Story of a members’s MG RV8 conversion from manual to automatic

The MGR V8 is a car that everyone who sees it asks “ I’ve not seen one before what is it?”so that’s a little bit of the history of how this story and project started. I’m a member of the Glossop Vehicle Enthusiasts Club along with a number of MG owners of various models.

The story is quite simple. Back in July 2019 with a discussion between myself and member Ian Booth about my RV8, Ian being a big fan of V8 engines,  himself owning a Canadian McLaughlan Buick with a straight V8 engine which is a beautiful car, having owned it from the age of twenty one, he is now a little older and drives it at every opportunity.

Ian decided  that his wife Irene really liked the look of the RV8 and could they have test drive in my car, to see if they liked it. A test drive arranged and guess  what they loved the car and noise from the V8, but a question remained regarding the car being a manual and not auto gear box, as Irene preferred the latter.

Now Ian being a retired a Engineer could see a project in store,  so started to research and find out as much information regarding the mechanics of the RV8 gearbox and running gear. After many discussions he decided that a conversion was possible. The V8 register confirmed that one other RV8 was an auto box, and the only one bought from new ( someone may know better)?

So the first thing to do was to buy an RV8. Scouring Magazines and the internet an RV8 was chosen to have a look at, in fact the one for sale was in the MGOC Magazine Enjoying MG. Easy if  it’s local but High Wycombe is a good drive when you live in Cheshire bordering the Peak District, but onwards and upwards.

Ian arrange for an appointment to view, and put  insurance funds etc in place to purchase, if the car turned out to be as good as the advert. An early start Ian and myself set of going south into Derbyshire and then heading down to the M1 and our destination. Four hours later and  a not too stressful journey we arrived to be greeted by our very enthusiastic seller.

We brought a good selection of tools and torch’s, mats and gloves so we could have a good look at Ian’s potential purchase. The RV 8 being a Nightfire Red one with a Black hood, none of the usual problems were apparent. In fact the three W’s, Wheels , Windscreen and Wood all looked to be ok, although the wood was a little discoloured but not anything that could not  be improved. It had power steering, a must for the RV8, and a great service and repair record from the previous owner.

A quick test drive around the local roads proved that Ian had chosen a good car, and a deal was made to purchase.

 That was easy compared with the trouble trying to transfer  funds. Even  after preempting events with Ian notifying  the bank of his intentions it  took two hours to arrange transfer of payment.  I think frustrating is understating the situation.

A long drive back to Cheshire and the car was safely tucked up in Ian’s garage. So now on the the job of going over the car and finding that  in fact he had a good motor car.

A gearbox was purchased from a Rover SD1 a three speed Borg Warner 65 unit, this is the same gearbox that is fitted to the Triumph Stag, so he hoped that it would be a straightforward job

First thing the car was taken to Riverside Engineering in Whaley Bridge, Tim Robinson the owner has a reputation for sorting out problems on classic cars in that if he can’t get a part  he will make it. Ian has had good relationship with Tim as he repairs  and services his other classics.

July 2019 and the job is starting to go ahead, Tim hoping to complete the car in approx 2 weeks. I don’t think anyone would imagine the issues that would arrive in the next few months.

Ian arranged for Tim to start the exchange at the end of July /August hoping the work would take around 2 weeks. I think you all know that we have seen unprecedented rainfall this year and flooding has become the norm. Gearbox delivered  at the garage what could go wrong.

Tim’s garage is in Whaley Bridge Derbyshire, my home village, a lovely place in the Peak District, now very much changed since I was a lad. As you know Whaley Bridge  became not just National but International News due to the Toddbrook Dam starting to give way and the evacuation of a great deal of the population. The reservoir was built in the early 1800’s as a feeder for the Peak Forest canal being built to standards of the day being mostly of  Clay and earth. With the unprecedented weather, rainfall it’s overflow could just not stand the power of the water.

You are hinting what has this got to do with Ian and Irenes RV8. Tim’s garge has a clue in the name Riverside, yes it is at the side of the River Goyt and is fed by Toddbrook via the reservoir and being 100yds from the dam it was  left in a very precarious position. The garage was flooded and he was evacuated from Whaley Bridge while  all of the repair and pumping work took place.before it became safe to go back to the garage.

The RV8 was tucked away on a ramp around 8 ft in the air so was safe from the floods to everyone’s relief.

Let’s get down to the work involved to turn this wonderful V8 from manual to an  auto, most MGBs have to take the engine and gearbox out for any work.

Tim decided to see if it was possible to just remove the gearbox first, and leave the engine in situ, this proved to be possible. So on to the exchange. To most people it would seem a straight forward job but doing something that as far as we know hasn’t been tried before can be a jump into the unknown.

Gearbox out, in with the auto box this proved quite difficult due to having to rotate the gearbox through ninety degrees and back again also missing the starter motor made it difficult  no  alterations to the prop shaft. The clutch slave cylinder being removed with brackets left in place, also removal of the clutch pedal. A Triumph Stag gear selector was chosen as it is a good fit to the Borg and Warner 65 gearbox. With an auto box an oil cooler is required so a generic one has been fitted to the front of the radiator with custom made pipe work and dipstick in the engine compartment, all made from stainless steel. Selector fitted and  removal of gear stick surround was next.

We now have auto box fitted and the Brake pedal enlarged with a new rubber , and all ready to drive. The only thing left is  to fit a plate around the gear shifter and to match in the leather trim. A call to Jim the trim ( North West Auto Trim ) a matched piece of leather and we have a completed job .

How does it drive, well I think Ian and Irene’s  Smiles said it all. We had a drive around the local area with a mixture of A and B roads. The V 8 sounds so good and the three speed box performs so well it’s a match made in heaven. So the question now is does it detract from the original car or is it an improvement. My opinion a fantastic upgrade to an already beautiful car. Maybe this should have been how the original car was made, then it may have sold more, especially in the USA. Who  knows .