The history of the Rover 75

   

The Rover 75 is an executive car produced initially by the Rover Group at Cowley, Oxfordshire, UK, and later by MG Rover at their Longbridge site in Birmingham, UK. The Rover 75 was available with front-wheel drive in either a saloon or estate body and latterly, in long wheelbase form and a rear-wheel-drive, V8-engined specification.
The Rover 75 was unveiled to the public at the 1998 Birmingham Motor Show, with deliveries commencing in February 1999. Production of the Rover and later MG badged models ceased on 8 April 2005 when manufacturer MG Rover Group entered administration.
The Rover 75 started life as part of a group of three new designs for the company under the guidance of Richard Woolley; a large saloon codenamed flagship, a smaller vehicle with the codename of Eric, and the 75. Of these only the 75 concept progressed. The initial aim was to re-skin the Rover 600 but following the BMW takeover it was quickly decided that this platform would not be re-used but replaced by an entirely new model.
Work on the new model, codenamed 'R40', progressed well with little operational interference from BMW; the styling received an enthusiastic response from the management and both companies believed the classical look would be the ideal direction for Rover.
Under the lauded styling was a range of petrol and diesel engines from 1.8 to 2.5 litre sizes. Petrol engines provided were Rovers 4 cylinder K series in 1.8 litre guise and the quad cam KV6, offered in either short stroke 2.0 or revised 2.5 litre formats. The 2.0 litre was later dropped on introduction of the 1.8 litre turbo for emissions purposes. The diesel unit was BMW's common rail motor, designated M47R. This unit was a mildly de-tuned BMW 2.0 litre turbodiesel, the same core engine being used at the same time in the parent company's 3 & 5-Series models and later found in the Land Rover Freelander from 2001.
Transmissions on all models were either the Getrag 283 5-speed manual, supplied from the company's new facility in Bari, Italy, or the JATCO 5-speed automatic unit - one of the first transverse engine deployments made with this feature.
Braking was supplied courtesy of all-round discs, complimented with a Bosch 5.7 4-channel ABS system and electronic brake force distribution. The parking brake was a cable operated drum integral within the rear discs.
Suspension was a MacPherson strut arrangement at the front, anchored by lower alloy L-arms. The wide spacing of the mounting points, compliant bushes and a perimeter subframe gave the model a cushioned yet precise ride with relaxed handling that could be tuned for different markets or model derivatives such as the later MG ZT. The rear suspension, after a period of uncertainty during development, was eventually a version of BMW's Z-Axle arrangement first featured on the 1988 Z1 sports car.
At the time of the launch there had been speculation within the media that the Rover 75 used the BMW 5-Series platform, perhaps due to the overall size of the model, the apparent presence of a transmission tunnel and the use of the parent company's rear suspension system. This was in fact not the case; Rover engineers had used the concept of incorporating a central tunnel which had been explored by BMW as part of their own research into front wheel drive chassis design. As the 75 took shape, this core engineering was passed over to Rover and evolved into the Rover 75 structure. The tunnel concept, along with the rear suspension system, was also used by the Rover engineers for the design of the MINI.
At launch the Rover 75 quickly attracted praise for its styling and design integrity. Some critics of the car labelled its styling too "retro", suggesting it had been designed with an older buyer in mind, and was not sporting enough when compared to the competition. However, the 75 won a series of international awards including various "most beautiful car" awards, including one in Italy.
Assembly originally took place at Cowley but in 2000, following the sale of the company by BMW to Phoenix Venture Holdings, production was moved to Longbridge in Birmingham, England. 2001 saw the introduction of the Rover 75 Tourer (developed alongside the saloon but never authorised for production by BMW), swiftly followed by the MG ZT and MG ZT-T, more sporting interpretations of the model, differentiated by modified, sporting chassis settings and colour and trim derivatives. Between 2000 and 2003, there were few changes to the range, the biggest being the 2.5 litre V6 engine being joined by a low pressure turbocharged 1.8 litre, 4-cylinder engine. The introduction of the 'greener' 1.8 litre turbo greatly benefited British company car drivers who are taxed on carbon dioxide emissions. A customisation programme, Monogram, was launched, allowing buyers to order their car in a wider range of exterior paint colours and finishes, different interior trims and with optional extras installed during production.
From June 2002 a factory approved Dual Fuel Petrol-Liquid Petroleum Gas conversion was available in the UK on 1.8-litre 75 models only. The LPG conversion was an aftermarket undertaking approved by MG Rover. Developed by EcoGas Systems Ltd and Landi Renzo S.R.L. in conjunction with MG Rover Powertrain Limited, the conversion was ordered from Rover dealerships, the cars retaining the three-year factory warranty. The retail price of the conversion is £2,195, but in an effort to encourage LPG use for transport for ecological reasons the UK Government offered a Powershift Rebate of some 60% of the conversion cost. When running on LPG the Rover 75 suffers only a slight reduction in performance compared to running on petrol, LPG fuel consumption is also slightly higher than when running on petrol put this is more than offset by the greatly reduced cost of the fuel.
Also in 2002 the Rover 75 van den Plas was launched at the Geneva Motor Show. Developed in conjunction with specialist vehicle builder S. MacNeillie & Son Limited in Walsall, England, the model was stretched by 200mm in the rear floorpan, with longer rear doors the only visual clue to the changes made. Available only in the Connoisseur specification, production moved to Longbridge after an initial short run by the coachbuilding partner.
In early 2004, Rover face-lifted the design of the 75 to a less retro, more European, look. Changes were restricted to bolt-on components, with new bumpers front and rear, mirrors, lights and grille. Rover also added a new trim to the range called Contemporary which featured revised fittings. This refresh received mixed reactions from the media.
Rover announced the new V8 model at the Geneva Motor Show in the same year. This was the second iteration of the modified rear wheel drive platform developed by MG Rover and already receiving plaudits from the media. The car also boasted a new grille stretching down from the bonnet shutline to the bottom lip of the bumper - a style that had also just appeared on Audi's A8, which was not lost on the press. A long wheelbase 'limousine' version called Rover 75 Vanden Plas, about a foot longer than the regular 75, also adopted this new grille. The Rover V8 grille was made available as an option for the rest of the range shortly afterwards.
The Rover 75 V8 was created as means of proving MG Rover's engineering expertise and to attract a development partner to the company. The car was extensively re-engineered to accommodate a 4.6 litre V8 unit (obtained from Ford and used in the Mustang), driving the rear wheels to give a car with much higher performance, taking advantage of the stiffening tunnel in the body structure. These cars were built on the standard production line, and then removed to allow the necessary structural modifications to be carried out. The cars were then returned to the trimming lines for completion. Just under 900 were produced in both saloon and Tourer (estate or wagon) carrying either Rover 75 or MG ZT trim. The cars had numerous differences to the standard versions, drive train notwithstanding, with non standard heating/ ventilation, and brakes and suspension capable of dealing with the extra power. Externally, there is little to indicate what is under the bonnet, other than quad exhaust pipes and a couple of subtle badges, although a large 'V8 grille' was fitted to some cars following the 2004 facelift. They are likely to become sought after as classics. A heavily modified MG ZT-T V8, known as the X-15 broke the speed record for a non-production estate car on Bonneville Salt Flats in September 2003, achieving 225.609 mph (363.082 km/h). The engine was bored out to 6 litres producing 765 bhp (570 kW; 776 PS), but remained normally aspirated.
Production of the Rover 75 and MG ZT ceased when MG Rover Group went into administration in April 2005. The Rover 75 design was purchased by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) in early 2005, although the new MG Rover Group owner, Nanjing Automobile (Group) Corporation (NAC) acquired the tooling for the car. Both companies launched revised versions of the 75/ZT in China. SAIC's model was named the Roewe 750 (following the purchase of the Rover brand by Ford, the Roewe marque was created by SAIC for use worldwide) and NAC's the MG 7.
The Roewe brand and Roewe 750 were launched at the Beijing Motor Show in November 2006. The 750 is based on the long-wheelbase 75 platform, and engineering was completed by Ricardo 2010.
Initial sales of the Rover 75 were disappointing, as it failed to match the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 in the British car sales charts during 1999. The public unveiling of the car at the Birmingham Motor Show was unfortunately over-shadowed by a speech containing criticism of the British Government's attitude to financial assistance in the redevelopment of the Rover Longbridge factory (where the new Mini was to have been produced). Stunned press reaction interpreted this as saying that BMW were unhappy with continuing financial losses and were intending to close Rover down. This undoubtedly scared off many prospective buyers, despite the very positive reaction to the car itself. Indeed it did (and still does) hold up very well with the Jaguar S-Type that was unveiled at the same show.
Sales picked up substantially during 2000, and it was Britain's fifth most popular new car in the month of April of that year. It was still selling reasonably well at the time of MG Rover's bankruptcy in April 2005, and a small number of unsold 75s were still in stock as of early 2007, as Nanjing Automobile was preparing to re-open Longbridge.

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