While the rest of the world was following the fortunes of the Grand Prix stars at Monaco, and others were watching a Dutchman win at the Brickyard in middle America, and yet others were enjoying the VSCC meeting at Donington, over 6000 MGs from around the world had gathered at Silverstone to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the MG Car Club.
Spread over the last weekend in May, the International Weekend was a mixture of racing and concours, socialising and bargaining at the many MG parts stands. While the Sunday was more family orientated, the Saturday was devoted to the more serious business of racing.
While the meeting was mandatory for all lovers of the marque, there was an ulterior motive for MOTOR SPORT’s presence inasmuch that Robert Shaerf of LV Engineering had enticed us there with the mouth-watering prospect of driving his V8-engined MGB GT in one of the events.
It was in the October 1989 issue that we first reported on this car. For readers unacquainted with the story, this was a standard MGB GT V8 which Shaerf had bought to go club racing. Having a business in West Hampstead which specialises in MGs, it was a natural choice, but less so the V8. The reason for that boiled down to romance over everything else for while the 3 1/2-litre unit has plenty of grunt, it is not the ideal choice as a racer due to its questionnable brakes, on the track, and its handling.
The aspect that made this car stand out from the rest of the field was the fact that with the backing of British Benzole, it was running on unleaded fuel. This is a move much lauded by Will Corry, chairman of the MG Car Club, who is himself converting his TF to run on unleaded.
During 1989 Robert Shaerf had clocked up 1400 miles on the road to and from the circuits and a further 220 miles on the track while practising and racing. While there had been no apparent power loss running on this fuel, there were a few questions which needed answering by the end of the season particularly as there was a divergence of opinion between Austin Rover, who were adamant that the engine would not take it, while informed opinion from the Leyland Daf truck division gave contrary advice.
When both the gearbox and engine were stripped after the final race, they were found to be in very good condition especially taking into account that both had gone through three seasons of racing. The crankshaft only needed to be polished and the bores honed. The camshafts, followers, timing gear and oil pumps showed no signs of wear but were all replaced as a matter of course. The pistons, with the exception of one which was found to be a little tight, were in perfect condition showing no effects from the unleaded fuel and were retained for the 1990 season. A new set of rings, however, were fitted.
If there were going to be any problems arising from running on unleaded petrol, it would show in the cylinder heads. When they were dismantled they were also found to be in very good condition. The only thing discovered was a slight carbonising of the exhaust valve seats which would have occurred even with leaded fuel.
The heads, in fact, were replaced by secondhand castings (the budget doesn’t quite run to new castings), but the regulations require pre-’85 heads anyway. They were sent to tuning specialist Peter Burgess in Derbyshire and were built to championship specification within the limitations of gas flowing, opening up the ports and polishing not being allowed.
The rebuild with the new heads and camshafts, though, has seen an increase in power by around 20 per cent so that it now has a recorded figure of 190 bhp at the wheels. This enables the 19 1/2 cwt car to reach an indicated 125 mph.
After nine years, the V8s have been allowed a concession by the Wilky championship regulations which is particularly pertinent as it pertains to the Achilles Heel of the car — the braking system. Four cooling slots per side per disc are now allowed enabling the pads to remain cleaner as well as giving them a longer life.
In a packed programme of 11 races which saw a variety models ranging from K1s, NAs and PAs to the monstrous Group B 6R4s, the British Benzole bedecked V8 was entered in the first event.
Re-acquaintance with the car commenced in the first practice session. As it accelerated down the pit road, the smell, the feel and the noise really started the adrenalin pumping. The thoughts that this was nothing more than a club racer which had been partially stripped down and which had a rollbar installed were replaced by the fantasy that this was an altogether meaner machine.
This is not to decry the V8, though, for a quick glance at the speedometer on one occasion told the story that 120 mph was being easily attained and that there were few other cars on the circuit which could keep pace in that session.
Cornering was more tricky. Thoughts were kept in mind about the braking problems so the Yokohamas were never made to work hard at all. It was more a question of tiptoeing around the corner and then pushing hard on the accelerator and letting the engine do all the work. In fact, if one wanted to be lazy, changing gear was almost unnecessary. Approach the corner, brake, steer through it and then let the V8 burble its way up the rev range. That, however, was the easy way, but with the gearchange on Shaerf’s car being particularly slick, it was as much fun to play with the gear lever to the extent that Becketts was taken in second.
Although 20 minutes was too short a time to get to know it properly, it was all there was before the chequered flag came out to end the session. At least there were not any incidents unlike other sessions which saw cars flying off the circuit in all manner of accidents, fortunately none too seriously.
As the time for the race drew near, Robert Shaerf checked the car, checked the pressure in the tyres and sent me on my way.
Dropping the clutch at 4500 rpm, the V8 gave chase to a BMW and an Aston Martin DB4. Thanks to the light weight and the grip of the tyres of the V8, the Bavarian machine was only able to draw away slightly as we went into Copse Corner for the first time. The DB4, though, was quickly disappearing into the distance.
After one lap, the German car began to ease away and slipped out of reach, but the MG ran faultlessly, running cleanly to the red line at 6000 rpm while the brakes remained sharp. After Copse Corner, Maggotts Curve could be taken in fourth at full throttle although a nasty bump just past the apex would unsettle the car. It was then down to third and then to second for Becketts before the long haul down Club Straight reaching maximum revs in fourth just before the bridge, snatching overdrive and then heavily braking for the new, deceptively sharp Brooklands Bend and the entry into the right, left, right complex, all taken in third with a dab of left foot braking to set the car up correctly on the approach to the right handers. It was then up to maximum revs in third, fourth snatched on the flat out Woodcote Corner and tugging at the steering wheel to stop it running wide on the exit as we shot past the grandstands. All the while the car was perfectly mannered displaying only a slight tendency to understeer while the brakes remained trustworthy for the duration of the event.
The third place finish, behind the Aston Martin and the BMW, was more a tribute to the car than to the driver, the machine being a forgiving beast, its handling far better than remembered. The best lap of 1 min 30.53 secs was hardly quick enough to set the world alight, but at least we knew we were in the ball park when the only other V8, the fourth placed car, recorded a best lap of 1 min 30.34 secs.
While the major league players were showing their worth in other parts of the world, this little MGB was helping to extend the frontiers of knowledge just a little in a low key, but effective, operation.
MOTOR SPORT would like to extend its thanks to Robert Shaerf of LV Engineering and Terry Burton of British Benzole for making this track test possible.