Our Cars : Two inches makes all the difference!

Words and Photographs: Mike Humble

75 on 18 inch hairpins – Proof that an inch or two makes all the difference!

While Keith Adams’ 75 Connoisseur seemingly continues to provide a comfy commute to work and back on a daily basis without sounding like a child’s Tommy gun, my own 75  1.8 Club SE has been left on the drive – that’s, though, partly down to my use of the company’s 25 Commerce diesel van. Nipping around Sussex in a torquey van which seemingly runs for a billion miles on twenty sovs of heavy oil means that,  in comparison, hopping into the 75 becomes a right pain in the pocket. Howver, at least once a week, I have been doing the obligatory trek to the paper shop in the aforementioned 75 just remind myself how the other half live as t`wer – oh, how I have missed the aircon, the comfort, the space and the silence of a well-built, well-presented and well-insulated cabin.

We have been having a bit of a clear out at work and two or three cars which we had kept purely for cannibalising have reached the point whereby they have served their purpose in keeping the Rover brand alive where original parts have no longer been readily available. One of the said vehicles was a ZT saloon which still sported its 18 inch ‘Hairpin’ alloys albeit with knackered tyres and, a few weeks back I had discussed with Keith during a celebratory post head gasket curry, how I quite fancied the idea of larger wheels. My own model was adorned with 16 inch ‘Union’ style alloys which suit the car rather well – much better than the alternative 15 inch alloy, the 17 inch ‘Serpent’ type look uber sleek, but are rare and expensive and source – but I wanted bigger and wider (ahem sniff)

I asked if I could swap over the wheels from the ZT and this I did following a phone call to Re-Tyred in Ditchling Common to source some 225/45/18 boots. They came up trumps supplying a pair of Goodyear run flats with almost no wear for a most agreeable price on a self-fit basis – I measured the tread depth to be over 8.5mm. Needless to say, the locals around ‘Swiss Towers’ must have shuddered at the sight of my 75 looking resplendent atop of four well used axle stands – it certainly caused one or two double takes from neighbours walking their dogs. Well, the tyres were fitted (oh, how I love doing that) and the rims were cleaned up both inside and out to the best of my ability and some 800 Coupe alloy centre caps were modified to replace the MG-branded items.

As it looked before in comparison on 16 inch Union rims

My luck got better when a customer brought in a 2003 75 Club 1.8 Turbo in burgundy with a potential head gasket failure – sadly, the engine was beyond saving on a financial basis and, with much regret, the customer asked if we could scrap the car. The seats were identical to my own in both style and colour, my driver’s side seat had one or two unsightly fag burns and, even though I am partial to the occasional ‘growler’, the burn marks were there when I bought the car last autumn. My trusty spline sockets had my seat out in a jot and I threw the seat into the back of the van to swap over with the redundant car at work the following day. So now, my 75 was sitting on the drive not only on stands, but also lacking a driver’s seat – god only knows what the locals must have thought!

The donor 75 had an almost unworn interior which was a perfect match for my own car’s, the seat was removed and my old one thrown in so, after work, I returnED home with four huge alloy wheels and a driver’s seat rammed into the van. I was honestly like a child in a sweet shop at the thought of a near unblemished interior allied to a set of stunning alloy rims – at least, I was until the task of bolting the seat onto the floorpan took place. I was mortified to find the new seat had an airbag connector seat modification soldered into the blue and yellow lead – the 75 and ZT are well known for having a problem with the under seat airbag wiring and MG Rover developed a different connector for an in service modification to cure the issue of the airbag fault lamp illuminating – bugger!

Removing the plug from my old seat the next day and bringing it back home, the battery was duly disconnected; some cardboard was laid on the carpet to avoid solder burns and I set upon soldering in the connector so it would match with the one that comes out from the floor. The airbag lamp was checked, the seat belt grabber fitted and the Captain’s chair was finally bolted into the floor and doused with valet spray for that ultimate spruce up. It could be the placebo effect, but I am convinced the seat is a tad firmer and more supportive than my old one but, either way, I’m happy that two dead R40 cars have done their bit for recycling and giving my own car what I consider to be an effective exterior visual improvement.

Some perforated leathery bits from a redundant ZT using a sandstone coloured airbag adds a little spice while keeping the classic Rover ambiance.

Anyway, after fitting the wheels, I was kind of worried that it would spoil the almost Jaguar-like ride quality at speed but this turned out not to be the case. Sure, at low traffic speeds, the bump thump effect is slightly more noticeable but nowhere near as miserably unbearable as say an old Mini or an Audi A4 S Line. Get up to speed and, yes, there is a hint of rubber roar but, again, nothing to spoil the well-insulated cabin. Howqever, where do you notice some change, which is certainly for the better, is in the feeling through your hands and fingers. At low speeds the 75 on larger rims corners with confidence as it always does but, out on the open road, swooping bends on a well-fettled road makes the car feel transformed, sharp and alive to an almost ‘point and squirt’ degree – well… as much as a 120bhp 1.8 will allow you to.

The dead ZT also liberated its perforated black leather steering wheel for upgrading purposes, but this one comes with a twist. My sandstone coloured airbag has been fitted to the ZT wheel giving a contrasting two tone effect and, besides, the rim of my old wheel was getting rather grubby round the edges. This was a quick and easy task to undertake – just remember to remove the earth lead from the battery for 15 minutes should you decide to do the same thing – some torx keys and a 17mm socket is all you need. I am tempted to think that in fitting the sleek, larger alloys and the switching the steering wheel I have created a sportier version of the 75 which still boasts all of the standard car’s olde worlde charm but with a little bit of added spice – somewhere between Masala and Madras maybe?

You decide and tell us what you think!

Mike Humble


  1. Alloys look much better for filling the arches, but the style of wheel clashes IMO.

    Steering wheel looks like it should always have been that way… Top mods and nice to see the 75 being looked after.

  2. I’m totally unconvinced by the arguments in favour of fitting larger wheels and lower profile tyres. In my eyes it’s debatable whether they look any better and in return you get – in general – worse ride quality, more road noise, higher rolling resistance leading to worse mpg, and higher cost of replacement. Perhaps you get better road feel during the n’th degree of cornering but that seems a poor tradeoff considering all the downsides.

    My car has 15 inch wheels and a recent tyre replacement cost £90 per wheel for a proper Michelin which seemed reasonable. The Energy Saver model has been designed to give lower rolling resistance and since replacing them I’ve seen an mpg improvement of about 5 to 7%. I would be interested to see what change in mpg Mike has seen since replacing his wheels & tyres.

  3. Don’t like bigger rubber for road use (I put my SLK back to 16s after it arrived on 17s), but I like that two-tone wheel, I like bright interiors. Modern cars are so dark and depressing to be in.

  4. Doesnt fitting bigger wheels/tyres cause problems with the speedometer and other instruments?

    If you want an easy circa 6% improvement in MPG go to your local garage and pump up your tyres to 40psi. Instant MPG boost, although you’ll want to be a little careful until you get used to any handling differences.

  5. Blimey, it could almost have been the loose makings of a ‘new’ Rover 75 Vitesse. It just needed some mesh on the grille, a discrete rear spoiler and a supercharger under the bonnet to complete the transformation.

  6. Yesterday I saw a mint 45, BRG, sparkling and sitting on nice fat alloys that I presume came off a ZT. It looked really well and a bit of a headturner.
    The only thing that let it down were the Lexus-style rear lights.
    Your 75 looks better for it. It is surprising how a good set of alloys can set off a cars lines. My own 90s Honda alloys make my coupe look dated, and some new cars (eg. MG3) look a little underwheeled with the wrong type of wheels.

  7. Coming along nicely Mike… My MG ZS had 16″ Hairpins which looked good and managed not to show up brake pad dust as frequently. The car also handled better than my previous 45 on 15″ Fission alloy wheels.

  8. I like them, they fill out the arches a treat and give it a better stance. I liked the 75 ‘Sport Concept’ that was shown at various shows towards the end of BMW ownership and have often toyed with replicating some of the features on my 75. Having said that on the FB page the subject of ‘Duotone’ 75’s has cropped up and there is a fantastic picture a car in the same colour as yours and mine but with a BRG top half, it looks stunning.

  9. My 75 had 17″ Serpent, they were very nice indeed, ride was still very compliant and it filled the arches that little bit more. IMO these 18″ are really nice but look too “sporty” for the 75, it may fit the face lift models better though.

  10. Nice upgrades Mike. I did the same to both my 75s, but stuck to 17″ as that was the largest factory fit wheel at the time.

    My first 75 sported BK299 alloys, lowered suspension and grilles meshed with woven stainless; a bit like the 75 Sport concept.

    On the second I stuck to factory ride height and Factory “Meteor” alloys in place of the 16″ Unions.

    Neither suffered any adverse affects in terms of road noise or ride quality but, understeer was hugely reduced.

    My current ZT-T 120 rides on the “poverty spec” 17″ Mirage alloys, but with the potholed tarmac of Argyll I wouldn’t want a wheel any bigger, and with the MG suspension the ride is quite firm enough without the rubber-band tyres or 18 or 19″ wheels.

  11. The new wheels are a fraction sporty but still in keeping – they lend a touch of ‘unique’ which is appealing.

    Ditto the black steering wheel rim – my light coloured one was also grubby and impossible to clean up.

    Mike, your 75 is the sort I wanted mine to be. Oh well…. Still, I am loving my ZR – enjoying a small, sporty car again and appreciating the improved mpg – more marked than I expected.

  12. Looks well, the new wheels and airbag make a surprising difference – far more up to date. You’ve got to fit leather seats next, that interior deserves leather!

  13. Hi Mike, might be abit cheeky but that club turbo that died, are you in a position to sell the turbo as i fear mine has gone and smoking, if you can get you pm me please. Thanks

  14. @ Tony – Sorry chap, the car has gone for scrap now

    @ Jemma – I have taken that into account, the sat nav shows that the speedo is a smidge more accurate than ever ironically, whereby one an indicated 70 showed as 73mph it now shows between 71 -72mph. But as far as MPG is concerned, a recent blast over to Arundel and back shows no noticable difference.

  15. I thought that was a pair of breasts at the end of your post Tony, only then I realised it was a pair of glasses.

    I have a blue 1.8T Club SE on Unions which I was happy with but am impressed with the look of the new wheels.

  16. Hiya mike, I have an MG ZT diesel which I have just aquired off a good freind of mine which I payed the bargain price of 1,000 quid for bearing in mind that the guy that sold me the car wouldn’t let me buy it till he quote said was in good condition to be sold well this turned out to be an understatment mike if ur reading my post a million thanks.the chap I bought the MG Zt diesel off spent a lot of money putting everything tip top for me before he let me have it.he must have spent at least the asking price I paid easily on new clutch new brakes nd discs all round he services it put new shocks on te rear,well needles to say I’m over the moon I got 18″wheels on her with four brand new tyres I sold my R75 2 litre V6 petrol nd almost fell to the floor when I seen how good this car is on diesel anyway without going on nd on about my new aquired MG ZT he then informed me rthat he is throwing in an electric blind for the rear nd to top that he gave me a sat nav dvd blutooth system that I can’t stop playing with well I reckon I got 2 thousand pounds worth of motor easy there’s 130,000 on the clock nd she runs like a swiss watch she got 2 keys half a tank of diesel 5 alloys including the spare do you think I have had the bargain of a lifetime I do oh yer half leather seats which I am putting th heated pads in to complete the heated seats forgot to mention the new battery ready for winter I am taking her up for an M.O.T. In 2 weeks nd I know She is going fly thru do you reckon I’ve had a bargain please reply nd tell me what you think cos the guy that sold me the car is a legend nd to top it all off I’ve only known him a few months so a big thanks to my new freind mike nd his step son stefan who fitted the entertainment system in the car ur the most genuine caring people I have ever met a warm hearted thank you I feel like crying cheers (big un) steve lock

  17. alanx48 i have an 2005zt diesel Can anyone tell me if i can change my 18 alloys which have low profile tyres for 16 inch alloys and put normal tyres on

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