MGs for a new millennium: from X to Z
When John Towers‘ Phoenix bid was accepted by BMW, he knew that there would be a long, hard road ahead to restoring the image of the company, so badly eroded by the BMW debacle. Obviously, a major coup for the company was in keeping hold of the valuable MG nameplate, and this was soon celebrated by the renaming of the company to MG Rover.
Unfortunately, Phoenix had inherited a mixed bag of models: the new and competitive 75 saloon was to a degree, complemented by the 25 hatchback (still a good car, by then realistically priced) and the uninspiring Honda-based 45. Unfortunately, the image of all three cars had been tarnished by the BMW affair, so to continue building and selling them as they were would have resulted in an irreversable slide in market share.
Because of this, the company hatched a plan to titivate all three models by injecting some of the MG magic into them – and so began the development of the MG versions. The company knew that they would lose a great deal of what credibility they had left if they simply badge-engineered the cars as MGs, so Peter Stevens was asked to restyle the bumpers and also produce body addenda which would distance them from their Rover cousins. In charge of the chassis re-engineering was Rob Oldaker, and it was his task to make the cars handle in a sporty and focused way – something that had never been allowed to happen to the originals under BMW.
The project names for these cars were X10, X11, X20 and X30, but more traditional nomenclature would need to be devised for the final, definitive versions. The solution was to call the new cars ZR (X30), ZS (X20), ZT (X10) and ZT-T (X11), thus evoking memories of the ZA and ZB Magnette saloons. All agreed that the new names were highly appropriate for these new MG saloons.
The Rover 25 (née 200) was blessed with appealing styling, so the transformation into MG hotshoe was easy. The X30 was lowered, given much bigger wheels and a more aggressive frontal aspect. Peter Stevens‘ treatment of the new car was highly appropriate and not only did it add a sporty flavour to the car that the previous VVC and BRM models had lacked, but it also managed to fit in perfectly with the competition from SEAT and Renault, where extrovert styling was a must-have.
If the Rover 25 proved the perfect basis for a hot hatchback, the Rover 45 (née 400) was to prove a more difficult task to complete. Unlike the smaller car, the Honda-based car was a rather unhappy design and Peter Stevens knew that in order to make good of it, he needed to maximise every opportunity to add as much aggressiveness as was humanly possible.
During the X20’s development, the idea was hatched to add a huge Evo-style rear spoiler (somewhat reminiscent of those featured on the Subaru Impreza P1 and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI) in order to add some much-needed character. If nothing else, this add-on certainly enabled the X20 to stand out from the crowd.
Contemporary comentators were scornful as to whether the X20 would be a successful driver’s car, given the mediocrity of the original’s chassis. To be sure, Rob Oldaker had his work cut out with this one, but given the fact that the basic set-up comprised of wishbones, he did have a good starting point. As a result, and following painstaking development, the ZS, as it would become, emerged with remarkably capable chassis – and stands as testimony to the ability of the British chassis team to produce a car that handles and rides well, given thorough development. Engine-wise, the obvious solution was to install the 2.5-litre KV6 engine – and so they did, to create the ZS180. Rover had already developed such a car in 1998, called the Rover 425 (and the idea was mooted that it was to be marketed as an MG or BRM), but it was cancelled by BMW…. the seeds were sown, however, and MG Rover successfully revived the concept.
If anything, the ZS proves to be the most impressive of the three new MGs by dint of the magnitude of its improvement over the donor car…
The flagship model – and vitally important to MG Rover as a torch bearer for the range. Like the 75, deeply impressive all round, but much more focused than the Rover version.
Like the smaller cars, the ZT was made-over by Peter Stevens and re-engineered by Rob Oldaker – only this time, new engines are in the pipeline…
For late 2003, the front wheel drive KV6 powered ZT and ZT-T will be joined by the rear wheel drive, Ford Mustang-powered V8-engined ZT385/Extreme…
At the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2001, MG Rover announced their intention to build a V8-engined coupe, codenamed X80 and based on the Qvale Mangusta. This mood of optimism was tempered somewhat by the announcement less than six months later that the car’s launch – originally pencilled-in for the summer of 2002 – had been “indefinitely postponed”. In the end, the ambitious plan for the X80 was revised, and a “harder”, more specialised car was developed from it: The MG XPower SV, which was officially launched at the Birmingham Motor Show in 2002.