Future classics

Future Classic: 1998–2005 Rover 75

by Antony Ingram
18 June 2024 4 min read
Future Classic: 1998–2005 Rover 75
Photos courtesy MG Rover

“Sorry Rover: Your new 75 just isn’t up to scratch”

So went the headline on the front of Top Gear magazine’s March 1999 issue, where the magazine put the new car – on whose shoulders the company’s future, in retrospect optimistically, rested – against models it considered rivals.

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If you were a TG mag reader at the time, you might remember a few readers writing in the following month to cry foul, since the Saab 9-5, Volvo S70, BMW 5 Series, and Alfa Romeo 166 pictured in the background were all arguably a class-size larger than the 9-3, S40, 3 Series, and 156 you might have expected.

We don’t have a copy to hand but recall the mag’s rationale being something along the lines of the 75’s size and pricing actually putting it in the same ballpark as those nominally larger models, though with a cold-hearted rationality you wonder whether the 75 would’ve realistically fared better against the smaller cars anyway, or even less prestigious alternatives like the Ford Mondeo – which, let’s not forget, was a very talented car itself in those days.

Autocar gave us a hint, its first group test against the E46-generation 3 Series and an Alfa Romeo 156 landing the Rover third out of three, albeit with a nod toward enthusiast drivers that the magazine acknowledged may not be the car’s natural audience. They also wondered aloud whether ye olde-worlde slant of the 75 would tempt buyers out of their Mondeos, Vectras, and other more conventional repmobiles of the era.

With the benefit of a quarter century of hindsight, we now know the answer to that, and it was “sort of”. The 75 sold respectably well, at just over 200,000 units in seven years of production, though this is also small beans next to the nearly 700,000 156s that Alfa shifted in that car’s 10 years, and might as well have been branded hats to contemporary owners BMW, who built more 3 Series cabriolets than Rover built 75s of all kinds during the same period.

Very little of that matters here, though, where we’re making the case for the 75 as a future classic. And in many respects, it’s already there, with an enthusiastic following that its contemporary rivals would no doubt envy today.

Rover 75 estate and saloon

In this respect, doing something different has belatedly paid off for the 75. It was a resolutely non-sporty car competing at a time when sporty was really beginning to sell, and MG Rover itself presumably realised this at some point and crafted the MG ZT to meet this demand.

The thing is, sporty only lasts until something even more dynamic comes along to replace it, and fine-driving though an E46 3 Series or an Alfa 156 still is today, modern saloon cars offer far greater performance, body control, steering response, and other sport-adjacent facets than those cars, so they shine less brightly as a result.

But you’ll struggle to find a modern equivalent with the charm or comfort of a 75, which gives it a real unique selling proposition as a modern classic. The wooden dashboard and cod-Bentley vibes might have seemed twee in 1999, but they’ve arguably aged better than the severe black plastic and fake carbon and aluminium that were all the rage in other models at the time, while Rover’s focus on ride quality over handling precision almost feels like the work of a time-traveller (from the future, not the past) given the state of today’s roads.

Rover 75 interior

Your author owned a 75 many years back, albeit for just two months. It was what you might call a bad example of a good car, and its short time with me was entirely my own fault, for believing I couldn’t test-drive the car myself and therefore missing out on a few important cues of impending bills, like sticking brakes and a clutch that needed to be down in the carpet pile to swap gears without a crunch. I had to sort the brakes, but sold it in a panic, and for a loss, to avoid any more bills.

It still handled neatly and rode wonderfully though, was relaxed on a cruise, and the diesel engine in mine faded into the background quite nicely on the motorway. A previous owner had managed to break the seat height adjustment in its uppermost position so I never got the driving position quite how I wanted it, but despite that, it felt like a notably solid car – no creaks or rattles, with a robust feel to the exterior and interior fixings (that seat adjuster aside).

Rover 75 V8 saloon front 3/4

The one I wanted, and still do today, was the V8 introduced shortly before the car’s death, in 2004. With a 4.6-litre modular V8 from a Mustang, it was the relaxed, auto-only cousin to the MG ZT 260. It had a frightening thirst (Autocar recorded a “touring” consumption figure of under 20mpg in its 2004 road test) and its annual VED is currently a painful £735 thanks to a 319g/km CO2 figure, but it’s remarkable for the re-engineering required to make a rear-drive V8 saloon from a front-drive platform, and rarity (fewer than 200 made) makes it the nailed-on classic of the pack.

Any looked-after Rover 75 should fit the future-classic bill, though. One of the petrol V6s in a classy colour (make ours metallic British Racing Green, thanks) with a big stack of paperwork showing a coddled history would be our choice. It might not have been up to scratch when brand new, but fewer of those 1990s rivals have aged quite as well.

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  • Chris C says:

    Possibly now more of a classic than its Jaguar S type competitor at the time but not an easy proposition for DIY mechanics. Plenty to choose from compared to other Rovers of the period. Less likely to be worn out than its MG ZT sister.

  • Paul Barrow says:

    The author should go buy another early 75/75 Tourer/ZT/ZT-T in good condition and give it another go. These are already classics … never mind the future!

    Thank you for a good, honest article: now try another!

  • Ronald stewart says:

    I have a.2005 Rover.18 connisuerwith.a genuine 8200 miles from new.all the jokes I have heard about them are a joke.dont give.me.all the bull about.it must.be the head.gasket rubbish mines has never been touched at 19 years old and I can only describe it as like new.and drives like a.dream.so give me.an offer.

  • Terry Came says:

    For refined, normal travel, you will struggle to find anything to touch it for the price. Forget the Nürburgring. We are talking going to the shops, going on holiday with your wife and children or a day out at the seaside. Yes, they have problems, what 20+ year old car doesn’t? For a weekend car, I can recommend the 2.5 V6. If using it regularly, then the 2.0 diesel is the one to go for. [if you live outside the ULEZ areas] I would get the auto. They are a leisurely, wafty car. Take your time, enjoy the ride and you will have a lovely place to sit.

  • Ronald stewart says:

    I think my car is.absolutly a bargain in this day and age and has everything you would want in a car that’s a fraction of the price.of one today

  • Julian de Takats says:

    1.8T Tourer here in the dreaded ULEZ after giving up my MG ZT-T CdTi – these are fantastic underlooked cars – practical, reliable, affordable and absolutely smashing looking! (Joke)…

  • Rob says:

    We have owned several 75s over the years and currently three all diesels. An early saloon, the last 75 finished in midnight blue before facelift came in, in 2004. An early saloon diesel auto and a 75 classic SE diesel that we have fitted heated seats, Neptune interior, rear sunblind. We do all the work ourselves on the driveway with only hand tools, a cheap laptop, running toaf (free btw) and a BMW K +Dcan cable. With enough enthusiasm the diy’er at home can do most jobs. Fantastic cars and had many newer “premium brand” cars and with a lump in my throat I have to say, the 75 is and has proven to be the best cars we have owned. Just sad that the remaining examples today are.only declining in numbers with every passing year.and no more 75s or rovers are being made.
    As for the worries over diesel manual clutches, ive done this and fitted all Luk including the dmf and master and 30k miles in during the last 2.5 years and 85% town driving I don’t believe the horror stories of them failing.. most likely people not doing the job correctly. They are fantastic cars, great in fuel, even by today’s standards.. no dpf to worry about, injectors are easy to change with the engine already warmed up.. they don’t fail very often either.. turbos aren’t known to fail either. Just watch for rot in the front A posts only visible by removing the front interior foot well kick panel trims and a big oval plastic black grommet. Rear sills are known to rot around the jack points also.

    Were always on the look out for more 75s and won’t be switching any time soon!

  • Barry Blackmore says:

    Had a 1.8 75 and 2.5 ZT.
    Both amazingly good for the price. Leaking boots put me off both eventually.

  • mark mcclean says:

    I own a zt-t cdt-i manual in royal blue 84/96 built with a superb spec level. 150k fsh and on superb condition. I can start and drive it anywhere at any time it’s faultless and truly stands out from the norm of what’s available now. When you think it’s 20 years old they really were ahead of the game. A classic now that’s looked at were ever I park it. I also own a ZS 180 Mk2 with low miles that’s another classic that still puts a smile on my face and others to shame. Look what’s around from 20+ years ago that’s still relatively cheap with the looks of these nothing. Classic you bet they are.

  • Darrel says:

    The 75 was the last true rover,it had some big nods to the P5 but really was a wonderful car.
    I lived in Cowley and saw many of them leave and find loving homes.
    I’m yes a true rover man having owned two P6’s and I’d love a 75 to just enjoy a car that really was a member of,the establishment

  • Baldev kaur grewal says:

    We have a rover 75 cdi have c is this rover.

  • Stephen Slee says:

    I’ve had my 2003 75 club SE since 2005, she has proved totally reliable, is a lovely ride, looks far nicer than any of the modern stuff you see these days.
    A true classic!

  • Leo says:

    I have owned my Wedgwood Blue 75 Connoisseur 2.5 V6 since December 2000. I’m the second owner, the car was first registered in September 1999 to Rover, Longbridge as a press demonstrator. As such, it is loaded with lots of excessories that takes the specification above the SE models. The car currently has 45,000 miles on the clock. When I collected the car from SMC Uxbridge the car had 21,000 registered miles, so was well used in its first 15 months. At the time of purchase, I was looking at both the 75 and S Type Jaguar. I will be honest and say from a drivers point of view, the Jag was the better car. But at £10,000 more with a lower spec, it was to me a no brainer and I opted for the 75. With the intention of passing it on after a few years of ownership, it is still in my possession, but as you can see, I don’t use it much and only on long journeys, so I am thinking of passing it on. Since I have owned the car, I have owned a 1.8 75 Estate and a 214 Convertible, which are both still in my ownership. In a midlife crisis, I purchased a Bentley Continental GT in Silver Lake, which is very close to the Rover’s Wedgwood Blue. A very nice car, extremely fast with lots of tricks, but never as relaxing as the 75 to drive. And I never get challenged to the traffic light sprint by the Jerk in a Merc or penny less Nigel in his 1.2L Vauxhall Corsa with a loud exhaust while driving the 75. When either the Bentley or the Rover had to go due to my pending retirement, it was an easy choice. Goodbye Bentley. So am I saying a 75 is better than a Bentley? Definitely NOT. But it is more suited to my driving needs and, to me, more comfortable. But there is something my Rover would do that the Bentley couldn’t, an indicated 40 mpg’s on the trip computer when driven gently.

  • Charles Morrissey says:

    I have a 2001 Arden Green, manual 2.5 V6 petrol CONNOISSEUR SE pre-facelift, all leather interior….stunning example, 80,000mls, mountains of paperwork, originally owned by a Rover Director. Need to sell….where’s the best place to sell her?

  • Michael Bicknell says:

    My rover 75 se classic year 2000 has only 12000 miles on the clock petrol automatic

  • Franklyn Evans says:

    Good car, good mpg ,and strange as it may seem environmentey good because it’s lasted longer than a lot of new cars .it now has done at least 2-3 cycles and will go on

  • Norfolk.Robert says:

    Took delivery of my Connoiseur CDT in June 99 having had 3 head lolling Discoveries immediately before. Still in daily use giving 50mpg having now clocked over 300k miles. Had other cars since including BMW 5 tourer and Jaguar X Type.Never had a Rover in my life before (I am 74 incidentally) but can honestly say it is my favourite car of all. Bought a V6 Auto top of the range Connie with blue leather on eBay 16yrs ago for £2800 with just 22k on the clock. Still have that too although now with 68k on the clock. Have lost count of the times strangers have referred to either as “your Jaguar ” or other elderly gents saying “I had one once…wish I’d kept it!”. What’s not to like?

  • Simon Wise says:

    I have a mg zt 190 2002 116k in trophy blue!
    Had her for 14 years now and love the car, great looking, handles really well, often get comments from allsorts of people which drives me to keep her going, I do most jobs myself but it is a bit of a pain sorting the rusty rear sills every year and the thermostat nightmare but I’m apt at doing it all now so I shall persevere as this lovely modern classic needs to live!
    Also so comfy if I take her around Europe, and flies down the autobahn no problem! Enjoy…

  • Pedro Vinagre says:

    I bought my first brand new 75 tourer connoisseur 2.0 diesel in 2000, after a bumpy start, due to a faulty air intake sensor, I installed a chip tuning and all I can say is I never drove a car like that one, super fast, specially up the hills, it was good fun to see the Bmw’s “eating my smoke”. I loved every single day I owned it. Unfortunately had to sell due to financial issues after 2 years, but in 2005 I bought a 2004 model (face-lifted) second hand and I obviously did the same to that one, this time the tuning wasn’t as powerful as the one before but still more than enough to piss the petrol heads I came across on motorways. This was in Portugal, my home country, living in the UK now.
    I wouldn’t mind to buy one again.

  • Adrian says:

    Try carandclassic.com or classiccarsforsale.co.uk.
    You can also try listing it on Autotrader.
    These are the three websites I used when I was looking for my 75.

  • Alan Scholey says:

    The Rover 75 Diesel with Automatic year box back in 2006 was a throw back to when Rover was a luxury car I did 160.000 plus trouble free motoring the problem and down fall of all British cars was lack of investment and subsidies that were given out were to foreign cars and company’s so now we don’t have a true British car

  • Martin Phillips says:

    This had always been a good car value for money nice luxury touches and reliable the sorry thing is they had now made a very good car at last but it was to late to save long bridge.

  • Michael Bushell says:

    I had two; a ZT-T pre facelift and a 75 Contemporary SE tourer post facelift. I bought the 75 as an automatic as the manual diesel clutch was starting to hurt my ankle. I sold the 75 to a mate who still runs it. It looks tatty but it’s approaching 250,000 miles.

    Great cars!

  • Neville Amos says:

    For me this has been one of the most interesting and relatable articles i have read here for a long time. So too has been the very positive responses left by the readers.

    I worked in the motor trade for 50 years and worked in a Rover distributor’s for most of the 1970’s. I currently own 3 Rover products. 2 of them from the 70’s and my 1999 Rover 75 2.5 KV6 Auto.
    My first look at the 75 was not long after launch when i was assessing damage to one.
    I quite liked the look and was especially impressed with the seats and dash. By then though the name Rover was in my view somewhat tainted and was therefore not on my wish list.

    It was many years later i woke up to this car and felt i had to have one. I have owned it for 7 years, i have thrown some money at it in that time, most recently cam belt change which was nearly £1100.00 ! ouch. And it is thirstier than Oliver Read at opening time.

    But i love it, comfortable, has a quality ambience inside and the exterior has matured nicely with time, and it is such a nice relaxing drive. Although i paid top money for it 7 years ago, i could not have bought anything with the same degree of class and comfort for the money.
    Yes i know about all the problems and yes i have had some of them, but i cannot bring myself to give up on this car.
    I do what work i can on this car, but some battles i have to seek help on, sadly not all garages want to work on it, so just hoping some i can keep the car going for as long as i can.

  • J Suckling says:

    The car has motorsport credibility too. A highly modified MG ZT-T built by SO-CAL Speed Shop for MG went 226 mph at the Bonneville salt flats. Called the X-15, it was the idea of MG Design Director Peter Stevens (stylist of the McLaren F1 and Jaguar XJ15). The X-15 was intended to promote the launch of the V8 cars in North America. The X-15 was on display at the British Motor Museum and is currently at JD Classics in England.

  • Sidney says:

    Rover is a classic marque. If the Maestro/Montego are already in the valuation tool, the question does not arise – and the valuation tool is probably the most authoritative reference to classic status, anyway.

  • John Griffiths says:

    10 years ago, on the basis that everyone needs a shed and mobile kennel; also replacing a Berlingo ( we have XJ, Cayman, few others), we bought for £2k a MG ZT-T with BMW’s diesel drivetrain. Had 112k miles on it and expected to bin it after a year or two, or if trouble. At 180k miles now it has given no issues and remains as refined and structurally sound as when we got it, despite endless abuse. We are so fond of this old family retainer it is about to be mildly refurbished to the “classic” status it fully deserves.

  • Chris Stearn says:

    Now the original 75 was indeed a car to cherish, and still is 74 years on. My 1950 model has the highest levels of engineering and comfort. The engine is a marvel of smoothness. Such a shame that the dying pieces of the marque tried to cash in on past glory.

  • Malcolm Ward says:

    Have run Jags for years but failing to bond with the S Type, I bought a 75 Tourer in 2009, and still have it, along with 2 other 75s and 2 ZTs. They are great value and so comfortable. Cannot imagine being without them in my stable. Hopefully they will last me out!

  • Adrian Grice says:

    All Rover 75s are pre-2006 and therefore the VED on the V8 is £415.00 not £735.00 as stated.

  • Martin Green says:

    I have a Rover 75 with 343000 miles on it and just refurbing the car, having all the brakes stripped back and replaced and also the seat which is now slowly sinking after that many miles, the floor plan no holes or rusty due to having the car cavity rust proof injected years back no rust and structurally very sound, i need some general overall bits on the air con rad etc but nothing too bad, it will cost more than the cars worth!! or does it…i paid £20,000 in 2002 brand new car order then and look at the car prices now for a car Like the Rover 75 , Jaguar etc £60,000, no I’m going to spend £3000 on it and have it totally refurbished, that may now not sound like a waste of money now and good business sense, I love the rover 75 Tourer…. it still looks as so good as the day I bought it . I have a modern Jaguar XF R sport now that is another underrated car … never really wanted one of those either another excellent car and cost me nothing in repairs over the last 4 years, BUT! the Jaguar has the speed and handling….but nothing and i mean nothing with the exception of the XJ Jaguar can match the Rover 75….when i get in it ..wonderful driving machine, the best front wheel drive car ever built, exactly what Rover said they would build , When Rover TV adverts used to say “A CLASS OF ITS OWN” i always thought it was very honest assumption even when MG Rover were trading compared to some other car manufacturers company strap lines, Rovers were the most honest.

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