The last time MG fans could buy a V8-engined MG sportscar, it was the mid-1990s and the product was called the RV8, a warmed-over, updated version of the ancient 1960s-designed MGB that was virtually hand-produced at what is now BMW's Cowley Mini factory.

It had its following, was exported as far as Japan and is now sought after by classic MG collectors. But the car had its detractors, too, for its mutton-dressed-as-lamb engineering approach and is unlikely to go down in history as one of the all-time MG greats.

Fast forward to 2002, however, and two all-new V8 MG saloons, the first large, big-engined, rear-drive MG four-seaters in decades, could be giving the likes of BMW's M5 a run for its money.

The cars will be the 'Core' and 'Ulimate' variants of MG's new Rover 75-based sports sedan, currently known only by the codename X10. They will have a V8 engine, source currently unknown, developing either 260 or 375bhp. And they will look and feel the part - just like their newly-announced 'entry level' 160 and 'Core' 190bhp V6 siblings - with 18-inch alloy wheels, lowered, tautened suspension, huge 325mm brake discs with painted callipers, higher-geared steering, front and rear spoilers, various body styling tweaks, grippy sports seats, revised instrument displays, and polished aluminium dashboard and door inserts in place of Rover-style polished wood.

There will be one big difference for the V8 models, though - rear wheel drive.

While Ford of Europe recently launched a Transit van and truck range with both front and rear wheel drive variants, can't think of any car maker that has done this trick in recent memory. There have been four-wheel drive derivatives of front-drive cars (e.g. another Ford, the Mondeo) and, like MG Rover, GM's Australian arm Holden once produced a model with four, six and eight-cylinder engine options, but as for the front-drive fours and V6s, with a rear-drive range-topping, traffic-stopping V8s, well, it seems that MG Rover has created a first.

New rear-drive MG Rover V8 sports saloons will look similar to this V6 front-driver prototype unveiled today

According to product development director Rob Oldaker and other MG Rover insiders, the engineering wasn't quite as difficult as one might think.

"The R75 bodyshell is very rigid and there was already a 'transmission tunnel' in place so the job wasn't as complicated as you might expect," Oldaker said. "We will of course have to design new trailing arm rear suspension."

That leads to the obvious question: as the R75 was designed when Rover was still under BMW ownership, did the Germans allow for an easy conversion to rear-drive? That is denied by MG Rover sources who say that the 375 bhp V8-engined sedan is "the car that BMW were scared stiff we'd build".

During the press preview of the new MG sportscar range on January 30, Oldaker referred to engineer and stylist discussions and basic design and development work that was carried out under BMW ownership but "below the sweep of German radar", i.e. without close scrutiny from senior management. The rear wheel drive car, on the other hand, was completely "out of sight".

While still under BMW management, the planners were able to display a 'Rover 75S' at last year's Geneva show but were not allowed to openly call it a 'Sport' model. Now under independent UK ownership, the new 375bhp V8 sedan, Oldaker acknowledged, was the ultimate expression of how the MG Rover engineers and designers want to do a sports variant of the 75.

Though most details were released today of the 'lesser' V6 versions, MG Rover staff are tight-lipped on the V8's specifications. They won't comment at all on the engine's source or say if it's a V8 version of the company's all-alloy, 24-valve quad-cam KV6 engine, a bespoke design from the likes of Britain's Cosworth Engineering (a strong possibility) or a bought-in unit from perhaps Ford or GM in the USA.

Sources say that MG Rover and BMW still have a good working relationship as Rover buys both petrol and diesel engines and body panels from its former parent, and hopes to purchase the engine plant, still located at MG Rover's Longbridge, Birmingham site, in due course.

However, given that the new V8 Rover sedans seem aimed directly at BMW's V8-engined M5 sports saloon, the chances of BMW being the engine supplier for that car are slim.