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Rover 75 V8 & MG ZT 260: Buying guide and review (2003-2005)

Rover 75 V8 & MG ZT 260: Buying guide and review (2003-2005) Classic and Performance Car
Rover 75 V8 Rover 75 V8 Rover 75 V8 Rover 75 V8 interior MG ZT 260 pre-facelift MG ZT 260 pre-facelift MG ZT 260 engine What do you do when your car company is on the verge of bankruptcy with a model line-up that is in desperate need of updating to stay competitive? Why you take your existing front wheel drive family sedan and spend millions on development to turn it into a rear wheel drive V8 engined sports car. Amidst the turmoil of changing ownership that’s exactly what Rover did back in 2003 when they launched the Rover 75 V8 and its sportier MG ZT 260 stable mate.

Shoehorning a big American V8 into a British chassis is nothing new; cars like the AC Cobra proved what a winning combination this can be. MG/Rover however took this concept and applied it to their middle of the road model, turning into something that may not have made the best financial sense, but it sure did inject some much-needed fire into the ailing brand.

It is a great Q-car, combining the elegant yet subtle looks of the standard models with performance to rival the executive German saloons of its day. Miss the quad tailpipes on the ZT 260 and you will be left scratching your head as it powers away from your hot hatch at the traffic lights in a flurry of wheel spin. Instead of relying on cutting edge technology requiring high revs and full commitment to deliver the goods, the Rover/MG twins hark back to the muscle car era with a big lazy American sourced V8 that focuses on torque over power. It allows you to trickle along at low revs enjoying the burbling soundtrack and then surge forward without having to change down.

Handling is another strong point, with a fully redesigned rear suspension and a limited slip differential to get the power down in tighter corners, these cars are a pleasure to hustle down a winding road. They are not as precise as some German contemporaries however they do offer their own brand of driving pleasure and are very manageable when pushed to the their limits. The integrity and quality of the design is testament to the engineers’ ingenuity as budgets were limited and the uncertain future of the brand made development a constant battle. Changes over the front wheel drive models are numerous with only the front suspension bearing any resemblance to the standard design. Brakes and gearboxes were uprated to cope with the extra power as well as a stiffened tunnel in the body structure.

Which one to buy?

You really only have two options here, either the hard core ZT 260 with manual gearbox and sports suspension or the more laid back automatic Rover 75 V8 which combines some old world British style and charm with that same 4.6 Litre V8. Softer suspension settings for the 75 and a more restrained exterior and interior design, with wood dashboard trim and less sporty seats, further differentiate it from the ZT260.

Both cars are great to drive and the final choice really is up to how you intend to use your car. Tourer bodied models are a great practical V8 family car if you can put up with the fuel bills but are hard to come by.

A facelift was carried out only a year after their introduction, this being due to the fact that the standard models had been around for 4 years in the Rover 75’s case and 2 years for the MG badged ZT models. Changes were minor with lights and bumpers receiving a less retro look on the outside. Interior changes weren’t extensive either with changes to the instrumentation backlighting and trim and texture upgrades being the most noteworthy.

The Ford V8 engine is extremely tunable, with supercharger conversions not uncommon. The car can easily cope with the extra power, but beware for the added cost of insuring and running a modified example.

Performance and specs

Rover 75 V8
Engine 4.6L, 16valve V8
Power 256bhp @ 5000 rpm
Torque 302lb ft @ 4000rpm
Top Speed 155mph (151mph auto)
0-62mph 6.2 seconds (7.0secs auto)
Consumption 22-23 mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual/Four-speed automatic
Insurance group 35 (MG model is group 40)
CO2 emissions 319g/km

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2749mm
Length 4749mm
Width 1778mm
Height 1393mm
Weight 1680kg

Common problems

• Parts can be scarce for these cars however the many enthusiast sites such as the two sixties group or specialist resellers like Xparts can either direct you to the right place or source the spares you need. Components such as body panels and exhausts which were difficult to come by in the past are now more readily available as well.

• Electronics can develop intermittent faults, usually due to issues between the Ford engine management system and the Rover ECU, these parts are available through specialists such as the two-sixties site.

• Check the serpentine belt for any rubbing marks against the engine block, signs of this may require the pulleys to be realigned and bearings to be replaced and could also indicate a seized air conditioning compressor. Not a common fault but quick to identify.

• Gearchanges can be notchy when cold and do not like to be rushed even when warmed up. The oil seals can develop leaks but replacement components are available.

• Clutch action should be smooth in all gears and vibrations may indicate a bent gearbox shaft. Clutches should be replaced with the engine removed and shortcuts here can lead to expensive repairs down the line.

• Wear on tyres brakes and suspension is generally higher than you find on the run of the mill models so ensure that you give your potential purchase an extra once over in these areas. Garages may inadvertently use the V6 measurements for wheel alignment, correct specs are available for the V8’s on the two sixties site and should be used to avoid uneven tyre wear.

• Rear suspension bushings are a weak link and should be checked for any undue wear. Springs can break, damaging shock absorbers which are tricky to source.

• The heating system can blow its radiator hoses, upgraded replacement parts are available however.

• Climate control units can be flaky however they should still be available through MG/Rover

• Some ZT and 75 models were optioned with special Monogram paint colours, which can be very expensive to repaint if there are any marks on the bodywork. This is worth considering if the car needs any restoration work.

• Windscreen washer bottles can crack and replacing them is time consuming, requiring removal of the bumper and headlight unit.

• Fuel pumps can be troublesome and replacements can be sourced from Xparts.

• Apart from these model specific issues, the ZT 260/75 V8’s are as reliable as their front wheel drive stable mates while offering a whole lot more driving enjoyment.

Model history

2003: MG ZT 260 and Rover 75 V8 launched
2004: Facelifted models released
2005: Production ends with approximately 880 units produced

Clubs and websites

• www.mgownersclub.co.uk - UK-based owners’ club
• wwwtwo-sixties.com – Community and forum for V8 owners
• www.the75andztclub.co.uk/forum - Forum and club for all Rover 75 and MG ZT owners
• www.xpart.com - Parts specialists

Summary and Prices

With just under 900 units made, these cars are rarer than some Italian exotics, the tried and tested low stress Ford sourced V8 and well developed mechanicals should also give owners relatively trouble free ownership experiences. Today’s cutting edge technology is tomorrows old news; what does not age is the car’s pleasurable driving. While the 75 might not be that fast in today’s world of huge turbocharged power outputs, but the enjoyment to be had from cruising down the road listening to that V8 soundtrack is a timeless pleasure.

As production numbers were limited and owners tend to hold on to their cars, the best place to look for a suitable V8 is on enthusiast websites and dealerships that specialise in these sorts of models. Prices range from £6000 for a higher mileage pre-facelift car to £10,000 for a mint condition one. Finding one is a challenge, however most have been well cared for and there is a thriving enthusiast community that can point you in the right direction for, spares and parts. These MG/Rover twins are a great left field choice for enthusiasts and are sure to continue rising in value as the world moves towards smaller capacity less characterful force fed engines.

Words: John Tallodi
Rover 75 V8 Rover 75 V8 Rover 75 V8 Rover 75 V8 interior MG ZT 260 pre-facelift MG ZT 260 pre-facelift MG ZT 260 engine
Last updated: 5th Oct 2015
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