Car of the Month : January 2006

THERE might be a bright future for the MG marque as we move into a new year, but at the moment, the production lines at Longbridge remain silent, with little hope of a quick reversal.

So, that being the case, the ZT V8 remains one of the final cars to be introduced wearing an octagon badge, and saddest of all, it’s one of the best cars ever built by the company. This fine example chosen for austin-rover.co.uk’s first Car of The Month in 2006 belongs to Mark Baxter, a buyer for the dealer chain SMC, and arguably the biggest fan of these old school V8s in the land – he currently owns two, but is always looking for more.

KEITH ADAMS tells the story.


Magic MG

I’VE made no secret of the fact that we all love ZT 260 V8s on this website. How could anyone not feel so strongly about a car, which encapsulates old school V8 powered rear wheel drive fun with such high quality engineering values? Ever since the project was launched at the unveiling of the MG ‘Zed’ range of sporting saloons back in early 2001, it has been intriguing to see this car get off the ground after a number of not-insignificant set backs.

Initially christened the MG X12, the V8 programme was handed over to legendary rally car fettlers, Prodrive, and who worked hard to turn a front wheel drive executive car into a rear wheel drive sportster.

It wasn’t a straightforward programme, and after a number of setbacks and delays, the final version was announced in September 2003, with the first customer cars hitting the showrooms two or three months later. It was a two year gestation period; somewhat longer than management had first conceived, because it never envisaged there would be so many engineering changes required to make the car work.

We have discussed this many times on the site before, and have always lauded the company for having the balls to produce such a car in the face of such a bleak furture. After all, everyone knew that what MG Rover really needed was to get the RDX60 into production, and kickstart its hopes in the middle market.

And ever since MG Rover’s collapse in April, there have been many commentators who have repeatedly stated that the ZT V8 and XPower SV supercar were both irrelevant, and the company should never have wasted valuable time and resources on such programmes.

The thing is – we don’t think the ZT V8 is an irrelevance. More than that, the world would be a much duller place without it, and although it is easy for the hindsight merchants to say ‘I told you so’ about the fortunes of MG Rover, are they seriously saying that the future prospects of MG Rover would have been any different had the car not been developed?

Of course not…

RDX60 was always going to need considerably more investment than the £300m or so swelling MG Rover’s coffers at the start of the great adventure, and the £35m or so that X12 cost to get into production wouldn’t have made a dent in such an important programme. The interesting thing about the ZT V8 and its Rover-badged counterpart, is that they are both great cars to drive, and as such were a great shop window product for a company desperately seeking a collaborative partner.

Perhaps the SV was an avenue too far – but as I’ve yet to drive one, I’ll leave that unsaid – but the ZT V8 made great sense. After all, it drives as well as any of its rivals, and yet, cost almost nothing to develop compared with anything put out by BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Lexus. Okay, it isn’t a well-rounded product in the way a BMW 530i is, but if anything, that adds to its charms…

When I first clapped eyes on Mark Baxter’s example of the breed, it wasn’t hard to conclude that the package works very well indeed. On the road, the ZT 260 little different from any of its front wheel drive counterparts, and it would take a seasoned car spotter to tell it apart. Being a Mk2 ZT V8, this one has discreet ‘V8’ badges on the wings, and double exhausts at the rear (there should be four on the standard V8, but Mark’s car packs an XPower system) – but that’s all there is to give the game away…

…Until the engine is fired up.

Mark’s car also has an illustrious previous owner. First name on the car’s log book is John Edwards, one of the Phoenix Four management team. It seems only fitting that the car should have fallen into the hands of Mark Baxter – as he is an MG Rover petrolhead, who adores the V8 models.

Aside from this car, Mark also owns another example, which will feature on the website shortly. There are other cars in Mark’s fleet, too, but ones that stand out are a Rover 800 Coupe and Range Rover…

Spending time with Mark’s pristine example has reaffirmed my own desire to pick up one of these sooner, rather than later…


Mark’s ZT 260 has been upgraded by the addition of a very tuneful XPower exhaust system…


In the dull December light, the car’s bright Monogram paint scheme remains looking unfeasably bright…


Mark and his ZT 260 V8 at one of 2005’s most popular photo locations…


Formerly, this car was owned by Phoenix Four member, John Edwards, and was caught on film by Mark at Longbridge parked near the famous ‘Elephant House’. As can be seen from the number plate, he believed in flying the corporate flag…

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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