This MG ZT-T four-wheel prototype offers a fascinating insight into how MG Rover had the hardware to get on board the lifestyle estate car market – before it had chance to develop.
Clive Goldthorp takes up the story.
AROnline reader John Newey and his brother, Nick, are the Joint Dealer Principals of a busy MG dealership, Summit Garage (Dudley) Limited, but John is also a die-hard MG enthusiast with a collection of rare MGs which includes an MG RV8, a supercharged MG ZT 400SE and a carbonfibre-bodied MG XPower SV-R.
However, in February 2014, John was given the opportunity to acquire an even more unique MG: the only four-wheel-drive, non-competition MG to have been built prior to the MG GS SUV.
John’s 02/52-registered XPower Grey ZT-T looks, at first glance, like any other ZT-T of the same age but a closer inspection reveals that his car has a raised ride height, runs on 16in Union alloy wheels more often found on Rover 75s and wears three discrete 4WD badges which John added himself.
The story of the MG ZT-T four-wheel drive prototype
How, then did John’s ZT-T come to be fitted with a four-wheel-drive system? Well, the car actually began life as the first rear-wheel drive, V8-engined ZT-T production model to be completed by MG Rover Group Limited in late 2002.
MG Rover was precluded from developing and selling a four-wheel-drive Rover under the terms of the agreement reached between the company and BMW AG back in 2000, but that condition did not extend to MG.
John understands that, shortly after his car was registered, an Engineering Team at Longbridge removed the original V8 engine, placed that in storage and then contacted their contemporaries at Land Rover and obtained a brand-new Land Rover Freelander 2.5-litre KV6 engine and four-wheel-drive system.
MG Rover’s interesting 2003
The Engineering Team worked on the development of the car throughout 2003 – the KV6 engine was installed and a new wiring loom was created to combine the Land Rover and MG’s differing electrical systems. MG Rover’s Test Engineers evaluated the car in March and April, 2004 and their feedback was generally positive.
Indeed, had sufficient funding been allocated for further development, the car may well have had the potential to be a competitor for the then current Audi A6 Allroad and Volvo XC70. However, MG Rover’s key decision-makers did not see that as a priority and the car was just left to languish at Longbridge until the company went into Administration on 8 April, 2005.
Many of the development cars and pre-production prototypes left on site at Longbridge were subsequently crushed but John’s car escaped that fate – following Nanjing Automobile (Group) Corporation’s acquisition of MG Rover’s remaining assets, the company’s Engineers were keen to evaluate the four-wheel-drive system for themselves.
It goes into hibernation
The car then remained in storage at Longbridge until 2011 when a Chassis Engineer working for SAIC Motor UK Technical Centre Limited (SMTC UK) offered to buy the car from the company. The purchase was complicated by the fact that the ZT-T was, for some reason, listed as an item of machinery but the car together with a brand-new V8 engine and transmission finally left Longbridge during 2012.
John Newey understands that the SMTC UK employee who bought the ZT-T had intended to convert the car back to V8-engined, rear-wheel-drive specification but, for whatever reason, he never began the project. John bought the car with a still-boxed Roush Stage 3 supercharged engine, gearbox, brakes and shock absorbers so, at first, he was minded to convert the ZT-T to V8-engined specification himself.
However, the thought of owning such a unique, factory-built four-wheel-drive MG became ever-more appealing and so he decided to sell the V8 engine, gearbox and brakes in order to fund the cost of completing the car to as near production standard as possible.
Fixing the MG ZT-T four-wheel drive prototype’s issues
The issues which John has had to address and which remain to be tackled are all attributable to either the fact that the car was stored at Longbridge for so long or to electrical problems arising from the combined use of the Land Rover and MG wiring looms.
A number of items had been removed from the car for use elsewhere while the high-end TV/SatNav unit was in the boot. John was able to source a replacement sunroof motor for £35.00 – a new one usually costs £300.00 – and, while the TV/SatNav has now been fitted, his Auto Electrician as told him that there is no cabling to plug that into…
However, John’s first priority was to replace the ZT-T’s transfer box and viscous coupling unit because the bearings had been sitting in oil for so long that they had rusted. The work was done by Andy Frost of Penn Autos Limited in Wolverhampton although Land Rover caused something of a delay by initially sending the parts for a 1.8-litre K-Series unit as there was no record of any such problems with the KV6 version!
Some heritage issues
The electrical issues mentioned above do not, fortunately, affect the car operationally – the indicators do not self-cancel, the Brake Pad Wear light stays on, the rear doors will not lock independently of the central locking and the milometer has a Groundhog Day moment and resets to zero every so often.
The SMTC UK employee who sold the car to John has a colleague at Longbridge who worked on the original project – John hopes that the Engineer concerned will be able to assist him with the electrical problem-solving which remains.
John reckons that his ZT-T 4WD has done around 5000 miles – the Service Indicator suggests that one is due in 10,000 miles – and the immaculate condition of the car’s interior reflects that. However, as the Land Rover Freelander transmission sits slightly higher and further forward than in a standard ZT-T, John has fitted a cloth insert made of sound-deadening material as a temporary solution.
Some finishing to do…
He intends to have a custom-made centre console fitted by Wolverhampton-based Aldridge Trimming Limited once all the electrical gremlins have been banished.
Unfortunately, time constraints meant that only a brief drive of this unique, one-off ZT-T was possible but that was still more than sufficient to underline just how much potential a fully-developed production version would almost certainly have had. A point which was rather poignantly emphasised when AROnline Photographer, Simon Davies, parked John’s ZT-T next to what might, back in the day, have been a contemporary Audi A6 Allroad in the grounds of Himley Hall…
Ironically, that prompted John Newey to suggest that he might fit Rover Streetwise-type wheel arch surrounds and a Matt Black wrap across the bottom of his car – that would, after all, probably create a pretty accurate impression of what a production MG ZT-T Crosswise or Countrywise might have looked like back in 2005.
Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: Simon Davies