I am fortunate to own two classic MGs. People often ask me which I would keep if I had to sell one. These are very different cars and both are well used, touring in the UK and Europe. They were also used as the testbeds for the recommendations in my book Classic Engines, Modern Fuel – the Problems, the Solutions (http://classicenginesmodernfuel.org.uk). So, which would I prefer to keep?
|Approximately 2000 RV8s were built between 1992 and 1994. Rover’s aim was to keep the MG brand live. The RV8 is based on a modified MGB heritage body shell fitted with the Rover V8 engine. Some 85% of the production was sold in Japan but these cars have started to appear on the UK market. Mine is a low mileage Japanese import.||Approximately 10,000 TCs were built between 1945 and 1949. Mine is one of the last off the production line. The TC was built during a time of austerity after the war. It is basically a pre-war MG TB with a modified suspension. The reason? Apparently, the factory was unable to source phosphor bronze for the sliding trunnions.|
The RV8 is a poor man’s Aston Martin. A very fast, smooth and comfortable two-seater tourer. There are not enough “o’s” in smooth to describe the RV8.
The TC is the archetypal two-seater sports car. A super car of its day. Un-modified road cars were often raced on the track or trialled on hill climbs. This was the car that introduced two-seater British sports cars into the USA in the late 1940s.
Engine and Performance
|Capacity:||3,950 cc.||Capacity:||1,250 cc.|
|Cylinders:||8 in 90 degree Vee formation.||Cylinders:||4 in-line.|
|Fuel system:||Lucas multi-point fuel injection.||Fuel system:||Twin 1 ¼” SU.|
|Max. power:||192 BHP @ 4,750 rpm.||Max. power:||54 BHP @ 5,200 rpm.|
|Max. torque:||235 ft lb @ 3,200 rpm.||Max. torque:||64 ft lb @ 2,600 rpm.|
|Performance:||0-60 mph (100 kph) 5.9 seconds.||Performance:||0-60 mph (100 kph) 18.5 seconds.|
|Max speed :||135 mph (230 kph).||Max speed :||78 mph (126 kph).|
|Weight:||2822 lbs Gross weight.||Weight:||1847 lbs Gross weight.|
|BHP / Ton:||152 BPB / ton.||BHP / Ton:||66 BHP / ton.|
|Gears:||5 forward gears||Gears:||4 forward gears|
|Gearing:||28.97 mph / 1000 rpm in 5th||Gearing:||14.7 mph / 1000 rpm in 4th|
Both the RV8 and TC engines have the reputation for being robust. They have flat torque curves and rev freely. They accelerate well over the rev range and can be driven without excessive gear changes. 1st to 4th gear ratios are well suited to driving on country roads. Both have a throaty exhaust note.
In its standard configuration, the RV8 has a flat spot around 2,500 rpm. This can be fixed along with improving fuel consumption by fitting a Tornedo engine management chip. (http://www.tornadosystems.com/product/14-cux-tornado-chip-4-0-tvr-morgan-rv8/).
The RV8 is very fast. Floor the accelerator at 40 mph in 3rd gear and before you can take a breath, the speedo has rocketed up to 85 mph. Frighteningly, the fuel gauge drops just as fast. Fortunately, this is mainly due to the petrol sloshing to the back of the tank rather than just increased fuel consumption. Unlike the Starship Enterprise, the RV8 is not fitted with inertial dampers.
The TC is much slower than the RV8. However, with its flat windscreen and low-cut doors, the TC “feels” much faster than it is. For example, 30 mph in a TC is more like 60 mph in the RV8. This makes the TC’s “perceived” acceleration and top speed seem like that of the RV8. Hence it has been given a similar mark.
The RV8 is an effortless cruiser needing only 2,500 rpm for 72 mph. With its hood down and windows wound-up, wind levels and noise are acceptable, making 65 – 70 mph a reasonable cruising speed. The TC was built before motorways. While the top gear ratio of 14.7 mph / 1000 rpm is perfect for driving on A, B and C class roads, 3,500 rpm gives a rather low cruising speed of 51 mph. Many owners have now fitted 5 speed gearboxes (https://hi-gearengineering.co.uk/mg-tb-tc-5-speed-gearbox-conversion-kit). This This can be chosen to give virtually the same 1 to 4 ratios as the standard box. It does not change the general feel of the car. The 18 mph / 1000 rpm in 5th gear gives a more acceptable cruising speed of 60 mph at 3,200 rpm. Without the hood or side-panels fitted, driving a TC at this speed is a very windy experience. A cruising speed of 55 mph is far more comfortable. This is also fast enough that you do not get passing lorries blowing you off the road.
If the RV8 is driven gently it is possible to get 30 mpg. However, fuel consumption is very “right foot” dependent. 18 mpg is easy to achieve. This coupled with a measly 11 gallon (51 Litre) fuel tank makes regular filling stops a necessity. When touring, this usually means every 200 miles or so. This is why the fuel gauge is the most important instrument.
In contrast the TC has a 13 ½ gallon (61 Litre) fuel tank. It will regularly return 35 mpg or more on trips, giving a range of nearly 500 miles. This is why a fuel gauge on the TC is less important.
Both cars have firm suspension that is not harsh. The ride is comfortable on even Britain’s, potholed roads. Their chassis are robust and give the driver plenty of feedback through the seat of their pants.
Unlike modern cars, the RV8 does not have ultra-low-profile tyres. While the 65% ratio radial tyres give good grip, they do not deliver the pin sharp steering of a modern car. They do however give a more comfortable ride and you are less likely to curb the attractive alloy wheels. The back axle is not referred to as “live” for no reason. Hit a bump when cornering hard and the back end will jump out of line. You also need to be very careful with your right foot! Too much enthusiasm and the back-end will try to overtake the front. Unlike the TC this is more dramatic but can be corrected providing you act quickly.
The RV8’s steering is very heavy at slow speeds, a weight training course before driving one is recommended. An alternative is to have power assisted steering fitted (Contact John Cummings via the RV8 Register). This transforms the car at slow speed without removing any of the feel from the steering.
The RV8’s brakes work well despite having drums rather than disks fitted at the rear. They are progressive and well weighted. The handbrake is conveniently located and works well.
The narrow cross-ply tyres of the TC offer about as much grip as a duck has on ice. Mine is fitted with Blockley tyres (https://www.blockleytyre.com/) which, despite their looks, grip well in all conditions. However, push a TC and the back end will break away. For example, 10 mph in the wet on a roundabout. The TC “speaks to you” and gives you plenty of notice before it starts to slide. When the back-end does go, it is gradual and with almost perfect front to rear weight distribution, the TC handles flawlessly. Body roll is minimal despite the lack of anti-roll bars.
The worm and peg steering box on the TC is legendary. This coupled with spring loaded track rod ends and drag links make the TC’s steering like no modern car. You do not so much as steer a TC, but proceed down the road in a direction mutually agreed by the car and driver. With its low geared steering, the TC is a delight to drive on winding country roads (when cornering, the steering is at one end of its play). More of a challenge, is trying to keep the TC in a straight line on dual carriageways or motorways.
The TC’s brakes work well. When setup correctly, there is minimal pedal travel. Once engaged, there is virtually no pedal movement, the harder you press, the faster the car stops. You do need to take care as the drum brakes can fade on long, steep descents. The fly-off handbrake is fantastic. You can lock the rear wheels with ease. Early MGs were fitted with cable brakes front and rear. The TC’s handbrake is the remnants of the earlier rear cable brake arrangement. The fly-off handbrake makes rapid hill starts a doddle. You can put the car in first gear and take the handbrake off at the same time – single handed.
Both cars have comfortable driving positions and good visibility with the hoods both up and down.
The RV8’s driving position is reclined, the small steering wheel, short throw gear stick and hand brake all conveniently located. There is room for the taller driver but you sit high with the top windscreen rail in your forward vision. This is not a problem with the hood down but can be claustrophobic with the hood up. The pedals are offset to the right. In practice this does not cause any problems. The seats offer good lateral support. The Japanese cars are fitted with air-conditioning which significantly reduces the passenger foot-well space.
The clear white on black rev-counter, speedo and all-important fuel gauge are in the driver’s direct line of vision. The warning lights are mounted low on the centre console and very hard to see, especially with the hood down.
In the TC you sit in an upright position with the large steering wheel close to you. It is comfortable to drive as long as you do not try to cross your hands when steering. The short throw gear stick and handbrake are well situated. Getting in via the rear-opening “suicide doors” is an art for both passenger and more so the driver.
With a single seat back, lateral support is non-existent (not that the TC can produce much cornering force). It is worth briefing new passengers with the use of the grab handle, especially on left hand corners. Trying to steer a TC while fending off your passenger with your left elbow is not easy. On right hand corners, the low-cut doors and the instinct for self-preservation encourages the passenger to use the grab handle. Fortunately, I have not had one fall out yet.
Foot space for the driver and passenger is excellent. Finding somewhere comfortable for the driver’s left foot can prove difficult. I usually twist mine on its side and wedge it between the tunnel and clutch pedal. I have quite small feet.
The brown on green instruments are reasonably clear. Those most needed by the driver, the rev-counter, oil pressure gauge and optional temperature gauge are clearly visible. The observant reader will spot the speedo is on the passenger side. This is a significant benefit on organised runs. The navigator does not have to keep asking the driver how many miles to the next way-point. Unfortunately, it makes driving on roads peppered with speed cameras a challenge. Both the rev-counter and speedo are marvels of clockwork engineering. The needles move up and down in “steps” and their readings lag reality by about ½ second. Knowing your exact speed is based on inspired guesswork. If stopped by the police, I am not sure how well a plea of “officer I was only doing between 2,100 and 2,250 rpm” would be accepted.
The one and only “driver’s aid” in the TC is a light on the dash. When switched on, it illuminates between 15 – 30 mph. I don’t use mine.
The TC is not fitted with a fuel gauge. It has a 2 ½ gallon warning light in front of the driver. This coupled with the trip meter and dip-stick are perfectly adequate given its long range.
Two-seater sports cars have never been known for their luggage carrying capacity. Both the RV8 and TC do not let the side down.
Internal stowage in both cars is limited. The RV8 has a small lockable glovebox and two seat pockets behind the front seats. The TC has two door pockets. The pockets in both cars are really only suitable for maps or navigation instructions.
Although the RV8 has a generous but shallow boot, it is mostly occupied by the spare wheel (top photo). A small aircraft style suitcase will fit, leaving only sufficient room for a soft bag and a few items “stuffed into the gaps”.
The RV8 also has a space behind the seats, this is small and only practical for coats or other small items. Matters can be improved significantly if you are prepared to follow the example of modern cars and replace the RV8’s spare wheel with a tin of emergency tyre repair, such as Tyreweld (bottom photo).
For its luggage, the TC has a reasonable space behind the seats. Like the RV8, this will only take a small case and soft bag. Fitting a low-level luggage rack, stocked by NTG Motor Services in Ipswich dramatically increases the amount of luggage you can carry. With the spare wheel removed and low-level rack, both the RV8 and TC can easily manage sufficient luggage and camping equipment for two people for a trip to the Classic Le Mans.
Both cars are provided with a half-tonneau that covers the hood and area to the rear of the seats. While these look very smart, they do not give any significant practical benefit. I rarely use mine in either car.
More useful are the full tonneau covers. These are easy to fit on both cars and will keep out the sticky hands of interested children. The RV8’s tonneau has been given a lower mark than that of the TC for two reasons. Firstly, there are no “pockets” for the headrests which means the seats have to be tilted forward before fitting the cover. Secondly and more importantly, it is not totally waterproof.
The TC’s full tonneau (with a cane used to “lift” the centre to stop water running through the zip) is the best way to keep the car dry in wet conditions. While the RV8’s cover is waterproof, water can run in through the front windscreen air vents. A TC can be left with confidence in all weather conditions with its tonneau fitted. Should it look like rain, it is better to put up the RV8’s hood.
An added bonus with both cars is the tonneau can be unzipped down the middle allowing the car to be driven with the passenger side covered. A real benefit when travelling alone.
The hoods on both cars are very easy and quick to put up, they are held by two fastenings on the windscreen. The RV8’s hood is then secured with 6 additional push on fastenings, the TC’s with two. Putting the hoods down is only a little more complicated as they need to be carefully folded to avoid trapping them in the hood frame.
The “ancillaries” are more complicated and time consuming to fit. The rear window on the RV8 needs to be zipped in. This is a fiddly process, especially in the rain. The TC needs to have 4 canvas side panels fitted. While slotting these in and tightening the screws is very easy, extracting them from the stowage bin behind the front seats is not.
More difficult is replacing the TC’s side frames in their stowage box. This is like a Christmas cracker puzzle! If my calculations are correct, there are 192 different ways the side panels can be stored. They only fit ONE way.
The hood on the RV8 is excellent. I have used it at 85 mph in heavy rain in France and not a drop of water has come in. The air-conditioning on the Japanese cars can be used to stop any condensation on the windows. The rear window can be partially unzipped to provide additional ventilation.
The TC is a different matter. While the hood will keep you dry, the front side panels can “bellow out” at higher speeds allowing the “odd drop” of rain to get in. The inside of the car can get very damp. It is advisable for the driver to keep a cloth close to hand. They can use this to wipe the insides of the windows which mist up. It can get very stuffy. However, it is possible to remove one or more of the side panels to encourage the air flow, without getting too much rain in the car.
As standard the TC had no indicators, relying instead on driver hand-signals. The front side panels have flaps for this purpose. Trying to steer the car while unclipping the side panel flap and sticking your hand out is not easy. As most modern drivers probably do not know the meaning of hand signals, it is advisable to fit flashing indicators to a TC, avoiding this problem.
The heater on the RV8 is good. The massive V8 engine generates a lot of heat. You can always keep warm in the car even with the hood down. The downside is that the foot-wells can get rather hot. Even with the Japanese cars this is difficult to address. The only use for the air-conditioning with the hood down is to increase fuel consumption.
The TC was built before the era of central heating, GORE-TEX and warm fleece clothing, people were much tougher. The TC is not fitted with a heater. I have driven it with the hood down in sub-zero temperatures and kept perfectly warm, thanks to my ski suit. However, the controls were somewhat difficult to operate with the thick ski gloves. With the hood up the TC’s cabin is quite “toasty”.
While these are very different cars, they both scored an excellent 84% in the above evaluation. They are cars for the enthusiastic driver. If driven with respect they are guaranteed to put a huge smile on your face. After all, they are both MGs. While neither car is perfect, their minor issues do not lessen driver enjoyment they are what give both of them their special character.
The question. Which one to choose?
The head says the RV8. This is a very capable modern car, missing only those annoying “driver aids”. It is fast and comfortable yet still oozes a classic car character. Spares are mainly easy to find, depreciation non-existent, running costs very reasonable (providing you are not too heavy with your right foot). What is there not to like?
The heart says the TC. This is an astoundingly attractive and practical car. While it looks like something from the 1930s it drives like a 1960s car. It certainly turns heads. Spares are very easy to source. Like the RV8, depreciation is zero. An added benefit, it is very easy to maintain. Unlike modern cars, it has an engine you can see.
I think I will keep them both.
Paul has made reference to his book Classic Engines, Modern Fuel – the Problems, the Solutions (http://classicenginesmodernfuel.org.uk) at the start of this article and he has decided to use the royalties from the book to support children’s education in Tanzania. He has been communicating with a person in Tanzania, who has direct contact with a rural village there and through this source he has been finding out what the teachers and their pupils need to support education. Their list is modest; such items as pencils, rubbers, pencil sharpeners, books, a bag to put them in – things which many of us would take for granted, but which would make a huge difference to their learning opportunities.
If you buy a copy of the book, you will be contributing in a small way towards this project. Any additional money you can give will make a tangible difference. The link that goes into a little more detail and tells you how to make a donation is at https://classicenginesmodernfuel.org.uk/SupportingEducation/
The book bags are going to be made by the women in the village and Paul sent out money to buy two sewing machines. These were bought in Tanzania to save the cost of carriage from the UK. Paul was expecting to see pictures of nice shiny sewing machines, but when he received the photos, they were foot treadle models – far more practical as there are frequent power interruptions!