The Costello Story
Ken was the first to produce, in significant numbers, what amounted to a properly engineered, productionised version of a V8-engined MG. Perfectionist that he was, he never gave up refining the original concept and various upgrades for suspension, braking and so on have continued to appear. It would still be possible to produce a genuine contemporary Costello today - and several have been.
A significant proportion of the existing Costellos are showcased here by their enthusiastic owners. 'All these cars have a home on this website,' says Ken, who was 'proud and flattered' that anyone should have thought it worthwhile undertaking the task and is 'most impressed by the result.'
Ken Costello combined the talents of a skilled engineer and a successful racing driver. He particularly remembered the 60s and early 70s. 'We used to really fly in those days,' he says, with a gleam in his eye, 'although our cars were not as highly modified as some, we could out-run competitors with engines more than twice our size. They were great times, and saloon car racing just isn't as exciting today. There are no more David and Goliath struggles.' The Costello racing programme lasted 12 years and Ken won the Redex British Saloon Car Championship in 1967 in his self-prepared Cooper 1275 S.
Ken Costello campaigning his 1275GT Mini at Brands Hatch in 1967, securing the BSCC in the process
Costello racing his F3000 at Brands Hatch, circa 1967
So when it came to creating a performance car, he knew exactly what he was looking for - and exactly how to go about making it. Spotting a compact, 3.5 litre alloy Buick V8 in a friend's workshop and then being able to lift it almost single-handed, sowed the seeds of a great idea. This power plant was just what the MGB needed - and Ken was just the man to engineer it. After much design and development work, Ken could proudly boast that the result could out-sprint Jaguar E-Types up to 100mph, confuse Porsche 911s in a straight line dash and possess a theoretical top speed of 140mph.
By the time British Leyland produced their own V8 model, some two years after Costello had begun building his, the global energy crisis was looming so few of his potential customers were interested in a sports car that did 24 mpg at best. The Costello was actually more expensive than the BL version and demand petered out fairly quickly. The 'factory' version didn't last much longer, but these days it's the Costello original that fetches a price premium.
The early Costello MG had the P6 specification V8 installed with twin SU carburettors, a bulging fibreglass bonnet and that distinctive black, aluminium egg box grille. Later versions could be fitted with a standard MG bonnet, because special, low-profile inlet manifolds enabled the fitting of the standard SUs or a single Weber 40 DCOE in a rearward-facing configuration, thus doing away with the need for extra under-bonnet clearance. A bespoke 'V8 Costello' badge was fitted to the rear panel, and after the bonnet bulge was made redundant, this and the egg box grille were the only external signs that this car was not a standard BL factory model.
It is unclear how many cars Ken Costello converted between 1970 and 1974 because the works records no longer exist, but a figure of about 225 is very probable. The first was a roadster; but most that followed were GTs. Of these, just over 60 or so remain, some languishing in barns or garages awaiting restoration, others used as daily drivers.
Ken Costello passed away in August, 2015 and is much missed. Read his obituary in the Daily Telegraph here.