Welcome back to Holy Grails, the Autopian series where you tell us some of the coolest, most underrated cars that you love. Since starting this series, the Autopian tips line has been filling up with the best or weirdest versions of sometimes normal cars. Considering that our own ‘Holy Grails’ are just rare or strange versions of normal cars, you dear readers are hitting it out of the park with your suggestions. This time, a reader suggested a car that I wasn’t even aware existed, but now that I do, I wish I could import one. Developed out of the ashes of BMW’s sale of Rover Group, the MG ZT was a sporty version of a stately sedan. But the holy grail of this car is the ZT-T 260, a wagon featuring firepower from a 4.6-liter Ford V8, coupled to a manual transmission.
Last week, reader David R made the case for the Chevrolet Cruze Eco and Turbo Diesel. A car that you have almost certainly seen or driven without much thought, it was actually incredibly important for post-bankruptcy New GM. Many versions of the Cruze are just everyday cars, but Chevrolet did something interesting with two variants of the Cruze. The first was the Eco, which was marketed as the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid in America. But the Cruze Eco was more than just the green version, as it was actually the fastest Cruze that America got. The other Cruze that David R advocated for was the Cruze Turbo Diesel. Perhaps even more of a holy grail than the Eco, this diesel version of the Cruze scored better than any Volkswagen TDI on sale at the time. And in its second-generation, an even more efficient diesel could even be had in hatchback form.
In recent entries of Mercedes’ Marketplace Madness and before, Dopest Cars, I’ve found myself absolutely in love with the MGF, a cute roadster that launched in 1995. At the time, it was MG’s first all-new design since 1962. The MGF is in my growing list of cars that I’d love to reel in from Europe. Now, thanks to reader James L, I have another vehicle to add to the list. The MG ZT-T 260 is a restrained British wagon powered by an American 4.6-liter Ford V8 and available with a manual transmission. What’s not to love about that?
The history of Britain’s storied brands is long and winding, but arguably, the relevant part of this story starts in the 1970s. Back then, as news site Shropshire Star writes, automotive conglomerate British Leyland Motor Corporation was aiming to be a dominating giant in the industry. Formed out of a 1968 merger of British Motor Holdings and Leyland Motors, BLMC had marques like Austin, Morris, Rover, Land Rover, Triumph, Jaguar, MG, and many more. And the idea was to become a powerhouse, cranking out a million cars from 40 factories.
Unfortunately, the merger didn’t last long. Product lines competed with each other. And, as Shropshire Star notes, a “perfect storm” tore the company down until collapse:
BLMC was caught in a perfect storm between bickering management, rampant unions, mediocre products and intense competition. In April 1975, little more than seven years after it was formed, the group collapsed after running up debts of £200 million. Harold Wilson and Tony Benn stepped in once more, this time to nationalise the company they had helped create. Humiliated, Stokes departed, surely wondering how things had gone so wrong.
State-run British Leyland rose from the rubble, but as British motoring history site AROnline notes, the revived British Leyland still struggled to find profitability. The company continued to suffer losses and in 1986, was renamed to Rover Group. The UK government even tried selling assets to General Motors and Ford.
Cars developed in a joint venture with Honda like the Rover 200, Rover 800, and Triumph Acclaim were well-received. The same can’t be said for cars like the Austin Maestro and Montego, which didn’t sell as expected. AROnline notes that £2.2 billion had been spent on BL since 1975, and patience for a return on investment had run out. Eventually, in 1988 Rover Group was passed to British Aerospace, where it would later get passed again to BMW in 1994.
As AROnline notes, Rover Group was run under budgetary constraints by British Aerospace. BMW ownership meant that Rover Group could build exciting cars without worrying about where the money was going to come from. Under this new ownership Rover Group produced cars like the aforementioned MGF. Before BMW even took over Rover Group the company worked on replacements for the Rover 600 and 800, cars that were developed with Honda. With BMW at the helm, these news cars would shake off the Honda involvement and get a new platform, the R40.
The Rover 75 launched in 1998 for the 1999 model year, and featured a striking design and an interior with a mix of retro and modern design.
Parts of the dashboard holding the clock and the HVAC vents were made in burr walnut veneer, serving as more than just decoration. Development of the Rover 75 had some controversy, as Rover engineers reportedly wanted to build the best front-wheel-drive car, but BMW saw Rover sticking to making a “gentleman’s car,” one with a warm interior and a cushy suspension.
As AROline explains, the differences continued in how BMW and Rover wanted to build the car. For example, the R40 had a seam in its sunroof. BMW wanted Rover to fix this, as it could impact perceived quality. However, Rover thought that it would be a waste of resources fixing such an issue. BMW even reportedly changed things up with the launch. The R40 was to make its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1999, but instead came out at the British Motor Show in 1998.
You’d think the product launch would be where the car’s troubles ended. Instead, even the car’s launch had some controversy. As UK retro car enthusiast site Retro Motor writes, both Jaguar and Rover arrived at the British Motor Show with new cars. But Rover’s came with a bizarre reveal.
After the reveal was delayed by 30 minutes, BMW Group head Bernd Pischetreider got up on stage and talked about how the rise of the Pound’s value against the Euro was bad for Rover’s business. In 1997, losses were at £91 million, but in 1998, the brand was on track to lose £600 million. BMW apparently wanted the UK government to step in about the exchange rate issue, and to contribute towards the automaker’s efforts on the new Mini and another Rover project. Remember, this was during a major product launch, when you’d think an executive would be saying positive things.
There the Rover 75 was, a huge moment for Rover Group, and the talk about the company’s continued financial struggles reportedly struck journalists as bewildering. Thankfully, this blunder didn’t stop the Rover 75 from impressing the press, from AROline:
Autocar magazine summed up the achievement made by the Chassis Engineers as follows: ‘In some areas, the 75 is quite brilliant. The ride quality, for example, is truly astounding, particularly at low speeds. Interior noise insulation has also reached a new level with this car. Rover can therefore justifiably claim to have created the most refined car in the class.
‘It can also be proud of the manner in which it managed to create a distinctive and clear cut identity for the 75 without it feeling contrived or overdone.’ Steve Cropley went further, however: ‘It is also a car whose suspension is so quiet and smooth it beats most cars in our â€˜Best Car In The World’ luxury comparison. The truthful assertion that the 75 is quieter than a Rolls will impress buyers.’
[Ed note: There is no more fanatical homerism than the British automotive press writing about the British automotive industry. It’s not unusual for a car publication to put their thumb on the scale when it comes to home-built automobiles, but the Brits put their whole damn arm. – MH]
However, the fantastic Rover 75 wasn’t helping the bottom line. As mentioned before, the Pound was strong, but Rover also faced nosediving sales. BMW, like Rover’s past owners, began getting tired of waiting for its investment to pay off. In 2000, disaster struck again, with Land Rover getting acquired by Ford, while Rover and MG were passed to the Phoenix Consortium, becoming MG Rover Group.
As reported by Automotive News Europe at the time, one of the tasks of the new MG Rover Group was taking the Rover 75 platform and making new MGs with it. The plan called for MGs based on Rover’s 25, 45, and 75 models. MG’s new cars based on the Rover 75 would become the MG ZT and the MG ZT-T. The latter is the wagon, and the cars built out of this plan were intended to continue MG’s heritage as a maker of affordable sporty cars.
And these were more than just Rover 75s with a new face, from AROnline:
The technical changes made to the chassis were legion: the subframes which carry the suspension were attached to the monocoque by aluminium rather than rubber mounts. The springs were uprated by a full 70 per cent, and were complemented by uprated dampers and anti-roll bars. The cosmetic additions (new bumpers, dechroming and boot spoiler) were heightened by pretty new 18-inch wheels shod with Z-rated tyres.
Launched in 2001, the MG ZT siblings impressed automotive media like the Rover 75 before them. But MG wasn’t going to stop there. Next would come a version with even higher performance. At first, the most output offered by the MG ZT was 190 HP from a 2.5-liter V6.
But MG Rover Group announced hot versions of its cars. The, Rover 75, MG ZT, and ZT-T would get V8 power from Ford. Reader James L says that this is the one to get:
Here’s another Holy Grail – the MG ZT-T 260 (and the MG ZT 260, and Rover 75 V8).A rear wheels drive Ford 4.6 liter V8 powered station wagon with a manual transmission.
In the early 2000s MG had risen like a phoenix from the ashes of their (first) bankruptcy. They had been combined with Rover. Rover had introduced the Rover 75 saloons and estates in 1999, the badge engineered MG ZT and ZT-T variants followed a year later. All had their front wheels powered by a range of 4 cylinder and V6 engines. The MG naming structure was as follows, ZT (sedan/saloon) and ZT-T (estate/touring) with 3 numbers indicating the horsepower rating.
In 2004 they introduced the top of the line MG ZT 260 and ZT-T 260, along with the Rover 75 V8, basically a 2004 Mustang GT with a saloon or estate body slapped on top. A Rear wheel drive, manual transmission, Ford 4.6 V8 powered station wagon.
The V8 variants required extensive re-engineering, supposedly Roush (of Ford tuning fame) did the engineering and slapped a Mustang GT drivetrain into a British station wagon. Sadly… Rover MG only existed for a short 5 years before bankruptcy again and only 883 MG ZT 260/Rover 75 V8 sedans and ZT-T 260 wagons were built in 2004-2005 before the end.
Side note – the Rover K Series engine which powered most Rover 75 and MG ZTs is super interesting, with 16.5 inch long head bolts that go all the way down through the block to the crankshaft main caps.
Reader – JamesRL.
As our reader explains, these were indeed British sedans and wagons featuring firepower coming from America. And oh yeah, these weren’t saddled with front-wheel-drive, either, instead going to a rear-wheel-drive layout. The Ford 4.6-liter modular V8 was good for 260 HP, which propelled the sedan variants (MG ZT and Rover 75 V8) to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds. The wagon was nearly just as fast, hitting 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds. And as a period review from Auto Express notes, these were initially only available with a manual transmission, and you got a limited-slip differential, too.
Auto Express called the V8 wagon “an entirely different animal” than the regular FWD-based ZTs. Here’s an excerpt from that review:
Fire the car up and it greets you with a lusty rumble reminiscent of the glorious Rover V8s of the past, burbling away happily at idle and barking angrily when the throttle is opened. With 410Nm of torque, the unit delivers a punch right through the rev range. It rewards you with superb acceleration, sprinting from 0-60mph in 6.3 seconds, yet the character and grace of the car on which the ZT-T is based is retained. It’s certainly more laid-back in feel than an M3.
From the driver’s seat, it’s easy to feel its natural chassis balance and immense grip. The cabin itself is as subtle as the rest of the motor. Apart from a roof-mounted DVD player and dashboard Teletext TV options, our car looked like a standard ZT-T. The wider transmission tunnel has little effect on space, although the ashtray has been sacrificed to accommodate a larger gearbox housing and a small V8 badge sits in the centre of the facia.
Unfortunately, even hopped up sedans and wagons couldn’t save MG Rover Group from going down the toilet. In 2005, MG Rover Group went into Administration. The Rover name went to Ford (and later, Tata Motors) with, as BBC reports, China’s Nanjing Automobile Group (which would later merge with SAIC Motor) scooping up the Rover 75 design. The Chinese-built Roewe 750 featured a longer wheelbase than the Rover 75 on which it was based and managed to stay in production until 2016.
Today, the V8 versions of the Rover 75 and MG ZT represent what some might call Rover’s finest car. They are rare, too, with just 883 of these V8 beasts hitting the road in all Rover 75 and MG ZT flavors. And if The MG Owners’ Club’s estimation is correct, just around 100 of them are Rover 75 V8s. Sadly, if you want one here in America, 2028 will be the soonest that you could import one. Until then, keep dreaming of American V8 power in a smooth British package.
Do you know of a ‘holy grail’ of a car out there? If so, we want to read about it! Send us an email at email@example.com and give us a pitch for why you think your favorite car is a ‘holy grail.’
THANK YOU! I’m not sure if I should be honored or concerned with my need level knowledge that I’ve had two successful Holy Grail suggestions so far (I also suggested the SA 745i).
There’s at least two ZT-T wagons in the states.
The first is allegedly the development prototype and press car with Monogram Pearlescent Blue-Green paint. Legend has it this car was the one sent to Roush and then they titled it as a “assembled vehicle” because they imported the shell without drivetrain, and then put the drivetrain from the Mustang in at the factory (essentially the same way you’d title a kit car). This car was for sale in 2010 and I had seriously considered buying it for my daily… but couldn’t justify it. This is that same car at a show in Florida.
The second one I saw pictures of recently is in North Carolina with a turbo charged Coyote engine swap… though that one probably comes with a “clean Florida title”.
That’s supposed to say “nerd level knowledge”
My favorite writing by the Shropshire Star was their unprecedented coverage of the Shropshire Slasher. That was amazing writing.
I don’t think you quite highlighted just what a bananas car this is! They took a car, designed from the beginning to be front wheel drive. FRONT WHEEL DRIVE, it was never designed to be AWD even. They then went and turned an existing FWD platform into a REAR WHEEL DRIVE car. Think about that for a second… the front suspension and sub frame would have to have been totally redesigned. The rear suspension and subframe, probably the floor pan too would have to have been changed to fit in a differential – remember they also lowered the car. The Rover 75 did have a transmission tunnel to hide the exhaust so at least there was that. But they would have then had to relocate the exhaust. The transmission would have to have been relocated, FWD means transverse engine and gearbox, RWD means longitudinal. You can begin to see how MG Rover didn’t survive, its like they took the lunacy of BL with them through the BMW years and then threw off the constraint.
“I’ve found myself absolutely in love with the MGF, a cute roadster that launched in 1995” –
Mercedes, I bought the 1997 MGF I saw in your post. It was delivered to my home on the Alabama Gulf Coast and I have truly enjoyed it during the short time I’ve had it. It needed a thorough cleaning and a new clutch slave cylinder and I’m going to install a low coolant level alarm soon.
Bonus interesting thing about these cars, the wagon variant was designed by Ian Callum, designer of the Aston Martin DB9 and Vantage. He was also largely responsible for the rebirth of Jaguar Land rover, starting in the early 2000s and leaving in 2019. The current “New” Defender is mostly his work.
Also, I saw a load of these at the Pride of Longbridge show in the summer, and they looked awesome. They sound great, and a lot of them are painted in MG/Rover’s crazy colour-switching paint schemes. Definitely a holy grail car.
Regardless of their lack of business prowess, that is one handsome wagon I would be more than happy to rock stateside.
The “Phoenix Consortium” which took over Rover-MG from BMW was essentially a bunch of Union-Jack-draped con artists who squeezed all value out of the company while driving it into the ground with vanity projects like these V8-powered sedans and saloons and the even shorter-lived MG XPower SV (a rebodied Qvale Mangusta, which was in turn a rebranded De Tomaso).
After Pitschesrieder was ousted from BMW in a palace coup, BMW started trying to get rid of the Rover Group (minus Mini) at any cost. The most likely buyer was investment fund Alchemy Partners. However, negotiations floundered, with British trade unions and politicians complaining about the mass sackings that would result from Alchemy’s takeover (Alchemy wanted to greatly trim Rover’s sails, and concentrate on the MG brand as a specialist sportscar maker). Enter the Phoenix knights in shining armour, with wildly ambitious plans for Rover MG.
BMW, desperate to offload Rover MG, actually paid about one billion pounds to the Phoenix Consortium to take Rover MG out of BMW’s hands. The Phoenix Four then proceeded to fritter away that dowry in those ridiculous small-volume projects, as well as in increasingly shady financial schemes, all the while handsomely rewarding themselves. It just took five years for MG Rover to collapse under their “management”.
‘Ed note: There is no more fanatical homerism than the British automotive press writing about the British automotive industry. It’s not unusual for a car publication to put their thumb on the scale when it comes to home-built automobiles, but the Brits put their whole damn arm. – MH]’
Steve Cropley (the motoring journo quoted in the article) is notorious over here as the most biased and least objective out there when it comes to British brands, particularly the posh ones. Every Rolls, Bentley and JLR product is hailed as the greatest car ever, which might be the case (probably isn’t) but as you can predict what he’ll say before reading it lacks any credibility.
He is often one of the first journalists to drive these models, and normally has one as a long termer, so draw your own conclusions.
Cropley seldom has anything negative to say about any car or manufacturer.
However, to suggest he is displaying a British bias towards products from his own country is not true – he’s Australian.
Yep, a lot of UK car magazine content was very cringeworthy throughout the nineties and naughties. Also, someone needs to count how many British car magazine covers were issued with sketches/spyshots about Jaguar’s “New F-type” between 1973 and 2010. It was a never ending stream as I remember it.
I believe it also held the record for fastest wagon for a while there:
I seen to recall seeing it in person once, probably at the Melbourne Motor Show, although can’t figure out why they would have bothered bringing the thing to Australia. So either I’m delusional or they were.
The Top Gear review of the MG ZT is Quintessential Jeremy Clarkson. He waxes lyrical about the car’s handling despite being built with “a socket set and some gift vouchers from Halfords”.
Rover is perhaps the deceased brand that I miss the most. My family owned two (an 825td and a 75 tdi that we still keep). They packed a ton of bang for your buck. Both luxurious and inexpensive. Some fit and finish was hilariously bad, to the point of being endearing. But the 75 was vastly superior on that front, and should have been given a much better chance to succeed.
Hailing from the U.K. and an avid reader of motoring magazines in the 90’s I don’t remember our motoring press being that complimentary about the 75 or any Rover product of the time. Car Magazine in particular were pretty scathing about many Rover cars.
Jaguar on the other hand probably did get a slightly easier ride from the press than perhaps they deserved?
BLMC is how they used to spell Brexit back in the day.
It looks like they must have at least recouped some costs by selling the stampings to Daewoo.
There is one fully federalised wagon in the US.
Wirewheel in Florida had it listed some years ago. It was federalised through the manufacturer and supposedly owned by an executive.
Wirewheel also had a red X-Power SV they were selling. I got to see it in person at Sebring many moons ago. Yeah, it’s a redone Qvale, but the Qvale was nothing more than a redone Mustang. Seeing the SV up close showed its Mustang roots. I’ve got pics of it but I guess we can’t put pictures in the comments yet…
My neighbor and garage-mate in Germany had one of these. I knew it was a V8 but never paid much attention to it and didn’t realize it was Ford motor. Thanks for the info. I wonder how many ultra rare cars I come across that don’t get the attention they deserve.
As an additional footnote on this age of MG, I feel it’s worth noting the paint options; as part of the factory “monogram” program, there were not one, but five different pearlescent paint colours available, such as this:
I may be wrong, but I can only think of this era of MG and TVR as offering factory pearlescent paint jobs? they were also relatively common, as I remember; used to see quite a few pearlescent MGs around my local area.
Link to all 33 Monogram paints if you have the patience.
The most dramatic were called ‘Chromescent’ with colour flipping according to the light.
Great share!! Supertallic Green ????
Oh those are so great!!! 😀
I saw one of these at a classic car show, it was funny to see the Mustang logo under the bonnet.
I wonder if they ever made a V8 Rover 75 Estate. All the ones I know of are MG.
I don’t believe so.
My family looked at these at the time, and there was a fairly clear distinction between the ‘luxury’ Rover and the ‘sporty’ MG.
I only ever recall the RWD V8 being in the MG, but perhaps other countries had different options.
Yes, they only made 16 Rover 75 V8 Tourers (Estates) 9 were RH drive. I have one of the top spec RH drive Tourers and the only one out of the 166 Rover V8’s (Saloons and Tourers) in Nocture Blue. Turely a rare variant. Sorry can’t load a pic of the car.
Errr…. no. 13 were RHD, 3 LHD.
13 Rover 75 V8 Tourers in RHD form, all delivered to the UK, and 3 in LHD, all to continental Europe. Most still survive.
Rarely has there been a company that made so many bad products, for so long, as British Leyland. I drove an ’84 Austin Montego, for about six months, in 1994. Worst. Car. Ever. BL made the malaise-era cars from Detroit look like pillars of quality and value. They even tried to sell BL garbage in the US, under the Sterling name. They, essentially, took a Honda Accord and made it terrible, then sold it as a Sterling. Only BL could ruin a Honda.
Speaking as the owner of a Leyland product (Triumph GT6), I heartily agree. As much as I love that piece of shit, it is unequivocally a terrible, terrible car. Possibly one of Michelotti’s finest and most beautiful designs, but underneath it’s a god-awful pile of rubbish. But I still love it and I need therapy.
BL had some cool designs (Rover SD1 for example) but the execution was terrible, management were incompetent and there was a total lack of cooperation between brands (See why the Trimph Stag had its own unreliable V8 when they could’ve just used the Rover V8).
The BBC Radio programme “the reunion” on the collapse of BL was insane – 40 years on the management and union reps are still throwing shit at each other over whose fault it all was (and they’re BOTH right):
Makes me really sad that BL effectively killed about 20 classic British car brands and set our industry back decades.
“was caught in a perfect storm between bickering management, rampant unions, mediocre products and intense competition.”
Nice that Britain has a long and storied history of flushing their relevance in anything down the drain.
The country that conquered the world in search of spices only to decide not to use any of them.
Cultural differences, I guess: the weird S-shaped cut line between the front fascia and fender keeps me from looking at the rest of the car. And, on the rear 3/4 view of the red one, I saw ‘good BMWish doors…uhm-Accord wagon-looking top there…WHAT? Did they steal the taillights from a Daiwoo??’
Which is amusing because as a VW guy in the 80s & 90s, the Euro Look was what everyone wanted. Plus, I’m way more concerned with the view and experience in the driver’s seat than what people see as I go by.
If that bothers you, take a look at the shift pattern on the stick… this makes me think the action is a bit… sloppy?
That shift pattern looks like something that might have an asterisk next to it.
*actual gear selection may vary.
I had missed that-thanks! Reminds me of my well-used vw bus: the shift pattern was more overlapping Venn diagrams than the neat lines long since worn off the knob
The weird front bumper line is because the 75 was originally designed to have single-piece headlights but they looked too derivative and were changed before launch. BMW forced Rover to not make the 75 a competitor to the 3 series so the marketing and positioning was weird to say the least – it was marketed as an old man’s car when it was far more capable. They only came into their own with the post-BMW MGs. We bought a house from a guy who drove a ZT-260 estate tuned by Dreadnought. It was a beautiful car and sounded amazing.
I see what you mean here, that extra bit on the fascia was a fill for the missing corner indicators. So instead of adding it back to the fender wing they did this! Well I suppose it was the cheapest option…on brand.