Poor Man’s Cobra: V8-Powered 1961 MGA Roadster

There are two types of surprises in the world. There are the pleasant types that bring us joy and happiness. Of course, there’s also the other type, which usually doesn’t involve a lot of fun. This 1961 MGA definitely falls into the former category, because it not only looks to be a nicely restored British classic, but it packs a surprise that should put a smile on the majority of people’s faces. I know that if I owned this one, you would be hard-pressed to remove the smile from my face with a sandblaster. The MG is located in Freeville, New York, and has been listed for sale here on Craigslist. The owner is asking $20,000 for this beauty. I have to say thank you to Barn Finder Ikey H for referring a vehicle to us that really embodies the spirit of cooperation between the US and the UK.

The MG looks striking in its British Racing Green, and the panels seem to be extremely straight. The vehicle underwent a restoration back in 2010, and at that point, the body was removed from the frame, and everything was thoroughly inspected. What this revealed was not a single spot of rust anywhere, so the frame, the floors, and the inner fenders were treated to a coat of POR-15 before the car was reassembled. The trim and chrome appear to be nice, while the same can be said for the glass. The 15″ VTO wheels aren’t original, but they do suit the character of the vehicle. They also allow the fitting of some pretty decent tires, and as you will soon come to learn, this is almost certainly a good thing. There is a Plastic Dynamics hardtop and side curtains included with the MG, along with a cockpit cover and a car cover.

Now we get a chance to reveal this car’s party piece. The engine bay no longer houses a 1,588cc 4-cylinder engine. What sits there now is an A-code 289ci V8. The original engine would have produced a mere 80hp. In standard form, an A-code pumps out 225hp…but this one isn’t standard. It has been fitted with a Holley Street Avenger carburetor, a Petronix ignition system, a dual exhaust, and was treated to a full rebuild by Pike’s Engine & Machine Shop, in Watkins Glen, New York. The result of this handiwork is an engine that now produces a conservative 250hp. In a car that weighs a mere 2,070lbs, that does promise some entertaining motoring. Of course, shoving all of those horses through a standard MGA transmission and rear-end is a recipe for frequently hearing a loud “bang,” and then finding that you are reduced to walking to your destination. That shouldn’t be a problem, because the 4-speed has made way for a C4 automatic, while a narrowed Ford 9″ rear transmits the power to the pavement. In case you are worried about the potential reliability (or otherwise) of this work, you should be able to relax just a bit. This conversion is not new…by a very long way. In fact, this particular MGA received its original V8 conversion back in 1970. That original V8 was a 260, but a 289 was swapped in during the 2010 refurbishment. The owner states that the car runs and drives well and that there are no issues with problems such as overheating.

It’s hard to be truly critical of the MG’s interior because it does present very nicely. If I want to be pedantic, I do wish that the timber trim on the doors, door caps, and the dash cap all matched. I won’t criticize the timber dash, because that is a work of art…literally. The woodgrain on the dash actually isn’t woodgrain at all. The owner’s wife hand-painted it, and in the photos, it is almost impossible to tell that it isn’t real. The cream upholstery on the seats looks faultless, while the carpet has remained remarkably free of stains when you consider the shade that was chosen. The gauges are a bit of a mismatch, but this has probably been a matter of necessity given the modifications that have been performed. If the next owner finds this a distraction, then it would potentially be possible to address this issue.

One aspect that was often criticized with post-war British sports cars was a general lack of horsepower. An MGA can be a lovely car in which to tackle some twisting roads, but they are a car that generally lacks punch out of slow corners. That shouldn’t be an issue with this car, and it promises to be a vehicle that could be pretty easily steered on the throttle. This is a car that is guaranteed to plaster an enormous grin on your face and let’s be honest, that can never be a bad thing.


  1. Chas358 Chasman358

    * Way cool little car with a

    Way Cool engine swap!

    It should move quite well with the 289!

    Like 10
    • Solosolo ken tillyUK Member

      Great to see a modified car of any sort fitted with a 9″ FORD differential and FORD 289 engine rather than a Chev V8!

      Like 11
      • Rob F

        Article is wrong; CL ad & BV8 write up both say it’s a Ford 8″. Still plenty strong for a 2k pound car with a 289… and still a Ford :).

        Like 2
  2. Jcs

    Wow, what a sweet little car. Nice find Adam, and a great write up. Even with the automatic this is sure to be huge fun, and a smile creator for sure.

    BTW Carroll himself drove an automatic Cobra.

    Like 19
  3. Ikey Heyman

    Sometimes “originality be damned” makes sense – think how much fun you could have with this!

    Like 12
  4. Dusty Stalz

    If you’re a poor man, but are able to drop 20 grand on a toy, you’re doing alright lol.

    Like 1
  5. DayDreamBeliever DayDreamBeliever

    While I’d much prefer a manual gearbox, this car looks to be a great package, and probably FUN to drive! Complete, sorted, ready to drive. Nice.

    Part of the challenges which had to be factored in when installing a C4 is the size of the tunnel between the occupants. It has a huge appearance here, shrinking the footwells on both driver and passenger sides. For that reason, I’d want to sit in and drive the car before writing a check. But based on photos, this would be high on the grin factor to own.

    Like 5
    • John Schiessl

      Lost me at C4!

  6. bobhess bobhess Member

    That lack of footwell space is probably offset with the auto trans. The 289 is one of the finest engines ever designed by anyone. It’s got to be fun in the front of this great little car.

    Like 5
  7. Michael Leyshon Member

    Oh my… Look’s great, but I would think slowing her down into a tight curve might be frightening, especially without manual gearing. The car was not engineered for what’s in it. Doubt it would be approved to compete in any race. American V-8’s are blasphemy under British hoods, except perhaps the Sunbeam Tiger. Not knocking it myself so much. Grew up around an old school British car purist. Wouldn’t have to ask to know what he thinks about this MGA.

    Like 3
    • Jim Mac

      Lots of room for unintended consequence. May be fun to drive, not sure it would always be fun to stop or steer.

      • Rob F

        Plenty of V8 MGA’s on the road. I wouldn’t assume it wasn’t engineered well; there are plenty of techniques to keep weight on the front pretty close. And in slowing/stopping 2k mass from speed X to speed Y, it doesn’t matter how fast you got the mass moving @ speed X. Brakes only need upgrading if you plan to hit corners at higher speeds in relatively quick succession. Then brake fade can be an issue.

        @Michael Leyshon, purists don’t know what they’re missing… http://www.britishv8.org/Photos-MG-Conversions.htm… happy reading ;)

        Like 3
      • DayDreamBeliever DayDreamBeliever

        Rob F

        That is a GREAT link!

        It led to a much more complete history on the car here.


        What a beauty, seems like a good value at the listed price. I wonder if the hardtop in the old photos still exists?

    • Arthur Jacobs

      American V8s, under British hoods definitely isn’t blasphemy, AC Ace,with Ford 289, AKA Cobra, Lola with Ford 289 & 427, AKA Ford GT, J2 Alard, With Cadillac V8, Sum beam Tiger, Rover 3500, Buick 215 VM8, MGB V8 Buick 215 V8 ,Jensen Interceptor, Chrysler 440 V8.
      Not quite blasphemy, but all pretty quick.

      • Jim Landwehr

        In1969 I built a 1957 MGA power it with a small block 283 Corvette with two four barrels and a three speed modified floor shifter, modified a hydraulic slave cylinder for the clutch disengagement. In creased the front suspension with shocks between the front stock shock a arms. it was a blast to drive.
        Quit criticizing get off the couch and build something. Critics a dime a dozen.
        You can see my last build on line.
        Search (Reincarnation magazine) Sea Bee solution on line.
        Thanks Jim

  8. H5mind

    I owned an MGA and the engine bay is a very tight fit for anything larger than the stock motor. Kudos to whoever shoehorned that first V-8 in there while retaining stock hood (sorry, “bonnet”). Seems like a manual trans would be pretty simple swap if desired. Would free up floor space and weight too.

    Like 2
    • Skid

      My guess would be he went with an automatic because there isn’t room for a clutch pedal in the narrowed footwells.

      Like 2
  9. Barry Traylor

    What a lovely car.

    Like 1
  10. ron

    My buddy (RIP) back in the day 1969 had one of these with a 327 with a 4 speed that ran a 10.65 @ 144mph with fuel injection. When he purchased it, it was street legal with a 283 automatic. Very quick! I miss them both

    Like 3
  11. Kurt Member

    I had wondered about over heating when I first saw the pics. The radiator looked too small to chill an engine larger than the stock 4 banger.

  12. DonC

    Awesome car and I wish I had the $20K, I’d go take a serious look.
    By the way, did they upgrade the brakes? It’s one thing to go fast, it’s another thing to corner, and somewhere between the two you have to slow down.

    Like 2
  13. Chris

    Back when I was a teenager, a friend had a TR6 with the Buick aluminum 215(?) v-8 in it. It was an absolute blast to rip around in expect for the fact that we had done nothing to the noodle of a frame which resulted in the hood popping open every time you hit the loud pedal!! It definitely taught me the practice of restraint in the corners. This MG would be a riot I’m sure.

  14. Jack Quantrill

    What fun! A beautiful sleeper.

  15. Joe Haska

    I had a 57 MGA in college ,I thought it would be a real babe magnet, it wasn’t, in all fairness, I don’t think I ever had a car that was. Maybe something else going on there , I can’t imagine what. A few years ago a friend had an early MG , I think maybe a 50’s TD. It was built very well with SBC power, 4 spd, 9 inch and crazy fast. As it turned out he asked, if I could take to the new buyer. It was only about a 25 to 30 mile drive. Thank god, it wasn’t any farther. The first few miles scared me to death and I am fearless. The next few miles increased my confidence and driving skills. The last few miles would have killed me ,if I had gone any farther, I was definitley out driving the cars ability to stop.

    Like 2
  16. Morley Brown Member

    Atta boy, you made a crappy car great. Well done Somebody is going to get a great car.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

      These weren’t crappy cars. The MGA was a great sports car for its time.

      Like 6
    • Murray

      @ Morley Brown: Says the man who’s never driven one.

      Like 1
  17. Murray

    Lost me with the Automatic transmission. What is it with you guys over there, cant you change gears and steer at the same time? :-) For a car like this manual transmission should be mandatory…. :-)

  18. Tesla209

    It’s a proven set up. V8 sports car are awesome. There’s a 911 body on a Tesla now too. That’s the future I believe in rebody or motor swap

  19. Jim Chema

    Is that a stock hood? I don’t remember a scoop

  20. The Roar

    Fun ride for sure, and it is indeed green, but a few tones too bright
    to be the classic BRG.

  21. Michael van der Putten

    A long time ago.now…I had a 66 Tiger, It was mint and beautiful, It was a fun daily driver except the gas tank was small and you could go from gas station to gas station…….and by god down right scary in the rain with P7 Perilli tires…..Sure was fun though…

    Like 1

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