Inspired by Malcolm’s recent post about the Two-Sixties down under, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the cars here in France, where I have lived for fifteen years.
The MG brand in France
The MG brand has been well known among car enthusiasts in France for a long time and the MGB in particular is a common sight at classic car gatherings. Indeed, the MG Club de France is one of the largest single-marque clubs in France, with nearly 800 members and an active social and events programme. This year the club marked its 30th anniversary, with a major display at the Salon du Coupé et Cabriolet in Paris in March and a three-day celebration at the old Montlhéry racetrack in May.
Since the re-launch of the brand in 1996 the F and TF have done particularly well, with more than 4,000 registered new, according to Adrien Cahuzac in his recent book, MG, les sportives so british (ETAI, 2011). There was even a special limited edition TF for the French market called the Vintage Racing, with just 30 cars produced to celebrate the marque’s 80th anniversary in 2004.
The Zeds, however, never seem to have sold as well as the equivalent Rover models, with the 75 especially still a common sight. Cahuzac quotes the following totals for all model variants when registered new:
- ZR: 2351
- ZS: 1077
- ZT: 439
- ZT-T: 360
The launch of the 260 in France
The ZT 260 received some limited press coverage in France when the model was first launched in 2003, but it was only after the phase 2 models were introduced that it was put on sale in 2004. A Monogram Aurora ZT 260 saloon was shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March, together with a Monogram Chatsworth Rover 75 V8 saloon. At the Paris Motor Show in October of the same year a Monogram Twilight ZT 260 saloon was chosen, displayed next to a Monogram Sunspot Yellow SV-R.
The exact specification of the cars in France seems slightly unclear, with different press reports at the time quoting different items as standard or as options. It seems, however, that most of the saloons were equipped to a level similar to that of the SE models in the UK, with the exception of the sunroof, which was not always fitted. My own car, for example, has the full leather interior, Xenon headlamps, the HighLine satnav system, four electric windows, reversing sensors and the driver intelligence pack. The price when new was around 47,000 euros.
A car like the 260, with a powerful but thirsty V8 and a high initial registration tax, was never going to sell in large quantities in France, which has long preferred smaller capacity petrol engines or diesels. The bankruptcy of MG Rover so soon after its launch only made matters worse, with just seven 260 saloons and one ZT-T 260 registered new in France, the last in 2006. I have been able to meet two of the other saloon owners through the MG Club de France and the Two-Sixties Forum. The ZT-T, a red car, was used by the regional sales manager in south-west France for MG Rover France.
Unil very recently I was only aware of one Rover 75 V8, a black saloon, registered new in France: initially used by the finance director of MG Rover France, it was then sold to the ex-MG Rover dealer in Marseille, whose son subsequently put it up for sale in 2008. By chance, however, on holiday in the Alps, I have just seen a second car, a blue/green saloon. Apparently in lovely condition and sporting 92 number plates, so from just outside Paris.
Although not registered new in this country, I am aware of three other 260s which have come into France:
- A black saloon, first registered in Germany and then sold to a Parisian owner, whom I helped register the car here
- Another red ZT-T which was transferred from MG Rover Italy to a dealer in Chambéry and was for sale new, still unregistered, in May 2012
- The unique automatic LHD ZT-T (number 190), with a mixture of MG and Rover fittings, including a wooden dash and Rover sill plates. After periods in Wales, Lithuania and Spain this has finally come to rest with the former editor of one of France’s leading classic car magazines, whom I see quite often
The 260 in the press
Despite its niche status, the 260 was tested by several of the major French magazines when the phase 2 models were launched. The most comprehensive test, still available online, was by the Franco-Belgian magazine, Le Moniteur Automobile. It was also tested in l’Auto Journal, l’Echappement and – in comparison with the Mitsubishi Evo – SportAuto. A further Belgian test report was published by Automania. One TV programme, Motors TV, also featured the car: you can still see the clip here. Two saloons (one silver and one black) feature in all the French media reports, but I’m not sure what has become of them.
Most of the reviewers enthused about the car’s handling and the lovely sound of the V8, but criticized its absolute performance and – unsurprisingly – its heavy fuel consumption. The car tested by Le Moniteur Automobile had an air conditioning problem whilst on test, but they put this down to a one-off fault: little did they know!
More recently, there has been some recognition of the 260’s upcoming classic status. It was included in a list of cars to watch for in AutoRetro, the top-selling classic car magazine in France, whilst my own car was the subject of a 6-page feature in KM/H Magazine in April 2010. There is also an online profile of the car on the Automobile sportive website. I’m hoping to persuade another new magazine, Youngtimers, to do a feature on the car.
Maintaining a 260 in France
With so few cars on the road, looking after a 260 here in France – as generally in continental Europe – is a little more complicated than in the UK, with few dealers building up knowledge of the model’s foibles. There are over 100 ex-MG Rover dealers in the XPart scheme in France, but the quality of their work varies greatly. I had a bad experience with one garage in the Paris area, but have received excellent service from the dealer who supplied my car, Soupizet, in Le Mans. I bought my car, with just 8,000 miles recorded, directly from the garage owner, who had acquired it from MG Rover France for his personal use, but never had the time to enjoy it or even register it in his own name. On my recommendation two other ZT 260 owners are also now using Soupizet for their servicing work.
In practice, I have alternated between Soupizet and the unrivalled expertise of Austin Garages back in the UK, especially for the work I have had done on my in-car entertainment and satnav systems (which you can read about in my other blogs on this site). I have also used specialists for alloy wheel refurbishment and tyre replacement in the UK, as these tend to be cheaper than here. I regularly purchase parts online in advance, from Rimmers, Dreadnought and, of course, the Two-Sixties Forum itself. And I take every opportunity to buy specific LHD parts from dealers who are clearing stock, either to keep on hand or to make good some of the Project Drive cuts.
I have been fortunate in suffering relatively few problems with my car – a faulty heater valve and dirty fuel pump – and have always been able to find the parts I needed. It’s probably fair to say though that you need to approach the car with the same mindset as you might an older classic car. Being able to speak English, to leverage the expertise on the Two-Sixties Forum, is also indispensable.
I have had my car for nearly four years now and can’t really think what I would replace it with, so I have no plans to sell it. It would in any case be a hard car to sell in France: big petrol-engined saloons are harder than ever to move now and fears about parts supply and servicing, albeit unfounded, don’t help. Few dealers would accept it in part-exchange. Only one of the two main online services quotes a price for it: my car, with about 41,000 miles recorded, is listed by La Centrale at €10,370, but that price has been sliding quickly over the past 12 months. KM/H Magazine suggests a figure of €12,000, but the best indication may come from Germany, where there are usually two or three cars on sale on the www.mobile.de website, typically from €15,000 – €20,000. At least all of these estimates are a great deal higher than in the UK!