Reflecting upon the 75’s younger, leerier brother.
The Rover 75 is one of those cars which will probably form the basis of reflection and examination for decades to come. On paper at least, perhaps the most comprehensively realised Rover Group product of all, yet it proved to be a flawed product, courtesy of its problematic K-Series power units and what transpired to be a somewhat quixotic marketing proposition.
But I have not gathered you together today in order to rehash the Rover’s backstory and subsequent career, but instead to consider – or should I say, reconsider the morphology of the model from its suave 75 persona into its somewhat more dissolute MG-badged derivation.
Rover carried out a very thorough job on the 75’s chassis, a matter both noted and praised by the auto press at launch – Autocar going as far as to suggest it provided a quieter passage than that of a contemporary Rolls Royce. However, as both carbuyers and those charged with assessing their merits pivoted towards more aggressive chassis set ups, the Rover proposition quickly fell victim to prejudice.
But it’s clear that Rover had intended to offer a more driver-focussed version of the 75, showing a ’75 Sport’ prototype at the 2000 Geneva motor show. That same year, BMW jettisoned Rover, selling out to private investors, The Phoenix Consortium, who lost no time in both introducing new models and extracting costs from the car.
The MG-badged ZT models were heavily influenced by Rover’s Sport prototype, the styling changes being carried out by well-regarded UK consultant, Peter Stevens – although it appears the bulk of the conceptual work had already been done.
The really serious changes were chassis related however, as detailed below by AROnline: “…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”.
The ZT proved a critical success, meeting the approval of the increasingly driver-focused automotive press, but whether it was a commercial one is rather more questionable with only slightly over 27,000 built in both saloon and ZT-T estate form between 2001 and 2005, when MG-Rover fell into liquidation and oblivion.
There’s no question that Rover were right to propose a sportier 75 variant, but questions (as ever) remain upon execution. Today, we revisit a thought-provoking piece by Richard Herriott where he examines Britain’s relationship with tradition and decoration in design through the prism of the 75/ZT – and asks whether we really know what we want.