A year (and a half) with the MG ZT 190

A much delayed one-year owner’s report

All images: The author

As I write this, it is 5 months to the day since I promised DTW’s esteemed editor a one-year report on living with what was, at purchase, an unusually pristine and little-used example of MG’s last-chance, last-shout, last-hurrah (and doomed from the start) sports saloon. My attempt at winning the ‘most delayed DTW article’ award aside, how has 18 months with the ZT190 been?

To start with, the ZT has been, by a comfortable margin, the unluckiest car I have ever known: In the short time I have owned it, it has been crashed into by other drivers twice (at low speeds but still necessitating costly repairs), has lost two tyres to a fight with a sharp piece of metal and just plain lost one of the brackets holding the exhaust in place. To its credit, not even the last of these could be said to be the car’s fault (a replacement exhaust fitted before purchase had not been screwed on properly) and only the tyre puncture left me stranded.

Nonetheless, a reader might wonder what the effect of the aforementioned events might be upon the ‘ownership experience’ of the car… and that’s before considering the increased cost of fuelling a car like the MG, whose 90s-tech, and fairly highly-tuned, KV6 engine loves a good drink of 98-octane-only-please.

It would be dishonest to claim that the troubles described above have not sometimes had a dampening effect on my enthusiasm for ownership of the MG but it would also be disingenuous to associate such troubles with this specific car: They are all simply the product of bad luck. 

The MG itself remains a very nice car indeed: Comfortable (remarkably so, given its sporting aspirations), swift enough, nice to drive, reliable, possessed of a lovely V6 engine note and able to transport four people and their luggage with ease. Taste is personal but I continue to consider the Mk2 ZT a handsome vehicle and I would even go so far as to say that, fuel costs aside, it’s a pretty practical proposition too, helped by the fact that what was a large car at the end of the 1990s, is now very much medium-sized (and relatively narrow). 

Aside from its misfortunes, the MG has been as reliable as I expected, given the quite trouble-free experiences of owning two examples of its Rover 75 sibling, the only significant niggle being the unusually persistent (as in it literally never turns off) backlighting of the lighting switches to the left of the steering wheel. This has been determined to be a fault in the electronic module (a large affair, being 90s tech and all) behind the dashboard, which will shortly be replaced. This, in common with the damage repair following the two minor crashes, does highlight a downside of owning an older car from a defunct manufacturer: Parts availability is increasingly becoming an issue. 

I am reliably informed that the last new MG ZT rear spoiler (of the later, non-obnoxious style) that was available now adorns my car, following an inattentive van driver mistaking the boot of my vehicle for the open road. Should a similar accident occur again, my garage has no idea what we could do to effect a repair. Fortunately, the second driver to park their car within the physical extremities of mine was considerate enough to do that at the front and Mk2 MG ZT front-end assemblies are still available new. How long this will persist is anyone’s guess. That lighting switch module has been a long time underway from the UK to the Netherlands…

Such difficulties are part and parcel of ‘modern classic’ ownership and in no way unique to the MG of course. I’m informed that the parts supply situation for the Rover 75 and MG ZT is actually pretty good for a late 90s / early 00s car, despite the manufacturer’s demise. Accidents notwithstanding (though that is a pretty big caveat in this case) the MG has been just as easy to own as its Rover predecessors and any doubts about keeping it are really doubts about whether I should own a car at all: I have written previously in these pages on the matter of the environmental impact of our beloved vehicles and won’t revisit the subject now, other than to say that the matter does play a large part in my deliberation as to whether retention and use of a personal motor car can be justified.

After 18 months of use, and more than its fair share of trials and tribulations, the new-old-car sheen the long-stored ZT still had upon purchase is gone and familiarity has excised the excitement of what was arguably a unique example of a no-longer common vehicle. Nonetheless, I still find myself casting appreciative glances towards my automotive steed as it sits patiently in the street outside my home and (with the notable, odd, exception of my bonkers old chipped Fiat Panda Turbo) I can’t think of much anything else I would rather park there. That seems like a pretty good score for a long-term-test. 

Author: Chris Elvin

Appreciator of dead and dying marques. Drowns his sorrows with good wine.

23 thoughts on “A year (and a half) with the MG ZT 190”

  1. Due to the sudden stopping of production in the engineered collapse of Rover Group, there was no ramping down of production of the myriad bits and pieces that make up modern vehicles. Add in the fact that production of the 75 restarted in China and it is little surprise that parts availability is good. With some notable suppliers competing, the pricing is good too for everything from cooling systems to suspension to engine internals to interior parts.
    Discount MG Rover Spares in Southampton.
    Rimmer Bros. in Lincoln

    1. A good point regarding parts availability.

      Rimmer Bros. is my garage’s go-to supplier for parts that can’t be sourced locally; but even they are starting to run out of some items.

    2. If it´s any consolation, a relatively common (and failure prone) part like a OVP relay for a Mercedes- Benz W124, 201 and 202 is “discontinued” and out of stock even in Germany, according to three dealers. That´s not what you expect from MB…
      When that relay fails, your troubled Merc will run badly, the ABS light will be on (a Mot failure) or even the engine will not start at all.

    3. Is this a suitable OVP?
      I´d be very troubled when a basic part used in several models which are being used in large numbers went out of production. Having thought about spare parts a bit, I realise that keeping them available means keeping a production apparatus running though at a diminishing rate of demand. Every car needs a huge network of machines to make its components and it all takes up space. Imagine if every part was kept available for every car made (it´s a thought experiment). And each machine requires both explicit and implicit knowledge to operate, most of them being complex. One day the last guy to understand the machine retire and with him goes the tricks and wordless know-how that he uses every time he makes OEM VF-103-101-a- 23. I can´t get flexible black crepe tape any more. The “bacon slicer” machine owned by Chartpak or Bishop has probably worn out and Hank the operator has retired.

    4. Correction: I can still get the tape but the point is the same. One day the bacon slicer will break and there won´t be a manufacturer able to make a new one or repair the old one.

    5. A suitable OVP for the W124 would be this


      There is a choice of three brands, but those are frequently criticised in internet forums for bad quality, even Meyle.

      That´s an interesting matter: how parts brands considered trusty until now are lowering their quality levels. The Behr coolant expansion tank quality I bought for my W124 seems nowhere as good as the original part that, by the way, it´s not available in the dealer anymore.
      Some brands even have a “standard” line of parts, and a “value” line, cheaper and of course with a lower expected lifetime. It makes sense for the typical old car owner that only wants to spend as little money as he can and perhaps will replace his car in two or three years, but I think it´s only a matter of time when parts manufacturers only make “value” parts for our old bangers.

  2. Good morning, Chris. The other day I wondered what had become of your ZT. I’m sorry to hear about your mishaps, but given the fact you can’t think of much else to replace it with, you know you have the right car. I’ve owned my car since April 2012 and I feel the same. It’s a good feeling, I’m sure you will agree.

    1. Freerk, it´s curious because since I bought my first car in 2002 I´ve always wondering and daydreaming what will be the next one. Life is short, it seems.
      Until now. I bought a one owner, low-ish mileage BMW 530i E39 in 2018 and I can´t imagine what car could succeed it (well, with my limited budget). Yes, it´s a good feeling.

    2. Congrats on the E39. My dad had an E39 and it was his favorite car he ever owned and the one he kept longest. He traded it, when he retired, because he no longer did 60,000 kilometers every year. He missed the E39 ever since.

      I once had a boss who was into older Jags and Volvos. Her daily was an Amazon, but she wanted something more modern and powerful. She was anti BMW, but I managed to convert her. She asked me if I could find her one, preferably in blue with beige leather, with a petrol engine between the 525i and M5. I found an 540i E39 for her. First owner car, 10 years old with only 22,000 documented kilometers and every option available was selected. She’s had it for over 1o years now and it is still her daily.

  3. Nice to read this update. It’s refreshing to hear that your car has been so reliable – Rover has such a poor reputation in this aspect and the V6 in your car is, after all, a K-Series engine which are reputed to feature dissolving cylinder-head gaskets. I always liked the look of the 75 – the sculpting and form of the flanks alone are worth the entrance fee in my opinion.

    I wonder whether MG is just a cursed brand? I had three bodywork-damaging incidents in my MGF (in Volcano Orange, the VVC version), which is more than the rest of my car-owning experience put together (so far – touch wood and rabbit’s feet as any such damage to the C6 would have to be at my own expense or the insurer will call the car a write-off, such is the cost of replacing front or rear bumpers). Otherwise, I really enjoyed the MGF, it was such a ‘silk purse from a sow’s ear’ of a car, given it borrowed so much from more mundane cars, configured in intelligently engineered ways.

    1. Surely the head-gasket problems of the K-Series were due to the design of the water-heated inlet manifold on the four-pot cars. That being said, I still wouldn’t want to have to pay the cost of maintaining a KV6 motor.

  4. Thank you Chris. Really sorry you had to suffer at the hands of those idiot drivers. I went through something similar with my Alfa 156; it seemed like it was a magnet for every stupid driver on the road. Surprised it lasted 7 years tbh.

    How great is the MG though, such a sweet motor. As a stupid kid I genuinely thought I was going to buy a newish one the minute I started driving.

  5. Good morning Chris and thanks for the running report on your ZT. Sorry to hear of the mishaps, but I’m pleased that it hasn’t dented your enjoyment of the car. It certainly looks increasingly handsome and distinctive against today’s overwrought automotive designs.

  6. Good morning and thanks for the update Chris – your MG remains a fine motor and I hope you continue to enjoy it for a long time yet. As for feeling guilty about its planet destroying abilities, use of your smart phone (assuming you have one) leaves a vastly greater carbon footprint.

    Avoiding being on the receiving end of the moronic activities of the battering ram brigade is not easy and it is true that certain cars do seem to attract more than their fair share of bad luck – a Mark 2 Fiesta I once had as a company car was tail-ended on three occasions whilst with me and twice more with my next unfortunate colleague, the final occasion resulting in being written off. May your MG be now left unmolested.

  7. Good morning Chris and thank you for the article. You are not alone in having a car that other road users want to destroy. My E39 BMW 5 series was hit 3 times during my ownership and on each occasion I was stationary. Side swiped by a learner driver who was not insured, rear ended on the M4 slip road near Heathrow Airport by a “white van man” and then rear ended again at a roundabout near Hay on Wye, by a mother who was trying to control her daughter and a dog in her car whilst driving.
    I do like the overall design of the ZT which, as others have said, looks very nice indeed.

  8. Hello Chris, it does indeed sound like you’ve bought the right car. I (to briefly revisit the issue) echo your thoughts on car ownership in general. Sad to read about the apparent transient nature of your car’s physical presence to other road users. Fortunately I have been spared such incidents (famous last words…).

    I think it’s a testament to the design quality of the 75 that its basic shape survived such a shift in focus: from retro-inspired comfortmobile (deliberately positioned far away from anything BMW did) to sporty sedan over quite a long life. It not only survived, but carried the focus shifts with aplomb in my view. Of course, the disintegration of modern car design helps, but the ZT looks quite convincing to me.

  9. I was thinking just that, the transition from the nice and comfy but too formal and staid 75 to the sporty ZT was performed a lot better than expected. A ZT V6 is a car I would consider seriously to buy.

    Seeing the aftermarket stereo in your ZT, did you fit it, or did it come from its previous owner? I´ve seen a lot of aftermarket ICE in ZTs instead of the 75´s BMW designed system. I don´t know if BMW didn´t allow MG-Rover to install it in MGs.

    1. Believe it or not, the stereo is original to the car. One of the cost-saving measures of MG Rover’s ‘Project Drive’ was to replace the BMW-sourced integrated stereo units with cheaper standard types. The stereo head-unit (and CD changer) itself is fine but the cheap-ass simplex antenna instead of the original triplex type is a noticeable downgrade.

  10. Thank you all for the kind comments and interest in my time with the MG. It’s a little alarming to see how many others have been similarly unlucky in their encounters with inattentive drivers.

    It’s interesting to read others’ perspectives on the evolution of the 75 visual design into the ZT. The Mk1 ZT didn’t quite work for me personally (I think it’s the ‘grille’) but the Mk2 was a real improvement. This in marked contrast to the 75, which started out as the best of the retro car designs of the 90s (whatever one might think of that design movement itself) and was rather spoiled by the grafting-on of a quite angular front with the Mk2 facelift.

  11. Some cars are plagued by bad luck, it seems.

    Many years ago my parents had an Audi F103 which over time needed three sets of doors on the left hand side, one set of doors on the right and new wings all round because other traffic participants bumped into the car.
    It all started when the poor car was three days old and the driver of an R 16 Automatique confused the Audi’s flank with a free parking space at the local super market.
    Particularly interesting was the drive along an Austrian Alpine road when an oncoming Beetle was stopped from driving straight ahead in a hairpin corner with considerable speed and falling down some hundred metres by the Audi which just happened to come round the corner in the opposite direction.
    The end was when an excavator pushed its shovel against the B post when its drunk driver raced a red light.

    I’m always astonished how easy it is to get parts for our twenty-one years old Golf IV.
    Many parts are still available from VW at pharmacy prices, many parts from OEM suppliers are available at considerably lower prices and there are repro parts amass.
    A couple of weeks ago our car failed its MOT for the first time because the rear silencer mounting bracket had corroded off the otherwise perfect silencer.
    Replacements would have been available at VW for 500 EUR, items from Leistritz or Eberspächer at a parts dealer for 260 EUR and cheap repros for less than 90 EUR which of course aren’t aluminium coated and sound nasty. And for most of the everyday spares situation is similar.
    This makes you think less about keeping the car on the road because on one side the old friend still represents considerable value (you can’t park the car anywhere without being asked by Eastern European used car dealers how much you want for it. The prices these guys are prepared to pay for a car in pristine condition with relatively low miles is simply amazing) and spares aren’t more valuable than the car.
    A French, Italian or Japanese car would have been thrown away long ago because it would not make economic sense to keep it on the road.

    1. That’s a good tip, thank you. Though it looks a bit odd… I can’t see the badge holder and I’m fairly sure the spoiler part is supposed to include the number plate lighting unit assembly. Hmm.

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