The cars : Rover 75/MG ZT development history

The 75 was the first Rover for a generation to be produced without tight budgetary constraints – and it showed with almost previously unheard of engineering quality.

However, BMW’s Chairman decided to torpedo the car – and the company that produced it – at its launch in 1998, casting a long shadow over over Rover’s bright new star which took years to extinguish.


Killed before its time…

The cars : Rover 75/MG ZT development history

Following years of underinvestment in the bosom of British Aerospace (BAe), life as the UK division of BMW became something of a culture shock for the Managers, Designers and Assembly workers of Rover. Far from a cost-cutting, German shroud being lowered over Longbridge, Cowley and Canley, the company was suddenly placed in a position where budgetary constraints were a thing of the past, and Managers did not spend their whole time financially scrutinising every request from the creative departments.

BMW CEO, Bernd Pischetsrieder, made it very clear to the press from the beginning of BMW’s tenure of Rover that BMW had complete trust in the UK company’s ability to produce exciting and desirable cars without any German interference. In the wider world this view was met with a degree of scepticism, but Pischetsrieder was true to his word – and, from February 1994, BMW’s only tangible involvement with Rover was to provide a much-increased amount of investment.

A policy of evolution

Richard Woolley took the elegant 600 styling and proposed to add more classical Rover features for its replacement, while retaining the organic look of the original car. Note even at this early stage, chrome was to be liberally used, and check out the proposed positioning of the front indicators, P5-style at the leading edge of the shoulder line... (Picture supplied by Richard Woolley.)
Richard Woolley took the elegant 600 styling and proposed to add more classical Rover features for its replacement, while retaining the organic look of the original car. Note even at this early stage, chrome was to be liberally used, and check out the proposed positioning of the front indicators, P5-style at the leading edge of the shoulder line… (Picture supplied by Richard Woolley).

Rover’s new model plans at the time of the BMW takeover were, to a degree, rather dependent on Honda – and this was most obvious in the make-up of the two mainstream ‘Portfolio models, the HHR and the R3. The MGF was refreshingly British, but it was also a fringe model, which was developed as much by the UK’s specialist producers as it was by Rover Special Products.

With the small/medium ranges (200/400) due for launch in 1995, there would be no immediate rush to embark on their replacement – the main focus would be on the replacement of the aged 800 and the comparatively fresh 600. Both models relied to varying degrees on Honda licensing agreements and, although the Rover 600 was a young and good-looking car, it cost BMW dear to produce because of ongoing royalty payments to the Japanese company. As far as BMW’s management was concerned it was clear that a large car should be the first Rover product of the financially re-invigorated company.

The background

From late 1993, Richard Woolley had already been working on three models to replace the 800 and 600. The first, called ‘Flagship’ (and nicknamed ‘Flashpig’) would replace the 800, the second, called ‘Eric’ was a replacement for the 800 Coupe and the third, called ‘Core’, would replace the 600. Basically, these new cars were conceived to evolve the look pioneered in the 600 – but move in a direction more suited to Rover’s tradtional styling cues.

However, it soon became clear that a policy of developing two cars to replace the 600/800 was a luxury Rover could not afford – Flagship and Eric were dropped and Core was renamed ‘Isis’and became the car to replace both models…

There was also a degree of logic in this: the Rover 800 and 600 models were actually rather similar in size and the only real distinction between the two in the 800’s favour was the fact that it offered a V6 version. Given that Rover’s KV6 engine was moving towards completion, it made sense that this range of engines should form the mainstay of the new car – allowing further cutting of Honda’s apron strings.

When BMW entered the fray, preliminary development of the 800 and 600’s replacements had already commenced – and had been heading in a traditional direction. Given the position of the new management in relation to Honda, the desirable situation was to quickly drop the Rover 600, because, if Rover was to return to the US market, it would be unable to do so with its best large car in years.

This was a legacy of Honda’s restrictive licensing agreement. That being the case, the focus continued to be on replacing the 600 first, with the 800 to follow later. Isis was shown to BMW management – and it was very enthusiastic. The project proceeded – and from a styling sketch known as Isis, it became known as Project RD1.

Entirely new platform

Development was given the go-ahead by BMW top brass in the closing months of 1994 (surprisingly, once the Mini replacement was underway) and Rover Engineers were soon working on the engineering for the new car. Because Rover was given a free hand in the earlier stages of the design programme, it comes as no surprise that Richard Woolley’s Rover 600 replacement design was adopted almost entirely without modification.

As Woolley stated at the time of the car’s launch in 1998, ‘There was only ever one design, one clay model and one glassfibre model. The production car is completely faithful to the finished clay. Everyone in the Design Studio wanted to see the first ‘reveal’. The reaction was instant and unequivocal – the spontaneous applause of the studio staff told us all we needed to know.

‘Their entire work is concerned with the way things look, and experience proves that we can trust their collective judgement.’ In the times of design-by-committee, this made a most refreshing change.

The early clay model of the RD1 also so impressed Rover and BMW’s upper management when presented to them that there was no need to tinker with what was essentially a superb styling effort.

Retro/modern interior themes

The fiinished article was an evolution of this sketch. This was one of three styling themes that was investigated by two independent interior design teams. (Picture supplied by Philip Crewe).The fiinished article was an evolution of this sketch. This was one of three styling themes that was investigated by two independent interior design teams. (Picture supplied by Philip Crewe).
The finished article was an evolution of this sketch. This was one of three styling themes that was investigated by two independent interior design teams (Picture supplied by Philip Crewe).

Unlike the exterior, which was a clear and focused design effort from day one, the interior – more precisely, the dashboard – was the subject of some soul searching. Two schools of thought emerged from the design process: the first being what was essentially an updating of the classic design, which graced Rovers up to the P6 in 1963 (and would have proved somewhat akin to the design that graced the later Jaguar XK8).

The second was something more radical, which was based on the idea that modern design could meet traditional materials and construction methods. The two designs progressed on their parallel ways in at the Rover styling studios – and the separate themes developed right up to the point of their unveiling to Rover and BMW’s upper management.

It was certainly a ‘heart versus head’ situation and Chief Interior Designer, Wyn Thomas described the situation thus, ‘…after agonising right up to the day of the presentation, the heart won, and so did the more radical theme. It is thoroughly modern, yet also thoroughly Rover in its friendly and comfortable ambiance. Although we were making a bold new design statement, we were also determined to make this an interior that was really good to live with in the long term.’

With the radical design proposal – that was rapidly approved by management – came thinking on how the structure of the dash could incorporate high-quality, traditional materials. It was formed from a single-piece moulding that, unlike many rivals, was covered by soft-feel plastics all over – Wyn Thomas stated that he was less than happy with the opposition, which in all cases, used quality plastics only at the top of the dash, where they were most obvious.

Wood used in a new way

The dashboard’s wood was used in a rather ingenious way, as Wyn Thomas explained: ‘We wanted to return to the idea of wood being an integral part of the dashboard structure, rather than applied decoration. That is why we have three large sections of the main dashboard, carrying items such as the clock and the air vents, crafted in the finest burr walnut veneer with high gloss lacquer.

‘We did consider alternative treatments, including metallic finishes, or straight grain and matt finished wood veneers, but nothing approached the richness and warmth of the chosen wood. We also considered it essential that it should be standard on every Rover 75 model – it would not have been right to have a visually cost-reduced version.’

Although the official company line was that the dashboard design was ‘radical’, it was clear that upper management wanted to pursue a policy of ‘retro’. Many observers have claimed that this was due to BMW’s insistance that Rover should move in this direction, but accompanying Richard Woolley’s move in this direction for the exterior, was a real desire to do something similar with the instrumentation.

One Engineer, who worked on the project from its early days in Canley, said: ‘Clearly the cockpit/instruments styling package is a cause for debate. I can still hear Nick Stephenson, back in our Canley days, stating that a retro image (i.e., the 1960s) was something that we should aim for when formulating the R40.

‘This idea of retro was a key element in the strategy of appealing to the type of buyer who has made plenty of money, and would like to spend their money on a car with a ‘classic’ image. Although, the Designers, thought P6 when they formulated the R40’s instruments, I always felt their style/colours went back to the 1930s.’

He added: ‘I remember a team meeting at Canley in the early days of BMW’s ownership of Rover. Wolfgang Reitzle asked a team of managers to work on finding a solution to the problem of re-establishing Rover’s identity. Our boss said that the initial source of inspiration should be the Spitfire. Unsurprisingly, that idea was quickly discarded…’

Once the design of the new car was all-but frozen, and the minutiae of the engineering solutions were being developed, the project was given a new codename: R40. As one insider, privy to many of the engineering programmes within the company stated, ‘project codes tended to change too frequently – it is important never to read too much into these re-titling exercises.’

Now with added stiffness

Rover pulled out all the stops when it came to body-in-white design. The single most important aspect of its design was to achieve the highest level of structural rigidity possible. The reasoning behind this was quite simple: crash performance and passive safety could be extremely tightly controlled but, more importantly from the driver’s perspective, with a stiffer hull, the handling of the car would be more accurate because there would be less of the negative effects of body flex to add to the equation.

It was a policy that had served BMW extremely well in the past and would prove to have the same benefits for Rover – especially given the fact that the Rover 75 emerged even stiffer than its in-house rival. BMC had, of course, produced the phenomenally stiff ADO17 in the past but, in later years, these ideals had become watered down by subsequent cost-cutting measures and changes in priority (Honda never considered body rigidity to be that important).

The requirement for body stiffness would be the reason for the large transmission tunnel and structural cross-member under the bonnet. Many members of the motoring press concluded the ‘transmission tunnel’ belied the fact that the R40’s floorpan was an adapted version of BMW’s 5-Series.

According to one insider, this was never more than an unfounded rumour. The cost of adapting the rear-wheel-drive BMW’s floorpan for a front-wheel-drive Rover would have been prohibitive, if not somewhat pointless. However, the large transmission tunnel would allow relatively easy conversion to rear-wheel drive (barring the lack of space for a rear differential).

Richard Woolley responded to this rumour: ‘The story originated from the fact that very early on during BMW ownership, we did look at ‘re-cycling’ the then outgoing 5 -Series platform for Flagship. BMW were about to launch the new (current) car, and all the tooling for the old model’s underpinnings were theoretically available, sourced from the South African BMW plant. It was an idea that BMW suggested we investigate.’

The ambition: to build the world’s best FWD car

Suspension design also followed the carte blanche principle which had been applied to the interior, exterior and structural design. Up front, where previous ‘Rondas’ had increasingly come to rely upon wishbone set-ups imposed upon them by Rover’s Japanese partners, there was no question that the R40 would employ anything but a McPherson strut layout.

The engine/gearbox/suspension package would also benefit from the inclusion of a perimeter-type front subframe – lessons learned in the past concluded that the benefits afforded by a subframe (insulation from road and powertrain noise) outweighed the extra weight of such a set-up.

Where BMW and Rover were at variance was in what constituted the ideal rear suspension set-up. During the early stages of R40 development, BMW had been strictly a hands-off master to Rover but, over time, the Germans became increasingly influential in moving the programme along.

In PR-speak terms, this change of policy resulted in ‘considerable research and debate’, but what it actually meant was that the once-harmonious R40 programme began to suffer delays. It could be said that the tradional culture at Rover had been one of crisis management and budget-watching – now freed from such constraints, it was almost as if the Engineers did not know what to do.

Certainly, Rover investigated many rear suspension set-ups before BMW stepped in and imposed their Z-Axle arrangement, first seen in the BMW Z1 roadster but popularised in their then-current 3-Series model.

Fully loaded 75 dashboard indeed displays a wonderful mixture of traditional materials and advanced design – the wood was also more than decorative!Fully loaded 75 dashboard indeed displays a wonderful mixture of traditional materials and advanced design – the wood was also more than decorative!
Fully-loaded 75 dashboard indeed displays a wonderful mixture of traditional materials and advanced design – the wood was also more than decorative!

Making the Z-Axle work for Rover

Much development work ensued, adapting the arrangement to work on a front-wheel-drive car, and the British Engineers honed the system to such an extent that it worked beautifully when married to the soft suspension settings chosen for the production version. When BMW began to exert its influence on the R40 programme, it became clear that they possessed clear ideas as to how the car would ride and handle.

The BMW range of cars had established themselves as being the ‘ultimate driving machines’, and that the motoring press sometimes go overboard on. This reputation, earned over two decades of sustained success, was a formidable one – and something that would be difficult to emulate in their British offshoot. However, Rover did need a definitive set of brand values – and BMW was keen to accelerate that process as quickly as possible.

BMW needed to ensure that Rover began to move rapidly towards possessing its own strong brand values, whilst not competing directly with their own products – not an easy feat considering the fact that, up to the point of the takeover, Rover had aspired to meeting BMW head-on in the marketplace.

So, BMW developed a new direction for Rover – playing on an ideal that was already present in Rover’s products in an embryonic form: that of the ‘olde worlde’ gentleman’s car. What this ultimately meant for Rover was that, like it or not, they were to become a manufacturer of cosseting cars – vehicles that possessed a uniquely ‘English’ character (even though no-one could easily define what that actually meant) – and, as such, they were to have a warm interior ambiance and soft, yielding suspension.

As in all strategy decisions, the first tangible results would be seen in promotional campaigns – and the rather questionable, ‘Relax – it’s a Rover’ slogan was soon attached to the company’s adverts.

BMW and Rover’s differing ideas…

The Rover 75 received a fair amount of criticism for being a little cramped in the rear, but one has to say that in terms of ambience, there was little in the class to touch it. The style of the seats bears a deliberate resemblance to the those Rover P6.
The Rover 75 received a fair amount of criticism for being a little cramped in the rear, but one has to say that in terms of ambience, there was little in the class to touch it. The style of the seats bears a deliberate resemblance to the those Rover P6

What this meant for the R40 programme was that the chassis settings were tuned (rather like the 400’s had been before it, but obviously more successfully) to major on comfort. David Lindley, Rover’s Chief Chassis Engineer at the time of the launch of the 75, was quoted as saying: ‘The Rover 75 can travel as quickly on demanding roads as an overtly sporting saloon, but does so in a thoroughly refined and relaxed way’. The question as to whether this emphasis on a relaxing drive was the correct direction for Rover to take would be answered soon after the launch of the 75.

Increased tensions between Rover and BMW would affect the latter stages of the R40’s development: the problem came with the fact that Rover tended to develop a car one way, whereas BMW favoured another – and, because BMW was in charge, the company would end up imposing its will on the British company. The fact that BMW were now operating as project masters meant that the final stages of the R40’s test and development programme would be scrutinized.

Cutaway clearly shows the transverse power unit (the KV6 in this case) and Z-Axle rear suspension arrangement. Clearly, this was also the most impressive Rover yet in passive safety tests, being in possession of a stiff shell and up-to-the-minute safety kit.
Cutaway clearly shows the transverse power unit (the KV6 in this case) and Z-Axle rear suspension arrangement. Clearly, this was also the most impressive Rover yet in passive safety tests, being in possession of a stiff shell and up-to-the-minute safety kit

An example of this variance in philosophy was BMW’s insistence, late in the programme, that Rover should redesign the sunroof aperture of the R40, as there was a visible seam. In terms of development resources, the extra time and finance to effect this change (several months and over £1 million, not to mention an entirely new roof panel) were seen by Rover as being wasted – but BMW was insistent about this seemingly insignificant detail.

However, the whys and wherefores of whether BMW or Rover was correct on this issue are less than clear-cut: on the one hand, Rover justifiably felt happy about allowing the design to make production with this compromise, whereas, on the other, BMW with their obsessive attention to detail felt that this was not right at all – perceived quality could be affected and that was an absolutely fundamental part of the BMW marque’s core values.

In reality, neither party was entirely wrong or right – Rover were keen on cost engineering, BMW had no such constraints.

The end result: delays and further mutual suspicion between Rover and BMW. However, one happy benefit of the increased development budget was the fact that the R40 was a remarkably well-tested car prior to its launch. Many prototypes were built and test drivers clocked up millions of development miles in places as diverse as the USA and Germany’s former GP circuit, the fearsome Nurburgring.

Proof positive that the 75 was intended for the US market. The additional side feature would have housed US-spec running lights.
Proof positive that the 75 was intended for the US market. The additional side feature would have housed US-spec running lights

A very promising launch

This did not stop BMW meddling with the introduction of the new car: the plan had always been for the R40 to make its world debut at the Geneva Motor Show in the spring of 1999 but, with very little notice, BMW forced the unveiling of the car to take place at the British Motor Show at Birmingham in the autumn of 1998.

BMW was keen to show their new model to the world, and the idea of a UK launch was a very appealing one. However, this moving forward of the launch date had the rather negative effect of creating a delay of several months between the unveiling and the general release to the public.

What made things worse was that the press were soon reporting that the Rover 75 had been delayed due to a raft of quality problems. The truth of the situation was, of course, that there were no delays and the company was suffering from a case of premature launch syndrome – something from which the MINI had also suffered, following its presentation at Geneva in 1997.

If bringing the launch of the Rover 75 forward had proved to be a questionable decision, it paled into insignificance compared with the monumental faux pas committed by Bernd Pischetsrieder himself!

The 1998 Birmingham Motor Show had marked the arrival of two very significant British cars: the Rover 75 and the Jaguar S-Type; and, although, strictly speaking, these cars were not rivals, they were viewed alongside each other in a comparative light, and were certainly vying for the limelight. In that context, the Rover 75 had come off very well indeed. Indeed, while there had been a mild sense of disappointment at what was seen as the Jaguar’s contrived styling, the Rover had been greeted with almost unanimous praise.

Richard Woolley’s handling of the new car’s styling was considered masterful, combining retro detailing with a progressive yet advanced body shape. The mechanical make-up of the car had also been deemed extremely promising – the 1.8-litre K-Series engine was considered a suitable entry level power unit, but understandably most media attention was fixed on the KV6 engine, now available in 2.0 as well as 2.5-litre versions – and now a full-time production power unit, as opposed to the almost hand-built version found in the Rover 800.

So, the Motor Show launch of the Rover 75 had passed off exceptionally well – Rover executives throughout the NEC were bullish in outlook and basking in the praise coming their way.

Torpedoed by the boss!

rover-75-birmingham-1998-launch

However, Pischetsrieder, was in no mood to woo the world’s press at the launch of the Rover 75 (above) – he was still smarting from the effects of the Pound’s strength in relation to the Deutschmark. Also, he disliked the UK Government’s procrastination over the state subsidy that BMW had asked for to assist with the renovation of Longbridge.

As with all new model launches, a press conference had been planned – to be led by Pischetsrieder – to announce the new model. It was scheduled for 4pm, but this time came and went, while the BMW CEO and Rover’s BMW-appointed Chairman, Walter Hasselkus, sat together in deep discussion. Obviously, this was going to be no ordinary press launch by the proud boss!

At 4:30, Pischetsrieder finally stood up and addressed the assembled journalists. He pulled no punches – essentially Rover was in the midst of a deep crisis and drastic action would be needed in order to safeguard production at Longbridge. ‘Short-term actions are required for the long-term future of the Rover Group,’ he said. ‘Talks are taking place with the British Government about the whole problem.’

‘Short-term actions are required for the long-term future of the Rover Group. Talks are taking place with the British Government about the whole problem’.
– Bernd Pischetsrieder

It was a stark announcement to make – and, if nothing else, it completely undermined all the good work achieved by the Engineers, Designers and other workers in the Midlands, by overshadowing the launch of the car and highlighting the troubles of Rover. Autocar’s Steve Cropley summed up the feelings of the assembled press perfectly: “…we were all a bit stunned, both by the content and timing of what Bernd Pischetsrieder said.

‘We had all been feeling pretty enthusiastic about the 75 and the unveiling had gone well. Huge crowds, lots of applause. And the car did, quite genuinely, look very pretty and right for the job. Unlike some BL/BLMC/AR creations of the past, it had absolutely nothing to apologise for.

‘So it seemed bizarre, even grotesque, that the company’s top man should choose to undermine the moment so thoroughly. He deflected the media from praising the car the way they would naturally have done, deflated the workforce, who must have been on a high, and introduced a degree of buyer uncertainty that could have been avoided.’

An insider put it in more stark terms when recounting the effects it had on the morale of the Rover staff at the time: ‘The reaction inside the company was simple, gobsmacked amazement, followed rapidly by panic. Some clay modellers from the Gaydon Design Studios left that week (convinced that shutdown was days away); as there is always a European shortage of their skill, they can more or less move wherever they like. That Pischetsrieder press conference was possibly the most ill-advised and expensive in history.’

Using the launch of a vital new product to publicly question the viability of a factory (and one that the new model was not even planned to built in!) was unprecedented within the industry – and essentially a huge error of judgement to make. So the newspapers and magazines of the following few days carried stories of ‘Rover in crisis’ rather than ‘Rover’s brilliant new executive car’.

Okay, so Pischetsrieder was frustrated by the entire situation but, if anything, he had done more damage to Rover by this one ill-considered speech than he could have possibly imagined in his worse nightmares.

Thumbs up from the muttering rotters

PR-blunder aside, the press warmly received the Rover 75 when they finally did get their hands on it in the following weeks – it was a huge leap over the 800 in just about every area. The sense of relief in the press was almost a tangible thing – once again, Rover had managed to get it right.

Autocar magazine summed up the achievement made by the Chassis Engineers as follows: ‘In some areas, the 75 is quite brilliant. The ride quality, for example, is truly astounding, particularly at low speeds. Interior noise insulation has also reached a new level with this car. Rover can therefore justifiably claim to have created the most refined car in the class.

‘It can also be proud of the manner in which it managed to create a distinctive and clear cut identity for the 75 without it feeling contrived or overdone.’ Steve Cropley went further, however: ‘It is also a car whose suspension is so quiet and smooth it beats most cars in our ‘Best Car In The World’ luxury comparison. The truthful assertion that the 75 is quieter than a Rolls will impress buyers.’

If there were a fly in the ointment for the Rover 75, it would be the confused messages it put out to prospective buyers. To some buyers, the retro theme was a good thing, to others, it was not: there was also the matter of its size – slightly too small to be a convincing BMW 5-Series class rival, too big to be considered alongside the 3-Series.

This was pretty much what BMW had intended when it laid out the specfications for the R40, and it was, after all, designed to replace two model ranges; but, in the minds of executive car buyers, the Rover 75 simply did not seem to fit in easily to any single pigeonhole. There was also the matter of the handling set-up – selling a car so obviously set-up for comfort above handling, as it had been, was always going to be a risk for Rover, and there was a heartfelt belief in the press and among certain buyers that as much as they wanted the Rover 75, it was perhaps aimed towards older buyers.

As a junior executive car, that was always going to be a problem, as that ‘breed’ of buyer was known to favour more sportily set-up cars. Autocar again: ‘The 75 is not a bad-handling car, but neither is it an inspiring one. For the majority of 75 buyers this will not matter. It remains to be seen how Rover will market the car, but the whole ethos of the design seems to be targeted towards the more mature user-chooser, rather than younger, more enthusiastic drivers. For the former group, the 75 may well be the best front-wheel-drive car in the world. The rest may be inclined to look elsewhere.’

However, the company as a whole was also suffering greatly from the strong Pound, and so, as the summer turned to autumn, Rover’s domestic sales took a nosedive – and soon, the ever-fickle media were publishing pictures of unsold Rovers occupying green-field sites around the country.

Confidence in Rover continued to fall and, as a result, and the Rover 75 soon fell victim of this, delivering disappointing sales. Rover continued to put a brave face on things and for the 2000 Geneva Motor Show, they showed the 75 Sport model – a prototype which strongly hinted that the company wanted to develop a more driver-orientated version of the 75.

However, time was running out for Rover, and BMW had lost patience waiting for its ‘investments’ to mature.

Rover put on a brave face and revealed the 75 Sport prototype at the 2000 Geneva Motor Show – the Press were already speculating wildly about Rover and their products, and one journal carried rumours of a return of the Triumph name.
Rover put on a brave face and revealed the 75 Sport prototype at the 2000 Geneva Motor Show – the press were already speculating wildly about Rover and their products, and one journal carried rumours of a return of the Triumph name

BMW pulls out, Phoenix takes the reins

By May 2000, it was over, and BMW had sold out to Phoenix. As part of the deal, the Rover 75 would remain in production, but its production line would need to be moved, lock, stock and barrel, from Cowley to Longbridge. The Birmingham factory would now be responsible for the production of all of the newly-named MG Rover Group’s cars – and, as a result, within a year of going into full-scale production.

The task of moving an entire production line was nothing if not gargantuan – essentially, the decision on whether, how and when to move it lay with the logistics staff at Longbridge. Devising a plan would take months – these men did not have the luxury of time: they were given 48 hours to ascertain that this task was not impossible – and once this decision was taken, it was down to them to decide how best to go about it. They met the task – and successfully moved the line.

By early October 2000, and within the deadline set by BMW, the Rover 75 was in production at Longbridge and because the move had been well-planned and the production engineers had done their homework (some visited the Jaguar S-Type production line at Castle Bromwich in order to study build processes there), the quality of the Longbridge Rover 75 matched that of those produced in Oxford.

In fact, over time, the quality of the Longbridge-produced 75s exceeded the standards set at Oxford. Much of this was down to intelligent design – ‘design for production’, as an insider called it – something that Honda had brought to Rover during the Eighties, as well as the production methods that BMW had set out for the car in the latter stages of the R40 design process.

The first major model-making decision taken by the new management was to give the go-ahead for the estate version of the 75 – a model that had been fully developed alongside the saloon, but had never been given the green light for production by BMW. Events had overtaken the car and in the furore that had surrounded the months leading up to the sell-off of Rover BMW had held off giving the car the go-ahead.

The Phoenix Consortium’s management saw no barriers to the car’s success and no reason to prevent it from going into production. Within weeks, they showed the car – called the 75 Tourer – to the press, a long time before its due launch date, something that would become a trademark for the new company.

MG Rover develops the Tourer and the ZT

Arguably even prettier than the saloon, introducing the Rover 75 Tourer was another great decision made by the management of the MG Rover Group.Arguably even prettier than the saloon, introducing the Rover 75 Tourer was another great decision made by the management of the MG Rover Group.
Arguably even prettier than the saloon, introducing the Rover 75 Tourer was a great decision made by the management of the MG Rover Group

The second decision was to develop a sportier model, somewhat akin to the Rover 75 Sport recently shown at Geneva – although, unlike this model, the new car, codenamed the X10 (and X11 for the Tourer) would proudly wear the MG badge. Unlike the Rover 45, which was always considered the weakest link in the MG Rover line-up, the 75 was already undoubtedly a star. It allowed MG Rover’s Engineers a much better starting point to base the performance saloon upon.

In the way that its smaller brothers, the 25 and 45, had been re-engineered in order to become fully-fledged MG saloon models, the X10/X11 was also given the same treatment: Peter Stevens re-jigged the styling, while Rob Oldaker headed the chassis team which made substantial changes, re-focusing the car significantly.

The technical changes made to the chassis were legion: the subframes which carry the suspension were attached to the monocoque by aluminium rather than rubber mounts. The springs were uprated by a full 70 per cent, and were complemented by uprated dampers and anti-roll bars. The cosmetic additions (new bumpers, dechroming and boot spoiler) were heightened by pretty new 18-inch wheels shod with Z-rated tyres.

The X10 and X11, like the X20 and X30, were shown to the press in January 2001, some months before they were ready for sale – much interim development work had yet to be completed, as well as the selection of a name.

When the definitive launch came in the summer of that year, the name followed a historical theme: ZT for the saloon and ZT-T for the Tourer. Unimaginative perhaps, but it was a knowing and respectful nod to the company’s history and, for that at least, MG Rover should be applauded.

MG ZT being put through its paces for the camera: the subtle retro of the Rover 75 had been replaced by aggressive purposefulness. Buyers liked the new car, and sales in the UK soon lifted appreciably.
MG ZT being put through its paces for the camera: the subtle retro of the Rover 75 had been replaced by aggressive purposefulness. Buyers liked the new car, and sales in the UK soon lifted appreciably

Newly independent and shorn of its German paymasters, MG Rover came across all confident with the MG ZT, and the press and public alike have greeted the car warmly. Autocar magazine were very impressed with it, naming it one of its top 10 cars of 2001 and summing-up thus in its road test of the ZT 190: ‘The ZT makes MG Rover a formidable contender in this competitive market. It can offer buyers a choice of limousine-like refinement in the 75 or genuine sporting appeal in the ZT. It is a tribute to Rover’s engineering that it produced such convincing yet different cars from such similar underpinnings.’

Moreover, it did not stop with the re-branding of the current car: the fascinating announcement was also made that there would be a pair of V8-powered MG ZTs to top the MG Rover range. Where the existing ZTs and Rover 75s were front-wheel drive, the V8 models would be rear-wheel drive (that hefty transmission tunnel proved useful to MG Rover) and powered by a Ford-sourced V8 engine displacing 4.6-litres.

Under the scalpel

MG Rover played on the traditional idea of a V8 engined Rover saloon. Here, the car is displayed alongside a P5B, with which it has to be said, does share a number of styling cues.
MG Rover played on the traditional idea of a V8 engined Rover saloon. Here, the car is displayed alongside a P5B, with which it has to be said, does share a number of styling cues

A revised version of the 75 and ZT hit the marketplace in 2004. Gone was the quad-headlamp arrangement, to be replaced by a more Euro-bland set-up (existing lamp units housed under a single pane of glass). New bumpers and a re-jigging of equipment levels topped the facelift. The results were viewed as a mixed blessing.

Significantly, overseas fans of the marque felt that the 75 lost a great deal of its Britishness whereas, at home, sales did seem to be buoyed by the newer look. Interestingly, the 75’s look was split into two camps: the standard models and the V8/limousine, which sported a full-depth grille.

No-one doubted the facelift made the car look more modern and, with a complete range of cars, spanning a range four-, six- and V8-cylinder models, it seemed as though there was little on the horizon to stop the 75 and ZT retain their loyal and enthusiastic following…

Still, circustances conspired to stop the car enjoying its Indian summer. The Rover 75 and MG ZT were perhaps BMW’s most lasting legacy of its ownership – and the newly independent company seemed to be making the most of the opportunity, tweaking the range, and maximising its appeal in order to chase as many buyers as possible. Respect among the motoring press, as well as buyers, remained high – and, even when the smaller ranges started to buckle under the stress of their increasing age, the newer car’s stock remained high.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to seal the Anglo-Chinese deal, MG Rover pressed ahead with a 75-based concept, which once unveiled, managed to set Rover enthusiasts’ pulses racing upon first sight. A coupe version of the car had been on the drawing boards during the BMW era (where it wore a Riley badge), but the scheme never made the transition to full-size. More than five years later, the concept was revisited thanks to Peter Stevens’ design team and, in a very short time, a glassfibre prototype was knocked out by one of the company’s outside contractors.

Coupe proposal wins friends – but isn’t made

MG Rover allows its designers to stretch their legs by producing this beautiful Coupe proposal. Sadly it was nothing more than a sweetner to entice SAIC into signing the Joint Venture deal...
MG Rover allows its Designers to stretch their legs by producing this beautiful Coupe proposal. Sadly, it was nothing more than a sweetner to entice SAIC into signing the Joint Venture deal…

When unveiled, the press were bowled over by the car, and people were soon clamouring for its release. Sadly, it was nothing more than a show of talent by MG Rover Designers, asked to produce a car to impress Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) executives into signing a long-anticipated joint venture deal. Either way, it clearly demonstrated the beautiful Richard Woolley design had the potential for further development…

However, in the background, Longbridge’s Production Engineers were doing all they could to de-content the 75 range. This was little more than a cost-cutting measure, which ran under the name, ‘Project Drive‘. Although much of the cheapening of the 75 was not so evident to owners, the tell tale signs were there if you looked hard enough.

The lavish wood dashboards of the early cars were replaced by plastic imitations, the door mirrors were replaced by those used in the 25 and 45 ranges but, most shocking of all, was the deletion of the rear anti-roll bars from 1.8-litre and CDT versions to the detriment of the car’s handling. Evidence of penny pinching could be found in every wheel arch and under every carpet… None of this took anything away from the underlying excellence of the range, but one couldn’t help but feel that MG Rover was beginning to squander its opportunity with the 75, as Project Drive really began to bite.

The end comes in April 2005

Tragically, in April 2005, the 75’s production line fell silent. Phoenix called in the administrators, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), to sort out the financial mess, and soon after they moved in, it became apparent that the Rover 75 had found itself in the middle of an Anglo-Chinese tug of love…

After extensive talks, an uncredited Phoenix executive prematurely ‘leaked’ MG Rover and SAIC’s plans to form the Joint Venture Company so dearly needed to allow MGR to remain in business. The new company was to produce 75s and 25s, both in China and Longbridge. It seemed the talks had been going well – so well, in fact, that Phoenix decided to sell the Intellectual Property Rights for these cars (alongside the K-Series engine) to the Chinese for £67m.

At the time, it must have seemed a prudent move for management keen to shift its eggs into Shanghai’s plentiful basket, as well as release much needed capital. However, the final implications became clear the following April when, once free of MG Rover, SAIC announced to the world it would be building its own 75s – and it would be employing British consultancy firm Ricardo to assist with the car’s move to China.

However, SAIC’s announcement also proved to be premature, as the small Chinese company Nanjing swooped in to buy the rest of MGR’s assets from PwC for a reputed £60m… In the days that followed the surprise announcement, Nanjing staked a claim on the 75. It seemed as one door closed on what many perceive to be Rover’s finest ever car, another would shortly be opening…

Coupe interior previewed the revised 75 interior for the 2006 models.
Elements of the Coupe interior previewed the revised 75 interior for the 2006 models

In conclusion

It is true to say that the excellence of the R40 has been down to two factors: Rover’s ability to develop a world-beating front-driven executive car and BMW’s money with which to finance the programme. Without either one of these, the car would not have emerged as the excellent car that it is: and as the cliché goes – the Rover 75 was a car that absolutely no-one needed to apologise for.

The car suffered from slow take-up (Rover and BMW planned for annual volumes of 100,000-150,000 cars per year and never got close to achieving this), but no-one was to blame for that save for BMW’s boss, Bernd Pischetsrieder: had he not torpedoed the company at the car’s launch and so undermined its value and the employees’ morale in the process, the Rover 75 would surely have sold better in those early and most vital months.

As it was, after those first faltering steps, the car earned respect on the marketplace, and soon picked up a loyal band of enthusiasts. MG Rover’s own confidence in the car was clearly demonstrated by its willingness to adopt the platform to form the basis of the ill-fated RDX60.

(The long-wheelbase version of the Rover 75, announced in the spring of 2002 marked the welcome return of the Vanden Plas-badged Rover; it certainly paid more attention to the Vanden Plas marque ideals than past efforts such as the Rover SD1 and Metro models which wore that badge. Sadly, the VP scheme did not last long; within months it was rebadged 75 LWB. In 2004, it was re-named again: 75 Limousine.
The long-wheelbase version of the Rover 75, announced in the spring of 2002, marked the welcome return of the Vanden Plas-badged Rover; it certainly paid more attention to the Vanden Plas marque ideals than past efforts such as the Rover SD1 and Metro models which wore that badge. Sadly, the VP scheme did not last long; within months it was rebadged 75 LWB. In 2004, it was re-named again: 75 Limousine


Chinese comeback

Traditional setting for the Roewe 750 (nee Rover 75)...
Traditional setting for the Roewe 750 (nee Rover 75)…

In late 2006, and after just over a year-and-a-half out of production, the Rover 75 made a re-appearance. Out of the two Chinese companies that had competed for what was left of MG Rover, it was SAIC which managed to introduce its own version of the Rover 75. Ford had decided to take its option on the Rover name and buy it from BMW for an estimated £11m, so SAIC created a new marque, Roewe, under which to sell its new cars.

Co-developed with the automotive consultants Ricardo (2010) Limited, the Roewe 750 featured a slightly lengthened wheelbase (by 100mm), tweaked styling (especially at the rear) and a freshened up exterior. The engines were derivatives of the tried and tested K-Series engines – which SAIC had bought the rights for in 2004 as part of its IPR purchase from MG Rover worth £67m.

April 2007, and Nanjing's MG7 was announced - looking more like the Rover 75 than Roewe's updated effort. For those who prefered the sportier MG ZT, Nanjing produced a 7Z version...
April 2007, and Nanjing’s MG7 was announced – looking more like the Rover 75 than Roewe’s updated effort. For those who prefered the sportier MG ZT, Nanjing produced a 7Z version…

Nanjing Automotive, which owned the rights to the MG nameplate and the production tooling, and worked hard to introduce its own version of the car, called the MG 7Z. The Chinese have ‘lift and shifted’ the car’s production line from Longbridge, and prototypes were up and running by October 2006. Launched in April 2007, the date which the company celebrated its 60th birthday, the Nanjing car combined elements of the MG and Rover versions to create a car that all 75/ZT enthusiasts would be more than comfortable with.

Perhaps the 75 will gain the recognition it always deserved, even if is on the other side of the world. A car as good as the Rover 75 deserves some good luck in life…


 Gallery – Rover 75, MG ZT, MG7 and MG 750


With thanks to Richard Porter, Steve Cropley, Greg Allport, Ian Elliott, Kevin Davis, Kevin Jones, David Newsham and Mike McCabe for their contributions to this story.
Proofed by Declan Berridge

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

60 Comments on "The cars : Rover 75/MG ZT development history"

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  1. Hilton Davis says:

    More great info on a great car! I like the gallery photos, particularly those of the MG7/7Z exteriors and interiors…
    To me, this car always looks the part in all its guises.

  2. Brian Daniels says:

    This was a car that I absolutely wished had been available in the U.S. If Rover had to go, at least it went down fighting.

  3. Oliver says:

    I do not know what was so well done by the Rover 75!
    I replaced two cars (600 and 800)and it was not really ablereplace one of them!
    The Rover 800 was driving (handling) better than the 75 and was much roomier than the small 75.The Rover 600 was much more practically as the 75 (the 600 had a splitted rear bench) and a bigger boot,more space in the car, more powerful and economical engines (except the V8 which was not economical and not mady by BMW leadership)
    I have had a 75 with the 2.5 litre engine and I could say it was the worst Rover I had!
    The SD1 of the first series had their fault too, but you were able to solve the problems as you were standing anywhere in the countryside. By my 75 I needed three workshops to find out some fault which they were not able to repair!
    I bought me a nice 825 Sterling and I know what relxed driving is!
    PS.: In the older 800 I have much more comfortable seats as in the 75. The seats in the 75 were made for people which were midgets!

  4. Paul Taylor Paul T says:

    Oliver, are you sure it was THIS Rover 75 you were talking about, or the old one from decades ago?????

    You must have had a one-off bad car, and can’t agree with your opinions about the seats. You need to rethink your opinion, sir.

  5. David Knowles says:

    The Rover 75 was the best car the company had built for ages and I was there when Nick Stephenson declared, on the stand, after the pyrotechnics, theatre and unveiling of the car on the stand, that ‘this was the car we had to build!’ Like others I later trudged over to the BMW Press Conference and taped it. There on the stage, next to BP and his oppo Walter Hasselkus and the perennial BMW PR man whose name has gone out of my brain at the moment, was a nice shiny new Rover 75. And BP said what he said. And our jaws dropped. And when I called in back at the Rover stand later, they were all wobbly! BP knew what he was doing – it was for a German audience and for the British Government. But at the same time, it was about as successful a PR line as when, in much more recent times, the Dook of Hazzard announced that by buying a bankrupt company, Nanjing had lost all the legacy costs of redundancies; again a message aimed at a local US audience, but forgetting that when you make a pronouncement of this kind in a modern media world, the message will go round the globe quicker than a hacked phone message…

  6. Mikey C says:

    The 75 may have been a fine effort, but even if BMW hadn’t torpedoed the launch, it still was a flawed concept, a typical BMC/BL/ARG product in that it attracted great loyalty amongst those who loved it, but not enough general public acceptance.

    By contrast BMW’s other legacies – the MINI and 3rd generation Range Rover were spot on for the marketplace, and massive sales successes.

  7. The Rockabilly Red says:

    Apart from the fact Mikey, that the third generation Range Rover is a Ford.

  8. Rodrigo says:

    While until this day I think that the Rover 600 looks very elegant, graceful and even modern, the 75 looks a bit regressive for my taste, even if not that much retro like the S-Type anyway.

  9. David 3500 says:

    The Rockabilly Red – The third generation Range Rover (L322) was actually designed by Land Rover with considerable input from BMW. Even after Ford had taken over ownership of Land Rover in July 2000, BMW continued with their input into the project, as agreed.

    The Ford input in this vehicle prior to its November 2001 announcement is tiny. Ford’s interest in L322 (and influence) is possibily more evidence from 2005 when the Jaguar AJ-V8 petrol engines were introduced and from 2006 when the LR-TDV8 engine replaced the BMW turbo-diesel engine.

    Mikey C – the possible problem with the Rover 75 was likely based on factors such as the “torpedoed launch”, a flawed marketing strategy that majored too much on promoting the effortless relaxation of the Rover brand (based on BMW’s strategy for the brand) and also no opportunity to show the dynamic qualities of the car through either its marketing language or possible ‘halo’ performance derivatives.

    Remember, the 75 Design Theme unveiled at the 2000 Geneva Motor Show tried to demonstrate this, but had been developed without the approval of BMW. Reports back in 2000 clearly highlighted that BMW was rather disgruntled by this potential new addition to the 75 line-up.

    In summary, the Rover 75 was a great concept that should have done well, although the ‘flaws’ I have identified were ultimately attributed to Rover’s parent at the time rather than just Rover itself.

  10. Mike C says:

    Personally I feel that the 75 went for a very specific niche, a relaxed executive car with traditional styling, majoring on comfort. A modern P5. This did however skip the following generations – P6, Triumph 2000, SD1 which were unashamedly modern designs. As was the 600 for that matter. The MG ZT was a great effort, but the basic proportions of the car were still old fashioned and upright.

    It also went against virtually all it’s competitors which tended to sell on sportiness (perceived or real) – how many large French cars do you see? This can certainly be partially blamed on BMW, not wanting to compete with itself.

    Add to this it’s unique and expensive platform – surely it would have been quicker and cheaper to use the previous 5 series as a base, and concentrate on the mid range car – if this had been started earlier, maybe this would have been launched before the s@it hit the fan, and could have saved the company from being sold off?

  11. Richard says:

    I had a Rover 800 and later a 75 and I can honestly say it was like night and day. The ride and handling of the 800 were average and the build quality of the interior hopeless (dash curling up in the summer sun anyone?). The 75, in contrast, as the article said, had a ride that compared favourably with any car, regardless of price. The interior was not only a stunning piece of design, it was extremely well made. Nothing fell off at all.

    American visitors, for whom Rover means Land Rover, were astounded by the car. Non-car-enthusiasts, who normally would not make any remark about a car they were riding in, would say what a beautiful car it was. When told it was a Rover, they clearly struggled to match what they were experiencing with the company whose name was the butt of media jokes.

  12. Will M says:

    Interesting to see evidence of sidelights for the US market.

    What was the plan? Sell through Land Rover dealers? Sterling went down like a lead balloon.

    Would the bumpers need to be increased to ridiculous sizes to meet the Federal requirements?

  13. Rodrigo says:

    If it was a great drive, I can’t say because until I never drove one, but about the style I think that while the 600 was classic and elegant, yet modern ( still looks fab after all these years!) the 75/ZT gives the impression of being born already old, and the 99′ S-type it’s even worst.

    Maybe BMW and Ford just went too far in the retro theme?

  14. bangernomics says:

    Will M- I don’t think they would have had to put enormous bumpers on it for the US market, modern American cars get away with the same polyurethane bumpers as us. Although BMW had a proud track record of ruining their own cars, including the gorgeous E24, and the otherwise small and sporty E30.BMW seems to have done pretty well at flogging MINIs to unsuspecting yanks so maybe they intended a joint MINI/R75 dealership network. Although selling cars to America has it’s drawbacks, or rather draw-ups like the Countryman and X6. Maybe it’s for the best that the R75 stands alone as an orphan instead of spawning a bloated range of overweight SUVs.

  15. Bryan jackson says:

    Must have been the most underrated car on the Market just sad I didn’t buy the automatic gearbox model, if I had would still be a rover 75 owner today

  16. Will M says:

    @bangernomics

    Good point, though would Land Rover not be the logical SUV arm, even if the US calls Landies ‘Rovers’?

    Mind you, Tata are planning Jag SUVs.

    Would have been nice to have been the 75 live on, mainstream production LWB VDP, and the coupe!
    Possibly a Rover 85/95.

    I think the MG marque may have sold better, Rover was last seen on the slow selling SD1, and Sterling was a sales disaster.
    There was still a living memory of servicemen and post-WW2 MG enthusiasts.
    Ironic then, that the MG marque was used across the range once BMW pulled the plug.

  17. david slater says:

    I HAVE A ROVER 600 1999 V REG AND A ROVER 800 1999 VREG AND ROVER 75 51 PLATE I THINK ROVERS ARE THE BEST CARS ON THIS ON THIS PLANET I HAVE NOT HAD ANY PROBLEMS WITH MY CARS WELL DONE ROVER ROVERDAVY

  18. nerman says:

    posjedujem rover 75 2000 dizel.od svega ovdje najljepse je misliti na njega.

  19. anne123 says:

    I havearover 75,53 plate, love the car,but the cylinder head has been a problem had a new one fitted 2 years ago and it has gone again, husband wants rid, i want to keep

  20. Mark Mastro Mark Mastro says:

    Replace it with one of the proper engined versions 🙂 V6 or Diesel, then you won’t have to worry

  21. Lewis says:

    I have had a variety of cars from European and Japanese manufacturers and currently run an 04 plate CDTI facelift 75. In my years of driving I cannot ever think of a car that combines such great performance, ride, handling and ecconomy. In higly polished Starfrost Red it still turns heads and regulaly recieves compliments from pedestrians, passengers and other drivers. It is a great car that I hope to keep for many more years.

  22. ian says:

    why oh why have thay stopped making the 75 thay get right then stop please start again

  23. claudio says:

    I’m looking for a front grille bumper of a rover 75 sports. where can I buy? thanks

  24. ben says:

    I like the 2004 facelift version not as retro as the original version.

  25. Ian Nicholls says:

    The Rover 75 was hidously retro and ignored the cutting edge styling that had made the P6 and SD1 ‘must have’ cars.
    The whole concept was a mistake from start to finish . BMW were never going to let Rover make a state of the art executive/luxury barge in the spirit of the P6 and SD1 , because it would have been a 3 and 5 series rival .
    Instead we got a pastiche of the auntie Rover’s , the P4 and P5 , based on a small cramped bodyshell and a retro overdose , 35 years after the P6 launch which had redrawn the publics image of the Rover car.
    Who did BMW think was going to buy the car ?
    Of course BMW did benefit from the 75’s failure . The market simply bought more BMW’s instead of Rover’s .
    The

  26. WarrenL says:

    Ian, I’d argue that the company failed, not the 75. I admit that elsewhere on this site I myself have questioned the philosophy behind the design of the 75, but I’ll defend it as a fine ride that offers great spadefuls of an indefinable something that we all nonetheless recognise when we encounter it: character.

  27. francis brett francis brett says:

    @26 unlike any equivelant BMW.

  28. Ian Nicholls says:

    I don’t dispute that the 75 was an excellent car, but its failure was predictable , apart from MINI , retro didn’t sell, as Jaguar also found out .
    It was the failure of the 75 that was the catalyst for the BMW pull out . The other cars in the Rover range were all developed on a shoestring and had been inherited by BMW . The 75 had money thrown at it , and yet people did not queue up to buy one like they had for the P6 and SD1 .
    Maybe the speech by Bernd Pistshreider has been overplayed by commentators , but again I pose the question , who was going to buy a car that looked like something from the era of Harold Macmillan launched in the premiership of Tony Blair ?

  29. David says:

    This is a lovely write-up of a beautiful car, but I fear the 75 was just not the right car for the market, even if it had been launched and developed under happier circulstances.

    Given the ‘relaxed’ handling was very much against what the market then demanded, the 75 did not get overwhelming praise at birth for this. In the BL/BMC tradition, it fell between two stools, and in many regards, particularly brand prestige, it fitted more as a Ford Scorpio/Peugeot 607 rival than an Alfa 156 or Audi A4 competitor. Top Gear, in particular, gave it something of a hammering for being good, but not good enough.

    Realistically, I think we maybe over-egg the praise by viewing the 75 in isolation, rather than comparing to the excellent competition of the time. Clearly, it was a terrific Rover, but in honesty, was this really a better car than the 3-Series, the A4, the 156 or the C-Class? Conversely, would it have been a better bet than a Volvo S60/S70 or a Saab 9-3/9-5, which it competed with on price?

    Bearing in mind it was priced significantly above a Mondeo or Passat, it was up against some bloody stiff competition – some, like the 156 and 3-Series, newly replaced to boot.

  30. dib says:

    The 75 was the first Rover for a generation to be produced without tight budgetary constraints – and it showed with almost previously unheard of engineering quality.

    If this was true then how could they have launched it with the K series engine still not free from HGF?
    The 75 is a brilliant car (I have one) and is sadly missed, all these years on they still do well when compaired to newer cars.

  31. Eds says:

    “Bearing in mind it was priced significantly above a Mondeo or Passat”

    The 75 was and is a great car. It was priced very similar to a Mondeo and a Passat (and a Vectra) at the time!! They were the cars it was pitched to compete with. Fifth Gear Tested it against the Vectra and the Mondeo. Have a look on Youtube. I have a ZTT 2.5 V6. Great car which I have kept far longer than normal. I would buy another if they were still made.

  32. MM says:

    For a premium car a poor decision to use MacPherson struts in lieu of the upmarket double wishbone system?

    Pischetsrieder was a relative of Issigonis and very aware of hydragas front to rear interconnection, he test drove some interconneected cars, hydragaswhich allows high levels of tyre grip and retains comfort of ride, so why not incorporate that as a unique feature of the 75?

    A friend bought a new 2.5litre 75 in 1999, it was hard work to be enthusiastic for the 75, after all the publicity the Rover, the car was no better than a Ford Mondeo

  33. stewart says:

    I’ve just got a ’99 75, its way better than a ’99 mondeo.. I had one of those as well

  34. Paul says:

    Had Rovers in the past- SD1s and 800s. Been driving new Audis in recent years as company vehicles until I changed jobs. A colleague lent me a V6 75 one lunchtime, 2 days later I`d bought my own… I was that impressed. Sad there will be no more new ones.

  35. Derek says:

    Back when the 75 was introduced I was given a manual v6 conniseur to try,I was led to believe by the Rover dealer/press[at the time]that Rover were going to produce some models in exterior two tone scheme like the 100 series of the fiftys, in my opinion this could have looked well with its waist high chrome strip dividing the colours..missed oportunity

  36. David 3500 says:

    @ Derek:

    A two-tone paint finish for the Rover 75 was first shown at the 2002 British Motor Show and made available on production cars the following year as an extra cost option, through the Monogram personalisation programme.

  37. Will M says:

    Hints of the Merc CLS about the top concept drawing.

    Wooley was definitely ahead of his time.

  38. Brian says:

    With 48 years of motoring under my belt and as an owner of over 100 cars in that time including a 1960 Cadillac and a Mk2 Jaguar as well as a Merc I would like to say this: I owned a SD1 once (ex police car) and loved it’s design, it’s Buick V8 engine, it’s comfort and ride but it lacked the ‘feel’ of a quality built car. When I rode in my Cadillac I felt that I had ‘arrived’, I felt grandiose. I have never felt this again in any other car… until I chose to buy my ’02 Rover 75 Tourer. I love this car! I never keep a car for more than 9 months, I have only kept one other car for more than 1 year (Mk2 Jag) but I have now owned the 75 for 11 months and intend to keep her for years. The styling is fantastic and makes me feel like a very special person, the economy running (diesel 47 mpg) means I can afford to run an executive car. The Rover 75 in my books is a car of brilliance.

  39. Will M says:

    Those ‘US spec running lights’ – They look a little too small for the job?

    Perhaps inserts beside the bumper chrome, similar to the S-type, would’ve allowed adequate side running lights?

    Would’ve been nice to have seen, sold alongside Land Rovers and MINIs.

  40. Bryan Young says:

    I am trying to search for a build date for a Rover75 ( W reg) do you have any records, or are they at Gaydon?
    Thank You
    Bryan

  41. Phil Evans says:

    I am the proud owner of the 1998 Rover 75 2.0 V6 (S reg) which was featured in the Channel 4 programme ‘Driven’, when it was matched up against the Mondeo and the Vectra. Today, the same Rover 75 drives like a dream, its engine runs smoothly and it is very comfortable. The coachwork and the 75’s interior has survived. It is safe to say that I am an enthusiast.

    I have often wondered what ever happened to the other cars featured in the ‘Driven’ road test/review, namely the Mondeo and the Vectra.

  42. Dave Partt says:

    Having owned two Rover 600’s and currently on my third MG ZT, I have to say the Rover 75/MG ZT is the best built, most reliable and most comfortable car I’ve had in over 30 years of motoring.

    Despite BMW’s best efforts to sink it, it’s quality still shines through – and these days, which car is the more exclusive?

  43. nerman says:

    Dobar dan,vlasnik sam rovera 75 2ooo sa km 135000 predjenih.Sve najljepse pa sam jednom spomenuo Od svega ovdje najljepse je misliti na njega.

  44. Nate says:

    Is there any truth to a rumour I read that a pre-Z-axle development version of the Rover 75 with the original suspension was tested at Gaydon against a similar-level prototype 3-series where the former rode better and out-handled the 3-series?

    Find it pretty hard to believe that a FWD saloon could even out-handle a 3-Series.

    • MM says:

      I think there was a mid sized FWD Alfa Romeo which out cornered the 3 series, cannot recall the model number.
      As for BMW isn’t is simply they sacrifice safety and usability margins to achieve needless cornering performance?
      50:50 weight distribution gives rapid directional changes (but the bias can ere to less safe rear bias if boot is loaded) in lieu of a safe 53:47 front bias.
      Usability of a BMW is virtualy zero and outright dangerous when there is mild snow and a modest gradient to ascend, give me FWD every time!

  45. John Maguire says:

    You need to take a bit more care in the frost with a RWD. But face it in the last 7 years in Ireland there has been less than 7 days of frost, and apart from about 2 days when it snowed and the whole country came to a halt I have no problem driving a RWD 3 Series. The fact is they are safe and usable, thats why they are so popular. People who like to drive their cars want rear wheel drive, or at least think they do. How many Alfas did Alfa make last year, maybe 200,000 accross the range. Ford sold less than 200,000 Mondeos. Compare that to 300,000 5 Series and 500,000 3 Series. Not saying they are the best car but they are very good for the private buyers and company drivers.
    Its a pity the 75 wasnt based on a RWD BMW, it might have been a bigger success.

  46. Graham says:

    I was one of the guys who loaded up the 75 body shells onto 40ft trailers at Cowely for despatch to Longbridge. At the time I was working for Exel Logistics who were contracted to do the warehousing and logistics for Rover at the Cowley site. The trailers were kitted out with metal box section, which was welded to the trailer bed so that I could load 5 body shells per trailer. I had two spotters directing me while I loaded the shells using a forklift truck. If I remember correctly we took about an hour to load each trailer and this went on for about 4 weeks day and night (I was on the night shift). I believe that only two shells got damaged during this process. I also loaded a full sized fibre glass mock up of the 75 Tourer. If memory serves me it was Red and the windows were dark Grey.

  47. didierz65 Didier Ziane says:

    I had 2 in the past, and just bought one today. It’s a 54/feb 2005 Connoisseur CDTI, manual in BRG just a tad bellow 100K miles for less than £ 2K. After going back to my Alfa, I realised how refined a car the 75 is. Compared to my previous Connoisseur, the wood is fake, alloys are 16″ only, the cruise and multi-cd are absent… Project drive took its toll. Very rare for cars getting older and losing standard equipment… Never mind, I’m happy to be back in a Rover.

  48. Allan says:

    Im quite proud to say that I saved my 75 tourer from the scrapyard. A new radiator, coolant change, and shock absorber have been done and the car is behaving perfectly . It’s a bit underpowered being a straight 1.8 but by far the smoothest and quietest car I’ve had. This will be a keeper.

    A volvo xc70 passed me the other day and I wondered to myself what a rover “xc75” May have looked like? That is the streetwise look on a 75?

  49. Rev'd P.R.Brown says:

    A marvellous, informative essay by Mr. Adams. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a new Rover 75 CDTI Connoisseur SE Tourer in 2005 and it has undoubtably been ( & remains ) the nicest car I’ve ever had.
    In the last decade I’ve become such a fan that I have recently bought a Diesel Saloon – just for the pleasure of ownership. This second-hand one has covered 176,000 miles in 11 years, yet drives just as sweetly as my Estate.
    I haven’t plucked-up courage yet to tell my wife that I’ve also got my eyes on a 3rd Connoisseur SE – this time one with the Ford 4.6 litre V8 engine. Thus continues my love affair with these wonderful vehicles. Fortunately they’ll be around for many years to come. And, as the mechanic who recently serviced the Saloon said to me, “They will
    out-last you & me”.!!

  50. JEFFREY MOHLALA says:

    yes I am also one of those who believe 75 is the best but when I had the car it was not in good condition because the previous owner never service the car. I just drive it only for 3months then I loose the engine If I can find the new or used one I will rebuild the car. Anyone with information with engine please let me know this is my number 062 069 1591

  51. Samson Hollar says:

    yes I’m one of lovers of rover75. I have one I got from two previous users and still serving me only that I need to change the dashboard to make the interior looks more satisfactory to me . but I can say its a great car with low fuel consumption.

  52. RoverownerP6B1871 says:

    75 was twaddle “retro swoon” appeasemant for the Americans and FAR from
    the best Rover barely surpassing the blandest of the bland- the upbadged Honda Sterling. Best Rovers were P5B coupe and the P6B 3500 were and remain so. Rust was British steel unions’ fault- everyone knew it then- it was the bane of ALL British cars. Few cars had P6’s long construction spans- 1966-76 and in their final years competitive to modern their peers. Then run-outs of 1977 and 1978 “Silver” all options included.

    What gave the Rover brand value and substance was British engineering and quality- which British Leyland so cruelly undercut and made an oxy-moron. Rover P6 was seen in Europe, particularly Germany as innovative- an in-between a Merceedes and a BMW: “uberdimensional” like a Mercedes, friendly as an English sheepdog, but still enough life in under Opa’s veteran hands she was a windhund who’d outsmart that upstart BMW- terrifying Oma and sundry with her E-Boot like prodigious body-roll- but staying stuck to the Alpine road like a Deutsche Bahn loco.
    The 75 model was woeful, ugly, calculated, contrived, US-friendly blob “Y’all Englishe car”- it was pure Tony Blair “Brit-Cool” Millenial hubris incarnated as a car with Gordon Brown-like management- with enough residual Leyland-like Phoenix to destroy the brand forever more.

    • Charles says:

      Quite Agree. My Grandfather on my fathers side had a fleet of Rover P6 cars for his hotel in Lebanon and the cars were very desirable there, like the 3-series of today everywhere. Like a status symbol except today the 3 series is far more common in most markets. The Hotel was used in the old film ‘Where the Spies Are’ with Sir David Niven. Unfortunately his Hotel was bombed during wartime, but my Grandfather lived to the age of nearly 90 and still owned a Morris Mini which I had seen before he died not so long back.

  53. Jay says:

    I just my hands on a used 75. The bull is in great shape and ready for any rodeo i take on him. Its a different car then my mustangs or camaros i used to be with. For sure its an opposite to the german bmw and mercedes ive been with either.
    I felt in love. This car has a soul. Its unique. It comes with a style and appearance youll barely find before you enter 60k dollar zone on used cars. Its a lesson to jaguar what the should or could have done. The quality matches, its outstanding.
    I just got this beauty during my last deployment and by any means…ill bring it home now. No good man is left behind. This is the classic car of the future.

  54. Ted says:

    It was *afair* CAR magazine whose journalists reported that they cut their fingers on the outer door handle when they tried to open the press demonstrator’s door.
    But they liked the interior and declared that Rover had out-bentleyed Bentley.

    Over here the 75 was eye wateringly expensive, at least in Celeste form, which you had to choose to get leather seats. And then it still had a whimsy engine of 1.8 litres where full two litres were the standard of the class. A deadly combination when you’re facing a BMW 320 competitor.
    You could have an Alfa 156 with full two litres and all bells and whistles equipment levels for about fifteen percent less than the Rover.

  55. Gerrard says:

    Simply the wrong size segment to try and reboot a brand particularly with that classical styling, regardless of how well it was engineered and built

  56. Paul says:

    Ah,yet again – the Longbridge ruler fowled things up, its poor calibration again producing a car that was neither one thing or another. Too big to be a compact exec, too small to challenge full size execs, just like the -big breath – 1800, Maxi, Marina, Princess, Maestro, HHR and R3 before it. It didn’t conform to market norms, wasn’t understood and wasn’t wanted.

  57. Will M says:

    As reported on 10th November, the derived Roewe 750 ceased production, closing the epilogue on the Rover 75 story.

    The Rover 75 Is Finally Dead

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