In February 2011, Steven Ward uncovered and recounted the story of the MG ZT-T EU4 emissions prototype, VX08 OBW, an interesting post-MG Rover EU4 prototype. It has a fair amount of bespoke kit under the bonnet – not just a new grille…
I do regular Internet searches of what the country’s motor auctions have in store for us MG Rover anoraks. My search last Monday morning, at first glance, revealed nothing of note. The trade is in a buying mood currently, so there is less reaching the auctions and what does, sells rapidly.
However, I did a quick refresh of one particular search and unexpectedly struck gold. The details of a 2008/08-plated ZT-T 190 SE appeared on the screen. WOOF! Just over 6000 guaranteed miles covered, direct from a large dealer chain – The Car Group – and it was entering its sale imminently (as in NOW!). This caught me unaware as usually a car is listed for sale with at least a few days’ notice.
Anyway, this bad boy was soon parachuting straight into the middle of the sale, sans lot number and with a question mark hanging over the whereabouts of the V5. The car was at BCA’s Derby site and, with me being north of civilisation, the only way I could see the beast was to watch BCA TV (so much better than daytime telly). This was a hit and miss affair as I was busy and, because the car had no lot number, I couldn’t predict when it would rumble into the ‘ring.
Tracking the MG ZT-T at auction
Fortune favouring the brave, I caught it. The logbook was now present and it was declared manufactured 2008 according to the auctioneer. Bidding was strong and the hammer fell at £7200 plus fees. This astonished me, but there is a clientele out there who’ll pay for unmolested Class.
Roll forward to Tuesday night. Bored to tears with the dreary TV and with a snoring Airedale pushing me off the sofa, I sought mental refuge in BCA’s AuctionView site with a burning desire to stumble across something else unusual. Guess what was there in Technicolor? Our 2008 ZT-T, which previously at 1630 hours that night, was unlisted. WOOF!
The game was afoot again – this time the car was properly listed, photographed and had undergone a basic reconditioning report. Due into Wednesday’s ‘The Car Group’ sale, this was lot number 1. The report into the vehicle looked good, but the pictures, well they didn’t quite ring true. The ZT-T was sporting a front bumper which looked like a Rover V8 job that had been painted matt black in places, yet it still sported the Octagon.
Different front-end styling
Why? A poor front-end repair? Possibly… Maybe it had left the factory fitted with whatever was to hand? That’s also possible.
Maybe though, just maybe, this car was a bit special. Certainly, its wheels were. Where were the roof bars for a top-spec car? I could see the shark fin for the High-Line? I sent my chum who was online the details, just to share the love. What he uncovered led to a series of lengthy, late night ‘phone calls and emails between us, Those Who Were There (Flightshed, Longbridge 2005 that is) and anyone else we could think of with clues as to this vehicles history.
Our first lead was a thread unearthed on the Rover 75 & ZT forum on the subject of one-off MGR prototypes. This featured a series of pictures of this very ZT-T with a man pointing to some of the cars trick-bits. I recognised the man, although he’d never recognise me as we’ve not really met.
From the horse’s mouth – MG ZT-T differences
Never mind, I knew a man who’d know his ‘phone number. Two calls later and I was ‘phoning a man at 2100 hours to ask what he was doing in this ZT-T some 33 months ago. The man in question was Nick, previously of Friarsgate MG Rover, Lichfield. Nick, nicknamed ‘Austin’ to those that know of him, was an ace Engineer for Friarsgate MG Rover. He had set-up solo – Austin Garages – just after MGR’s collapse with the aim of doing his but to keep the Class on the road.
Nick, initially taken aback, went on to regale me – a complete stranger – with tales and features of this ZT-T in a fashion that would shame Rain Man. The car was this special and Nick had worked on it. Co-incidentally and somewhat spookily, he had just been talking about this car to a colleague earlier in the week, wondering what had happened to it. With thanks to Nick and a few others from MGR circles, I’ve patched together what I believe to be the story behind this vehicle.
Essentially, the ZT-T went down the Longbridge assembly lines in March 2005 as highline 190. Plucked from the line at a certain stage, the car became a fully-engineered prototype which was destined to become the proving car for 2006 facelift of the ZT range. That’s why, as Nick said, ‘that car has a list of unusual and one-off features as long as your arm.’
Nick also said it was a very, very sweet car, but noted that, in his opinion, the car shouldn’t be retailed to anyone expecting a standard ZT-T or, indeed, an everyday car. This ZT-T is just too bespoke to be a viable motor car as you’ll see. It is quite hard to list (indeed, remember) all the features, but we’ll cover the basics.
We also managed to get MG Rover’s Homologation Engineer, Nic Fasci, to share his thoughts on the car.
The car features a different and much larger air filter housing that has been relocated. The KV6 is fully Euro 4 compliant and that means a fly-by-wire throttle. It’s also running a new type of ECU and throttle body manufactured by Bosch (as opposed to Siemens). In addition, the exhaust system was all new and featured an extra catalyst.
A new design of coolant header tan was present and features a too low-coolant warning lamp, which works! Nic Fasci, who led the homologation programme for MGR, added: ‘This MG ZT-T will be a Euro 4 emissions car which will have been worked on towards the end of MGR’s life. However, as none of the 75/ZT engines were ever type approved to Euro 4 levels, the car will still be classed as a Euro 3 car hence the monster road tax cost as that’s what the car was built as first time.
‘Just because it’s an Euro 4 engine doesn’t meant it can have Euro 4 limits applied to it as we never fully type approved it. The aim would have been to get the CO2 limits down as far as possible and that was going to take a fair bit of time and work as there was still a lot of calibration work to do. The extra cat (where ever it was in the system) was to get the other gasses down to meet Euro 4 limits (HC, NOx etc).’
The car was also equipped with DSC stability control (and all that entails for braking components) and a new traction control set-up. The Engineers at the time reckoned that this was a very subtle and progressive installation that wasn’t intrusive so it was likely to be a great addition to the already very strong ZT dynamics. Indeed, for the true enthusiast, these systems are generally counter-intuitive, so it seems likely that MGR would have won great praise for this ‘pure’ system.
Incidentally, the DSC and the rest of the braking system were done by TRW and not Bosch. However, the sensors on this car’s steering column (again, new) were missing with the result that the system does not function. We believe that, if you were keen, you could source the sensors from a MG6 or Roewe 750, but this is just an educated guess. We hope to meet with some of MGR’s old Chassis Engineers shortly for more details and insight.
Nic added: ‘Yes, we were going to a TRW system with full DSC capability which was a very unobtrusive system. I’m still good friends with one of the guys who was developing the system and they wanted a system that complemented the ZT/75 chassis but which would not totally take over and dominate the car. The basics of the chassis were held at the top of the tree and then the DSC was a complete last resort so I was lead to believe. I think stuff from the 750/MG7 remained BOSCH so the chances of getting something that can be “plugged in” may be slim.
‘I do know that the TRW guys up here at MIRA are still running around in a few Rover 75s with their ABS/TC/DSC system on so, unless they’re now fully installed on the 750s, that ZT-T will remain a bit of an odd ball in that department. The large red Kill switch will probably be for the ABS system. It’s a bit of a hallmark for development cars as you need to be able to kill the system depending on the tests you’re doing. Either that or it’s the engine kill button, but I wager that it’s for the ABS system or DSC system.’
The wiring and its harness and, indeed, the vast majority of the sensors on this car are also unique and owe very little to what went before. MG Rover Group was, at the time, making a concerted effort to rid their cars of the BMW-supplied electrical items which looked bad and cost the company a fortune. This car was to lead the way in MGR-sourced sensors and it was here they were being tested. This car should, therefore, have been cheaper for the Firm to build and have banished electrical gremlins in certain sensors that frequently give trouble.
The car also featured a new alarm and immobiliser system which wasn’t fully set-up – that meant it had a standard ZT Valeo key, but the later style alarm/remote fob from the rest of the Longbridge range, made in Ireland. Interestingly, these fobs which were fitted across all the 25/ZR , 45/ZS and TF ranges in 2004 and were designed to house the key instead of having the key and fob separate on the keyring.
It looks likely that, in this installation, the marriage between key and fob would have happened. I imagine the new system would have been cheaper to supply and given more commonality across MGR range. I would, though, be concerned if the Valeo locks were deleted in favour of the rather cheap, frail looking items featured on the rest of the MGR range.
Nic added: ‘The 25/45 range had been changed a bit with the new SCU so it would make sense that these systems could be taken across to the 75 range. However, the complexity of the BCU fitted to the 75 platform would have taken a lot of changes – as for the key fob thing, I can see part of the reason for changing it if we were going to use a new SCU but changing the key to a bendy one was probably not the most intelligent thing to do as that may have meant a new steering column lock which would have cost a fortune to develop.
‘The only reason the bendy key existed was because of crash and interior fitting requirements. The key, when it was in the older cars, could really do some damage to your legs in a crash so the bendy key was done to protect your legs – the heritage thing was not considered. Indeed, if anything, we were asking for single keys like the 75’s because the key and separate key fob was becoming a right royal pain the proverbial. Everything on one key was much better than having a key and a fob jangling around in your pocket – I’m pretty sure that the single key would have been kept.’
The front bumper as mentioned was neither fish nor fowl. Outwardly similar to the Rover 260 design, this car was to have certain sections painted matt black, similar to what is currently in vogue on sporty Seat Ibizas. The old supplier of these ‘Premier Bumpers’ has been contacted and they have confirmed that they were tasked with productionising this mock-up, although there were better detailed mock-ups at MGR than the one fitted to this car.
This is quite a pleasing aspect as it shows just how in touch with the current trends the Design Team at MGR were. Indeed, that also applies to the 17-inch Viking wheels fitted to this ZT-T – although not to everyone’s taste, they are very similar to what became fitted to Ford’s Titanium range.
Nic added: ‘As for the front bumper, no way was that intended. I believe that, as the car was around during the NAC time before the Chinese told SAIC and NAC to stop behaving like a pair of squabbling three-year olds and SAIC was taking NAC over, the bumper is off the MG7 that NAC was producing. I was not aware of a Rover 75 V8 bumper ever falling over to an MG as it wasn’t right for the car – and it looks pants as an MG bumper. I think that it’s more a case of the car had no front bumper on and the MG7 one was available so, to get the car sold by PwC, they slapped that on the front.’
What must be emphasized about this car is that it was an engineering prototype and it was thus equipped with all the scientific kit you’d expect to find. That is to say correctly calibrated instruments, ports to plug in laptops and other diagnostic and analytical equipment. A big red ‘STOP’ button features too. The ECU unusually had serial ports. Remember, the above list of enhancements is by no means definitive and is a guide based on recollections of various people.
Who, What, When and Why?
This is where the water muddies and what follows must be considered hearsay. We all know that, during the great Fire Sale that PricewaterhouseCoopers orchestrated during the administration period of Longbridge, cars which should technically have been crushed were sold on to the Trade and these occasionally were sold to unsuspecting motorists.
Many so-called specialist MGR traders and car supermarkets, who should have known better, sold cars for strong money which were prototypes that would prove to be unusable, unserviceable or unsafe. No manufacturer would have allowed these unregulated, off tools cars out of the factory. The time during 2005 was unprecedented in the motor industry. However, it seems this car escaped late 2007/early 2008. The car is believed to have ended-up being sold to a member of the public from a car ‘supermarket’ outlet for around £13,000 in March 2008 when it was registered in Worcester.
Anyway, if this is the case, then the car left Longbridge during the turbulent period when NAC was forcibly taken over by SAIC Motor. The few remaining members of staff who had worked in Longbridge during the administration period were now let go after surviving bankruptcy and believing they’d been saved to see the Brave New World. We’d love to know more about what went on in Longbridge during this time, but voices are few and all very silent – if this ZT-T did leave during this transition period, it is the only one we know of.
Late-reg MG ZT-T V6 comes at a price
A consequence of this ZT-T being registered so late is that it’s now subject to the excessive taxation class of £500+pa. The DVLA has obviously based this road fund rate on the ‘old’ ZT emissions which were, of course, Euro 3. Technically, this is incorrect as we know this particular car is Euro 4 compliant, but for reasons I cannot remember, there was a rush to register all unsold MGR cars at this point.
Certainly, SMC in Slough, long-established MG Rover Dealers, registered all their stock of unsold (but ‘proper’) MG Rovers on ’08 plates. Frustratingly, we still cannot understand why this car escaped the confines of Longbridge and was retailed when dozens of prototypes from the same testing period were publicly crushed, much to the annoyance of the MGR enthusiast community. However, that is not to say this was the only one of its type to escape – G-Series-engined 75s, Alfa Romeo-engined 75s ,VVC 75s and, intriguingly, a Euro 4 1.8 75 have all been spotted out in the wild.
This car, though, was retailed to a member of the public who was presumably looking for a bargain motor car, not a piece of MGR history. It says a lot about the condition of the prototype that the car was still shiny enough to sit and be retailed on a forecourt.
Nic added: ‘The last cars were lashed together by NAC with bits that they could find when PwC sold everything off – this car should have been bailed along with the other engineering cars. The Euro 4 cars were not ready (apart from the MG TF 160 and 135 engines which we did approve!) and this car is another example of how not to do it! A quirky one-off, yes, but not for sale!’
Compromised but interesting
Sadly, it is understood that the owner wasn’t happy having encountered niggles on the car which he was unprepared for. What happened at this point remains a mystery as the car appears not to have accrued any further mileage and has remained in very good condition, virtually as new. This unique ZT-T was, as recounted above, sold on Monday at auction and then , for some as yet unknown reason, re-offered for sale in the auction on Wednesday with a V5 present and listing three previous owners, but having no MoT.
The Car Group had placed a £10,000 reserve on this vehicle, but we do not know whether even they know the history and significance of this car. Indeed, at this point, we do not know if the car sold the second time around the auction.
We wonder if this car has more in common with the Chinese members of the R40 range than with its British relations and that is why the car survived in Longbridge – if, indeed, that’s where it was holed-up for three years. The question about where it’s been since mid-2008 also is one that remains unanswered.
Two additional images supplied by Ian Robertson: ‘I have a little bit more info on that car, and saw it myself in the showroom at Longbridge in April 2006. I even have a photo of it. The wheels in question are 17-inch Viking wheels as fitted to the MY05 75 cars.’
For sale at Hopton Garage (2011)
In February 2011, Ben Adams had a look at this car at Hopton Garage, an MG Dealer in Stafford, which bought this car at auction.
Contributor Steven Ward first spotted the car and, in doing so, opened up the can of worms that this car is. Steven was not the only MGR enthusiast to see the car as MG Dealer Richard Hopton was also very interested in the car and persuaded his father, who has been associated with selling BL, Austin Rover, Rover Group and MG Rover cars for as long as anyone can remember, to travel down to Derby and look at the car with him.
The car was, as Steven mentioned, Lot 1 that Wednesday and bidding was brisk to start with but ended with just two people vying for it. Richard tells me that he was very close to pulling out as he was reaching what he felt was the limit for the car – after all, outside of enthusiasts, who would want to buy a five year old (registered as a three year old) MG car?
Anyway, as luck would have it, the other bidder was having the same kind of thoughts and pulled out just before Richard who obtained the car for less than the reserve of £10,000. Richard’s confidence in the car was such that he actually drove it back on the road from Derby to his dealership in Hopton which is just outside Stafford.
On the road – is this MG ZT-T any different?
How does it drive, I hear you ask? Well, the answer is just like any other ZT-T 190 – it doesn’t sound any different either, despite having a bespoke manifold and exhaust system compared to a standard car.
Richard has spent time looking into the history of this car as it is not very often now we see a low mileage, late MGR car let alone one that has bespoke fixtures and fittings. He reckons that the redesigned airbox and VW-style header tank are identical to those used on Chinese market MG7s and his research also suggests that the ECU is a Siemens product worked on by SMTC UK and will not work with any T4 software.
The keys and fobs now on the car are standard looking but, needless to say, I did not take them apart just to see the inside! Richard’s findings suggest that this car was used by NAC for development purposes and one of the perks at the time for NAC staff was that they could use, and often buy, these cars for daily use. However, once any staff members left NAC, the cars had to be sold or given back. This car, somehow, fell through the net and ended up being sold to a member of the public as a SAIC development car.
Missing bits and pieces
Intriguingly, in addition to the bespoke items mentioned above, there is a spare wire under the bonnet which looks like it should be plugged into something and the control box for the traction control is missing. The Traction and Cruise Control lights are on permanently when the car is being driven because neither of these systems work and it appears that a lot of the sensors are missing.
The front grille is more than just a ‘bodge up’ – that black panel is fibreglass but still rough around the edges and the badge has aged terribly. The rest of the car is pretty standard although the lack of roof bars but a ‘High-Line’ shark fin aerial will get noticed by those who know what to look out for.
The car is now provisionally sold for a ‘high end four figure sum’ to a gentleman known to Richard who is a big enthusiast of British cars generally. However, Richard doubts this car would ever be driven as a daily car – it is far too rare and bespoke for that – although he does feel that it’s not so far away from standard that it could not be ‘reverse-engineered’ if the lack of availability for a part ever forced that issue.
Hopefully, it would never come to that as this is quite possibly the last of a very rare breed.