subtle use of plastic mouldings it managed to look like it was supposed to look- a modernised dinosaur. It carried off the look with aplomb, and I want one…

  5. I own one of these cars & it’s just wonderful. Effortless power with a fantastic V8 rumble, up rated Spax shockers are an absolute must buy, absolutely transforms the handling. Much rarer than a Morgan or TVR & gets admiring glances everywhere I go, wouldn’t swap it for anything.

    • The ones fr sale in Australia are all fitted with the brake light on the boot lid. Is this an Aus thing or are they all Japanese imports? Thinking of acquiring one as it fits both the older style whilst still having suitable power. Interesting to hear the comment re upgrading shocks. Looking forward to one in the garage over the coming year!

      • Oz thing. There were a whole bunch of requirements for cars under 15 years of age that came into Australia after… 2004 I think. Other modifications the RV8 had to have included side intrusion bars in the doors, a six digit odometer, labeling in English… somewhere there’s a website with all the details, maybe the Australian club’s.

  6. The only thing that detracts from the looks of the RV8 is the lack of a Coupe variant, cannot help but wonder how a limited-run RV8-styled MG Midget would have translated with either a 1.3 A-Series Turbo or 1.4 K-Series.

  7. Yes it looks stunning, rare… I’ve only ever seen one or two for real (in BRG – nice colour). Shame it was so expensive back then. A real collectors item now?

  8. How many were actually made ? I’ve only ever seen a couple on the road.

    When they first appeared I didn’t like their appearance; they looked like a normal MGB with a cheap after-market plastic body kit added. But these days they don’t look too bad.

    • A smidge short of 2000 were made, KC. I’m trying to recall the actual number – 1983 keeps coming to the fore.

  9. A £5 Million budget???? Are you sure you haven’t slipped a digit? That’s incredible. The publicity alone would generate a 10 fold return on that investment.

    OK it was overpriced in the UK against TVR, but they have certainly held their value. It still looks superb to my eyes. Rover should have done a coupe as well and maybe even a spridget. Pity the MGF was so disappointing

  10. Production was limited to 2500 cars solely because of the number of steering columns available. GM Saginaw supplied the column and produced that number literally as the Hendon Plant was closed down.
    Automotive Development Centre, Luton was given the contract to design, develop and produce the model which was the car Rover produced.

  11. I’ve always been slightly dubious of the marketing aspect of this

    Introducing a fairly retro and crude, but V8 powered car in preparation for launching a mid engined 4 cylinder sports car

    To me the RV8 makes more sense if they were going to replace it with the V8 powered PR5

      • But not that much is you’re planning to relaunch MG properly with a light, mid engined car.

        From a driver’s experience, the MGF was much more like a modern 90s hatchback than a trad 60s sports car. After all the type of people buying an MGF were unlikely to be interested in a TVR.

  12. An oddity with these MGRV8 cars (that emerged in a discussion I had with Richard Truett this week) was that for the Japanese market (but it seems nowhere else) they were badged “ROVER” in chrome letters on the sills, just aft of the front wheel – on the driver’s side only. There’s a story behind that I’m sure. As a lot of Japanese market cars have been exported elsewhere, it’s quite a common sight.

  13. I own Adder Project DEV 02. It was built by British Motor Heritage and passed to Rover Special Products as one of 4 development cars. It was a secret car with no badges at all but easily recognisable as a derivative from an MGB. It is still in lovely condition and is taxed and moted with only 36k miles on the clock. It is up for sale but only to an enthusiast.

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