The President of the Rover Club de France, Nicolas Roughol, is one of the most passionate fans of the marque I’ve encountered during my time on the classic car scene.
As well as being disarmingly knowledgeable about his subject, he’s also the owner of five Rover and MG cars (SD1 2000, 827 Coupe, 75 V6, 216 GSi, and our Car of The Month) – not bad for this full-time IT Engineer.
Words and photography: Nicolas Roughol
My story with this car began in 2016. Being a Rover enthusiast for many years now, and already an owner of a Rover 827 Coupe and a Rover 75 V6 in dealer-launch spec, I’ve lived and breathed of the history of the R40 programme and subsequent evolution into the MG ZT after the BMW debacle. How this front-wheel-drive platform was turned into a rear-wheel drive, Mustang-powered performance car also fascinates me. I also knew, back in 2016, that there was almost no chance I could own one of these V8 cars: because of their rarity (especially in LHD), of their market value and commanding prices, and because I was not sure that I even fancied one.
Sometime in 2015, at a car show I was attending with my Rover club, one of my club members came to me and asked: ‘Have you seen this automatic V8 MG ZT on the parking lot?’ Back then, I doubted his claim. ‘It can’t be an automatic, all the V8 MGs are manual, only the Rover ones are automatic’. By the time I went to the parking lot, the car was already gone.
About a year later, on an online French forum discussing the V8 ZT/75, someone came along and mentioned his was for sale. A LHD MG ZT-T 260 (quite a rare beast as it is). But what really stood out was that it was advertised as being an automatic and a pre-production car. Interestingly, it was also of the Mk1 type. This may seem trivial to UK owners out here, but one has to remember that Mk1 V8 cars were never sold anywhere else than in the UK: all export markets only had the V8 when the Mk2 facelift was released.
The forum on which it was discussed was not really targeted at MGR fans, so I was lucky enough to be the only one giving a call to the owner. And I soon realised how special this car was: it was an odd mix of MG and Rover trim pieces: MG seats but walnut dashboard, Rover-branded chrome sill kick plates, instead of the plain MG ones, and a few other oddities such as a mix of black (MG) and chrome (Rover) window finishers.
The car had stood idle in an underground storage box for some time now, due to the owner’s ill-health, and major servicing was needed before I could even start enjoying it. But I struck a deal with the owner and purchased the car. I knew then it was the car which had been mentioned to me the year before. I just had to dig deeper into this car’s history to understand how it came to be.
There are very few LHD V8 ZTs/75s out there: out of the official list of 883 V8 cars built, only 138 were built as LHD: 101 cars with manual transmission (of which 35 were Tourers), and 37 with automatic transmission (of which only 2 were Tourers). It sold in very few numbers: out of those, only 7 ZTs and 1 ZT-T were sold in France back in the day, and just one 75 V8 was.
My car is a rather late Mk1: built in January 2004, it’s #190 out of 883, and it was built as a manual transmission LHD car (its VIN is encoded as such). Why, then, would it have been built at all, considering no LHD market at the time had the ZT 260 for sale? Well, the answer lies in its build date and its oddities: it was one of the last ZT 260s used as development vehicles for the then-upcoming Rover 75 V8, which was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2004.
Through a lot of private research and getting in touch with previous owners and former MG Rover Engineers and team leaders who worked on the V8 project, especially the Chassis Development Team, here comes its story. The one thing I’ve not yet been able to unearth is a picture of my car on Longbridge grounds. If one of you reading this has worked at MG Rover in the past and has such a picture, please reach out to me.
Built on 20 January 2004 as a manual LHD MG ZT-T 260 SE, it was registered as BU53RXR to MG Rover Group, Engineering Fleet Control, 350 Groveley Lane, Longbridge. It was the first-ever LHD ZT-T 260 to come off the production line and would turn out to be the only LHD Mk1 one…
Rover 75 development models
It was the fifth MG V8 car to be used as a development car for the Rover 75 V8, and the second Tourer one, and only remaining one at that. Other known 75 V8 (born as MGs) development cars include:
- #160 (BU53RXJ): RHD Tourer, now scrapped
- #161 (BU53RXK): LHD saloon, now in Sweden
- #185 (BU53RXP): RHD saloon, still on UK roads
- #186 (BU53RXL): LHD saloon, now in Spain
- #190 (BU53RXR): this LHD ZT-T 260
- #192 (BU53RXT): RHD saloon (whereabouts unknown)
One could also argue that the very first proper Rover 75 V8, the March 2004 Geneva show car, would be the last of these: indeed, it was, as its VIN, #215, was also that of a manual MG car, then dressed for the show.
Each of these cars is different to the others, as per their development purpose, but what they all have in common is that they were fitted with the Ford automatic transmission which would be used on the final car.
Here are some of the ‘features’ that are proof of its engineering purpose:
- MPH instrument pack
- Cruise control, traction control, and blue-illuminated instrument pack, features that were introduced on the Mk2 cars (mine is a Mk1.5, so to speak)
- Rear anti roll-bar removed (as per final 75 V8 spec)
- Standard MG V8 dampers and springs (the final 75 V8 would have softer ones)
- Non-final pedal box: because of the enlarged centre console, the gap between the gas and brake pedals was made smaller than on a standard FWD car, and that gap had to be maximized any way possible. While a new pedal box was specifically developed for the LHD 75 V8, where the brake pedal is actually offset to the left, mine is actually that of a standard front-wheel-drive car, but with the brake pedal literally cut in half with about one inch removed in width and welded back together. The brake pedal rubber pad suffered the same treatment
- Non-final transmission gear indicator: I came to realize quickly that, when illuminated, my gear indicator would seem to be a mock-up and reveal another one underneath it. That was indeed the case: a correct gear indicator for the Ford four-speed box had been printed on paper and stuck over the standard five-speed indicator of a FWD car
- Non-final gear surround trim
- Several handwritten notes on trim pieces and mechanical parts mentioning their prototype nature
- Non-standard 17-inch wheels, the Mirage model that was initially fitted to ZT120 cars. It seems all 75 V8 development cars used those wheels
When MG Rover Group collapsed, the car was evaluated for sale by the Administrators and was sold at auction, in January 2006, to an MG Rover dealership in Gwent, Wales. It therefore escaped into the wild, as some other development vehicles did (while some didn’t and were crushed). It was then purchased by an MG Rover enthusiast named Tom, who took the car with him to Lithuania (interestingly, at the time, he also owned the 75 V8 Geneva show car).
Tom was also responsible for rebadging this car as a proper MG: when acquired, it had a Rover-badged boot plinth and no ZT-T 260 badging. It also had a Rover-badged driver’s airbag which he replaced with a proper MG one. The car was sold a few months later to another enthusiast who lived in France, and it was then again sold in early 2007 to the owner I purchased it from.
The V8 cars, and particularly this one, are an odd ball: they’re terribly addictive to drive, yet they’re living proof that they were developed with very limited funds. They’re literally built out of the ‘parts bin’ and are nowhere near what you’d expect from any mainstream manufacturer in terms of packaging. Any ‘premium’ manufacturer, especially German ones, would never sell such a product let alone engineer it this way. It’s a flawed gem and, when I compare this car to my Oxford/Cowley-built 75 V6, it’s even amazing to consider they’re the same base car, given that their personality (and build quality) are total opposites.
But it’s got a soul and a soundtrack that puts a huge grin on my face anytime I drive it. And it’s a tribute to what MG Rover’s Engineers could achieve with nothing but a passion for their job and motoring pleasure. Should they have built those cars? Probably not… That money would have been better spent on more vital projects such as RDX60.
Am I glad they did? Hell, yes!