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MG ZS 180 | Shed of the Week

The MG ZS has a deserved cult following - although not one which has denied it perennial Shed status

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, November 22, 2019

An MG ZS 180 might look like something Captain Mainwaring would drive, but if he were ever to find himself behind the wheel of one, his cap and specs would soon be askew in classic comedy fashion once he discovered the truth beneath the 180's milktoast exterior.

A fully independently suspended and lowered platform with bigger wheels and brakes than the stock ZS gave the light (1285kg or thereabouts) 180 terrific handling for a 2.5 V6-engined FWD car. Our Shed is a four-door saloon with, you would think, more torsional rigidity and by extension even sharper handling than the 5-door version. That's why you'll see a lot of them being used as trackday slags.

You could carry on doing that with this one, or you could use the current MOT - valid to next June, advisories for light corrosion to both rear springs and the rear ARB - to retire it to the relatively calm pastures of the public roads, where you might enjoy its everyday practicality almost as much as the trumpety six-pot rort from its socially-acceptable cat-back Powerflow exhaust.

The pics of this Shed are slightly random, and there are none at all of the interior, which is a pity as one of them might have shown the heating control panel that also saw service in the Pagani Zonda - really - but assuming the part-leather upholstery isn't bearing too many hallmarks of the odd awkward moment on the track it should still look and feel quite luxurious in there.

None of the nightmare head gasket scenarios that haunt the mechanical reputation of four-cylinder K-series Rovers apply here. The ZS 180 did have a few glitches of its own though. Unlike the 2.0 V6 motor, the quad-cam 2.5 V6 used for the 180 has not one, not two, but three timing belts, one at the front and two at the back. The engine's tight fit in the bay means that replacing these belts is not a task you'd fit into a spare five minutes. The book time for the job is seven hours but it can take anything up to twelve on a bad day. The official replacement schedule is 6yrs/90k miles but those who know wouldn't risk it beyond 5yrs/75k. Our Shed's mileage is 145,000 miles, so even if it's had its belts done once it could well be due to have them done again now.

Anyway, be that as it may, this car has plenty of important/major new parts, among them - delightfully - a Sheddist clutch slave and master cylinder. Sheddist is a Telford-based MG boffin who has designed and built a few improver bits for these cars, including (our own Shed thinks) new actuator rods for the VIS butterfly valves. His clutch upgrade kit is highly praised in the ZS 180 community because much of MG's original clutch componentry was made of plastic and about as robust and rich in feel as a wet sock. Leaky thermostats and seizing rear brake calipers can also put the mockers on your enjoyment but these are not hard issues to resolve.

These factory flaws are a damn shame really because at heart these are great little cars. Part of the secret of the 180's sprightliness was its VIS, or Variable Inlet System, Rover's equivalent of V-TEC. One small DC motor controlled an inlet manifold flap operating between two tracts, one long and one short, the theory being that the long tract improves low speed torque and the short direct tract boosts top end power. Another motor controlled six butterfly valves in each short tract leading to the inlet valves.

The whole thing should produce a noticeable kick at around 3000rpm and another one at around 4500rpm. Over time, these butterfly valves do have a tendency to fall off the valve actuator rod, especially if you didn't pay plenty of attention to keeping the oil clean. You'll know you've got a problem in this area because the engine will start to make diesel-type noises. At least one owner who went into the engine at that point and simply hoicked out the butterflies out reported no drop off in performance, which if true sounds weird and at the very least makes you wonder about the design functionality of that second VIS motor.

As said, beyond the bland styling and the well-documented and fixable shortcomings, these are good cars that are capable of rustling your petticoats at speeds well in excess of 130mph with a low-seven-second 0-60 time. All you have to do on this one is replace the bits that aren't so good, a process that is well advanced here on our Shed. Plenty of fun still to be had here at £1250 with a full spare set of Toyo-shod wheels, or a round thousand without them.

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