Every year in April, thousands of car enthusiasts gather at Cofton Park, Longbridge, on the outskirts of Birmingham, to mark the closure of MG Rover, the last British owned volume car maker, all the way back in 2005. Called Pride of Longbridge, the day is for any vehicle built at the iconic British factory during its long, rich history, but it’s dominated by cars produced by MG Rover in the five years that the company was owned by the businessmen referred to as the Phoenix Four, after BMW took the decision to dispose of the British marques at the turn of the century.
Among those making the annual pilgrimage is David Chapple with his 2004 MG ZT. Bought two years ago, it’s the latest in a succession of MG Rover cars owned by David; before this came ZRs, ZSs, 25s and 200s. He comments: “Although some of these most recent cars are now being bought by enthusiasts for occasional drives, they’re very affordable and extremely usable, which is why many are still in everyday use. That’s the case with my ZT, which provides reliable year-round family transport. The previous owner racked up most of the 245,000 miles on the clock when I acquired it; I’ve since taken that up to over 277,000 miles. We’ve also got a smaller ZR supermini and with just the one child it was at its limit for the UK holidays we enjoy each year. With a second child on the way, it was clear we needed something bigger, so in 2014 I started looking. This car came up, and the owner wanted just £400 for it. With its frugal diesel engine, I knew it would be cheap to run”.
A well-known car within the MG-Rover scene, the ZT had been maintained fastidiously, with most of its miles notched up on the motorway. As a result, it’s still on its original engine and gearbox which are showing no signs of wear yet. One of the many great things about ZT ownership is the ease and low cost of DIY servicing, which saves owners a bucketload of money. Says David: “I change the oil and filters twice a year, while the fuel, air and pollen filters are replaced annually. The engine is also flushed through once a year, before being refilled with 10W/40 oil, which is a little bit thicker than the 5W/40 lubricant originally recommended by the factory”.
The only significant replacement part the ZT has needed since it left the factory is a new clutch and its associated master cylinder, proving that the 75 is one of the best-built cars to come from the MG Rover stable. In fact the clutch master cylinders are a bit of a weak spot, as David’s ZT has needed two of them so far, but with only service items having been replaced otherwise, the car has hardly been a liability.
If you’re a ZT spotter you’ll have noticed that David’s MG isn’t exactly as it left the factory, and sports a mixture of pre-facelift (Mk1) and facelift (Mk2) ZT parts. Says David: “It was one of the last Mk1s built, which is why it came off the production lines with some Mk2 bits, including the boot lid. I’ve since also fitted a Mk2 rear bumper and spoiler, and changed quite a few things cosmetically, such as the lime green painted brake calipers, engine plastics and interior lights. I’ve also added X-Power seat badges, along with a turbo boost gauge. I like to keep things relatively subtle, so that only the more knowledgeable enthusiasts can spot exactly what I’ve done”.
Once he’d bought the car, David set about increasing the power and improving driveability. First was a custom-built induction system that saw air channelled from the bumper straight to the air box, which elicited a small, but noticeable, improvement in pick-up. David reckons there are further gains to be made by feeding the air directly into the turbocharger. The previous owner had already invested in a generic remap which allegedly boosted power to 160bhp. But with little in the way of low-down torque, David had the ECU remapped once more, to increase peak power, while also fattening the torque curve at low revs. Carried out by Reidy Remaps (reidyremaps.co.uk), the work has been transformational, with the car far more perky generally and much better able to safely execute overtaking manoeuvres.
To cap things off, David has fitted a more free-flowing exhaust system using the original front pipe, but with a stainless steel rear section from a Rover 220 Coupé. It looks smarter, produces a nice bassy rumble, and should last indefinitely, but best of all, it cost peanuts to do.
With the ZT proving so reliable, good to drive and cheap to own, David has no intention of getting rid of his MG any time soon. As the odometer edges ever closer to 300,000 miles, it’s starting to feel a little baggy with the bushes in the suspension drop links now the worse for wear, while the steering rack is definitely past its best. With a new rack available for just £120, the bushes all of £25, and the drop links a mere £30 per pair, fixing things won’t break the bank. Performing the transformation is a bit awkward though, as the front subframe has to be dropped to access everything. David says: “I’m part of a group of MG Rover owners in the east Midlands called MG Central, and we all help each other out. There’s a mechanic in the group who will give me any help I need to fit the new parts, so my ZT will once again be as good as new.”
David concludes by saying “when we do the work, I’m going to take the opportunity to replace the suspension springs too, with shorter items to drop the car by around 40 millimetres. This should give the car a nicer stance, as it’ll close the gap between the top of the tyre and the wheel arch, which should really set off the car aesthetically. A set of MG springs costs £175, but an equivalent set from BMW is all of £75, so I’ve opted for those. For a family man on a budget these semi-classic MGs are ideal; they’re cheap and easy to run, maintain and modify, plus there’s a great social scene around them. I think they’re massively under-rated and I couldn’t imagine driving anything else”.
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