Theme: Aftermarket – Plato’s Garments Cloak the Sunrise

Fun fact: for Ireland only this car came with a 1.4 L petrol engine.

That had something to do with Ireland’s punitive car taxation system. Still, it’s a puzzle. The Celtic Tiger roared loudest around then: was Rover (Irl.) Ltd so desperate to sell cars that they had to

pull a stunt like that? The car’s addenda scream performance aspirations which a 1.4 won’t be able to deliver, I would have thought. How many remain out of the 20 (guess) they shipped?

Now: I’m 67 words into this article and the astute among you will be wonderingly thinkingly asking what this lovely motor has to do with “aftermarket”.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m being a little satirical.

By the turn of the century Rover was running out of resources and also keen to drag their range away from the comfort and retrelegance territory BMW’s ownership had forced them into.

In 1995 Rover launched the 400, a pleasant car straddling the blurry land between Golfy cars and Mondeo-y cars. To allign with the 1998 Rover 75’s name, the 400 was renamed 45 and the style tweaked a bit. In 2000 BMW cut Rover loose and immediately Rover’s designers rushed to restyle their range to allow for tuned versions to be marketed as MGs. With a minuscule budget this panic operation amounted to new paints and some plastic bits reshaped with huge haste. The results epitomise one of the harshest accusations one can level against a facelift: that it looks aftermarket.

The loudest detail is the vent on the wing: the standard panel was dressed with a plastic lip for the arch and a non-functional vent coated with carbon-fibre film. Solecism with a fat cherry on the crown. Stephen Bayley has nightmares about it even today. It’s not even non-functional, it’s anti-functional. Some aftermarket tuning does increase performance. The things that don’t are the ones inviting derision – think of a 1.0 litre Fiesta with the deep spoiler and race tyres that is not one second faster than stock. This car suggests that which is why it can’t capture our respect.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “Theme: Aftermarket – Plato’s Garments Cloak the Sunrise”

  1. I realise now that I have actively avoided getting to close to these things to notice, but good god that plastic “vent” panel is astonishingly shonky looking. The ZR/ZS/ZT cars have a tiny cult following but they all stank of desperation, and there is little less appealing than desperation. At the time they put me in mind of a 40 something new divorcee desperately trying to relive their youth with inappropriate clothes and embarrassing behavior.

    There was a concept of a “75 sport” floated at one point, which was a much classier and more appealing creation.

    The Phoenix plan was obviously going to fail right from the start, John Moulton was portrayed as an evil capitalist at the time but if they’d gone with his plan to immediately strip away the dead wood then the company may have survived and thrived. In actual fact a bit of ruthless pairing away of obvious rubbish was the one thing that could have saved BMC/BL/MGR at most points in the sorry story.

    1. In September 2001 Car magazine rated this the best driving of the three MG variants. Frustratingly none of the handling ability has survived to make it into the new breed of MGs. The mistake Rover made was to smother some worthwhile and apparently rather good engineering revisions with the kind of tat splattered over this car.

  2. Necessity being the mother of invention, the classic (Rover) and sporty (MG) lines was prescient of the current practice for differentiation through optional trims. A desperate gamble for Rover, of course, but the reasoning behind it was sound.

  3. Ah, but the vent was originally functional and created by WSR’s successful Touring Car ZS V6. You know the story, race on Sunday, sell on Monday, racing improves the breed, etc. Well it is an MG.

    Anyways, it worked by reducing drag in the wheel arch and looked purposeful in 2001 on what had been a dour bit of early ’90s Honda kit. Admittedly Rover gave is some lovely soft radii on what was a very advanced Press in ’95. But the core was domestic recession dull.

    Fast forward to the production facelift ZS featuring this body kit and THAT VENT. MG-R anticipated selling 7 fully kitted up ZSs per day. Demand, thanks to racing success, thanks to its excellent handling, thanks to it V6, thanks to it keen pricing sold by the transporter load.

    MG-R couldn’t cope, so re-tooled the bodykit once again for slightly more mass production. The problem being, they had a budget of 1/10 what Rinspeed would have had for a fibreglass lash-up. Ergo what looked good in the brochure and on the race track, looked, well, lashed-up.

    But the woes didn’t stop there. One body shop employee (we’ll call him Keith as that was his name) who owned a ZS180 saw the issue. You could easily ping the vents aside and take out the car’s alarm and immobiliser gubbins. Whats more, these cars were now being TWOC’d like it was 1991.

    So the line was stopped (it rarely ran thanks to the atrocious quality of the fibre glass agenda) and the vents were blanked.

    One final thought, those 1.4 ZS were only fractions of a second behind a mk3 Golf GTi to 60mph. And I’d argue all day that little K was the more sporty engine that the cast iron VAG lump.

    My, those were the days.

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