I’ve always loved cars, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a car nut. I’ve rarely bought modern motoring magazines for example and I find the endless chatter by the motoring journalists a bit tedious, yet somehow here I am scratching out a living writing about cars. Curious isn’t it how life works out? Still, the cars I generally write about are classics, not the brand new offerings, and this interest probably really kicked off when I was a university student and owned a very old Morris, followed a couple of years later with an MG TF 1500. I just loved getting into the nuts and bolts of the cars and I still do.
The MG suited me and it was the first of a long line of MGs that have kept me not only entertained and out of the pub, but have given me a wide circle of friends around the world and more recently a trickle of income from the articles I’ve written about them and published in magazines in Australia, the UK and the US. I no longer have the old TF, it went the way of so many sportscars – sold off in the interests of the family budget, but I still have one or two others that somehow have avoided that ignominious fate. And more recently, thanks to the Phoenix Four, I have been able to prise my other half out of her Japanese car and into a nice ZT-T 180 so that our garage is now an all-MG affair.
As far as I can work out, only about 450 ZTs came to Australia before the financial axe that fell in the UK ceased imports. There are lots more Rovers as they were imported from some time in the 1990s, but only those few ZTs. And just before the axe fell, the local importing company, MG Rover Australia, had decided to give the other MGs in the saloon range a fly in the Aussie market, so we have a few facelifted ZS and ZRs here and a handful of facelifted ZT 260s (twelve I’m told) all brought in during 2004 or early 2005.
The six-cylinder ZT-T has been a great family car, my only complaint being the lack of power at certain times in our automatic version. This is my complaint only, she actually likes the auto, and power, or lack of it, has never been an issue for her. My daily driver is an earlier Z saloon, a 1957 ZB Varitone, known in those days as the Magnette, and I would much rather be driving it around than the ZT. Mind you, I have fitted a five speed Toyota gearbox and an 1800cc engine, so the Magnette is crisp and a delight to drive.
And then last year a number of factors converged to create just the right environment to buy our Two-Sixty. The twelve in Australia (I think we are down to eleven now, as I heard that one had been written off) are hugely expensive to buy and I don’t think includes many Tourers (maybe two), but as many of you know, the cars in England are really very competitively priced for the astute classic car investor. OK, I really mean the bottom has dropped out of their market – I guess some buyers are worried about support for vehicles whose original manufacturer has gone to the wall. And I think the British second hand car market is generally unforgiving when it comes to V8s – just look what happened to the MGBGTV8 in the oil crunch in the early 1970s. And an endemic problem globally is that the new car manufacturers are churning cars out at such a rate that cars over two years old are significantly devalued. I honestly don’t know why anyone would buy a new car these days when you can get such good value on the second hand market.
Anyway, the final factor that set me on the trail of our Two-Sixty was that for a few short months last year the Aussie dollar shot up against the pound, almost to heights not seen since the good old days when the two currencies were linked. So, my piggy-bank of hard-earned and usually worthless Aussie dollars were suddenly gold in my hand at the same time as the value of these golden classics in the UK was tumbling around you. It was now or never!
I had already planned a trip to the UK in May to attend the Flat Cap and Whippet weekend of the Triple-M Register (another MG weakness of mine) so I had a few days up my sleeve to try to find my ideal Two-Sixty, which as readers of the bulletin board will remember had to be a Tourer and in the rare BRG. I was prepared to forego SE features, but the car had to be BRG. As luck would have it, I found one hidden on Pistonheads (the owner described it as a 4600cc MG ZT so any “V8″ or “260″ searches failed to pick it up) and it was not too far from where I was staying. One drive was enough – this car was brilliant – smooth, powerful, easy to drive (but you all know this anyway), and a deal was struck. I managed a few hours behind the wheel before I had to fly home to Australia leaving the car with my lovely cousin Anna and my first impressions were confirmed. The car (VIN 206, one of the transitional cars as it turns out) remains in the UK pending sorting out the red tape in which importing cars into Australia is tightly wrapped.