Used buying guide: MG ZT 260

Used buying guide: MG ZT 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

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. 

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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