Race, Daily, Restore: I Say Aluminum, You Say Aluminium

The aluminum 215 c.i. V8 that GM developed in the late ’50’s debuted to much fanfare for the 1961 model year, but the design and tooling was solely owned by Rover in the U.K. by early 1965. Rover, which had lobbied hard to purchase the lightweight wonder, undoubtedly ended up getting the better end of that particular Tango Atlantico. It stayed in production in some form for four decades, which probably has caused some seller’s remorse and gnashing of teeth in Detroit over the years. Today, it feels like the quintessential British V8 in much the same way the iconic small block Chevy holds that title for American cars. Interestingly, we Yanks tend to subtly complement our ethnosymbolic selves by persisting in referring to it as the Buick-Rover V8, whereas it’s simply the Rover V8 to Brits and the rest of the world. But I guess the birth father does retain some bragging rights, eh?
Due to its overseas adoption and the disfunctional home it would grow up in, the lightweight alloy darling ended up in a remarkable variety of vehicles, three of which we will consider today. (Click on the name for a larger view of the images above).

  • 1961 Buick Special 4-door sedan – The Special had neither the turbocharged engine nor the rear transaxle of its more notable Y-body brethren from Olds and Pontiac. Thanks to the longevity of the Rover engine, however, it’s probably the most practical of the three “senior compacts” to own today.
  • 1968 Rover P5B 3.5-Litre – The alloy V8, now equipped with SU carbs, rejuvenated the aging Rover P5 platform with more power, better fuel economy, and better handling compared to Rover’s previous inline-6.
  • 1973 MGB GT V8 – By the early ’70s, the British government had collected most of its hemorrhaging domestic auto industry under the corporate umbrella of British Leyland, which allowed the aluminium V8 to migrate into a wider selection of cars. The fixed-head coupe version of the MGB, the GT, could be had with the V8 from ’73–’76. As with the P5, the V8 actually weighed significantly less than the older, less efficient iron-block engine it replaced. Sadly, the MGB GT V8 was never sold in North America.

These three vehicles share very little in common besides the alloy lump under the hood…er, “bonnet.” Which would you choose to:

  • RACE – build into some sort of dedicated racing machine (not street legal) for your choice of competition — any legitimate, sanctioned form of motorsport: road course, rally, drag, LSR, Baja, etc.;
  • DAILY – have as your sole street-registered car, for all your commuting and general transportation needs.
  • RESTORE – do a museum-quality, factory-correct, frame-off restoration, then add to your collection, but not register to drive on the street.

Your choices should be accompanied by your persuasive justification, or at the very least which choice you felt most strongly about. As always, more caveats (there are always caveats) appear after the jump.


  1. Assume that you’re given these three vehicles outright, so there’s no acquisition cost, but the cost of race-prepping, maintaining, insuring and restoring them will be on you.
  2. Assume the cars are in “average condition” for their age; neither junk nor in flawless condition.
  3. These are your ONLY three cars. You cannot factor in any other cars you might actually own, e.g., “I’ll daily the MR2 because I have a van I can take the kids in…” Likewise, you can’t sell the restored car to buy another vehicle.
  4. You must assign one of the cars to each category. You can’t say, “I’ll race my street car,” or “I’ll drive that one for a season then restore it.”
  5. You can’t half-ass a car you don’t like, such as theoretically racing Lemons or doing a “20-footer” cosmetic restoration.

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9 responses to “Race, Daily, Restore: I Say Aluminum, You Say Aluminium”

  1. Alff Avatar

    Daily the Rover. As a kid my British neighbors had a P6, I’ve wanted a P5 or P6 for years.
    Vintage racing the MGB will be fun.
    Restore the Buick. Since it’s a museum piece, nobody will notice that the engine has been scavenged for parts for the other two.

  2. engineerd Avatar

    Race the Rover. I’m thinking something like the Peking to Paris Endurance Rally. I can guarantee it won’t be the most oddball car there.
    Daily the MGB. It will add some fun and intrigue (will I make it to work today without breaking down?) to an otherwise totally predictable commute.
    Restore the Buick. It deserves to live out the remainder of its days being the object of a “I remember when I had one of these, young Johnny…” story told by octegenarians to their grand- or great-grandchildren.

  3. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    Race the B
    Park Restore the Rover.
    Daily the Buick.

  4. P161911 Avatar

    Daily the Rover, wonder if the fuel injection from a later Land Rover would be more or less reliable?
    Race the MGB
    Restore the Buick, trailer it to car shows. What’s the tow rating on the Rover?

    1. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

      A Holley 4 barrel setup is very popular on Land Rovers in place of the twin SU or Stromberg setups but if you don’t care about gas mileage a 4.6 with a Megasquirt could be interesting.

  5. theskitter Avatar

    Three good choices this time.
    Today, I will pick my favorite to drive daily and on road trips: Rover P5B 3.5L
    I am a big fan of MGB-GTs. But the color and the wheels on that one are… homely. It’s almost enough to tip the balance toward the Buick for the race slot. Assume, every time, that I am prepping a car for the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. And the Buick would look and feel and sound spectacular ripping through the winding, tree-lined Schenley Park. Yeah, I’ll take it.
    Restore the MGB GT and store it at a nice picnic spot, to admire with long gazes and repose in.

  6. crank_case Avatar

    Daily the MGB – easiest to get parts for.
    Race the Buick – turn up the boost till it goes bang, rebuild, repeat.
    Restore the P5 and hire it out to UK TV channels wanting to make period dramas, probably about a grumpy police detective or something.

  7. Fuhrman16 Avatar

    This one is kind of hard to decide. I’d be happy with any of the available configurations.

  8. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    Restore the Buick, daily the Rover and race the MG. Historical interest, dignified transport and a sports car doing sports car things.

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