Rover 75/MG ZT (1999-2005) Review

26 Dec 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Rover 75/MG ZT (1999-2005) Review
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Rover 75/MG ZT (1999-2005) Review

by Jeff Mullins 23 December 2011

The Rover Group in the 1990’s were a company whose fortunes were looking up. With strong sales and success on the back of the well received R8 200/400 Series, it was looking like the company had finally found a place in the automotive world after decades of turbulent times under the rule of organisations like BMC and British Leyland.

The company was once again under private ownership in the form of British Aerospace and despite being on a drip feed of investment during this period, they were utilising their Honda partnership to the full. They also had a new and advanced engine in the form of the K Series, which despite its later known head gasket problems, was light and revvy and proved to be just what the company needed at the time.

In 1994, just after the launch of the successfully styled 600 Series, BMW stepped in and unexpectedly bought the company lock stock and barrel for £800 million; a relative bargain considering the way it stood at the time. While ‘The Rover Group’ comprised valuable assets and marketable brands in the form of Land Rover and the Mini, the passenger car range was also proving to be an indomitable force in itself and was competing in segments that BMW weren’t present in until the launch of the 3 Series Compact in 1995.

The 600 Series was also looking like a polished 3 Series rival to many people’s eyes (at least aesthetically) and had reliability to match its style in the form of engines that were ninety per cent Honda. The Rover Group were now positioning themselves as a slightly premium alternative to the usual Ford and Opel/Vauxhall models and pricing themselves accordingly.

In late 1998, the first fully BMW influenced Rover model was showcased in the form of the 75; a model that would serve as a combined replacement for both the mid size 600 Series and the ageing 800 (a model which I’m sure will be familiar to all Partridge fans!) At its unveiling at the British Motor Show in 1998, its first official viewing by the public coincided with that of another car from another British brand which was also foreign owned – the Jaguar S-type. The two cars both happened to be styled on a retro British theme that harked back to a period of the 1950’s/60’s, although it was the 75 that was proclaimed to be the more successful interpretation by the press and visitors alike.

Where the Jaguar just looked awkward and ungainly, the Rover looked beautiful and elegant; with a high shoulder line and a chrome strip that emphasised the flowing lines of the exterior and finished it off wonderfully. It was the car that Rover’s future depended on and the reaction and general feeling around it was positive #8211; until a shock announcement where BMW boss Bernd Pischetsrieder used the launch to talk about the uncertain future of the company that was producing it.

To say it jeopardised the car’s success was putting it mildly, with people being told that the company was losing money hand over fist and that action would have to be taken. It is still unclear to this day what Dr Pischestrieder’s intentions were in choosing this time to make such an announcement, but it could be said to have been the official start of the company’s exit from BMW ownership, as well as its eventual demise some years later.

The Rover 75 arrived in most countries around mid 1999 and at launch featured a range of petrol engines that were exclusively K Series, in straight four and V6 configurations. The V6 (KV6) had been refined since its application in the 800 Series and had had problems like its serious cylinder lining issue eliminated. Diesel power featured in the form of BMW’s accomplished M47 unit, which came in outputs of both 114bhp and 129bhp respectively.

The 75’s initial assembly was at Cowley and these cars featured a much higher level of finish than the eventual cars which would roll off the production line towards the end in 2005. The plant had been the subject of much investment by BMW and produced the 75 from its beginning of initial production in 1998 to the break-up of the Rover Group and transferral of production to Longbridge by October 2000.

The cars are identifiable by their grey plastic sills (these are painted on Longbridge built cars) and a variety of exterior colours that Longbridge cars weren’t available in. While production was being transferred, it was said that some improvements were made to the building process while the opportunity was there, but it was less than a a few months later that the infamous ‘Project Drive’ was implemented which involved the gradual de-contenting of the cars in order to save what was now termed ‘MG Rover Group’ as a whole. Initial changes were minor things like deleting headrest piping on lower models and replacing leather handbrake grips with plastic items, but it later went as far as deleting major components like the anti roll bar on 1.8 models.

In 2001, the MG ZT arrived as part of the new range created by management that saw sporting versions being launched of the 25, 45 and 75 and wearing the octagon badge. These featured stiffened suspensions among a range of many cosmetic alterations, but the engine line-up fundamentally mirrored the range of cars that sired them. The ZS (Rover 45) and ZT (Rover 75) in particular came out as much improved driver’s tools with transformed characters.

A major addition to the range also came in the form of the Tourer, which provided a handsome load lugger alternative to the saloon.

In late 2003, MG Rover did something very unusual and converted the 75/ZT chassis to accept rear-wheel drive. Fitted with a gruff and unsophisticated Mustang engine, it only produced 260bhp and was woefully inefficient for the time, with emissions exceeding 300 g/km. It was something of a last hurrah for the company and a sign of how they had truly lost direction.

As you would expect, none made it to Ireland either; due to our silly tax system and the Irish mentality towards big engines in general. We did get the turbocharged 1.8 litre K Series however (148bhp), which was launched a year earlier and replaced the 2.0 litre KV6. This was followed by a facelift in 2004, which was a restyling as well as a cost saving exercise that saw changes implemented in the form of items like a new one piece front bumper that was cheaper to produce.

The Rover 75/MG ZT today makes a very shrewd buy with the BMW diesel engine. Rather ironically, these very engines were unreliable in BMW’s own products and were notorious for turbo failure as well as the usual swirl flap problems (refer to my E39 article for more info). The 75 featured neither of these, employing a Mitsubishi turbocharger instead of the BMW’s variable vane unit (manufactured by Garrett) and utilising a separate manifold design.

These would definitely be the smart buy as an ownership proposition for peace of mind. The K Series petrol units are fine if looked after correctly, although they are not for the feint hearted. The 1.8 litre four cylinder is a typical head gasket blower, so keeping a close eye on and regular changing of coolant is essential, particularly with turbocharged models.

The 2.0 litre and 2.5 litre KV6’s also feature three cambelts which are a job that mechanics are known to shy away from, being labour intensive and requiring special tools that are either expensive or just hard to obtain.

Another notable weak point on the Rover 75/MG ZT range is the clutch slave cylinder on manual models. It is a known design fault on the 75/ZT and failure usually leads to replacement of the clutch as well, leading to a costly bill.

The Rover 75/MG ZT is a car with a huge fan base and community surrounding it. The website http://www.the75andztclub.co.uk/ features some of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable owners around that help make ownership that bit easier.

Since MG Rover entered administration in 2005, there is still a wide supply of parts and a number of UK businesses that specialise in catering for the ownership circle. It should also be mentioned that descendants of the Rover 75 are still in production today in the form of the Roewe 750 and MG 7 in China, so there should be a good deal of parts compatibility between those cars.

In general, the Rover 75/ZT shows what could have been for Rover and serves as a bittersweet reminder today to the lost potential of the company in its final years. Maybe if BMW hadn’t dropped such a bombshell at its launch in 1998 then its future prospects would have been brighter and it would have been the product after all to save Britain’s last major car producer? It is a debated topic between Rover enthusiasts that will never be known.

What is certain though is that BMW’s lack of patience and The Phoenix Four’s general mismanagement were a sad ending to a car that looked so promising, as well as the company and workforce that produced it.

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