Conceived by a privateer, the MGB GT V8 is an unsung ’70s hero
The venerable MGB GT was a ground-breaking car in many respects and, despite selling in vast numbers within the UK, never quite drew the attention or merit the model actually deserved. A prime example of that is found here, in the rare B GT V8 version.
British Leyland didn’t exactly cover itself in glory during its peak, but just occasionally something special did roll out of the Longbridge factory, and the Rover V8-engined GT was one of those highlights.
The addition of American muscle to British designs became a growing trend in the 1970s, when Rover really got into its stride with producing the V8 unit. It started life as a Buick engine, which was licensed to Rover in the mid 1960s and eventually became a 3.5-litre unit with an all-aluminium block and head.
The advantage of the alloy engine was its lightweight construction against the 1.8-litre iron powerplants used in the production of the regular B GT, and it came along at just the right time for the model.
The B GT featured great styling for its time, with a wraparound ‘greenhouse’ window design by Pininfarina matched to sloping, hatchback-style coachwork, giving the whole car the function of a saloon but with the image of a coupé. The long bonnet meant there was plenty of room to accommodate a larger engine. MG tried using a six-cylinder unit, but the weighty block made the resulting MGC nose-heavy and the car was killed off. Independent tuner and racer Ken Costello had appeased customers’ calls for more power by shoehorning the mighty V8 into the chassis, so BL bought one from him to help them figure out their own version.
The result was the B GT V8, a car capable of speeds of around 130mph – a stat that approached the mighty Jaguar E-type, but came at a fraction of the price. It should have been a game-changer for MG and the B GT model, but in true BL fashion, the company didn’t quite know what it had hit on.
During a time of intense rationalisation brought about by financial pressures and the firm’s constant expansion, production of the B GT V8 was ceased after just three years. MG produced over 125,000 B GTs between 1965-80, but only 2550 V8 versions were created, with around 600 still registered in the UK today, including Beech Hill’s example.
Production was fairly evenly split between cars with rubber bumpers and those with the more costly, and substantially smarter, chrome versions. You get the feeling the odds were against the B GT V8 given the fact that it was launched right before the Arab-Israeli War caused oil exporters OPEC to bring in a fuel embargo, prompting huge queues at the pumps for the UK’s first fuel crisis – the perfect time to launch a sports car with a thirsty American V8 that aspired to mpg barely into the mid 20s.
Regardless, the model’s short lifecycle and increasing rarity make it an unsung gem.
Speaking to Alex Cother
MG specialist Beech Hill Garage in Reading has a B GT V8 ready to go
The MGB GT V8 really is a special piece of kit and, as you’d expect, the engine is the star of the show. The V8 is the specification the GT really should always have been. When we get people in who are interested in getting into the MG model family, we’re always keen to understand their expectation, and if it’s performance with the hope of having a car that can cruise comfortably for miles to events then the GT V8 is the model they really need to be looking at. It’s a very sure-footed car to drive, and doesn’t feel heavy. Then you have that wonderful V8 burble when you put your foot down. The increasing rarity of model has also definitely helped its value.