WHAT TO LOOK FOR
HOW’S THE HISTORY?
A check of the history is advisable, looking for previous accident repairs and any other nasties lurking in the car’s past. Punchy performance and ample tuning potential has seen more than a few examples become popular with a less-caring community of car enthusiasts and track-day warriors, so you’ll want to be certain that a car hasn’t clattered into an Armco barrier at any point in its life. Bear in mind that low values can quickly render repairs uneconomic, so check for bodging and Category D write-offs.
A TIDY BODY
Major corrosion is rare even on the earliest examples, but look for rust nibbling around the edges of panels. Pay particular attention to the rear wheel arches, and around the tailgate hinges and boot lock. Otherwise watch for scuffs and dings that signify a hard life, and ensure that body kits and spoilers are undamaged – it’s not always easy to source replacements. ZRs can also be prone to water ingress – most often caused by poorly-installed replacement windscreens – leading to electrical issues.
TRIM AND ELECTRICS
Cabins can suffer from tatty and creaking trim and worn seat bolsters on highmilers; some bits are getting hard to find although the ZR/ZS is well-served by the secondhand parts market. Broken seat adjusters and mountings aren’t unheard of, either, and check that the heating controls are working. Knobs can break, while failed resistors cause the blower fan to fail; a new one is cheap at around £40. Electrics can be troublesome, so ensure that central locking and electric windows still operate as they should.
Depending on age and model, manual transmissions were the Honda PG1, PSA/Rover R65, or Ford IB5. The R65 of is considered to be the weakest with the others proving notably robust. But in any case check for whines, worn synchromesh and baggy gearshifts. You can source secondhand replacements online for less than £100. Check for a worn and abused clutch, too, with a stiff feel indicating looming cable replacement. Listen out, too, for the click of tired CV joints on full steering lock.
RUNNING GEAR WOES
The good news with the brakes and suspension is that both should be trouble-free, unless neglected or worn out on very high mileage examples. Look for worn discs and corroded pipework on the former, along with faulty ABS systems, and weeping dampers and perished bushes for the latter. Check balljoints and anti-roll bar links for wear, and look for any fluid leaks from powersteering pipework. Again, upgrades and modifications are common, so ask about any changes that have been made.
Check carefully for evidence of cylinder head gasket failure, looking in particular for weeps of oil and coolant, rough running, overheating and emulsion on the oil filler cap and dipstick. Plenty will have been changed by now, many receiving the upgraded MLS (Multi-Layer Steel) item that works well; if it fails it’s usually because the engine has other, deeper issues. Some specialists reckon that the standard MG Rover replacement item works fine, too, but either way you’re looking at a £500 bill.
MAINTENANCE AND MODS
Given those head gasket problems, it’s worth ensuring that the cooling system is healthy, with no signs of a corroded radiator or sludgy coolant. Otherwise a diet of meticulous oil and filter changes should see all engines last well, and although the oil-burners seem at odds with the performance image, they are trusty and reliable units. Just ensure that there’s no excessive exhaust smoke. And lastly, modifications and engine swaps aren’t uncommon so you’ll want to be sure about the standard of work done.