The MG ZT 260 is a bonkers Prodrive-engineered Q-car priced from £8000 up but you can enjoy a much cheaper ZT if you prefer saner to zanier
John Evans
7 January 2019

To this day, the spec sheet for the MG ZT 260 saloon of 2003 to 2005, engineered by Prodrive, still quickens the pulse. 

Engine: a 2004-model-year Ford Mustang GT 4.6-litre V8 producing 252bhp and 410lb ft, driving the rear wheels through a Dana Hydratrak limited-slip differential and exhausting through quad pipes. 

Suspension: all independent, lowered (1.5in compared with standard models) and stiffened. Rear brakes: AP Racing twin-pot alloy calipers with 332mm vented discs. Tyres: Continental Sport Contact M3s developed for the BMW of the same name. Performance: 0-62mph in 6.2sec and a top speed of 155mph. 

Only around 400 of this sportiest ZT variant survive. As this was written, one website was listing five of them, ranging in price from £7950 to £11,995 for an immaculate 2004- reg with 42,000 miles. Strong money but then the ZT 260 is a true Q-car; an under-the-radar special derived from the pipe-and-slippers Rover 75 and with loads more charisma. 

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There are plenty of lesser-powered ZTs, spanning the model’s run from its launch in 2001 to its demise in 2005. First up are the 2.5-litre V6 petrol models, badged 160 (156bhp), 190 (184bhp) and 180 automatic (176bhp). Prices are no higher than £4995 but best you know the engine requires fresh timing belts (three of them) every six years or 90,000 miles. It’s an expensive, six-hour job. 

From these, you move down to the more fleet-friendly, four-cylinder 1.8-litre petrol ZTs: the cooking 120 (116bhp) and 160 T (156bhp – it replaced the less efficient V6 160 in 2002). Prices for runners start at around £500 and rarely go beyond £2000, although we saw a 2004-reg 1.8 120 with 17,000 miles for £4995. 

They’re bargains partly because of the horror stories surrounding possible failure of the head gasket. However, if it happened, it was usually at around 40,000 miles, so most cars will have been fixed long ago. 

Finally, there are the two diesel ZTs, both of them with 2.0-litre CDTi BMW-sourced engines: the 120 (116bhp) and the 135 (131bhp), each offered with a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes. Their weak spot is fuel pumps, which can play up. Prices for these cars range from peanuts to around £4000. For example, we found a mint, one-owner, 2006-reg ZT 2.0 135 CDTi with full service history and 48,000 miles for £4200. Its year of registration points to the fact that lots of ZTs and 75s hung around unsold long after MG Rover’s collapse. 

The ZT hails from a time when it was okay to offer the most basic version of your sporting flagship with windy rear windows; + level provided these but + Sports and SE are best. The optional leather trim is more hard-wearing than the vinyl. 

The ZT was facelifted in 2004, when it gained new headlights and bumpers (complete with gaping shut lines). To these, the ZT 260 added a unique grille. Yet another reason to buy one.

An expert’s view 

Julian ‘Jules’ Anderson, JMA Cars: “I’ve always been into British cars and was buying and selling them when Rover went bust. The values of 75s and ZTs halved overnight so I bought a load and did very well. Gradually, supplies dried up so I started servicing customers’ cars, specialising in the 75 and ZT. There are a handful of problems common to all of them and I have developed special fixes that are very popular. My daily drives and loan cars are a ZT diesel and a ZT 190. For myself, I have a ZT 190 that’s done 10k miles and never been driven in the rain and a 75 that’s done only 5k miles.” 

Buyer beware… 

Engine: On the 1.8 petrol, look for head gasket leaks. If a diesel won’t start, tap the fuel pump to free it up. The 1.8 petrol timing belt should be changed at 60,000 miles. The V6 requires three belts every six years/90k miles at around £700. On all engines, make sure the plenum chamber is draining water. Have the diagnostics checked – the OBD port is near the accelerator pedal – with a dedicated ‘T4’ reader. 

Cooling system: On the V6, check the plastic thermostat housing for leaks. On all versions, ensure the engine cooling fan comes on when you activate demist. 

Transmission: The V8’s Tremec manual is tough but feels agricultural. Check its rear diff has been fed the correct oil. The Jatco JF506E five-speed auto ’box can suffer reverse piston failure and solenoid problems, causing harsh changes. Both can be fixed with the gearbox in situ. A clutch is £700 but lots more if the dual-mass flywheel needs replacing. 

Suspension and brakes: Lower wishbone front bushes, broken springs and corroded brake pipes are common MOT failures.

Body: This was protected with a form of galvanising that has proved durable but check the sills and jacking points. 

Interior: Sunroof leaks and blocked drain holes cause soggy carpets and a damp boot. Perished rear light gaskets let in water. Vinyl driver’s bolsters collapse. 

Also worth knowing 

If you need a part for your ZT, there are at least two well-stocked suppliers. XPart was born out of MG Rover and Rimmer Bros was founded in 1982 by two brothers passionate about British cars. Both can supply original and pattern parts but Rimmer goes further with genuine workshop diagrams showing what goes where. 

How much to spend 

£250-£999: Mainly ratty 2.0 135 CDTi diesels up to 150,000 miles. £1000-£1995 More diesels but also 1.8s and V6s with reasonable mileages and some history. 

£2000-£3495: Tidier cars, including a 2005 2.5 190 with 65k miles, full history, two former owners and new belts for £2790. 

£3500-£5000: Includes a 2005-reg 1.8 120 with just 11k miles for £3995 and a 2003-reg 2.5 190 with 36k miles for £4995. 

£7500 and higher: Choice of 4.6 V8s, such as a one-owner 2004-reg with 105k miles for £8495. 

One we found 

MG ZT 260 SE, 2004, 80K miles, £8495: There are plenty of far cheaper V6s but this 4.6 V8 in black (the best colour) is a real Q-car and a return to the glory days of the Rover V8. Only two previous owners, good service history and some key parts renewed.

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Join the debate

Comments
7

7 January 2019
Lb ft and Nm. Come on Autocar, sort it out. Same as your long term A6 review. Makes you look like a bunch of amateurs.

7 January 2019

Wow, this is a blast from the past if ive ever seen one. Curiously, I didnt like the Rover 75 / ZT when it was in production.  However, over the years, the design appeals to me more.  There were literally thousands (including James May!!! )who suggested that The Rover 75 was dated and old fashioned and - gosh all that wood...  Horrible.But they were wrong.  the Rover 75 / ZT was, in many ways, 10 -12 years AHEAD of its time.  I saw a Rover 75 in that shiny light blue  a couple of years ago.  Clearly loved and cherished by its owner at Waitrose Walton-Le-Dale car park.  I actually stopped and looked around it.  I though 'Wow - this looks beautiful'.   It really did.The MG versions were, of course, sportier and slightly more aggresive in their drive and feel, but ultimatetly, I think the world was very cruel to this car.VAG and BMW designs both external and interal have been influenced by this car for the last 20 years.Which is sad and uplifting in equal measure.

7 January 2019

Personally I’ve always hankered after a Rover 75 V8 there is something about the way it looks and it’s stance that I like.

The world was indeed very cruel to the Rover 75, it deserved a much better reception than it had. My dad has a 75 with all the kit on. It was a lovely car and his favourite of all the ones he’s ever owned. He never had a problem on it, the car was cheap to maintain and own. Indeed I almost bought it off him but the wife vetoed me from doing it. 

7 January 2019

I see Rover 75 V6's with 60k going for £1,500 (have a look) true bargin motoring. Probably rides better than Audi! 

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

7 January 2019
I genuinely can't see anything wrong with a well-engineered wind-up window.

Electric lifts are one of the accoutrements I really wouldn't mind sacrificing in the interest s of light weight and simplicity. Seats, boot lids and steering columns are other things I have no difficulty in operating manually. I do like electric door mirrors, though.

Other things I can happily do without? Automatic headlights and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.

7 January 2019
beechie wrote:

I genuinely can't see anything wrong with a well-engineered wind-up window. Electric lifts are one of the accoutrements I really wouldn't mind sacrificing in the interest s of light weight and simplicity. Seats, boot lids and steering columns are other things I have no difficulty in operating manually. I do like electric door mirrors, though. Other things I can happily do without? Automatic headlights and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.

With you on that, electric mirrors are fantastic but the rest i can do without.

I had a ZT 120+ that I bought new, a fantastic car in trophy blue, I've never had a car before or since that people ask about at petrol.stations etc but the ZT they did, and all were surprised that it was cheaper than a vectra or mondeo of equivalent spec. Change in circumstances meant it had to go but it is one car I really miss owning. Always fancied a 260, they mounted the v8 as close to the passenger compartment as they could to aid handling whereas the 75 v8 had it pushed as far away as possiple for better nvh refinement.

@ xxxx, the ZTs ride was very good but the 75s ride was fantastic, my dad had a 75 v6, and it was a lovely car to ride in, I'm sure you're right in saying better than any audi.

8 January 2019
beechie wrote:

I genuinely can't see anything wrong with a well-engineered wind-up window.

Electric lifts are one of the accoutrements I really wouldn't mind sacrificing in the interest s of light weight and simplicity. Seats, boot lids and steering columns are other things I have no difficulty in operating manually. I do like electric door mirrors, though.

Other things I can happily do without? Automatic headlights and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.

Honda retained electric windows in the NSX Type-R as the motors were lighter than manual winding mechanisms.

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