One of our Dinosaurs is missing: On the trail of a unique MG ZT-T prototype
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
Nic Fasci, a former MGR Homologation Engineer, adds his thoughts:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.