A combination of BMW’s money and British design flair came up with a thoroughly-engineered spiritual successor to the P5/P6 models…
The Rover 75 was considered retro when launched in 1998, yet it remains set for a long run ahead. Will the deliberately timeless 75 (and ZT) stand a long production run, like so many of its forebears?
IF this had been a vote to find the most accomplished BMC>Rover, then the 75 would have won hands down. Not only is it by far the best of the current range, it is without doubt, the most accomplished all rounder produced by the company. Think about it, the 75 was the first Rover arguably since the P6, that was not constrained by budget or imagination. It was a carte blanche design, mating the best that Rover had to offer in the design department with BMW’s almost unlimited development funds.
And the results could be seen from day one. The Richard Woolley design first appeared at the same motor show as the Jaguar S-Type, and not one observer thought that the 75 came second best to the Browns Lane car, even though a wide price gulf existed between both cars. The press loved it, and rightly so – whereas the outgoing 800 was a compromised design, and was sadlled with a wooden and incompetent chassis, the new car looked good, and the specifications promised a cracking suspension set-up. Where the 800 wore its chrome as an afterthought, it was designed to be there on the 75, and it wore it like bespoke jewellery. Where the 800 looked like a car lacking in solidity, the 75 was the exact opposite – in both cases, the cars were both true to their looks.
Work on the 75 began before the BMW takeover in 1994 under the codename RD1, before becoming R40 in later years. According to chief designer Richard Woolley, the style was pretty much defined at the beginning, and the engineering came later. After the front wheel drive 800 and 600, it was only logical that the new car would follow the same formula; as Richard Woolley stated recently, “I guess you have to ask yourself the question ‘who had the most experience engineering and building FWD cars?'” Exactly.
The engines chose themselves really: K-Series all round, with a BMW turbodiesel lump for the oil-burning models. The K4 would struggle pulling the heavy car, but the KV6 and CDT models were not short of puff, and so, it was these cars that sold the range to prospective customers. The chassis set-up comprised of an independent front (with considerably more wheel travel than the Honda-derived models) and a BMW based Z-axle at the rear. The bodyshell was extremely stiff, and after millions of development miles, the suspension was honed to such a degree that the ride quality was well in excess of any of its executive rivals.
So, the 75 could have been a World beater, right? Well, it seems to be a recurring theme, but it was born in auspicious circumstances: the BMW-Rover marriage had been becoming increasingly strained since 1996, and by the time of the 75’s World premiere in 1998, Pischetsrieder had allowed the British situation to rile him. At the 75’s launch press conference, the pressure became too much, and instead of lauding his new car, he vented off his frustrations – threatening to close Longbridge if the situation did not improve. It was an event that would prove hugely damaging to the 75’s chances in those all-important early months.
In the end, it did not matter. BMW’s tenure of Rover did not last much longer, and in the event, the 75 would end up being the flagship of the independent minnow MG Rover. Thankfully, BMW left MG Rover with a great legacy: the 75 is by far the most thoroughly developed car ever produced by the company. Whatever you may think of him, Wolfgang Reitzle is an automotive perfectionist, and his fingerprints are all over the finer details of the car. Which probably explains why the 75 was so expensive to develop.
MG Rover may have lost (loss-making) MINI and Land Rover, but it was gifted with the 75, and it seems that the company has no intention of allowing this opportunity to go to waste. The 75 itself has been developed in a marketing sense (duel fuel, long wheelbase, and turbocharged versions), honed into a fine drivers’ car (the ZT), and formed the basis of entirely new platforms (the rear wheel drive V8 models and the upcoming RD/X60). Only such a good car could be stretched this far, and it will be interesting to see how much more mileage the company can get out of it. At the very earliest, it does not look likely to be replaced until 2007/2008, which upholds another BMC>Rover tradition – the long production run.
Peter Stevens’ Longbridge based team facelifted the 75, and as can be seen, there was little in the way of change. Lack of money is probably the reason for this, so it is fortuitous that the original looked so good in the first place. The only criticism levelled from austin-rover.co.uk’s readership seems to be from overseas correspondents, who feel it has lost an element of its “Britishness”.
Mike Duff: A good car but certainly not a great one. Like the Jaguar S-Type, ill-advised retro styling (confused with ‘Britishness’ by late nineties senior management) has dated very quickly and limits the 75’s appeal. Comfortable, wafty dynamics are great – but the K-Series engines are well off modern standards. A shame.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics 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 unfeasible adventures all across Europe.