MGs for a new millennium: from X to Z

When John Towers‘ Phoenix bid was accepted by BMW, he knew that there would be a long, hard road ahead to restoring the image of the company, so badly eroded by the BMW debacle. Obviously, a major coup for the company was in keeping hold of the valuable MG nameplate, and this was soon celebrated by the renaming of the company to MG Rover.

Unfortunately, Phoenix had inherited a mixed bag of models: the new and competitive 75 saloon was to a degree, complemented by the 25 hatchback (still a good car, by then realistically priced) and the uninspiring Honda-based 45. Unfortunately, the image of all three cars had been tarnished by the BMW affair, so to continue building and selling them as they were would have resulted in an irreversable slide in market share.

Because of this, the company hatched a plan to titivate all three models by injecting some of the MG magic into them – and so began the development of the MG versions. The company knew that they would lose a great deal of what credibility they had left if they simply badge-engineered the cars as MGs, so Peter Stevens was asked to restyle the bumpers and also produce body addenda which would distance them from their Rover cousins. In charge of the chassis re-engineering was Rob Oldaker, and it was his task to make the cars handle in a sporty and focused way – something that had never been allowed to happen to the originals under BMW.

The project names for these cars were X10, X11, X20 and X30, but more traditional nomenclature would need to be devised for the final, definitive versions. The solution was to call the new cars ZR (X30), ZS (X20), ZT (X10) and ZT-T (X11), thus evoking memories of the ZA and ZB Magnette saloons. All agreed that the new names were highly appropriate for these new MG saloons.


The Rover 25 (née 200) was blessed with appealing styling, so the transformation into MG hotshoe was easy. The X30 was lowered, given much bigger wheels and a more aggressive frontal aspect. Peter Stevens‘ treatment of the new car was highly appropriate and not only did it add a sporty flavour to the car that the previous VVC and BRM models had lacked, but it also managed to fit in perfectly with the competition from SEAT and Renault, where extrovert styling was a must-have.


If the Rover 25 proved the perfect basis for a hot hatchback, the Rover 45 (née 400) was to prove a more difficult task to complete. Unlike the smaller car, the Honda-based car was a rather unhappy design and Peter Stevens knew that in order to make good of it, he needed to maximise every opportunity to add as much aggressiveness as was humanly possible.

During the X20’s development, the idea was hatched to add a huge Evo-style rear spoiler (somewhat reminiscent of those featured on the Subaru Impreza P1 and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI) in order to add some much-needed character. If nothing else, this add-on certainly enabled the X20 to stand out from the crowd.

Contemporary comentators were scornful as to whether the X20 would be a successful driver’s car, given the mediocrity of the original’s chassis. To be sure, Rob Oldaker had his work cut out with this one, but given the fact that the basic set-up comprised of wishbones, he did have a good starting point. As a result, and following painstaking development, the ZS, as it would become, emerged with remarkably capable chassis – and stands as testimony to the ability of the British chassis team to produce a car that handles and rides well, given thorough development. Engine-wise, the obvious solution was to install the 2.5-litre KV6 engine – and so they did, to create the ZS180. Rover had already developed such a car in 1998, called the Rover 425 (and the idea was mooted that it was to be marketed as an MG or BRM), but it was cancelled by BMW…. the seeds were sown, however, and MG Rover successfully revived the concept.

If anything, the ZS proves to be the most impressive of the three new MGs by dint of the magnitude of its improvement over the donor car…


The flagship model – and vitally important to MG Rover as a torch bearer for the range. Like the 75, deeply impressive all round, but much more focused than the Rover version.

Like the smaller cars, the ZT was made-over by Peter Stevens and re-engineered by Rob Oldaker – only this time, new engines are in the pipeline…

For late 2003, the front wheel drive KV6 powered ZT and ZT-T will be joined by the rear wheel drive, Ford Mustang-powered V8-engined ZT385/Extreme…


MG X80

At the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2001, MG Rover announced their intention to build a V8-engined coupe, codenamed X80 and based on the Qvale Mangusta. This mood of optimism was tempered somewhat by the announcement less than six months later that the car’s launch – originally pencilled-in for the summer of 2002 – had been “indefinitely postponed”. In the end, the ambitious plan for the X80 was revised, and a “harder”, more specialised car was developed from it: The MG XPower SV, which was officially launched at the Birmingham Motor Show in 2002.


  1. When I was out new Rover shopping today I stated to widen the search beyond another 75.

    Narrowly missed an absolute gem of a ZR. Get this! 1.4 Trophy, 2005, 12 months MOT, and only 11,000 miles. The asking price only £2495. The proprietor said it sold before the ad had even hit the paper. A low price as they were a new dealer trying to attract trade.

  2. Put a deposit down on a mint MG ZR 105 last night – 03 plate, brg, 3dr, only 29k miles, 12 months MOT, 6 months tax. All for the incredibly reasonable sum of £2500.

    Doing a SORN on the 75 whilst I decide what to do. Will I ever be able to part with her? How about a new engine?

  3. I’d be vary wary of the ultra low miles. The first good run you give it could show lots of issues. Did you HPI it too?

  4. “Engine-wise, the obvious solution was to install the 2.5-litre KV6 engine – and so they did, to create the ZS180. Rover had already developed such a car in 1998, called the Rover 425 (and the idea was mooted that it was to be marketed as an MG or BRM), but it was cancelled by BMW…. the seeds were sown, however, and MG Rover successfully revived the concept.”

    The Rover 425 V6 Limited Edition, to give it its full and correct title, was not going to be called either an MG or BRM as it was aimed at offering high levels of luxury and interior refinement, not to mention effortless performance delivery through being mated up to automatic transmission only. These characteristics were not in the remit for either MG or BRM.

    The car was killed off because it was ‘simply a Rover 400 that had been fitted with a KV6 engine’. In other words, no real development work had been carried out beyond simply fitting an engine into an engine bay. The project would have likely required at least a year of further engineering and development testing before it was ready to enter production. Also consider that its likely on-the-road price of circa £19,000 would have been rather unattractive by the summer of 1998, with sales of premium trim level Rovers falling in the UK and certainly in Japan (one market where the 425 V6 would have likely gone on sale).

    By October 1998 the Rover 75 had also been unveiled, although it might not have been a big sales threat to this limited edition 400 Series. However, the biggest threat to 425 V6 would have been the heavy discounting on the discontinued 800 Series and soon-to-be-discontinued 600 Series from late October 1998 which would have made it even less of an attractive proposition. Especially when you could get a brand Rover 623 GSi for £21,000 and an 825 Sterling for circa £23,000.

    Sadly the 425 V6 Limited Edition’s timing was never going to be right, what with falling sales in a number of notable export markets such as Japan, the huge engineering programme that still needed to be carried out and the internal competition from bigger, more comprehensively equipped Rover models that were being offered by dealers at discounted prices. A shame as the 425 V6 Limited Edition was a great idea at the time (and I was a big fan of it).

  5. Comment 3 –

    The handbook service history is complete and confirms the low mileage. Also, I saw last years MOT certificate – this showed the car has only covered 900 miles in the past twelve months.

    Although I sourced the car from a small secondhand car lot, they in turn sourced it from Windsors on my behalf – Windsors is the old, local MGR dealer and highly regarded round the Wirral.
    Also, Clive Goldthorp put me in contact with the used car dealer I actually purchased the ZR from.

    Driving the ZR today has been immense fun and in line with the low mileage.

  6. Oh, do I love my ZR!! Maximum smiles per mile and a great aid to reducing SFLS – that’s Seventy Five Loss Syndrome!!

    More seriously though, my ZR is a gem of a car, a gem of an example. Thanks again to Clive Goldthorp who allowed me to source the ZR so quickly.

  7. @4 A V6 400 came into my friends garage about two years ago-it was’nt badged as such but it was a lovely motor and i was very surprised because i never knew about them till that day, the trader whom had presented it for mot offered it me for next to nothing,i had my hands full with other cars but now i feel regret!it was silver and had bespoke alloy wheels and possibly all the extras available at the time.Was they the 2.0 KV6 or was this something special?
    @5 a local garage nearby has about six rover 25’s as courtesy cars for customer convenience,mostly Cat D salvage the ’54 plate one has only 7400 miles on the clock!

  8. I’ve got to say it again!! I am absolutely loving my ZR! The smile on my face whilst driving it is immense.

    My previous holder of ‘most fun car ever owned’, a Peugeot 205 XS, has lost its gold medal and must now make do with second place behind the ZR.

    Add the fact it’s spotless, very low mileage, full service history and it’s a truely incredible buy. I never thought I’d cope so well with imminent 75 loss!

  9. After about 7 weeks and 2300 miles I’m still very pleased with my ZR. No issues, no problems.

    After my 75, I’m pleasantly surprised at its performance as a long distance motorway car. It’s a little big car in many ways.I quickly became used to the rather high driving position and I still feel as though I’m sitting in the car as opposed to on it. The front seats are very supportive, comfortable on a long trip. I don’t find it overly noisy, rowdy.

    I enjoyed just wafting along in the 75 but it is good to smile on the twisty bits again!

    Oh, and after a 1.8 K it’s great to have an expansion tank in the 1.4 where you can check the fluid level at a glance – no need to unscrew the cap.

  10. @11 And why not enjoy it David,a great handling car,a friend at work sold a vvc modelsome time back and its up for sale again and he going to buy it back!cant say i blame him.

  11. I think I may becoming more attached to my ZR than I was to my 75!!!! Something which only weeks ago I would have thought impossible!

  12. I owned a 2003 ZS+120 from 2006 till end of 2008 and enjoyed it. It was X Power Grey. Never had any trouble with HGF, just an intermittent fault on the indicator relay which was covered by a 1 year warranty I got.

    I just had routine servicing/tyres and replaced the brake pads. The main reason I changed it was due to rapid depreciation, it had only covered 35K miles when I sold it. After owning 2 Rover’s I always wanted an MG so at least I achieved my aim.

  13. I own Rover 420Gsi 97,in BRG very nice car,but had a well proven T series engine,very nippy even now done 124000,only one thing I couldnt understand why the sunroof was an option when was standard on Rover 800 Sterling,Vitesse and SLi/Si etc,do like the cruise control etc, I miss that when am driving 54 plate MGZS hatchback. Its is a shame that Rover didnt produce a GTI version of the R400 as they did BRM200 and R25 Gti as a stop gap until the MGs came out.I noted re the cheap ZT190,but the was an 05 ZS180 in Nightfire Red on ebay last week,with mot till oct,tax to march with red suede inserts on the seats and only done 51000,went for £820,it had spolier fitted and oem parking sensors fitted(only2). I have top range ZS180 with the optionof sunroof,spolier,parking sensors,spare wheel (repair tyre spray kit was standard) but again cant understand why I dont have electic windows around,seat pockets etc compared with Rover 45 GSi,MGR re-introduved tha models 04 onwards.If you buy a ZT190+ however you get al those things as standard, but if you want sunroof and criuse control,zenon light rain senceing wipers you have to go for the SE model.When I bought my Rover420GSi hatchback I could not understand also the top of range hatchback R45 didnt have leather seats, sunroof,cruise control where as the R45 saloons did.They did however produce some editions with leather seats and alloys,the Impression etc.I be looking around to convert backdoors for electic windows on my 37000 lovely firefrost MG ZS180.The manual version of the R425 would been interesting for is performance,the Rover 45 Connoisseur,and Club had the 2.0L steptronic engine Great feature,Regards Mark

  14. @ Mark Hayman

    I had a ZS with manual windows, it didn’t bother me as everything else about the car was great. From what I’ve seen with MGR cars is that there will be no sunroof fitted as standard if the car has air conditioning. I had a 52 R25 Spirit S, ZS 120 faclift and my Dad’s 54 plate R45, fittd with aircon and no sunroof. My ZS 120 with th manual windows had a sunroof and no aircon.

    I don’t think there was much more logic to the trim levels in MGR cars, and if you were buying off the shelf you basically took what was there!

  15. Re Paul Taylor
    Ok with the manual windows,its what I been used to with my 98 BRG Rover 820 Vitesse and sunroof but no cruise control I also miss the radio CD controls on the steering wheel,but perhaps will change it later if I come across a R45 leather steering wheel and a Kenwood interface module and lead. I am in the process and trying to find a suitable bracket for the Kenwood Cd changer in the boot and install in the LHS boot side area as fitted in R400/45.Its a shame I cant fit my spare 17″ alloy wheel in the boot space!

  16. I had a 53 plate MGZS 1.8 (X Power grey) from 2006-2008. It was a ZS+ so had electric front windows. Great car with half leather interior and the 16″ hairpins alloys and big boot spoiler etc.

    Apart from routine servicing it only needed a change of tyres and a set of new brake pads… and replace the faded MG grille badge.

  17. On Monday gone the passenger side electric window packed up on my ZR. No real problem. It’s going to be checked out when I’m next off work and thanks to a guy I know, who just happened to be seconds away, the window is at least tight shut. Anyway, my point is this – despite being a bit ‘miffed’ intially I then thought ‘that’s damn good’. An almost ten year old car and its only failing in 10k miles!

  18. Pleased today when at work the young Sophie (aged 6 or 7 when the Zeds were launched) described my ZR as ‘trendy’ . It’s almost 11 years old my car – so, it’s stood the test of time well if a nineteen year old girl describes it this way.

  19. My ZR, now in its well deserved semi-retirement, went for it’s MOT today.

    Only the test fee to pay and no ‘advisories’ either. Aye, it’s a cracking little car!!

    Now I have the 3, logic is telling me to sell. Lord knows, the cash would come in handy. However, the less rational side of me says “Sell the ZR? – Never, ever!!” Then there is a very logical reason for keeping my ZR which occurs to me. True, it will have to go SORN imminently but keeping it is then a sound move. One day, I may need a few hundred quid car and where else would I find one as good as my ZR, the “MGem ? Even my Mum said it would be a bad move to sell it.

    Had quite a long drive in it today – was I smiling!!

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