Car Show Classic: MG ZT-T V8 – A Better Form Of Automotive Stereotype?

I imagine many CC readers are familiar with the “brown manual diesel rear-wheel drive station wagon” car enthusiast stereotype, but surely a V8 manual rear-wheel drive station wagon would be better – even if it isn’t brown?

The MG ZT-T is a variation on the Rover 75, which was developed when BMW owned Rover in the mid-90s.  It seems that the Rover was developed as a complementary car to BMWs; front-wheel drive instead of rear, and conservative styling with deliberately traditional touches.  Sales were presumably under the whelming amount that BMW expected, and they off-loaded Rover to the Phoenix Consortium.

The Rover brand was recognised as being terminally-damaged in a similar fashion to some US brands, and in response an MG variant appeared in 2001, with a thorough-but-minor tweaking of everything from appearance (by Peter Stevens) to powertrain and suspension.  At least initially.

Then in 2003 one of the most unique cars ever produced was released.  Not that unique in what it was, but rather how it came about; the fwd platform was converted to accept a 4.6-L Ford Mustang V8 with Roush tweaks for its new home and rear-wheel drive.

Photo from the book MG V8 by David Knowles

This required new floor pressings and a new rear suspension as the main changes, but surely so many that surely the level of optimism was outlandishly high that it would ever return a profit.  In production, body shells had to be taken off the line to modify the transmission tunnel by hand.

The ZT 260 car only arrived in Australia after the early-2004 facelift.  There was a Rover 75 V8 as well and we didn’t get those, but rather an automatic version of the MG was available instead.  Other markets had the transmission option tied to the brand.

Photo from the book MG V8 by David Knowles

And to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t that impressive, with the 260 numeral representing horsepower (or 191 kW) when the same number measured in kilowatts would have been more competitive.  The $90,000 price tag for the sedan was a healthy increase over the $60,000 base V6 ZT, and more than the much more powerful HSV and FPV local competition.  One reason for the lack of power was that only the SOHC version of the 4.6 V8 would fit in the engine bay.

The interior shot shows, in addition to the all-important manual shifter!, a hint of the transmission tunnel expansion that impinged on footwell space.  Legroom was a little on the tight side, as might be expected with the 108.1″ (2746 mm) wheelbase, but that gave a tidy 188.6″ (4791 mm) overall length and 70″ (1778 mm) width.  Weight was 3835 lb or 1740 kg, not bad but the structure was not as strong as it might have been.

Photo: www.bmcexperience.com.au

With the seats folded the load length was about 6 feet long, and designed by people used to using station wagons – here I am referring to the sides between the tailgate and wheel arches not being boxed-in, which is so common in European wagons.  The tailgate glass also opened independently for loading small items.

Photo: www.bmcexperience.com.au

For me this is a bit of a Goldilocks size, similar to a BMW E34 or E39 5-series (early or late 1990s if you aren’t familiar with the model codes), Mazda 6 or first generation Holden/Opel Commodore wagons; a good amount of cargo space without being so large that finding a parking space becomes a challenge, as can be the case with the long-wheelbase Commodore and Falcon wagons which are over the 5-metre mark (both around 199″ long).

With the Phoenix Rover flaming out in April 2005, just 883 of the V8 rwd cars were built of all the V8 varieties when the lines stopped.  It is estimated that 10% would have been wagons.  Just 23 were brought into Australia, and 9 of those were auctioned off when MG Rover Australia went into liquidation.

All things considered, as motoring enthusiasts I don’t think we can be disappointed that such a unicorn was actually built!