One of our Dinosaurs is missing: On the trail of a unique MG ZT-T prototype

Steven Ward 

Prototype 2006 MG ZT-T

Prototype 2006 MG ZT-T

I do regular Internet searches of what the country’s motor auctions have in store for us MG Rover anoraks. My search last Monday morning, at first glance, revealed nothing of note. The trade is in a buying mood currently, so there is less reaching the auctions and what does, sells rapidly. 

However, I did a quick refresh of one particular search and unexpectedly struck gold. The details of a 2008/08-plated ZT-T 190 SE appeared on the screen. WOOF! Just over 6000 guaranteed miles covered, direct from a large dealer chain – The Car Group – and it was entering its sale imminently (as in NOW!). This caught me unaware as usually a car is listed for sale with at least a few days’ notice. 

Anyway, this bad boy was soon parachuting straight into the middle of the sale, sans lot number and with a question mark hanging over the whereabouts of the V5. The car was at BCA’s Derby site and, with me being north of civilisation, the only way I could see the beast was to watch BCA TV (so much better than daytime telly). This was a hit and miss affair as I was busy and, because the car had no lot number, I couldn’t predict when it would rumble into the ‘ring. 

Fortune favouring the brave, I caught it. The log book was now present and it was declared manufactured 2008 according to the auctioneer. Bidding was strong and the hammer fell at £7200 plus fees. This astonished me, but there is a clientele out there who’ll pay for unmolested Class

Roll forward to Tuesday night. Bored to tears with the dreary TV and with a snoring Airedale pushing me off the sofa, I sought mental refuge in BCA’s AuctionView site with a burning desire to stumble across something else unusual. Guess what was there in Technicolor? Our 2008 ZT-T, which previously at 1630 hours that night, was unlisted. WOOF! 

The game was afoot again – this time the car was properly listed, photographed and had undergone a basic reconditioning report. Due into Wednesday’s ‘The Car Group’ sale, this was lot number 1. The report into the vehicle looked good, but the pictures, well they didn’t quite ring true. The ZT-T was sporting a front bumper which looked like a Rover V8 job that had been painted matt black in places, yet it still sported the Octagon. 

Why? A poor front-end repair? Possibly. Maybe it had left the factory fitted with whatever was to hand? That’s also possible. 

Maybe though, just maybe, this car was a bit special. Certainly, its wheels were. Where were the roof bars for a top-spec car? I could see the shark fin for the High-Line? I sent my chum who was online the details, just to share the love. What he uncovered led to a series of lengthy, late night ‘phone calls and emails between us, Those Who Were There (Flightshed, Longbridge 2005 that is) and anyone else we could think of with clues as to this vehicles history. 

Our first lead was a thread unearthed on the Rover 75 & ZT forum on the subject of one-off MGR prototypes. This featured a series of pictures of this very ZT-T with a man pointing to some of the cars trick-bits. I recognised the man, although he’d never recognise me as we’ve not really met. 

Never mind, I knew a man who’d know his ‘phone number. Two calls later and I was ‘phoning a man at 2100 hours to ask what he was doing in this ZT-T some 33 months ago. The man in question was Nick, previously of Friarsgate MG Rover, Lichfield. Nick, nicknamed ‘Austin’ to those that know of him, was an ace Engineer for Friarsgate MG Rover. He had set-up solo – Austin Garages – just after MGR’s collapse with the aim of doing his but to keep the Class on the road. 

Nick, initially taken aback, went on to regale me – a complete stranger – with tales and features of this ZT-T in a fashion that would shame Rain Man.  The car was this special and Nick had worked on it. Co-incidentally and somewhat spookily, he had just been talking about this car to a colleague earlier in the week, wondering what had happened to it. With thanks to Nick and a few others from MGR circles, I’ve patched together what I believe to be the story behind this vehicle. 

Essentially, the ZT-T went down the Longbridge assembly lines in March 2005 as highline 190. Plucked from the line at a certain stage, the car became a fully-engineered prototype which was destined to become the proving car for 2006 facelift of the ZT range. That’s why, as Nick said ‘that car has a list of unusual and one-off features as long as your arm’. 

Nick also said it was a very, very sweet car, but noted that, in his opinion, the car shouldn’t be retailed to anyone expecting a standard ZT-T or, indeed, an everyday car. This ZT-T is just too bespoke to be a viable motor car as you’ll see. It is quite hard to list (indeed, remember) all the features, but we’ll cover the basics. 

Powertrain
The car features a different and much larger air filter housing that has been relocated. The KV6 is fully Euro 4 compliant and that means a fly-by-wire throttle. It’s also running a new type of ECU and throttle body manufactured by Bosch (as opposed to Siemens). In addition, the exhaust system was all new and featured an extra catalyst. A new design of coolant header tan was present and features a too low-coolant warning lamp, which works! An email has been sent Nic Fasci who led the homologation programme for MGR to see if he can shed any further details of this engine and the targets set for it. 

Chassis
The car was also equipped with DSC stability control (and all that entails for braking components) and a new traction control set-up. The Engineers at the time reckoned that this was a very subtle and progressive installation that wasn’t intrusive so it was likely to be a great addition to the already very strong ZT dynamics. Indeed, for the true enthusiast, these systems are generally counter-intuitive, so it seems likely that MGR would have won great praise for this ‘pure’ system. 

Incidentally, the DSC and the rest of the braking system were done by TRW and not Bosch.  However, the sensors on this car’s steering column (again, new) were missing with the result that the system does not function. We believe that, if you were keen, you could source the sensors from a MG6 or Roewe 750, but this is just an educated guess. We hope to meet with some of MGR’s old Chassis Engineers shortly for more details and insight. 

Electrical
The wiring and its harness and, indeed, the vast majority of the sensors on this car are also unique and owe very little to what went before. MG Rover Group was, at the time, making a concerted effort to rid their cars of the BMW-supplied electrical items which looked bad and cost the company a fortune.  This car was to lead the way in MGR-sourced sensors and it was here they were being tested. This car should, therefore, have been cheaper  for the Firm to build and have banished electrical gremlins in certain sensors that frequently give trouble. 

Security
The car also featured a new alarm and immobiliser system which wasn’t fully set-up – that meant it had a standard ZT Valeo key, but the later style alarm/remote fob from the rest of the Longbridge range, made in Ireland. Interestingly, these fobs which were fitted across all the 25/ZR , 45/ZS and TF ranges in 2004 and were designed to house the key instead of having the key and fob separate on the keyring. 

It looks likely that, in this installation, the marriage between key and fob would have happened. I imagine the new system would have been cheaper to supply and given more commonality across MGR range. I would, though, be concerned if the Valeo locks were deleted in favour of the rather cheap, frail looking items featured on the rest of the MGR range. 

Styling
The front bumper as mentioned was neither fish nor fowl. Outwardly similar to the Rover 260 design, this car was to have certain sections painted matt black, similar to what is currently in vogue on sporty Seat Ibizas. The old supplier of these ‘Premier Bumpers’ has been contacted and they have confirmed that they were tasked with productionising this mock-up, although there were better detailed mock-ups at MGR than the one fitted to this car. 

This is quite a pleasing aspect as it shows just how in touch with the current trends the Design Team at MGR were. Indeed, that also applies to the wheels fitted to this ZT-T – although not to everyone’s taste, they are very similar to what became fitted to Ford’s Titanium range.  Again, we have emailed more people from the disbanded MGR Design Team for further details. 

Generally
What must be emphasised about this car is that it was an engineering prototype and it was thus equipped with all the scientific kit you’d expect to find. That is to say correctly calibrated instruments, ports to plug in laptops and other diagnostic and analytical equipment. A big red ‘STOP’ button features too. The ECU unusually had serial ports. Remember, the above list of enhancements is by no means definitive and is a guide based on recollections of various people. 

Who, What, When and Why?
This is where the water muddies and what follows must be considered hearsay. We all know that, during the great Fire Sale that PricewaterhouseCoopers orchestrated during the administration period of Longbridge, cars which should technically have been crushed were sold on to the Trade and these occasionally were sold to unsuspecting motorists. 

Many so-called specialist MGR traders and car supermarkets, who should have known better, sold cars for strong money which were prototypes that would prove to be unusable, unserviceable or unsafe. No manufacturer would have allowed these unregulated, off tools cars out of the factory. The time during 2005 was unprecedented in the motor industry. However, it seems this car escaped late 2007/early 2008. The car is believed to have ended-up being sold to a member of the public from a car ‘supermarket’ outlet for around £13,000 in March 2008 when it was registered in Worcester. 

Anyway, if this is the case, then the car left Longbridge during the turbulent period when NAC was forcibly taken over by SAIC Motor. The few remaining members of staff who had worked in Longbridge during the administration period were now let go after surviving bankruptcy and believing they’d been saved to see the Brave New World. We’d love to know more about what went on in Longbridge during this time, but voices are few and all very silent – if this ZT-T did leave during this transition period, it is the only one we know of. 

A consequence of this ZT-T being registered so late is that it’s now subject to the excessive taxation class of £425pa. The DVLA has obviously based this road fund rate on the ‘old’ ZT emissions which were, of course, Euro 3. Technically, this is incorrect as we know this particular car is Euro4 compliant, but for reasons I cannot remember, there was a rush to register all unsold MGR cars at this point. 

Certainly, SMC in Slough, long-established MG Rover Dealers, registered all their stock of unsold (but ‘proper’) MG Rovers on ’08 plates.  Frustratingly, we still cannot understand why this car escaped the confines of Longbridge and was retailed when dozens of prototypes from the same testing period were publicly crushed, much to the annoyance of the MGR enthusiast community. However, that is not to say this was the only one of its type to escape – G-Series-engined 75s, Alfa Romeo-engined 75s ,VVC 75s and, intriguingly, a Euro 4 1.8 75 have all been spotted out in the wild. 

This car, though, was retailed and retailed to a member of the public who was presumably looking for a bargain motor car, not a piece of MGR history. It says a lot about the condition of the prototype that the car was still shiny enough to sit and be retailed on a forecourt. 

Sadly, it is understood that the owner wasn’t happy having encountered niggles on the car which he was unprepared for. What happened at this point remains a mystery as the car appears not to have accrued any further mileage and has remained in very good condition, virtually as new. This unique ZT-T was, as recounted above,  sold on Monday at auction and then , for some as yet unknown reason, re-offered for sale in the auction on Wednesday with aV5 present and listing three previous owners, but having no MoT. 

The Car Group had placed a £10,000 reserve on this vehicle, but we do not know whether even they know the history and significance of this car. Indeed, at this point, we do not know if the car sold the second time around the auction. 

We wonder if this car has more in common with the Chinese members of the R40 range than with its British relations and that is why the car survived in Longbridge – if, indeed, that’s where it was holed-up for three years. The question about where it’s been since mid-2008 also is one that remains unanswered and so, if you’ve bought this car, then we’d love to hear from you – that invite extends to all owners of unusual MGR-built cars. 

Two additional images supplied by Ian Robertson: ‘I have a little bit more info on that car, and saw it myself in the showroom at Longbridge in April 2006. I even have a photo of it. The wheels in question are 17-inch Viking wheels as fitted to the MY05 75 cars.’ 


In addition
Nic Fasci, a former MGR Homologation Engineer, adds his thoughts: 

Powertrain:
This MG ZT-T will be a Euro 4 emissions car which will have been worked on towards the end of MGR’s life.  However, as none of the 75/ZT engines were ever type approved to Euro 4 levels, the car will still be classed as a Euro 3 car hence the monster road tax cost of £425 as that’s what the car was built as first time. 

Just because it’s an Euro 4 engine doesn’t meant it can have Euro 4 limits applied to it as we never fully type approved it. The aim would have been to get the CO2 limits down as far as possible and that was going to take a fair bit of time and work as there was still a lot of calibration work to do. The extra cat (where ever it was in the system) was to get the other gasses down to meet Euro 4 limits (HC, NOx etc). 

Chassis:
Yes, we were going to a TRW system with full DSC capability which was a very unobtrusive system. I’m still good friends with one of the guys who was developing the system and they wanted a system that complemented the ZT/75 chassis but which would not totally take over and dominate the car. The basics of the chassis were held at the top of the tree and then the DSC was a complete last resort so I was lead to believe. I think stuff from the 750/MG7 remained BOSCH so the chances of getting something that can be “plugged in” may be slim. 

I do know that the TRW guys up here at MIRA are still running around in a few Rover 75s with their ABS/TC/DSC system on so, unless they’re now fully installed on the 750s, that ZT-T will remain a bit of an odd ball in that department. The large red Kill switch will probably be for the ABS system. It’s a bit of a hallmark for development cars as you need to be able to kill the system depending on the tests you’re doing. Either that or it’s the engine kill button, but I wager that it’s for the ABS system or DSC system. 

Electrical:
God knows, a law unto themselves! I know that our electrical chaps were always looking for new bits of architecture in the cars so not at all surprised if there were bits and pieces going on in there. 

Security:
The 25/45 range had been changed a bit with the new SCU so it would make sense that these systems could be taken across to the 75 range. However, the complexity of the BCU fitted to the 75 platform would have taken a lot of changes – as for the key fob thing, I can see part of the reason for changing it if we were going to use a new SCU but changing the key to a bendy one was probably not the most intelligent thing to do as that may have meant a new steering column lock which would have cost a fortune to develop. 

The only reason the bendy key existed was because of crash and interior fitting requirements. The key, when it was in the older cars, could really do some damage to your legs in a crash so the bendy key was done to protect your legs –  the heritage thing was not considered. Indeed, if anything, we were asking for single keys like the 75’s because the key and separate key fob was becoming a right royal pain the proverbial. Everything on one key was much better than having a key and a fob jangling around in your pocket – I’m pretty sure that the single key would have been kept. 

Finally,as for the front bumper, no way was that intended. I believe that, as the car was around during the NAC time before the Chinese told SAIC and NAC to stop behaving like a pair of squabbling three year olds and SAIC was taking NAC over, the bumper is off the MG7 that NAC was producing. I was not aware of a Rover 75 V8 bumper ever falling over to an MG as it wasn’t right for the car – and it looks pants as an MG bumper. I think that it’s more a case of the car had no front bumper on and the MG7 one was available so, to get the car sold by PwC, they slapped that on the front. 

The last cars were lashed together by NAC with bits that they could find when PwC sold everything off – this car should have been bailed along with the other engineering cars. The Euro 4 cars were not ready (apart from the MG TF 160 and 135 engines which we did approve!) and this car is another example of how not to do it! A quirky one-off, yes, but not for sale!
Posted in: Essays
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.

32 Comments on "One of our Dinosaurs is missing: On the trail of a unique MG ZT-T prototype"

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  1. AROnline live » Report : MG ZT-T 190 VX08 OBW | 7 February 2011
  1. Atas says:

    Look at this picture of a Roewe 750’s engine compartment and you can see that it’s indentical to this ZT-T’s engine compartment.

  2. Michael says:

    It’s good to see that one prototype survived.

  3. Ian says:

    This very car was sitting in the showroom at Longbridge after MG Rover went bump. I have photos of the car to prove that and can confirm that it was there until at least mid-2006.

    The wheels which are fitted to it are Rover 17-inch Viking wheels which were available on the MY2005 Rover 75 as an optional extra.

  4. Oliver says:

    It is nice to see that some of the MG-Rover prototype cars have survived, but this has happened in the old Austin-Rover times too.

    My sister bought a new Rover 216GSi with all extras except metallic paint and only 11,000 km on the clock back in 1990. It was a press car for Austria and than sold to a customer. We had owned the car for some weeks before we realised that the switches in the car were different to those used on other cars. The plastic panels in the car were without any “leather” structure and, as we fitted seat covers on the seats, we found yellow painted letters on all of them which said: Prototype for LHD vehicle No. 2. We found many other examples of these prototype markings on the car over the years.

    One thing which was really funny was that the small Rover badges which were mounted on the rear doors were not the usual Rover badges. No, they were very old BL badges from a Rover P6 Series Two which were mounted on the C posts on these cars.

    My father still has this car in his collection. He got the car in very nice condition from my sister when she bought a new car – a 75 KV6 2.5 litre.

  5. Andrew Elphick says:

    @Oliver
    Any snaps Oliver?

  6. Steve says:

    Did not someone in the MGR community have this car in his workshop with a view to the removal the fly-by-wire system? (I hope not.)

    I want this car and would keep it as it left MGR – I hope that any new owner appreciates what it is and does not do anything to it. I would buy the car now if I could but £10k is a lot of cash in this financial climate – I can’t see them getting close really.

    Anyway, if you are the new owner reading this, please do not alter this car – no new hifi, no new wheels, no new spoilers, interior mods or engine mods. Please keep as it left the factory as only then will it retain its value to some of us wanting this unique car.

    I would buy this MG ZT-T over any Audi, BMW or other boring, un-exclusive repmobile.

  7. Paul Taylor Paul T says:

    I suppose that, despite this MG ZT-T’s bespoke and technically-advanced construction, it could be described as the ultimate ‘dodgy motor, guv’ ! 🙂

  8. Jemma says:

    I think that there are a couple of details on this MG ZT-T which are better than the released one, but how are you going to get parts for it if they’re needed? Assuming, that is, you actually bought it…

    I’ve always liked that red colour or that really deep blue they did – there’s a V8 floating round Colchester in the blue…

  9. Andrew says:

    It’s good to see that a prototype such as this has survived. However, it should not be for sale – anyone who buys this will find that things will get extremely difficult in a few years when faults begin to occur. I can’t help feeling that this car should not be on the road.

  10. Atas says:

    One more point: Roewe 750s with manual gearbox have an all-new clutch system. The master cylinder is very similar to the BMW E39’s but with a longer tag. There’s an external tank for clutch fluid, metal pipes and full metal slave clutch cylinder. I have included links to photographs of the relevant parts here and here.

  11. Hilton Davis says:

    This looks like a nice update which never happened for real. The square grille looks good and is obviously a Rover 75 premium version – colour-coded rather than chromed. I think that Nanjing used the chrome square grilles on some of their MG7s too.

    I saw a 56 plate MG ZT in Goodwood Green the other day… still looked the part!

  12. David 3500 says:

    The alloy wheels fitted to this car are the 17-inch ‘Viking’ design with the same machined finished as featured on the 17-inch ‘Star’ and optional 18-inch ‘Vortex’ designs offered on the 75 V8. The Viking design was introduced in the latter quarter of 2004 for the Rover 75. Very few examples were specified with this optional wheel design.

    Other interesting, late-registered (08 registrations) Rovers were a small batch of 75 Tourers built to 2003 Model Year specification and originally destined for sale in Bermuda. Most of these cars were, to my knowledge, sold by SMC of Slough in 2008/2009.

  13. Russ says:

    A very interesting discovery – as a former MGR-based contractor (on site Truck Engineer) in the East Works, there were some very big things going on with the powertrain from 2004 right up to the dreaded day.

    The Company Car Scheme drivers often drove cars that had prototype engineering built in to them – this was obviously under the supervision of MGR’s Engineers.

    The uprated head gasket which is now used on the N-Series was fitted to many models accross the range for analysis. It’s a shame that never got into production. However, it is clear that these cars were sold on the open market after the employees handed cars back so a few lucky owners have got a more reliable K-Series engine as a result.

    There were also some Kias fitted with K-Series power units. There was also talk of a camless engine and “Lamb” had been on site looking to alter the machining process for the heads to comply with Euro 4 emissions.

    Many under-estimated what developments were underway at MGR – many of them could have been could ahead of their time

    It’s such a shame that one of those idiot Car Supermarkets got their hands on this car. I’m sure that there would be a place in Gaydon for this one.

  14. Ianto says:

    This article got me thinking…

    I did a quick search of Auto Trader and the most expensive Rover-branded secondhand cars currently are now Minis – how fantastic is that! The only model which runs the Mini close is a 2004 Rover 75 Tourer.

  15. Mark Baxter says:

    An interesting article – this is not, by any means, the first car to have left the factory when it should have either been reworked internally or crushed. This car really should not be on the road and deserves to be in a museum.

    However, your article is incorrect about SMC registering our stock in 2008 as our new car stock was long gone by then. The 2008 cars were ten Rover 75s which I bought from Bermuda and were 2003-built cars – that’s something which we were all very careful to tell everyone who subsequently bought one of them about..

  16. I have tried to email the author of this article directly but can confirm that the MG ZT-T featured is now in our possession at Hopton Garage and on display in our showroom.

    It is a fantastic car to drive, but there is a lot of bespoke equipment on it. However, this is probably the first time the car has been through the proper Dealer Network! The car was disposed of by SMTC UK in the Spring of 2008 as it was one of their vehicles and not an MG Motor UK car.

    Anyone wishing to view this MG ZT-T for documentation purposes before the car disappears into private hands is welcome to do so by prior arrangement.

  17. Russ says:

    Incidentally, further to my previous post, there were also a couple of X Power Grey Streetwises running a common rail diesel – probably the G-Series. I wonder if any of these got out into the wild…

  18. Ernest Berkhauer says:

    Dings!

  19. @Richard Hilton
    Please try and ensure that this MG ZT-T goes to an enthusiast who will cherish it until it passes on to another (hopefully enthusiast-type) owner.

    Perhaps the car might still be in your possession when the POL happens in April…

    I’m the proud owner of a 1991 820 Turbo of which there are 32 remaining SORN’d or taxed. Not many left from a build of 563…

  20. Lewis says:

    @Jemma
    Are you from Colchester, then? IIRC there is a 75 V8 in Poseidon Blue about.

  21. Dave R says:

    That car would probably be one of the D02/1 proto-build level vehicles that had just been completed prior to MG Rover going bust. I think, from recollection, that it had twin close-coupled starter cats that replaced the single near-coupled EU3 design. The calibration would have been a very early level.

  22. Silas Denyer says:

    A question for those who know: is this car actually road legal? If it doesn’t meet the Type Approval documents for the model, surely it should technically have been SVA’d in order to get it in on the road? Does a new owner face the prospect of having the car subjected to a Prohibition Order if stopped?

  23. Paul Taylor Paul T says:

    @Silas Denyer
    I think Type Approval comes with the generic car.

    My understanding of it (from what is written here) is that this car just has alternative versions of items that would be fitted as standard rather than it being a radically modified version of the mass-produced vehicle.

  24. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    Richard Hilton :
    Anyone wishing to view this MG ZT-T for documentation purposes before the car disappears into private hands is welcome to do so by prior arrangement.

    You’re in Staffs, so not a massive haul for me. I’m away until mid-February but I’d be more than happy to come up and do some decent shots of the car based on info from people about what was different.

  25. Dolomite Fan says:

    Oddly, I’ve just seen an 06/56 plated Rover 75 diesel with a V8-style grille. Very odd… Sadly, I couldn’t get a closer look at the car.

  26. Midlander 2000 says:

    Hi, I work at Hopton Garage, the MG Dealers in Stafford, and this car is for sale in our showroom now!

  27. Freshkid says:

    SMG Rover, who can be contacted on 01275 832303, still have around six brand new 08/08 MG ZTs and Rover 75s in stock – all are normal production models and are being sold with delivery mileage only.

    These are beautiful cars and deserve to be bought by true MG Rover enthusiasts.

  28. Tony says:

    I now own VX08 after a little wheeling and dealing! I am in touch with Nick at Austins, but would welcome further insight into the car’s history.

  29. Simon Woodward says:

    @Tony
    Nice one, the engine sound fantastic. You are a lucky guy!

  30. Tony says:

    @Ian
    Hi Ian, I would, if at all possible, very much like to get copies of your Longbridge pictures. Many thanks, Tony.

  31. Just to let you know i now own the MG ZTT VX08 0BW it is still going strong and i am working my way through it’s quirky bits!! it has now done 24500 miles 8000 of these are mine. Few minor problems but nothing to bother about if anyones interested in chatting about it or wants to see it martin@kartmania.co.uk will get me or 07974766529

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