Six miles south of Banbury lies a small Cotswold village called Clifton. Despite its very modest population of 250 residents, it's home to no fewer than three MG ZS 180s. Per capita, Clifton surely boasts more of these V6 curios than any other British town or village. Either Clifton rests upon a ley line that originates in the skunk works at Longbridge, or - more likely - the ZS 180 simply worms itself into a person's affections given enough exposure and the unwavering acclaim of an owner. Like influenza, enthusiasm for the ZS 180 spreads through intimate contact.

Interior dated but suitably sporty
Interior dated but suitably sporty
This most intriguing of modern MGs traces it roots back to 1995 when Rover launched the 400, a car with as little apparent athletic potential as the septuagenarians who would inevitably covet it. The 400 (which later became the 45) was co-developed with Honda, however, and it boasted double-wishbone front and independent rear suspension.

One can imagine a rogue engineer offering up the 2.5-litre KV6 to a 45's engine bay after-hours, barely suppressing his squeal of excitement when he realised that it would fit. Although the KV6 had until that point served duty in automatic Rover 800s, its potential was plain to see. 180hp at 6,500rpm and 177lb ft at 4,000rpm. Combining the KV6 with an overhauled 45 chassis might just produce something interesting...

The quaint and the furious
The quaint and the furious
The metamorphosis from retrospectively-styled 45 to racy ZS is as comprehensive as any that amphibious nature has to offer. The placenta red of the car in this advertisement doesn't show the ZS off in its most thrusting light, but in bright blue or yellow it was a world away from the Rover 45. Against a sea of four-cylinder rivals, the ZS 180 also offered something nothing else in the class could; a genuinely captivating engine. That was enough to win over many admirers, although just as many were put off by the dated cabin.

The ZS was facelifted in 2004 with a more modern aesthetic, but some may prefer the pleasing incongruity between Jaguar-pastiche styling and boy racer wings and wheels - one that can only come about organically and without cynical forward planning - of the original ZS.

This car looks really rather clean for its bargainous price of £750 and with only 74,000 miles beneath it there's plenty more driving pleasure to come; one of the three Clifton examples has covered precisely twice the distance.

180hp for £750 - that's proper shed maths!
180hp for £750 - that's proper shed maths!
MG knew that the ZS would need a motorsport programme to help buck the Rover image. In partnership with West Surrey Racing, MG embarked upon a British Touring Car Championship programme with drivers Anthony Reid and Warren Hughes. Reid registered MG's first BTCC win on just its third outing (albeit because of a brave tyre choice, as depicted in the accompanying video).

MG would rack up many race wins over the following few seasons, but it was the striking grey and bright green livery that most appealed to a misguidedly patriotic teenager rather than any meaningful sporting success.

The MG ZS 180 is a spectacularly unlikely device given its origins. Who would have believed that with an interesting engine, an agile chassis and a mean-looking racing version the Rover 400 could become a budget performance icon?

Advert is reproduced below.

2002 52-plate MG ZS MGZS 180 2.5 V6
This is my 2002 52-reg MG ZS 180. This is the 2.5 quad cam V6 version - the quick one! 0-60 in 7.3 seconds.
Car has 74k miles on it with part service history (which indicates that the cambelt is next due for change at 90k) and has just had a major service this month with a new MOT (no advisories).
The half-leather interior of the car is spot on, as per the pics. The exterior is very good also. No rust, no dull paint, generally the car cleans up very well.
New exhaust system fitted in last 2,000 miles.
Car comes with 2 sets of keys, owners handbook, Haynes manual, part service history and some MOT's etc. It has no known faults, and I welcome any inspections or test drives. I've also had the aircon re-gassed recently so it blows ice cold. Car is standard except for aftermarket air filter / cold air intake but comes with original airbox if you prefer.
Car is in Sandridge, near St Albans (AL4 9UZ).
Any questions please ask. Open to reasonable offers.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (262) Join the discussion on the forum

  • johnsav 30 Aug 2012

    Interesting read.
    I've owned this one since December last year and it's been fantastic. No problems at all to report - it was owned by an old chap since day one and he spent a fair few quid in maintenance. Including having the cam belts done luckily.

    If you bin the standard airbox (which comepletely strangles the engine) and fit a proper enclosed cold air induction kit its quite common to gain 10-13bhp which takes it up to circa 190bhp.

    Whilst the performance is good, its not mind blowing and obviously there are many things far quicker on the road but the sheer value for money is hard to beat.
    The cars best attribute is its handling - even in standard guise its quite remarkable and enables it to keep pace with more powerful machines on a twisty B road thrash.
    It's also (in my opinion) a very well screwed togther car. Very comfortable on long journeys and even returns 40mpg if you hover at 60mh ish. Gun it round town and its near 15mpg at best.

    anyway I'm quite happy with mine. Not to everyones taste I know, but thats another reason to own one!

  • YesItsAVW 23 Aug 2012

    If you want some audio aids to help convince you that you need a V6 for awhile, please try the videos of my old MG ZS 180 here:

    I miss mine.....

  • JamesHayward 23 Aug 2012

    I'm in need of a winter shed when I take the Roadster off the road for some surgery. I've been looking at VTEC Civic's, Clio 172's (had one already though) and I can't help looking back at the ZS 180...

    My mate's recently bought the ZT CDTi and as much as I take the piss at it being a diesel Rover with a bodykit, it is a surprisingly excellent car. I've asked around some people in the know and it seems the ZS really is worth a punt. I've decided it must be the V6 as I feel if I get something more economical I won't use the MX-5 as much. I can't help thinking I couldn't do better for the money.

    Going to look at a couple soon I think.

  • excel monkey 23 Aug 2012

    grosserbaby said:
    KardioKate said:
    grosserbaby said:
    I've seen an estate 45 and a ZS round brumigum, probably re-engineered with civic Aerodeck bits, although I confess others are unlikely.
    Will be a pretend one.
    That's sort of what I meant, either a civic with mg rover panels or vice versa.
    Like these:

  • MGJohn 23 Aug 2012

    baldy1926 said:
    Daft question ime.
    Are there any differences between the hatch and salon apart from the body work.
    Also what are the 1.8 120hp ones like to run and own.
    We have one of each. Hatch version very useful.

    I can answer that. We bought a new 1.8 ZS 120+ 5-Door in 2003 and it has never missed a beat. Mainly driven by my wife, she likes the car after nine years living with it day to day. She will expect it to last another nine years too and will happy about that. Cheap as chips to run, own and insure with simple TLC maintenance which I do. Car has never been serviced professionally.

    On a whim I bought a 54-plate MG ZS 120 back in the winter. Previous owner sold it as he'd been advised the coolant loss was the cylinder head gasket on the way out. I bought it on that basis at appropriate price expecting to rectify the gasket as I enjoy working on cars now I'm fully retired and want to be productive. The coolant loss was simply a worn Water Pump. nothing wrong with the CHG in this 45,000 mile lightly used example. I replaced that pump ( cost £20 ) along with the new Timing Belt and Belt Tensioner the previous owner had bought for the car but never had them fitted before decision to sell.

    You have to disturb all three belts to renew the water pump anyway so three birds one stone bonus scenario. Car is no slouch either and handles like an MG ZS is designed to do.

    Point-to-point longer journeys in the ZS 120 are about the same as in my 200ps Turbocharged cars.... or, most cars come to that.

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