History : Project Drive

Cost-cutting is rife throughout the industry, but it seemed to affect MG Rover more than any other marque in recent history.

Here’s a brief run-down of what changes were made – and why they happened. Hopefully, you’ll also be able to ascertain from this list, which is the best model for you…


When pennies count

PROJECT Drive was an initiative introduced shortly after the creation of MG Rover in 2000. The idea was a simple one – to reduce production costs by removing equipment from current models, and simplifying specification and trim differentiation. Although you might think that this is a shocking practice, the truth is that this process takes place with most volume manufacturers, and was certainly evident in the changeover from the BAe/Honda years to BMW’s ownership in 1994.

To see for yourself, find an early R8 model, and line it up alongside with one of the last of the line examples – two tone plastics have been deleted, and the general quality of interior mouldings and electrical connections have deteriorated significantly.

During the MG Rover era, this thinking was continued – and employees were encouraged to suggest ways of saving money wherever possible. Bonuses were offered for any suggestions implemented, and if that seems generous, remember that a saving of 50p per unit will translate to an annual saving of £50,000 on a production run of 100,000 cars per annum.

The big question is – did MG Rover go too far during its existence? Were the cars decontented to such a degree that they began to look unsaleable? If you were involved in Project Drive by coming up with a suggestion, or implementing it, please get in touch because we’d love to hear from you.

Also, for your delectation, is a downloadable list of the original Project Drive bulletins – thank you to anon for sending them to AROnline.


Download the bulletins

Please note, all bulletins are in PDF format, and only go up to 2003.

Project Drive Index
Project Drive Bulletin number 1
Project Drive Bulletin number 2
Project Drive Bulletin number 3
Project Drive Bulletin number 4
Project Drive Bulletin number 5
Project Drive Bulletin number 6
Project Drive Bulletin number 7
Project Drive Bulletin number 8
Project Drive Bulletin number 9
Project Drive Bulletin number 10
Project Drive Bulletin number 11
Project Drive Bulletin number 12
Project Drive Bulletin number 13
Project Drive Bulletin number 14
Project Drive Bulletin number 15


Rover 75/MG ZT Project Drive changes

An example of Project Drive in action – you can see that piece by piece, the Rover 75 and MG ZT were decontented quite comprehensively during the months and years. Although few changes were visible to the naked eye, the opinion of those who have owned early and late models are that they made a significant difference to the ‘feel’ of theu car.

See for yourself – would it have made a difference to you?

Finally, this list does not take into account the changes made as the 75 and ZT moved into Mark 2 form, so we would be keen to see a list of changes made to the facelifted cars…

15 Jan 2001
RJ 205081
LEATHER HANDBRAKE GRIP REPLACED BY PLASTIC GRIP
29 Jan 2001
RJ 206392
BOTTOM COOLANT HOSE – HEAT SLEEVE DELETION ON 1.8 ONLY
01 Jan 2001
RJ 205371
CIGAR LIGHTER – CHANGE TO TYPE FITTED
08 Mar 2001
RJ 206814
VIN PLATE – CHANGE TO CONTENT
26 Mar 2001
RJ 208804
D POST BADGE – DELETION FROM D POST FINISHER
04 May 2001
RJ 218882
FRONT SEAT BELT LOWER ANCHORAGE BOLT HEAD CAPS – DELETION
07 May 2001
RJ 215291
HIGH PRESSURE PAS SENSOR – DELETION ON KV6
14 May 2001
RJ 215035
LEATHER GEAR KNOB – CHANGE TO PLASTIC TYPE – CLASSIC & CLUB MODELS
04 Jun 2001
RJ 218712
ROVER ‘VIKING’ BOOT BADGE – DELETION
11 Jun 2001
RJ 219627
CATALYST HEAT SHIELD – DELETION ON 1.8 & KV6
21 Jun 2001
RJ 218712
FRONT DOOR ENGINE DERIVATIVE BADGES – DELETION
01 Jul 2001
RJ 225237
SUN VISORS – CHANGE IN SPECIFICATION – CLASSIC NOW PVC –
CLUB NOW NON ILLUMINATED
13 Jul 2001
RJ 223061
TYRE SIZE CHANGE FROM 205/65 R15 TO 195/65 R15
06 Aug 2001
RJ 223061
LOAD SPACE STOWAGE LID – DELETED ON 75 TOURER
17 Sep 2001
N/A
JACK HANDLE – GRIP DELETION
21 Oct 2001
RJ 233774
BONNET LOCKING PLATFORM WARNING LABELS – COMBINE 3 INTO 1
05 Nov 2001
RJ 234500
AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION OIL COOLER – CHANGE TO FLUID TYPE FITTED
– ROVER 75 CDT AUTOMATIC
05 Nov 2001
RJ 235722
ENGINE OIL COOLER – CHANGE TO FLUID TYPE FITTED
14 Nov 2001
RJ 235915
REAR LAMP ACCESS PANEL DELETION
19 Nov 2001
RJ 235526
REAR PARCEL SHELF SOUND INSULATION – DELETION
10 Dec 2001
RJ 240702
AM/FM DIVERSITY AERIAL AMPLIFIER – DELETION
07 Jan 2002
RJ 241521
DESIGN CHANGE – ROVER 75 CDT SALOON & TOURER EXHAUST SYSTEM
04 Mar 2002
RJ 249425
DRIVERS GRAB HANDLE – DELETION
04 Mar 2002
RJ 250641
REAR PARCEL SHELF – MODIFICATION & FITMENT OF DYNAMIC ABSORBER
– 75 CDT WITH 16″/17″ WHEELS
11 Mar 2002
RJ 251669
PLENUM DRAIN TUBE – MODIFICATION
18 Mar 2002
RJ 251971
POWER STEERING PUMP COVER – DELETION ON KV6
08 Apr 2002
RJ 253427
HEADREST TRIM PIPING ON NON LEATHER 75’S – DELETION
06 May 2002
RJ 255987
DOOR MIRROR – SPECIFICATION CHANGE
23 May 2002
RJ 252351
VENTED REAR BRAKE DISC – SPECIFICATION CHANGE TO
SOLID BRAKE DISC (ZT 160)
01 Jun 2002
N/A
REAR ANTI-ROLL BAR DELETION –
1.8 & 2.0 CDT SALOON (EXCLUDES KV6, TOURER & MG)
05 Aug 2002
RJ 264921
TAILGATE LATCH FINISHER – DELETION ON 75 TOURER & MG ZT-T
02 Sep 2002
RJ 267855
FUEL BURNING HEATER – DELETION ON ALL DIESEL MODELS
02 Sep 2002
RJ 266128
BODY COLOUR SIDE FINISHER – DELETION ON ZT & ZT-T MODELS
(REINSTATED QUICKLY)
23 Sep 2002
RJ 269854
ENGINE COMPARTMENT UNDERTRAY – DELETION (K1.8)
07 Oct 2002
N/A
INSTANT TYRE REPAIR (ITR) – INTRODUCTION
07 Oct 2002
RJ 270482
AUTOMATIC TEMPERATURE CONTROL (ATC)
– CHANGE TO MODEL APPLICABILITY (CLUB MODELS)
30 Oct 2002
RJ 274483
PLUG CAP COIL INTRODUCTION ON KV6
02 Sep 2002
RJ 268228
TWIN HORN REPLACED WITH SINGLE HORN
06 Nov 2002
RJ 274575
ALLOY WHEEL CENTRES – MATERIAL CHANGE
11 Nov 2002
RJ 275024
DRIVERS SIDE PLENUM DRAIN TUBE – DELETION
14 Nov 2002
RJ 271850
TAILGATE RELEASE SWITCH – DELETION ON TOURER & ZT-T
25 Nov 2002
RJ 276797
SIDE DOOR REFLECTORS – MATERIAL CHANGE
04 Dec 2002
RJ 277641
TOOLKIT STOWAGE – COMMON ACROSS RANGE
13 Jan 2003
RJ 279607
BODY COLOUR DOOR MIRROR CAPS – DELETION ON 75 CLASSIC & ZT 120

Thanks to Ian Robertson for tabulating the above data

Posted in: History
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.

37 Comments on "History : Project Drive"

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  1. John says:

    Cutting costs is easy; getting them past the customer is quite another.

    The above list is a shocking list of penny pinching but, like you say, not unique to Rover. Try comparing MINI’s built before and after September 2006 for cost cutting the makes the above list look extremely unambitious!

  2. Darren,Lancs says:

    How was a brand that already had a poor reputation for build quality, going to improve it by using sub standard parts & materials?
    As mentioned above, years earlier, the R8 model had a quailty “feel” about it. The car I had at the time, felt better built than any Ford or Vauxhall I had owned previously.

    Such a shame how things went. The R8 almost saved Rover, only for the Idiots at the top, to consistantly throw it all away.

  3. Steve Bailey says:

    Avoid any 75 built after 2000 then!

  4. Will M says:

    “04 Jun 2001
    RJ 218712

    ROVER ‘VIKING’ BOOT BADGE – DELETION”

    An interesting one. I have saw post 2001 but pre-facelift models that are missing the viking badge. I always assumed it was kids or vandals had pinched it!

    A shame what happens to quality cars when the beancounters get involved.

    Look even at Merc up until early 90s, then late 90s onward!

  5. Hilton D says:

    As as stated here all manufacturers engage in this skimping practice. Looking at the lists, some deletions dont seem to matter, but replacing twin horns with singles and deleting colour coded mirrors would irritate me.

    I did own a 2003 MG ZS which had no sound insulation under the bonnet, whereas my previous R45 did… was that Project Drive in action?

  6. didierz65 Didier Ziane says:

    My 52 connoisseur still had what some dealers call the “full chrome pack” that included mirrors, I’m not sure about the rear axle lack of anti rollbar being a K 1,8L(!) but on the other side, mine had superb 17″ Serpent alloys with uselessly wide 215/45 tyres. Every manufacturer tries to lower costs, it’s a different story if safety gets threatened…That said, my 75 was NEVER a dangerous car to drive. Didier

  7. francis brett francis brett says:

    When i worked at a famous car super market we bought truckloads of 75’s probably off PWC all non registered and i was surprised to see rather naff aftermarket looking central bezel and a cheap kenwood radio instead of the more harmonious looking BMW sourced radio/CD player

  8. Jonathan Carling jonathan carling says:

    Right at the end of the MGR period, the company announced that all 25s and 45s would be sold with standard wood and leather interiors. I wonder how this fits with the de-contenting strategy. Does it actually cost any more to fit these trimmings to every model I wonder?

  9. Paul says:

    I suspect that every motor manufacturer in the world is publishing similar bulletins on a regular basis. Nothing to get worked up about. Most of the items described on these lists added any real value to the vehicle so why not save money by deleting them? – especially when your company is burning through money at a rate of knots, your factory has been mortgaged to a property developer and the cheque from the Chinese is “still in the post”

  10. Paul says:

    In fact recently I’ve noticed something called “Interior Lighting Pack” creeping onto the options lists of all the German premium manufacturers. This costs between £200 -£300 and includes things like rear map reading lights, vanity mirror lights and front footwell illumination. All things that would have been standard a year or so ago.

  11. Phil Simpson says:

    Putting skinnier tyres on is a biggy.

    Interesting how the replacement of the unique radio & registraton plates with off the shelf items didn’t make it onto the above list since these are the two changes to the 75 that are most visible.

  12. Phil Simpson says:

    Oh and deleting a tonneau cover from the tourer’s standard specification was definitely one step too far.

    The person who told me my 25 got off lightly (it’s a 2005 model) was right!

  13. Stuart says:

    I ran a ZT-T 180 here in Aus for a year & soon after buying, one of the tail lamps blew. No big issue I thought, until I realised the lights had to be unscrewed to change bulbs. But they were obviously designed for one-off fitting & had very weak tabs that were already broken & had to be bodgied into position so the lamp wouldn’t fall out.

    Yes, they’d deleted the interior access panel, but hadn’t beefed up the fittings for the new way of replacing bulbs. And a new light cluster? Couldn’t find one one anywhere…There were other details missing but stuff I didn’t need such as a light in the spare wheel along with a gas strut, was included. Darned annoying, such little things that frustrated me by their omission & knowing the car was designed to have them.

  14. Stuart says:

    Francis Brett has just reminded me of a few more small annoyances. The handbook in a cheap plastic cover; I’ve had better boxes wrapped around a takeaway dinner. Plus the Kenwood cd player that looked out of place & was often remarked upon by passengers as they thought it was a cheap aftermarket job. Plus the key with no logo, nor the engine for that matter.

    Small things, but this thing sold for $65,000 in Aus. Those small details would have put me off if I was buying new. Heck, a friends Daewoo had a proper logoed key & folder for the manual, although the Sanyo cd player looked as out of place as the Kenwood in mine. So were MGR trying to push into Daewoo territory in a few years?

  15. DM says:

    @8 The leather was of the lowest grade. If you track these cars on Auto Trader, the driver side seat leather is often adrift, always very wrinkled- far more than most leather seats of their age.

  16. Tony Reeves says:

    The project drive affected all models in the range. The 75/ZT didnt come off as bad as the 45 mind or the 25.

    Drive an early one of either and then a later one and you will see, feel, hear and touch the diffrences.

    Its the small things people notice like the illuminated ignition etc that get removed but make the car far more special then the average car.

    @Stuart 19 onwards, I assume you have a 75 Tourer?, If thats the case the rear lights never had an access panel this was only on the saloons, The tourers have always required the lights to be unbolted from the car to do the bulbs and people often over tighten the fittings and damage the clips that cover the fitting up. So yours is as it was intended, just a mixture of hand fisted people and a poor setup.

  17. Tony Reeves says:

    @DM

    The leather on Rovers was always good quality upto about Aug 2002 (52 plate onwards in the UK) where things started to go on the cheap.

    If you mean worn side bolsters (mostly on MG’s) then thats due to the setup of the seat and the addition of the side support bars and is no better or worse then any other car company.

    If you look at sporty cars like the Focus, Mondeo, Vectra etc and even some premimum makers the side bolsters will just be as bad unless they have had a cherished life.

  18. Phil Simpson says:

    As stated earlier, I have a 2005 Rover 25. As well as being more modern than the earlier pre-facelift dash, the plastic is thinner. This wouldn’t be a problem as it actually looks like good quality plastic (until you touch it). The only problem is we live on a cobbled street so it rattles a lot more than it used to.

    I would say the leather is of a better quality to the 1999 Honda Accord my Dad had (the driver’s seat cover was replaced twice under warranty) & the only other “Drivesque” thing that I’ve noticed other than the VDO radio which looks like a 90s Philips unit, is the unbranded cam cover presumably introduced so that MGR could buy them in higher quantities & use them on MGs as well.

  19. DRose says:

    I worked on Project Drive, responsible for the powertrain savings. Most of the savings made in powertrain were invisible to the customer which was how Drive was supposed to work. Unfortunately there was lots of pressure to deliver savings as they were baked into the company business plan so the savings inevitably moved to removing features. I still remember the heated debate about the removal of the ignition switch light from R25/R45 where the engineer was told to ‘just do it’.

  20. Andrew says:

    Fewer parts sometimes means better quality.

  21. Christian says:

    Before buying my 1999 Rover 75 Connoisseur SE, I test drove a 2005 model. Although they both drove beautifully, everything in the newer model just didn’t feel as good quality…hence buying Canley’s best. It’s a shame, especially seeing as humans are very perceptive due to our 5 senses. I think the only thing we don’t do with cars is taste them! (Well some of you might :-)I also added a fully loaded 2003 Rover 25iXL to the collection and it was definitely a victim of Project Drive…not a patch on the exquisite quality of my previous Rover 100s. It made me sad then as it does now…but at least the “ongoing project” helped Rover hang on just that little bit longer. My mum has just bought a Kia Rio because of the 7 year warranty. It looks alright but the quality of the fittings and plastics isn’t a patch on even Project Drive MG Rover products. Let them commit financial suicide…

  22. Kev says:

    Re 17: The change in leathers you mention, has nothing to do with ‘cost-down’ actions. The previous supplier, (Connelly) went out of business. The contract was taken over by ‘Bridge of Weir’. Their leathers have a different weight to those previously used, due to a different skiving process.

  23. RobH says:

    But we have seen all this before. Compare any pre 68 BMC car with later ones. If leather seats are a concern compare a 1965 VdP 1100 to a 1973 Vdp 1300. Compare a 1964 P6 Rover to a 1974 version. Of course if manufacturers change models more often such things are not noticed. Unfortunately when such things start becoming obvious you know the manufacturer is in trouble as models remain in production after their sell by date and volumes are not high enough to justify running the original spec.

  24. Glenn A says:

    It was a sign with the cost cutting and use of cheaper materials after 2001 that Rover was on the way out. I still think Rover would have done better when BMW ditched them in 2000, to ditch the unpopular 25 and 45 models and concentrate all the resources on the 75, which was more of a proper Rover than two small hatchbacks. I know there would have been job losses, but if the 75 was made as good as the oppostion who knows what the future would have been as the car had much to recommend it.

    • Keithk says:

      Agree with you on the 75 but if you look around today and see the number of 25s on the road, talk to some of the owners and they appear to be a long lasting car…the 45 on the other hand, l could never understand the fascination that the PHEONIX4 had in pouring money into various racing/speed projects instead of updating the cars the buyers wanted, not pandering to a clique.

    • didierz65 didierz65 says:

      Maybe, maybe not. Keeping only the 75 (and MGF/TF, I assume)Sales were low, how would they have financed the next model(s) ?
      Writing was on the wall as soon as the Germans ran away….

      • WarrenL says:

        Before. That’s why the Germans ran away. Mind you, there’s a school of thought that says the writing was in German.

  25. Paul Pig says:

    Should have been called “Project British Leyland Forever”.

  26. Steve Lee says:

    Looking at the lead picture is a reminder of what a handsome car the Rover 75 was. Mercedes must have thought so – look at the current C Class saloon…

  27. Chris Lane says:

    @25, Glenn, You could have been right. I thought the 75 going with Land Rover would have been a better idea. But BMW would have had to stem the losses. Rover was always an upmarket car, where as the 25 and the 45 were merely Austins.

  28. mm says:

    Some of those mods should have been incorporated at the design stage, ie plenum tube modification, jack handle deletetion, underbonnet labels combine 3 into 1.
    Every part saved is money in the bank

  29. Glenn A says:

    @28, Chris, a smaller Rover dedicated to the 75 would have been a better company. The 75 was a good car and distinctive and is still well thought of. All they needed to do was solve the head gasket problem with the K series engine and tighten up on quality control and they would have had a real Audi beater.

  30. Steve Lee says:

    @30 they would have had a real BMW beater too – which is why BMW did their best to ruin the 75 starting with the launch. A bit of Chinese cash to Ricardo engineering and the K-series (in both current guises) is head gasket problem free. BMW didn’t want to fix the K-Series or make the 75 the car it could have been – they wanted Mini and that’s it.

  31. Dave Dawson says:

    Looked at all the bulletins –

    Firstly, the ZR don’t appear in too many which is good to see.
    Secondly, my ZR was registered July 2003. According to the bulletins ( 7 & 8 I think) I should have emergency puncture repair instead of a spare wheel and a tail pipe with no inner lining. However, I most certainly have a (mini) spare The tail pipe is lined too but surely this ain’t the original.
    Did certain cars revert to original spec at times?

  32. T.martin says:

    I originally had a Rover 200 BRM and while it was off the road for a few days, borrowed a friend s 25 ON A 53 plate. As much as i love Rover products, one thing went through my mind whilst driving it What a pile of junk-interior quality was non existant, the seats were cheap nasty and unsupportive and the dash plastics, door trims were thin and flimsy. Added to this the head gasket failure problem, is it any wonder they went to the wall. The Rover s of the early 90 s were very well built cars compared to the last built in the 21 st century. I was really saddened and shocked at what i found and couldn t wait to get my 1998 BRM back. Shame verdict: MGR turned into a third rate company on par with yugo.

  33. Paulyboy says:

    Didn’t see any mention of the change to the awful plastic headlight lenses that my face lifted R45 has – what a downgrade!

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