4 great British V-8s invading the 2020 Amelia Island auctions
The Amelia Island auctions and surrounding car shows are known for attracting some of the world’s most desirable Porsches, but those with a penchant for the English motoring tradition won’t be hung out to dry at this year’s festivities. On top of that, some of Britain’s finest V-8s will be on display. So get out your checkbooks and boil the tea kettle, because we’ve rounded up four of the best V-8s that the British have to offer at the Amelia Island auctions March 4–7.
Let’s start with the most ridiculous engine on the list (and possibly the most interesting at Amelia 2020). When the Aston Martin Virage was first introduced to the public in 1989 as the brand’s flagship model, the main critique was that it wasn’t very sporty and lacked power. To fix this, Aston Martin improved the suspension and added two superchargers to the 5.3-liter V-8 engine. You read that right; this Aston Martin has a Twin-Supercharged V-8—not twin-turbos, twin superchargers. This gave the Virage an additional 200 horsepower, bumping the total up to 550 hp, and resulted in an entirely new model called the Vantage.
If for some reason customers weren’t satisfied with 550 horsepower, starting in 1998, they could bring their Vantage back to Aston Martin for the V600 treatment, which upgraded the intercooler and increased boost resulting in 600 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. It was the most powerful car in the world at the time, after the 618-horsepower McLaren F1 ceased production in 1998. About 75 of the 288 Vantages produced received the V600 upgrade.
This insanity didn’t last long. Due to upcoming safety and emission regulations, the V-8 Vantage would soon be obsolete. So, Aston Martin decided to go out with a bang. It made a special edition V-8 Vantage to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Aston Martin’s 1–2 finish at the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans—the year Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori won. Many design cues, like the side inlets, reference the 1959 Le Mans-winning DBR1. I wouldn’t call this car beautiful, but it certainly has a presence.
Aston Martin made a total of forty Vantage Le Mans—almost all of which were given the V600 treatment. The Vantage Le Mans V600 had a claimed 0–60 time of 3.9 seconds, but journalists at the time had trouble getting anything lower than 4.6 seconds. This makes the 200-mph top speed more suspicious, beyond the fact that it weighs close to 5000 pounds and is shaped like a brick. Even after massive improvements, the suspension and chassis were never up to handling 600 horsepower, and the Vantage was called “violently unpredictable” due to the incredible amount of boost the twin superchargers would create at low RPM. Still, not a bad way to send off the last hand-built Aston Martin.
All Vantage Le Mans were fitted with a plate indicating its production number and the name of the first owner—Sheikh Abdelaziz bin Khalifa Al Thani ordered this one that’s on offer at RM. To make the car more special for the Sheikh, the Al Thani royal crest is embroidered throughout the cabin. Since this car was never imported to the U.S. and is not over 25 years old, it can only be used under the “Show and Display” exemption, which limits mileage to only 2500 a year. But I doubt the new owner will be driving it much anyway.
Some might not consider this a British V-8, but I’m counting it because it was built in the UK by a British company, even though it used an American engine. For those who don’t know, the Sunbeam Tiger was a performance version of the Sunbeam Alpine, a typical small British sports car of the time. Rootes Group, which owned Sunbeam, wanted to sell the Alpine in North America but knew it needed more power if it was going to attract American buyers. Rootes was originally in talks with Ferrari to up the power of the Alpine’s inline-four, but unfortunately the negotiations fell through. Eventually, the job went to Carroll Shelby (to name-drop him a second time), who had success with a V-8 conversion for the AC Cobra a few years prior. Shelby swapped in a 260-cubic-inch Ford V-8 and stiffened up the suspension, resulting in a very capable little sports car they named the Tiger. The new 260-cu-in V-8 was twice as powerful and only 3.5 inches longer than the four-cylinder it replaced. The Tiger was only 20-percent heavier than the original Alpine while still staying close to a 50/50 weight distribution.
In 1967, the Tiger went through a design change and received Ford’s 289-cu-in V-8, upping the power to 210 horsepower, an increase of almost 50 hp over the 260 V-8. Tigers with the 289-cu-in factory engine are called an Mk II. As well as being faster, the 289 in the Mk II was improved over the original 260 with upgraded valve springs that would no longer “self-destruct” if pushed past 5000 rpm. The Mk II had a 0–60 time of 7.5 seconds, which was very fast for the mid-1960s.
The Tiger Mk II was only built in the final year of production, 1967. Production ceased when Chrysler bought Rootes Group and didn’t have a suitable engine to replace the Ford V-8. Chrysler’s 273 small block was too large, and the distributor was positioned in the rear. That wouldn’t work. Chrysler’s big block had a front-mounted distributor, which was good, but the engine was much too large. Hopefully they at least tried to squeeze a 440 in the already tight engine bay before giving up. When Chrysler took over, the “Powered by Ford” badges were replaced with “Sunbeam V-8.”
More than 7000 Tigers were built, but only 633 of them were Tiger Mk IIs. Many Mk I owners swap out the 260 in their Tigers for the 289, making a Mk II clone, but this one at RM is a genuine Mk II. With an extensive restoration and only two owners from new, it’s about as good as it gets. There is also a Mk I Tiger being offered at RM to allow any losing bidders a second chance.
Rolls-Royce was very early to the V-8 game, building its first in 1905. The “6¾ Litre” V-8 that powers this 1980 Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible is based on the Rolls-Royce/Bentley L-Series platform that has been in production since 1959 and is still used today in the Bentley Mulsanne. It’s the second-longest produced engine, behind the Chevy small-block V-8 (which is only sold as a crate engine anymore).
The least-expensive way to look rich is to buy an old Rolls-Royce. Not surprisingly, luxury cars from the 1980s don’t hold their value. This right-hand-drive Corniche Convertible is no exception. Offered at no reserve by Bonhams with a low estimate of $25,000, it’s a lot of car for the money. It’s one of the softest rides ever, with coil springs and hydraulic self-leveling on a fully independent suspension. The car is fully original, never been restored, and is in pretty good condition for its age, although the paint is starting to fade.
The car basically only had a single owner—“basically” because it was originally purchased by world-renowned car hoarder His Royal Highness, The Sultan of Brunei. Rumored to have at least 7000 cars (600 of which are Rolls-Royces), it’s very likely that The Sultan never took the time to drive this Corniche. He only owned the car for two years before the current owner bought it in 1982. In the 40 years since it was built, this Rolls was barely driven and has only 31,000 original miles.
If you’re looking for something with a little more provenance, the 1967 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Coupe from The Thomas Crown Affair is offered the same weekend.
No list of British V-8s is complete without a Bentley. There’s a plethora of limited-production Bentleys offered at Amelia Island this year, all featuring the firm’s classic “6¾ Litre” Twin Turbo V-8—an evolution of the L-series V-8 in the Rolls Royce Corniche above. The 1998 Bentley Turbo RT Mulliner stands out from the other limited-production models. Based on the ultra-exclusive Turbo RT, of which Bentley only produced 252, the Mulliner was available only by special order for the 1998 model year. A total of 55 RT Mulliners were produced, only 39 of them left-hand-drive like the one offered at RM.
The 6.75-liter Turbo V-8 produced 420 horsepower and 643 lb-ft of torque—good enough for a 0–60 time of less than six seconds. That’s very fast for a car that weighs nearly three tons. The car’s power is emulated in its bodywork. The Turbo RT Mulliner just looks brutal. It sits long and low with flared arches accommodating the wider track. Each Mulliner was built to individual customer specifications. This one features milled aluminum on the interior where most Bentleys have some species of endangered wood. With a high estimate of only $120,000 and no reserve, the winning bidder could be walking away with a very unique car for a great price.