American V-8s power these 10 British muscle machines
The United States may have torn itself from the tyranny of British rule 245 years ago, but Britain just can’t seem to escape its dependence on the all-American V-8. (Though Mr. Berg is a native Brit, he was in no way coerced to write this story on the United States’ Independence Day. It was merely suggested, because it’s funny, and all in good sport. –EW)
Rover famously relied on a Buick-sourced eight for decades, Jensen turned to Chrysler for the Interceptor, and everybody knows what happened when Carroll Shelby shoehorned a Ford V-8 into the little AC Ace.
As you enjoy the fireworks of the Fourth of July we take a look at ten British cars that did—and still do—enjoy a special relationship with American muscle.
Gordon Keeble GK1
The 1964 Gordon Keeble GK1 was nothing if not ambitious. With a lightweight glass-fiber body styled by Giugiaro over a steel spaceframe chassis, you might say it was Britain’s answer to the Corvette. It even borrowed the ‘Vette’s 283-cubic-inch V-8 and four-speed transmission. What the GK1 did not adopt was the Corvette’s blue-collar pricing. It cost 50 percent more than an E-Type Jaguar. No wonder just 99 were sold.
Marcos had already produced a number of V-8 powered cars by the time the Mantis came along in 1997. Most had used the venerable Rover (Buick) unit, but Marcos was looking for a little more for the Mantis. Enter the 4.6-liter engine from the Ford Mustang. And a supercharger. With more than 500 hp, a flimsy fiberglass body, and no traction control the Mantis could very easily bite your head off–just like its insect namesake.
Sunbeam Tiger 260
The little Sunbeam Alpine was a classic 1950s British sports car. Pretty, lightweight and fun enough to punt along the highways and byways of little England. Sunbeam’s Rootes Group owners realized it would need more power to compete on the world stage, however. After a brief dalliance with Ferrari the company turned to Carroll Shelby who tweaked the Alpine to take a 260-cubic-inch Ford V-8 and the Sunbeam Tiger was born in 1964. Almost all were sold to North America.
Lessons were clearly not learned from Gordon Keeble when Trident launched the Clipper in 1968. It too was a good-looking car, with racy fastback styling and serious performance from its 4.7-liter Ford V-8. However, it was built on a stretched Triumph TR6 chassis which wasn’t really up to the task and only 135 cars were produced.
MG X-Power SV
The 2003 MG X-Power SV was something of a last-ditch attempt to inject some excitement into the once-storied sports car brand. Having bought Italian manufacturer Qvale, MG restyled its Mangusta to become the SV. Power came from either a 4.6-liter or five-liter Ford V-8 driving the rear wheels via a Tremec five-speed. The SV was massively expensive–an equivalent of almost $190,000 in today’s money that only 82 buyers were willing to stump up.
MG ZT 260
While it was buying up Ford V-8s MG had another idea. Take grandpa’s wafty front-wheel-drive 75 sedan (which was also sold as an MG ZT) and totally re-engineer it to become a rear-drive road-racer. The job of the conversion went to Prodrive who added a Dana Hydratrak limited-slip differential and quad pipes, plus AP Racing brakes, but managed to keep the body mods to a minimum, making the ZT 260 quite the sleeper.
Bristol’s history of quirks has always been closely aligned to Chrysler which provided V-8s for these eccentric British cars from 1961. The Fighter of 2004 was Bristol’s most advanced car ever and it advanced the number of cylinders offered to ten, courtesy of a Dodge Viper engine. The number of cars made only just dipped in to double figures but Bristol is undergoing a rescue and reinvention, and a Hemi-powered version of the Fighter is said to be part of the plan.
AC Cobra Superblower
Purists may not approve as the American muscle in the latest AC Cobra Superblower comes from GM not Ford. The 6.2-liter supercharged motor does produce almost 590 hp, however, so any criticisms can be left behind in a cloud of tire smoke. Engine aside this is a pure Cobra with a four-inch round-tube ladder frame chassis, multi-link suspension and a featherweight composite body.
The Allard J2 placed third in the 1950 Le Mans 24 Hour race despite being stuck in top gear for the final ten hours. This feat was no doubt only possible thanks to the large gobs of torque available from its 3.6-liter flathead Ford V-8. Allard road cars were exported to the U.S. without engines or transmissions and would usually end up with power from Oldsmobile, Chrysler, and even Cadillac. After more than five decades out of the game Allard is now back with a number of continuation models, powered by Cadillac or GM V-8s.
Should it ever actually reach production, the new TVR Griffith will be fitted with a five-liter Ford Coyote V-8 that’s been fettled by Cosworth to produce more than 500 hp. Top speed is promised to exceed 200 mph, but the project has been plagued with delays. Ground has been broken on a new factory in Wales so hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer.