Our Cars : Meet the Fleet No.3 – MG ZS 180
Okay, so there are quite a few of these to go through – indeed, until I sat down and worked it out for this very purpose, I’d lost count of how many cars I actually owned (18 at present…).
This one follows a path that, so far, may seem a little familiar in that I rescued it from being on the danger list. I do that quite often – it’s time-consuming, stressful and somewhat chaotic, so in all honesty I can’t put my finger on why I enjoy it so much. But I do, and in doing so I tend to secure the short term future of many I car I think worth saving…
This one’s story is fairly straightforward. Like all good car enthusiasts, I have a mate who knows how cars work infinitely better than I do. He runs a very small country garage (more a large shed, with a bank of regular and grateful clients who, more often than not, are enthusiasts themselves). Last summer, my wife found herself in need of a short-term transport solution at the exact same time as Tony found himself in possession of a 2003 MG ZS 180. EF52 LLO belonged to one of his regulars, who had owned and looked after it for six years. Then, on a frozen morning in February 2013 (there were a few…) the local bin men lost control of their truck on their rounds and it slid gracefully backwards into his driveway, clobbering the ZS down its passenger side and taking out both doors, a mirror and the front wing.
In retrospect, the car stood up incredibly well, with only panel damage and no structural impairment, but apparently the owner had been thinking of getting something more economical anyway. Rather than pursue an insurance claim, the local council handed over a (rather generous) cheque for £2,000 and the owner bought a diesel Vectra, leaving the broken ZS to Tony to do with as he wished.
His original plan was to break it and sell the bits, but a fortnight later, after a chance email conversation, I found myself in possession of a fully MoT’d and slightly taxed ZS 180 for £375 all in. Pretty it wasn’t, but it got us out of a hole. It also had a full set of nearly new Falken tyres (they’re excellent, by the way) and new discs and pads, plus the assurance (but with no written proof) that the belts were changed at 96,000 miles, against a mileage at the time of 98,700.
Of course, I should have left it there… In time, the ZS was replaced by a significantly more boring VW Golf (she’d strive to differ, I’m sure) and the battered ZS was surplus to requirements. But by that point, it had beguiled me. I used to drive these quite a bit when they were new. I always liked the Z-Cars, and the ZS 180 was, in my opinion, the ultimate. MG Rover’s engineers had clearly spent a lot of time developing the car properly and even today there are few that can match it for all-out poise, grip and handling reassurance. If you haven’t driven one, don’t laugh – this was one of the BEST performance saloons of its day, and even now, 13 years since its launch, it remains a superbly focused driver’s car. Sure, it has the usual nasty HH-R Honda cabin, badly laid out switchgear and weirdly cramped driving position, but in my mind that’s all forgotten once you fire up the KV6 and exploit the truly remarkable chassis. It also looks the part, too, though I confess I do prefer the four-door. At this price level, though, we’re in beggars and choosers territory – plus, we have a pushchair to lug around…
So what to do? Initially, I looked at stripping it out to create my own track day car (quite how I’d ever get to do track days with three small kids and a full-time job was a bridge I’d cross a bit further down the line), until one idle evening I was browsing eBay and discovered a Trophy Blue ZS 180 saloon that had been flung driver’s side first into a lamp post. The car was just up the road in Peterborough, the passenger side was undamaged and the owner needed rid quickly, as he’d bought a new car and there was no insurance claim, as it only had third party cover (or so he told me, in broken English…).
The following day, I’d somehow convinced Tony and his dutiful Talbot Express flatbed that they should accompany me on a nocturnal mission to collect it. £150 changed hands, and we stripped it on the back of the transporter – with both NS doors, both wings and the front bumper finding their way onto EF52 LLO and several other bits rescued for the parts shed. Alas, with no storage we couldn’t take everything that might be useful and it was certainly a wrench to weigh in the shell with engine and box still attached, but we still recouped most of our parts investment by flogging the boot spoiler, naff ‘Lexus-style’ rear lights, a couple of alloys and the aftermarket stereo on eBay. Meanwhile, Tony took the glass for a customer’s Rover 45 that had, unfortunately, had its windows put through by some drunken moron the previous week and I rescued what trim bits I could for the ZS before we dragged it off to the yard. A good parts haul, and by far the best ending for a car that was way beyond salvation anyway…
Over the following two weekends, EF52 LLO was transformed. I replaced both front wings as the driver’s side one had developed a small rust scab, both doors complete with door cards still attached (they’re very slightly different, but it took my wife six months to notice…) and the front bumper. There were still a few scuffs on the lower part of the new bumper, but I discovered by complete coincidence (as I had a tin in my shed from my old 205 GTi) that MG Trophy Blue and Peugeot Miami Blue are essentially the same colour. I’ve tried, and I genuinely can’t see the difference…
I followed my efforts up with a full valet and, all of a sudden, had a really smart and respectable looking ZS 180 that drives as tightly and as rewardingly as I remember them when new, despite having just ticked over 100k on the clock. It’s not mint, and it has the usual butterfly valve rattle, but it’s genuinely now in very, very nice condition. Sure, I could probably have found one in as good nick for the same amount of money and far less time and effort, but where’s the fun in that?
Another one rescued, and which for the past three months has been providing me with dependable daily transport. I do have a new job on the horizon, though, which comes with a company motor, so very soon the ZS 180 will be surplus to requirements – and this time I really can’t afford to keep them all so once again it’s future hangs a little in the balance. Either the ZS goes, or one of my 800s, or my Volvo 240 (more of that later) – especially as there’s quite possibly a new addition to the fleet imminent. More on that one later…
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