Why you’d want an MG ZT/ZT-T or Rover 75
The Rover 75 was born at a time of flux for its maker and has suffered from an ‘old man’s car’ prejudice and concerns about parts availability after the Rover collapse – but it is actually one of the best cars of its era, and one of the finest Rovers ever built.
The MG version gave it a younger, sportier feel and all the range – except the ultimate, Mustang V8-powered versions – are now astonishing value for money.
BMW funded its development, allowing Rover to engineer a brand-new platform instead of updating an old one.
Launched in late 1998 and on sale from June 1999, it was built at Cowley for just one year before BMW sold Rover to Phoenix Venture Holdings, and production moved to Longbridge.
Ironically, it was the BMW sale that allowed the car to flourish, as Phoenix swiftly moved to broaden the range, adding the capacious and elegant 75 Tourer (estate) in 2001, closely followed by the MG ZT saloon and ZT-T (Tourer).
With six engines and three trim options on 75s, plus the choice of SE spec (and/or automatic transmission) on all, then the MG range and the estates, there’s a 75 or a ZT for almost every taste.
Though inexperience (to put it politely) at Phoenix ultimately led to the demise of Rover, it was an exciting time, the young team encouraging a freedom of development that a large parent company would never have tolerated.
As a result, we have the choice of some stunning colour schemes from the Monogram range, and the stonking rear-drive Rover V8 and MG ZT 260 saloons and estates, engineered by Prodrive and with 4.6-litre power.
The MGs were not badge-engineered – they had revised styling and interiors, re-engineered engines, gearchanges, suspension and brakes.
Autocar’s verdict on testing the ZT 190 was: ‘The MG ZT rewrites the Rover 75’s clubby look and manners, delivering a leaner sports saloon that is as sharp on the road as it looks… The MG ZT is a formidable contender and a tribute to Rover’s engineering.’
Rot and neglect are the biggest challenges today – engine issues are minimal with the KV6 and BMW diesel, and overstated with the 1.8-litre K-series – even the turbo can clock up 150,000 miles with ease.
Values are currently so low that running cars with MoTs are being broken for spares rather than sold complete.
Images: James Mann
MG ZT/ZT-T & Rover 75: what to look for
See above for trouble spots.
The KV6 was an advanced four-cam, quad-valve engine, generally trouble-free but beware thermostat housing leaks; BMW diesels are usually bombproof.
The 1.8-litre K-series has concerns for its vulnerable head gasket, though a well-maintained car should have no problems. Beware crude repairs or engine swaps.
On all, but especially ‘fours’, check the cooling system for leaks, failed fans, or overheating: walk away if there’s emulsion in the header tank or oil cap.
Rear suspension top links are prone to rust and will ultimately snap if not replaced.
Check wheels for damage and brake discs for wear/corrosion.
Check that all electronics still work as they should, with no warning lights.
Plenum (and sunroof) drain blockages can soak the under-dashboard ECU.
By 75-100k miles the driver’s seat trim is usually showing signs of wear, split seams and sagging bolsters; the rare optional full leather lasts well.
MG ZT/ZT-T & Rover 75: before you buy
In the 75, the 2.5-litre V6 put out 175bhp, but in the ZT it was either 160 or 190 – the latter good enough for 140mph and 0-60mph in 8.5 secs.
The changes to the MG even included making the gearchange sportier; aluminium instead of rubber mounts for the subframes; 70% stiffer springs, uprated dampers and anti-roll bars; and bigger brakes.
All but the base 1.8-litre should feel lively; the 1.8 just brisk. On MGs, expect taut, sporting handling and on 75s, a good blend of precision and refinement.
A wallowy, clunky drive is a sure sign of worn shock absorbers and balljoints: budget up to £1000 if new rear arms are needed as well as joints and dampers.
Diesels have mostly covered more than 150k miles – they’re capable of exceeding 300,000 if well maintained.
Four-cylinder K-series units were designed with minimal coolant capacity for rapid warm-up; unfortunately leaks, often from around the plastic inlet manifold, rapidly lead to overheating and head-gasket failure. Look for glittery K-Seal in the coolant, then check the top hose when warmed up – if it’s rock hard, or too soft, something’s wrong. White exhaust smoke is also a telltale.
Provided the head is skimmed, a new multi-layer gasket is fitted with OE bolts and the leaks are permanently fixed, it shouldn’t fail again. Otherwise, the K-series is strong, clocking 200,000miles without a rebuild.
Check the paperwork: a recent comprehensive service history is a great sign; older bills are of little value if there’s a big recent gap. Many cars are neglected: adjust the price accordingly.
MG ZT/ZT-T & Rover 75 price guide
- 260: £4000/6000/8500*
- 190: £250/900/3000*
- 1.8T, 2.0 & 160: £200/500/2400*
- 1.8: £175/400/2000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
MG ZT/ZT-T & Rover 75 history
1998 Oct: Rover 75 launched at the NEC
1999 Jun: Deliveries commence
2000 Rover sold; build moves to Longbridge
2001 Jul: 75 Tourer arrives, then MG ZT 160/190 (and 180 auto), then ZT-T estate
2002 129bhp CDTi MG ZT/ZT-T added
2002 Aug: 148bhp 1.8 turbo launched; LWB (+20cm) 75 Vanden Plas (later Limousine)
2003 Feb: 129bhp 75 CDTi; 2.0 V6 dropped
2003 Nov: MG ZT 260 introduced
2004 Jan: Facelift; non-turbo ZT 120 added
2004 Oct: Rover V8 launched
2005 Apr: MG Rover collapses; build ends
The owner’s view
“I’ve owned so many American classics over the past 20 years, but now I only have my MGs,” says Neil Ransome.
“I’ve always wanted a ZT, ever since I first saw an ad for them 20 years ago. When this ZT 190 came up for sale in 2018 it was in a state, but I knew that it was one of the original press cars and I just had to have it: I took it round to my dad’s and told him, ‘I think I’ve had my midlife crisis!’
“This car was used in one of the factory TV adverts and is in my favourite colour, Solar Red – I have a ZR in the same shade. The paint was badly faded, but it’s just been completely gone through by Fred Russell at thecarcareclub.co.uk and I’m delighted with how it looks now.
“I think it’s a timeless, classic design that’s never dated – it’s important to try and keep these cars on the road. Lots goes wrong, but what the hell!”
ALFA ROMEO 156
Compact, stylish and sporty, with engines from a Twin Spark, twin-cam 1600 to the 3.2 V6 GTA, plus multiple diesels in both saloon and Sportwagon forms. Great character, but they do rot.
Sold 1997-2005 • No. built c680k • Price now £500-15,000*
Retro saloon and estate, as 2.0/2.2 FWD turbodiesel, 2.1 FWD and 2.5/3.0 V6 AWD petrol. Dirt cheap and lovely when good, but prone to sill rot and diesel engine faults; few are well maintained.
Sold 2001-’09 • No. built c350,000 • Price now £400-4000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
MG ZT/ZT-T & Rover 75: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Except for the rare and desirable V8s, the market is currently flooded with cheap 75s and ZTs, and in theory you can take your pick of models and specs – but in reality, if you want a really good car, it will take time to find.
Doing so will be well worthwhile because it costs far more to bring an average car up to top spec than to buy a perfect one in the first place.
- A better car than most people think, for ridiculously little money
- Good parts availability at sensible prices
- A wide choice of engine, trim and body options
- Most have been neglected, many modified
- Complex to bring back to good condition
MG ZT/ZT-T & Rover 75 specifications
- Sold/no built 1999-’05/211,175 (75), 27,149 (ZT)
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine all-alloy, dohc 1796cc ‘four’ (optional turbo), 1991/2497cc V6 or iron/alloy, ohc 4601cc V8, with multi-point fuel injection; or 1951cc common-rail turbodiesel
- Max power 114bhp @ 4000rpm to 260bhp @ 5000rpm
- Max torque 118lb ft @ 4000rpm to 302lb ft @ 4000rpm
- Transmission five-speed manual or auto, FWD (V8: five-speed manual or four-speed auto, RWD with LSD)
- Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear multi-link, coil springs, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes discs, with servo, ABS and EBD
- Length 15ft 7-8½in (4745-4792mm)
- Width 5ft 10in (1778mm)
- Height 4ft 7½-10in (1410-1470mm)
- Wheelbase 9ft (2745mm)
- Weight 3031-3850lb (1375-1750kg)
- 0-60mph 13-6.5 secs
- Top speed 111-149mph
- Mpg 14-50
- Price new £16,995-34,490 (2004)