Many petrolheads will tell the only way to have fun in the sun is from behind the wheel of a two-seater roadster, with sporty handling and a million miles of sky above your head.
But you need a decent soundtrack to complete the sensory experience. Which means you really need a roadster with a V8 engine. And by far the best V8 noise there has ever been is the snarling baritone of the legendary Rover V8.
Fortunately, Rover sold its V8 to anyone who asked. Indeed, it cropped up in at least 30 different vehicles during its 40-year lifespan. And many of those were two-seat roadsters.
Here Only Motors takes a look at the top five Rover V8-engined roadsters.
Launched in 1992, the Mantara used the 3.9-litre fuel injected version of the Rover V8, putting out around 200bhp – later models used the 4.6 iteration. The Mantara looked pretty much the same as the old Mantula it replaced, but finally got modern MacPherson strut front suspension.
Tipping the scales at not much more than a ton, performance was rather lively, though the handling wasn’t especially clever. Typically for a fibreglass-bodied, hand-built British sports car, build quality isn’t great. But it looks fantastic, so who cares?
The MGB was killed in 1980, but such was its popularity that eight years later British Motor Heritage – owned by MG parent Rover Group – started producing brand new bodyshells to restore old cars. In 1992 the MG RV8 was launched, using the Heritage MGB ‘shell with updated styling and interior, better suspension and a 3.9-litre Rover V8.
It was produced largely in response to demand from Japan – of 2,000 built, 1,579 went there, though many have since come back. It may have looked more genteel than sporty, but performance was quite vigorous. It didn’t quite have the handling to match, though, so it was more of a cruiser. Having said that, you can apply the same suspension tweaks that enliven the MGB and the engine is endlessly tuneable, so you could turn it into a bit of monster.
Morgan Plus 8
When it was launched back in 1968, the Plus 8 was the fastest accelerating car built in the UK, sprinting from 0-60mph in just 6.7 seconds. It must have been quite a shock to traditional Morgan buyers. The Malvern cars were always sporting but not especially fast – by contrast the Plus 8 was a proper hot rod.
But not much was done to the chassis, so early cars in particular were a real handful. Development continued throughout the Plus 8’s life, though it was always best on straights. Many were turned into surprisingly effective racers, albeit much modified. Every version of the Rover V8 was available until the Plus 8 was put out to pasture in 2004. It was revived in 2014 with a much more advanced chassis and BMW power.
After launching the animalistic Griffith in 1991, TVR decided it needed to add a more user-friendly model to its line-up. But this is still TVR and the resulting Chimaera, by most normal measures, was a monster. At least 240bhp in a car weighing just a ton will always produce pretty vivid performance – later 5.0-litre versions made more than 300bhp.
A more accommodating cabin and softer suspension did make it a more usable proposition, though. It would still spit you off the road if you took liberties, but that’s what makes TVRs exciting. And let’s not forget that TVR could make the Rover V8 sound better than anyone else. We’ll just overlook the iffy quality and smell of superglue.
Though Caterham actually owned the rights, Westfield started building cars similar to the Lotus/Caterham 7 in 1982. A bit too similar for Caterham who sued, prompting significant design changes. One of those changes involved cramming a Rover V8 engine into the car’s slender front end.
The SEight was born and it was a complete, swivel-eyed lunatic of a car. Rather more 200bhp – even 300- in a car weighing two-thirds of a ton will, by definition, produce an alarming turn of speed. Surprisingly, it had the handling to back up the power and SEights have proven incredibly effective in the fast and frantic world of hillclimbing.
By Only Motors