Car of the Month : August 2009

The MG ZS was always considered the ugly duckling of the MG Rover range, but as Adam Sloman has shown with his own example, a few well-chosen modifications and a revised front end certainly sharpen things up.

What do you think? Should the MG ZS have received more recognition when new, and is it a future classic now?

Words and pictures: Adam Sloman

Best of all worlds?

In Scotland, the ZS was most entertaining…

MGs have always been synonymous with my family, from the MG BGT that’s with us since new, the MG Metro Turbo my step-dad brought home fresh from the dealership, the Octagon played a big part in my developing interest of cars as a child, so much so that age seven I was a fully paid up member of the owners club! My other big interest in cars was the Mini, Sir Alec Issigonis’ legendary little car sparked my imagination thanks to my brother in law being heavily involved in hill climbing and engine building for Mighty Mini racers. As I turned 17, I faced an awkward choice. With more Minis being available, as well as being cheaper to insure, the Mini won out, and became my first car.

The second I saw the ZS, I wanted one, but that was in 2001 and there was no way I could afford one, the car was too new, and the insurance was way beyond my nineteen year old pocket. I stuck to my Minis, all eighteen of them, and by 2007 I’d got married, got a little older, and needed something a little bigger. I finally managed to convince my wife we should get rid of the ugly Pug 206 and the MG was finally mine. I wanted the V6, but thanks to the wonders of compromise, we ended up with the 1.8, which is fine, it’s certainly leagues ahead of the poke-less Peugeot’s 1100.

I never intended to modify the car at all, I was happy with it, but as per usual, my urge to tinker soon got the better of me, I was a fan of MG Rover’s 2004 facelift, but budget meant a mark two was beyond our pocket. Over the next few months I spent most of my life on eBay, chasing the necessary kit to facelift the car. Working to the tightest of self-imposed budgets meant I let lots of things go, if I felt they were too expensive, I just didn’t bid. Luckily I was able to get everything together, including finding a bumper just up the road meaning it wouldn’t cost me the earth in postage, or get trashed by a careless delivery clod.

Thanks to a bargain respray for the bumper and grille, I was finally ready to go. An afternoon with the spanners and some much needed assistance from my brother-in-law meant the new nose was ready. However I wasn’t quite finished there. Further digging on eBay sent a mark two dash my way, and as I’d always felt the Honda derived dash looked decidedly out of date, even when new. The Audi TT inspired dash looks much better, and was a bargain to boot, costing me forty quid, throw in a bargain set of seats (?50) and I finally had the car just the way I wanted it.

The only sticking point left were the wheels, I wanted 17in, but something different to the straights MG Rover offered on the 180. My first choice was a set of ‘addendum’ wheels, fitted the MGR soft-roader, the Streetwise. Finding them proved nigh on impossible, so I kept looking, when luck smiled on me again, as a set of wheels came my way locally. Naff centre-caps aside, I think they suit the car and make it that little bit different to the other ZS’ on the roads. The only missing piece in the puzzle are the foglights, the brackets for which seem impossible to come by.

Cynics may brand the ZS a re-badged Rover 45, but with all due respect to the Rover, I think it’s much more than that. The ZS is a fine drivers car, and a great example of just how capable MG Rover’s engineering teams were with such limited resources. In the near two years I’ve owned the car it’s performed faultlessly, requiring no major mechanical work, just the usual wear and tear items such as tyres, and an exhaust, again, another credit to MGR and Longbridge.

As a long-term lover of British cars, I’m immensely proud of my ZS and hope that future, British built MGs can follow in the ZS tyre-tracks.

Keith Adams


  1. A nice car this……very much so.

    I always think the HHR has aged rather well and there seem to be more cherished examples on the road than with the 25.

    A 45, in the right colour and trim, can look quite appealing in a restrained, mature sort of way. The ZS always looks impressive, perhaps surprisingly so. They can have real ‘rear view mirror’ presence.

    If I were to have one, I too would want the new dash – it’s a big improvement. I would stick with the pre 2004 front end, however. I prefer the style and it tends to give more of a solid, quality feel.

  2. I recently aquired MG ZS180 hatchback in Firefrost, and like you will keep it as it will become a classic. I love the colour of your car,those alloys suit it very well. Just doing some small improvements to mine like intalling metal sill tread plates for the front doors, need some for the back doors!, Regards Mark

  3. It may be dressed up as a MG. Can we be honest we all know its a Civic with Rover,Honda and BMW electrics. By the time Rover died the Civic had moved on almost 2 generations. I really think a VTI Civic is a better Proposition and was built a lot better and will hold its value too.

    Don’t get me wrong it was a credible attempt to keep the car fresh and up to date but it was based on a very old Chassis by 2005 was over 10 years old. The Phoenix 5 should have put money into replacing the 25 and 45 and getting the MGZT into the states where it would have sold I am sure. Mist opportunity very sad.

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