What do the following all have in common: Land Rover, Rover, Morgan, Triumph, and TVR?
These manufacturers all had at least one model powered by an English engine known as the Rover V8.
Like General Motor’s own LS-series V8s, it was also offered in different sizes and outputs, but this motor predates the LS V8 by two decades.
The thing is, it was thanks to the American auto industry that the Rover V8 came to be, as it was essentially a copy initially of a US engine – a Buick one, at that. As such, the heavy-lifting of the research and development was done by Americans, and this 8-cylinder motor was special. It was a small block, (215ci or 3.5-liters) constructed from aluminum, which made it light. In fact, it was the lightest V8 in the world for a time, weighing less than 320lbs.
After serving a relatively short time in its contemporary form, including in the Oldsmobile F-85 and Cutlass, it was ultimately scoped out by the British, specifically Rover, who wanted it for its lightweight and superior power-to-weight ratio which would be perfect for the famed British sports cars of the era.
From The United States To The British Isles
Prior to the Rover V8, the large engine of choice for the large sedans and executive-class cars would have been the 3-liter motor, this was the engine of choice for Rover’s cars which they named, imaginatively, the 3-Liter.
Squeezing out 115hp, then eventually up to the dizzying heights of 135hp in the 3rd generation, the engines were heavy and uneconomical, but these were different times.
Fast forward to the 3.5-liter Rover V8 and this was a real innovation, it would be both lighter and more powerful at the same time than the 3-liter straight sixes. This improved economy brought more torque, and of course better performance. The Rover V8 would feature in the P5B, B for Buick.
It wasn’t just for old sedans either – for more than 20 years, up until the start of the 90s, the Rover V8 appeared in the Morgan Plus 8 – the famously wooden-framed car with consistent retro styling. Another interesting car powered by the 3.5-liter engine would be the Triumph TR8, based on the TR7.
Archetypal British Drop-Tops
If you think of British sports cars, the default answer will probably point to the MGs, specifically the MGBs.
Within that class, there were different variants – notably, a 4-cylinder roadster, a 2.9-liter straight 6, and the Rover V8-powered MGB GT V8. While the MGC with its 2.9-liter engine made around 145hp, it was still heavy.
The MGB GT V8 was both a solution and a great marketing tool – along with its 140hp it was 40lbs lighter than even the 4-cylinder, so it had a sizeable increase in performance with no drop in handling ability.
Initially, the V8 idea had already been put into action by Ken Costello, a man with a private business converting MGs into roadsters with V8s.
MG took this idea and made it their own leaving Ken with no choice but to ultimately leave the lucrative business.
Anyway, the MGB GT V8 was a hit and the one to have now if you can find one, with prices reflecting this.
A Powerplant Under Many Hoods
The Rover V8 would enjoy time in the Land Rover Range Rover, in the Defender, and the Discovery, right up to around 2004, where it was by then getting long in the tooth.
Land Rover used the 3.5-liter and then up to a 4.2-liter eventually but there were other sizes in-between.
TVR used it in the Griffith and Chimaera. Remember, this engine was being improved throughout its life consistently and for the TVR cars, it was available in up to 5-liter capacity with 350hp.
Doesn’t sound like much today, but remember, this used to be the kind of output expected from a naturally aspirated pushrod V8, and these engines used to be less rev-hungry but with more freely available torque.
By the time the new millennium came around, the Rover V8 had featured in a plethora of cars and had also gained a reputation as a good engine for transplanting into project cars and hotrods and engine swaps.
Long In The Tooth
As technology had improved though, its limits were clear and other V8 options had now become available with better fuel economy, more power, improved reliability, and more advanced technology, like the BMW M62 engine.
At this point, between 1995 and 2005 (when the Rover V8 would cease to be manufactured) the BMW engine would already make at least 230hp from its overhead camshaft-driven 3.5-liter V8 and would make much more later, incorporating VVT (variable valve timing) from 1998. A high-performance version of this would appear in the E39 M5.
From 1976 to 1986 the SD1 was Rover’s top-end fastback car with a 3.5-liter V8 under the hood, as well as less intriguing machinery on other versions.
With around 190hp in the best version, it also won car of the year in 1977 and despite its shortcomings regarding chin-strokingly sub-standard build quality (something Rover and ultimately British Leyland would become arguably synonymous with), it was well-received by the press, the public, and the police force who liked its performance. There are a few Rover SD1 V8 police cars that remain and still look kind of cool, in a very retro way of course.
190hp, 220lbs feet of torque, and a 7-second 0-60mph time were available, as was a 135mph top-end.
The Rover V8 had its day, providing power in a lightweight package for both sports cars and more run-of-the-mill workhorses.
It wasn’t perfect, no engine is, but it survived a tumultuous history in the British car industry and provided inspiration and horsepower which enabled the creation of some greatest, most idiosyncratic machines of the time.
The MG B GT is a sporty british muscle car that can actually still be bought for sensible money.
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