These rare Victors added more cylinders for big power

Photography by John Webber unless otherwise credited

Attention, please. All of you who have witnessed an MG TF deliver a burnout like the one pictured here, raise your hands. We’ll wait. 

Ah, we thought so. It’s a sight few have seen. But we’re not blowing smoke when we say that this car, a one-off, V8-powered prototype built in 1986 by Great Lakes Motor Cars Corp.–formerly Victor Replicars of America–can roast its tires with ease. 

[Victor MG TF Replica | Expert-fooling looks with highway-ready MGB power]

Although we didn’t subject our other featured car to this particular test, the V6-powered Victor prototype (one of two built) is equally capable of creating motoring drama. In 1984, shortly after it was built, it competed in the inaugural Brock Yates One Lap of America. More about that later.

Before the TF faithful accuse us of classic car abuse, consider this: These are replicas, hand-built by Victor in the mid-1980s as “halo” cars to boost sales of its primary product, the TF 1800, a faithful-to-the-original, all-MG fiberglass roadster it advertised as the one “that captures all the charm and character of the original McCoy.” 

To this day, the tiny group of Victor owners swears that an MGB cloaked in a TF shell is lovely to look at and fun to drive. While these plastic replicas may not be welcome in some posh concours, they draw an admiring crowd wherever they go.

It’s an “All-MG” Replica

Regular readers may recall our feature on Victor’s TF 1800 (“First Class Fiberglass,” March 2014). Here’s a snapshot: In 1980, Victor Replicars, a tiny “factory” in Victor, New York, staffed by a trio of experienced craftsmen (Rich Colombo, his brother Ray, and Mike Perry), introduced a comprehensive, well-engineered kit that enabled a DIYer to assemble a fiberglass TF using the engine and running gear from an MGB

In fact, the company advertised its kit as a way to save a rusty or wrecked B. It included a scratch-built frame, fiberglass tub, fenders and doors (in primer), upholstery, top and bows, wiring harness, windshield frame, chromed grille, gas tank, dashboard (minus instruments), miscellaneous hardware and a 72-page instruction manual. 

It was up to the builder to pull all the necessary bits from a donor MGB and bolt them on Victor’s frame, which was stouter and stiffer than the original. For $7450 plus a long stretch of garage time, an enthusiast could build a TF that looked original but served up 30 more horsepower, weighed 280 pounds less, and featured front disc brakes and larger drums in back. 

For those who wanted a turnkey car, Victor offered its MG TF 1800s for $16,500. Records are murky, but sources indicate that Victor sold six to eight factory-assembled cars and around 25 kits.

While its MGB-powered ride proved enough for most buyers, Victor decided that yet more power in the same classic package might widen its market appeal. So it built two V6-powered TFs, which led to the V8. An advertisement put it this way: “A little less authentic, but the performance is awesome.”

Want More Fun? Try V6 Power

Central Florida MG enthusiast J.D. Cellars has owned a number of MGs, starting with a TD, then a 1500 TF, an MGA coupe and a few more, up to a 1974 MGB GT. 

“I’ve always liked the TF’s lines,” he said, “and when I learned about the Victor replica, which used the MGB engine and running gear, I thought it was interesting and could be a better driver than a TF. I ended up buying what turned out to be an early factory-built Victor.” It had seen rough times, including a botched rebuild, and desperately needed rescuing. 

So he embarked on a no-bolt-unturned restoration. After he completed that car, a never fully assembled Victor kit found its way into his garage. “I had learned so much on that first car,” he said, “that I thought building the second one would be a breeze. Boy, was I wrong.” Still, he persevered. When the V6 prototype, which also needed a complete refresh, came on the market, he couldn’t resist. He’s been knee-deep in it ever since; this man knows his Victors.

According to an advertising flyer, Victor (then rebranded as Great Lakes Motor Cars Corp.) built two TFs powered by Chevy’s 3.8-liter, 90-degree V6. One was equipped with a Muncie four-speed transmission and the other with a Powerglide. 

The Victor packed MGB mechanicals into a body resembling one of its predecessors, the TF. In an attempt to reduce the chances of a tank rupture and fire in a rear-end collision, Victor mounted a metal fuel tank between the frame rails.

Victor claimed that these engines and transmissions squeezed into its frame with few modifications, other than bringing the tubular exhaust headers through the engine side panels behind the front wheels. 

It’s a One Lap Veteran

In 1984, with 160 miles on its speedo, Great Lakes Motor Cars entered this car in Brock Yates’ inaugural One Lap of America. This seven-day scramble started in Darien, Connecticut, and streaked west, flouting our nation’s 55 mph limit, so competitors collected handfuls of speeding tickets. 

[When the Cannonball Rally went legit | The history of the One Lap of America ]

This rolling herd circled the lower 48 through Seattle, San Diego and Miami before hightailing it back to Darien. Some 70 crazies joined the mayhem, chasing a tenuous route Yates had created in a Dodge van. 

His route instructions were devilishly scant, described as little more than “Go to Seattle and turn left.” The winner? The team that logged the closest to Yates’ mileage. A stalwart trio herding a grocery-getter 1984 Chevy station wagon won the rally.  

 How did this Victor TF-V6 fare? A company flyer crowed, “The car was a complete success. We covered about 9,500 miles…with no difficulty whatsoever, and the car is running today as strong as ever.” 

Let’s be generous and call that summary, well, a creative stretch. One Lap records show that the Victor did indeed complete the rally, but it was awarded a DNF because it didn’t finish within the time limits. 

Why was it late? Its MGB differential failed, a potential disaster for a lesser group. But this determined team tracked down a rear end in a junkyard and wrestled it in place while a tow truck held the TF aloft. On the road again, the Victor sped back to Darien, where the car was officially listed as an “unclassified finisher.” 

Why Not Two More Cylinders?

Not long after it built the V6 TFs, Great Lakes decided that the “next natural progression was to build a V8.” To make room for the longer engine, it crafted a new frame, about an inch wider and 4 inches longer. 

This stretch resulted in a longer bonnet, front fenders and engine side panels. All fenders were widened by 2 inches as well. 

The builders installed a Muncie four-speed, stout front and rear anti-roll bar, larger wheels and tires, and a narrowed 9-inch Ford differential–perhaps learning from its V6’s One Lap failure. The four-barrel-equipped Chevy 350 V8 was reportedly built by engine builder Bill Drake in Rochester to deliver about 400 horsepower. We can testify that its loping idle spells big cam. 

Enthusiast John Leary, who owned the Victor TF 1800 we featured in 2014, had heard rumors that Victor built V6 and V8 prototypes, but he knew nothing certain until he was put on the trail. 

All Victors are rare, but these two prototypes have to be the rarest. The red car received a V8, while the black one got a V6.

“My nature is to look for something bigger and faster,” he said, “and this V8 is what showed up. It has more than met my expectations. That it’s the only V8 Victor built was a big draw, too.”

He spent days detailing the car inside and out. Then he started playing with its tune. “It was maybe down a cylinder,” he said, “but with its abundance of power, I didn’t really know it.” 

He checked the carb’s jetting because it was set up for a higher altitude. But after changing spark plugs, wiring and distributor cap, he was amazed at the improvement: “I thought I had a fast car, but I found I had a much faster car.”

A Conversation With a Builder

Victor founder Rich Colombo recalls the night in late 1979 when they rolled out their first factory-assembled MG TF replica: “My sister and brother-in-law stopped by our shop on their way to a party. We told them, ‘Take this car.’ 

“So they jumped in, backed out and went down the road, looking and sounding like an MG. That thing had never actually been driven before. They had a great time that evening and drove it back without a problem. That was the extent of our testing program.” 

His sister had owned a 1955 MG TF, and the Victor trio came up with the idea that an updated, all-MG fiberglass replica might be a moneymaker. They completely disassembled an original TF and crafted molds from its parts. 

Using their experience in building fiberglass boats and Model A Ford Woodie bodies, they were able to create accurate, look-alike panels. They created a wiring harness that provided improved circuit protection, and they used MG factory pieces (door hinges, for example) to make the car look as authentic as possible. 

Their replica got good reviews in the press, from Kit Car magazine and from builders who bought their kits. Still, sales did not grow the way they had hoped, and they lacked the capitalization and customer base to expand. 

“In those days, there was a lot of kit car competition,” Rich explained. “MG replicas kind of had a bad name because of the Volkswagen-powered junkers, so we had to deal with that. People were pleased with our quality, but we didn’t market properly or go to a lot of shows. We were too busy building them and crating them to go out.” 

Once it became apparent that the sales of TF replicas couldn’t pay the bills, the tiny company began building 25-foot fiberglass, classic-appearing “steam” launches, powered by a gas engine. When those sales wound down, “It was about time to retire,” Rich said. In early 1991, Great Lakes became Noble Motor Cars Corporation, and under this name only a couple of kits were sold. 

Several years ago, Rich got curious and Googled Victor MG TF. “I was shocked to learn that our Victor had become something of a cult car,” he said. “I found out that a lot of information and interest was still out there. Not everybody gets to build a car, and we built this one pretty much from the ground up. It was an adventure, and we had a lot of good experiences. All these years later, people still track me down and want to talk about our car.”

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