Costello V8 with an interesting history
Garry Heath (Tartan Red 5012) from Buckinghamshire registered his Costello V8 recently and recalls its interesting former life and how it is now a competition car! 28.4.05


Tartan Red 5012, a 1973 Costello V8 rebuilt for track racing in action at Thruxton. (Photo: Philip Jones)

Our Costello V8 started life as an Abingdon built 1800cc MGBGT in April 1971. It was sold by the dealer John C Beadle in Dartford to the first of two owners based in Sittingbourne. Sometime between then and 1974, it received the Costello treatment. We believe it was converted in 1973 as we received it with a Buick rather than a Rover engine, but it certainly had undergone the full Costello make over with the power bulge bonnet, the "egg box grille" and the uprated suspension. We have found that details on how many cars were converted by Costello and when are not available and tracking down Ken Costello today is as difficult as finding Lord Lucan!


A mixed field of classic sportscars from the 1960s and 70s compete in the Thoroughbred Sportscar Championship. (Photo: Philip Jones)

In 1985, Philip Rodley purchased the car from its second owner. He decided to rebuild the car as a concours example and have the car refurbished by a firm of top panel builders who replaced worn parts and panels before both parties had an argument about price. At that stage Philip retrieved the car as a rolling shell and put it in his garage in Northampton intending to finish the project himself. Some 17 years later the car had not moved a wheel and Mrs Rodley decided to have an extension which required the demolition of the garage. This forced Philip to put the car on the market. We snapped it up. It was not quite a "barn find", but not too far away from one.

approach we have had to the rebuild is based on what the Costello Race Project should have been

Since we received the V8 in September 2003, the car has been completely stripped and rebuilt as a race car. We have really benefited from the panel work in 1985 as it handed us a spotless perfect shell on which to construct the race car rebuild.
The approach we have had to the rebuild is based on what the Costello Race Project should have been. Quite why Ken Costello, who had a considerable reputation as a saloon car racer, never raced one of his own V8 conversions we do not know, but we liked the idea of creating retro history 33 years after the first Costello should taken to the track. In carrying out this project, we believe we have created the World's only racing Costello V8.

Tartan Red 5012, registered ACK 717K, has been built with an eye on historic endurance racing with oversize fuel tanks and night time lighting. The car competed in the 2004 Colonnade Thoroughbred Sports Car Championship as well as the 40 minute endurance race at MG80 at Silverstone 2004 in which it grabbed its first class win.



Tartan Red 5012 ahead of an Aston in a Thoroughbred Sportscar Championship event at Thruxton. (Photo: Philip Jones)

It has been built to compete in the "modified sports" category which has behind it the concept of a road going race car. In keeping with the spirit of this ACF 717K is road legal, MOT'd and road going - although not necessarily very road friendly thanks to its racing suspension.

car has been built with an eye on historic endurance racing

Since the rebuild we have made a number of changes to the original car driven by the needs of racing. We have obviously needed to fit a full roll cage and other safety equipment and we did everything we could do to lighten the car, although we did this maintaining the 50/50 front-back balance which was a feature of Costello's design. One of our first decisions concerned the colour. The original paint finish in Desert Sand might have been all the vogue in the early 1970s but to modern eyes it is pretty revolting. It is also not the right colour for a 1970s MG race car. In the late 1960s and 70s MGs, particularly MGC's raced for class wins at le Mans and other endurance events. So we have decided to lean very heavily on the Works cars of the period which were all finished in Tartan Red with white valances and white hard tops.


Costello V8 with the characteristic Costello bonnet bulge, is ahead of a Factory MGBGTV8. (Photo: Philip Jones)

One unexpected problem revealed itself in our first race at Brands Hatch. As we were unable to test before the race, we arrived with the differential from our original car. At the start of our race, the rest of the field simply disappeared up the road. It was only after the race that we discovered that our Costello V8 had been fitted with a very long legged diff for motorway use. Out came the calculators and we discovered our theoretical top speed was at least 180 mph! We now have a much smaller ratio version. We have been allowed to abandon the original Buick engine and replace it with a stronger 3900cc Discovery unit, which has been race-built and delivers over 250 BHP. This in itself has caused problems.

The gearbox we inherited with the car was the Costello original, basically an MGB box with odd MGC and other components. As soon as we cured the differential issue, we started to develop gearbox problems. Third gear never knew whether it was in or out - not popular with the drivers! This gearbox finally gave up at Snetterton with a very big bang going into Russell's Corner. We aim to replace our old gearbox with a T5 Borg Warner unit which is promising to be unbreakable! Apart from this the Costello has been very reliable for our first season's racing.

This year we hope to be out in time for the MGCC 75th Anniversary meeting at Silverstone where we will be competing in a number of races. Any V8 enthusiast is very welcome to come and say hello in the paddock - we would love to see you.


V8 Register - MG Car Club