Rover 75s were built by the Rover Group at Cowley, Oxfordshire, for just a year. After owner BMW divested its interests in Rover, the 75 was built by the new MG Rover Group at their Longbridge site in Birmingham.
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 75 was well received and it is considered to be one of the Rover brand's best models.
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 reskin the Rover 600 (launched in April 1993) but following the BMW takeover in 1994, it was quickly decided that this platform would not be reused but replaced by an entirely new model, scheduled for launch in the late 1990s.
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. Revolutionary new design processes were adopted, including the 3D virtual reality assembly simulation "ebuild" techniques, ensuring the car would achieve class leading build quality when series production started.
The Rover 75 was first shown to the public at the Birmingham Motor Show on 20 October 1998. Although a number of early production models were registered over the next four months while the S-prefix registration plates were still in force, it did not officially go on sale until 17 June 1999. It had already been extensively tested and widely applauded by the motoring press.
Under the lauded styling was a range of petrol and diesel engines from 1.8- to 2.5-litre sizes. Petrol engines provided were Rover's 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.
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 in the form of all-round discs, complemented 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 bushings 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, which would have been a departure from the BMW tradition of rear-wheel drive on the majority of its models. 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 most significant was the replacement of the 2-litre V6 engine by a low-pressure-turbocharged version of the 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. Rather surprisingly, it was offered for sale in Mexico, making it the first Rover to be sold in the Americas since the Sterling.
From June 2002 a factory-approved dual fuel petrol-liquid petroleum gas conversion was available in the UK on 1.8 and 2.5 litre models. The LPG conversion was an after-market 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 was £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 but this is more than offset by the greatly reduced cost of the fuel.
Rover released the estate bodystyle of the 75, called Tourer, in July 2001. The tailgate may have as an option a separate opening rear screen. Once the door is opened, however, the load space is up to 1,480 mm wide and 2,060 mm long. With the seats up there is a competitive 400 to 680 litres of cargo space, and with the seats folded down (in a 60:40 ratio complete with centre load-through hatch) there is 1,222 litres available, making it more of a 'lifestyle' estate than all-out load lugger.
To improve practicality further, self-levelling rear suspension and an integral load restraint system were added to the options list for the Tourer. Up to 100 kg can be loaded onto the roof, which is more than rival executive cars of the time, and putting loads into the boot is made easier by the 544 mm sill height. Four hinged chrome lashing eyes are fitted to the floor, and oddment stowage compartments and two recessed hooks are located in the side walls.
Rover 75 Vanden Plas
A stretched version of the Rover 75—initially called Vanden Plas, then simply Limousine was introduced in 2002. Developed in conjunction with vehicle builder S. MacNeillie & Son Limited in Walsall, England, the model was stretched by 200 mm in the rear floor pan and altering the rear doors. Available only in connoisseur specification, production moved to Longbridge after an initial short run by MacNeillie
The 75 was a ministerial car in the British Government. Tony Blair having access to a 75 while he was in power was never seen in one. However Alistair Darling was seen in a 'Premium Grille' Rover 75 which could be the 75 Limousine in question.
Rover 75 V8
Rover 75 V8
Rover announced the new V8 model at the Geneva Motor Show also in 2002. 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 shut-line to the bottom lip of the bumper—a style that had also just appeared on Audi's A6, which was not lost on the press. It was also the first V8 engine Rover since the demise of the Rover SD1 in 1986.
The Rover 75 V8 was created as a 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 Ford's Modular V8 in 4.6 litre capacity, 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 body styles, carrying either Rover 75 or MG ZT trim. The cars had numerous differences to the standard versions, drive train notwithstanding, with non standard heating and 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 'premium' grille was fitted to some cars following the 2004 facelift.
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.
In the spring of 2004, faced with falling sales, Rover facelifted the design of the 75 to look less retro and more European. Changes were restricted to bolt-on components and some technical upgrades. At the front was a new, more angular bumper fitted with a mesh lower grille, one-piece headlights with halogen projectors fitted as standard, revamped front and side indicators and fog lights as well as a larger yet sleeker chrome grille on top. The rear also featured a more modern bumper with a new chrome boot handle. The "Premium" grille, usually reserved for V8 and long-wheelbase models, was also applied to the limited edition CDTi Sport model in Portugal. This version, with blacked-out trim and 17-inch alloy wheels, was otherwise a Connoisseur SE spec and was brought out to celebrate Rover's centenary in Portugal.
Low-specification Classic SE, Club and Club SE trim levels were dropped, and on Connoisseur trim light oak wood took the place of the original walnut, which remained standard fitment on the entry-level Classic trim. Rover also added a new trim to the range called Contemporary which featured revised fittings such as larger alloy wheels, body colour exterior accents, black oak wood trim and sports seats as well as an altered equipment tally. The instrumentation and its back-lighting were modernised, the console texture finish was upgraded and the seat bolsters revised to offer more support. Access to the rear seats was improved and leg-room increased.
Under the skin the steering feel was improved with the sportier ratio from the MG ZT taking place of the Mark I Rover 75's more relaxed set-up. The suspension was reworked to allow more travel and soften the ride while improving the responsiveness, giving the updated 75 sharper handling.
Pre-facelift Rover 75 saloon
Pre-facelift Rover 75 saloon
Pre-facelift Rover 75 estate
Facelift Rover 75 saloon
Facelift Rover 75 saloon
Facelift Rover 75 estate
The Rover 75 (and MG ZT derivative) were powered by a combination of Rover's own petrol and LPG K-Series and KV6 engines as well as Ford's Modular V8 and BMW's M47 diesel engine. The latter was designated M47R to identify the unit as a Rover special, having been modified by Rover's engineers for transverse installation, with performance and refinement characteristics unique to Rover.
The Rover 75 and its MG twin, the ZT, compared favourably against contemporary rivals in terms of emissions. Each engine fitted to the Rover and MG flagships were analysed and given a score between 0 (cleanest) to 100 (dirtiest) by Next Green Car.
The Rover 75 was designed with reinforced footwells, underfloor box beams, side impact bars and a "ring of steel" around each door opening to prevent jamming in case of an impact. Driver and front passenger head and side airbags are fitted as standard, with side head "windowbags" available as an option until 2005 when they became standard equipment. If the window airbags had been standard equipment at the time of its Euro NCAP crash test in 2001, it would have scored the full five stars for the adult occupant impact rating. Also fitted are disc brakes all round, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) with a traction control system (TCS) available as an option on 2.0 engines and above. On models fitted with Rover's Hi-Line infotainment system, a speed warning indicator was also included. Additionally, electronic stability control (ESC) was due to be made standard fitment on the 75 from the 2006 model year onwards.
A perimetric (and optional volumetric) alarm, engine immobiliser and remote-control central locking with deadbolts are standard equipment on the 75. Alloy wheels are fitted with locking wheel nuts. Automatic locking when driving off is standard, but can be disabled by a dealer. On the inside is a master locking switch and the boot can only be opened by remote control or an interior button. A battery back-up sounder and tracking device called Trackstar were available as options.
Initial sales of the Rover 75 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 drew favourable reactions, but was unfortunately overshadowed by a press conference afterwards by BMW chairman, Bernd Pischetsrieder, containing criticism of the UK Government's attitude to financial assistance in the redevelopment of the Rover Longbridge factory (where the new Mini and R30 were to have been produced), and effectively suggesting that Rover was in crisis. 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. Rover's brand image also hurt the 75 against competitors despite its positive reception.
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 reopen Longbridge.
Based on the combination of safety, performance and maintainability, the Rover 75 was found in 2011 to be the cheapest car to insure in the United Kingdom across all age groups. Based on fuel efficiency and lower taxes, the Rover 75 was found in 2011 to be the most cost effective diesel in its class.
The cars are still popular and actively supported by an active and growing Owners Club
Appearances in popular culture
The Rover 75 was a familiar sight to Midsomer Murders viewers, with four versions featured from 1999-2005: three first generations and a second generation, all with high specification and painted dark colours.
A Mark I also appeared numerous times in the BBC television series Dalziel and Pascoe. Two were in Wedgwood Blue and one in Starlight Silver.
Auto Trader 'The 75's biggest problem was its image; potential buyers just assumed it was hopelessly outclassed by rivals. Nothing could be further from the truth though, as the car could compete on equal terms with some prestigious adversaries'
Honest John Positives: A fine looking car from all angles. Destined to become a classic Negatives: Let down by cooling system problems on all K-Series engines, particularly the 1.8
Parker's Pros: Rover refinement and heritage. Handsome looks and a charming, comfortable interior. Cons: Mid-range Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz [rivals].
RAC 'The Rover 75 Tourer is one of those rare ... cars that retains a genuine sense of occasion whenever you get behind the wheel. The retro clocks and the buttoned down rectitude of the detailing all contributes to a huge feel good factor.'
Verdict On Cars 'Recommended. The standard 75 has an elegance missing from German executive car rivals, with wood and leather harking back to a bygone age. The Tourer estate models are, surprisingly, even prettier and very practical indeed.'
What Car? For - It's excellent over long distances and smooths out bumps like a luxury car. It's cheap, well equipped and practical, and comes with olde-worlde charm. Against - The rear seats are cramped and you get a much sharper drive from its German rivals.