Raise a glass to : 20 years of the Rover 75 – Part One

Mike Humble shares his memories of the Rover 75, 20 years on from when it was first unveiled at the NEC Motor Show in Birmingham.

Happy 20th Birthday to the Rover 75!

Twenty years ago… can it really be that long ago? Yes, playmates, the Rover 75 was launched to an amazed public 20 years ago at the NEC in Birmingham on 20 October 1998.

Sadly, events overtook the car barely a year later with the BMW Group carving up and selling the Rover Group in slices, but the 75 remains a respected car. With plenty of them trundling around today, I’ll argue the point that, in a few years time, it will be talked about with the same reverence as the P5B and P6. Thanks to some truly top-drawer engineering from both Rover, the car pretty much worked straight from the box.

Engineers who developed it, Designers who had a hand in styling it, not to mention a raft of folk at the coal face (myself included), who were there from the start remain very proud of what was achieved – on time and on budget. From 2000, we saw the ornate and pretty estate car launched soon after production moved from plant Cowley to Longbridge – a move in itself that was a work of engineering and logistical art.

JC at the NEC. The Rover 75 truly caused a sensation when revealed on 20 October 1998 – and I should know, ‘coz I was there… as Max Boyce used to proclaim

The fizzy MG-branded Z cars followed soon after, all developed on a budget that was a tiny fraction of what the original R40 development cost that helped to keep the momentum moving and get the age demographic of the customer down by a good few years. Sadly, despite the company spending a great deal of time looking for a collaborative partner, the game was all over for MG Rover.

How fitting a tribute then for the very last car to roll out of the Longbridge factory to be a Firefrost Red Rover 75 Connoisseur SE that now resides in the British Motor Museum.

Happy Birthday old friend… Here’s to many more!

Mike Humble


  1. The estates (Tourers) did not arrive until 2001, the olds had one of the 1st of them that year…The exact same one that I bought one of the 1st ZRs.

    Has it really been 20 years?

  2. I too remember the launch back in 98 and the re-launch in June 1999. As Mike says, the ZT was a useful addition catering for “younger” customers. Although I preferred the original MK1, the facelifted car was still appealing, especially with the full depth square grille. Firefrost red is / was a lovely colour

    I wish the Roewe 750 had made it to the UK market after the demise of MGR

  3. I have a 2004 Rover 75 Tourer in Firefrost Red (see Car of the Month: July 2018). Despite being a 1.8 K series (albeit with a new head gasket in July 2017), I recently took it on a 600+ mile journey, mainly on motorways, on a 4-day short break, with two friends on board. The car performed faultlessly and was a joy to both drive and travel in. These were (and still are) seriously good cars – I can’t wait for an excuse for my next long drive!

    • Sounds good Steve, long may it continue. I once owned a ZS till end 2008, with 1.8 K engine and luckily didn’t have head gasket problems.

  4. A nice car but I’m not sure it’ll have the same historic reverence as the P5 and P6, as even allowing for the problems caused by the Rover/BMW split, it wasn’t a great success in the marketplace, and was in reality a commercial dead end. Indeed the Rover 600 outsold it.

    • In time, I think the 75 will be remembered in the same way we remember the Princess. Nice enough car if you got a good one, but never a massive seller, didn’t fit an established size/price class, and had a few issues (HGF, plenum drains) that caught out the unwary.

      • The Freelander may have had poor quality/reliability, but was a far more successful 90s Rover (and it’s as much Rover as LR) when you consider how many have been sold of it and its successors, and the premium price they’ve kept throughout.

  5. On time and on budget? Not sure about that. The car went on sale almost a year after the motor show reveal and I remember CAR magazine story’s about BMW hit squads being sent in to try and get the things into production with something resembling reasonable quality. It was reported that pre-production cars leaked like sieves with water sloshing inside doors as they closed.

      • To BMW’s credit, they didn’t want to repeat the mistake with the 800, when quality and reliability issues with early cars hurt sales and destroyed exports to America. It was better the 75 came on the market without problems and surveys like JD Power seemed to suggest early 75s were quite reliable. Indeed, apart from head gasket issues on 1.8 models, the 75 seemed to be a reliable and well made car.

  6. I liked the 75 and for all it didn’t scare BMW, it had a loyal following and was a better car than the X Type Jaguar. Also the MG versions attracted a younger buyer who wanted something different to a BMW 5 series, but didn’t want a Rover. Not enough to save Rover in the end, but I think the 75 was a decent send off for the brand.

  7. I own a 2002 75 CDT Tourer on 207,000 Connessieur in Coperleaf metallic. Driving back from Truro today cruise control it was a lovely place to be. I did not see one getting rare now. Had my service all i needed was a handbrake adjustment she wants for nothing just had my bodywrk restored and my zenons refurbished looks the business with some custome plates. People ask me and comment me on how goos she looks. She is a keeper and when she needs it i do it. Awesome car and i am 42. More fun when you keep the better of a 5 series at the lights.

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