MG ZT-T Tops 225mph
at Bonneville Speed Week
Reprinted From “Safety Fast!” magazine,
MG Car Club, Oct. 2003
MG Rover Group has applied to the Guinness World Records for the World’s Fastest Estate car / Station Wagon record. The MG ZT-T, codenamed X-15, reached a top speed of 225.609 mph (360.9 km/h) at the August 2003, 55th annual Bonneville Speed Week Nationals, on the Salt Flats in Utah, USA
In 2002 Nick Stephenson, deputy chairman of Phoenix Venture Holdings, himself an accomplished drag racer in the UK, together with MG Rover design director Peter Stevens, of McLaren F1 fame, decided to build a 200 mph estate derived from the forthcoming MG ZT-T V8.
Their reasoning was four-fold: to leverage MG’s illustrious Bonneville history which dates back to 1951 and a string of records; to demonstrate the fundamental qualities of strength and safety inherent in the MG ZT range; to halo the introduction of some exciting new V8-powered MG models and to support engine development work for the planned ultra high performance versions of MG’s XPower SV sports car.
“This is not just about setting world records, this is about testing MG’s vehicles to their limits, in some of the most extreme conditions you can find in the world. The added challenges of meeting strict technical and safety regulations which are set by the Southern California Timing Association make our achievement of 225.609 mph with a virtually stock MG ZT-T all the more satisfying,” says Peter Stevens.
MG can trace its land speed racing roots back to the early 1930s and its Bonneville roots back to 1951 when Lt. Col AT ‘Goldie’ Gardner ran a streamliner powered by a crank-driven supercharged production 1250 cc 4-cylinder MG TD engine. Goldie planned an assault on numerous records, both in a straight line and around a specially surfaced 10-mile circular course. Despite rain cutting short the attempts, at the end of the week he had accumulated a total of 16 records with a fastest run slightly over 145 mph.
Famous names such as Stirling Moss and Phil Hill have set records driving for MG in the harsh and challenging environment of the Utah salt desert. Daily temperatures of more than 100 degF/38 deg C, the high altitude and the low grip surface of the smooth salt have always meant that high-speed record breaking at Bonneville is never easy.
So in 2002, MG Rover approached the legendary, California-based, So-Cal Speed Shop to build and run the car. Custom car specialists So-Cal are professional land speed racers, well known for their Bonneville achievements in the late-forties and early-fifties.
Roush Performance was chosen for the powertrain development and they delivered an awesome 6.0-litre V8 with electronic fuel injection that develops 765 horsepower without the aid of an intercooler, let alone a blower or turbo. More than enough, it was felt, to propel the ZT-T to its goal of 200 mph.
Initial testing of the car in May and June of this year at El Mirage Dry Lake indicated that the goal was, in fact, achievable. On its very first official “shakedown” pass the ZT-T ran 164 mph. The following month, now with sponsorship from Mobil 1, the car made a licensing pass at 181.521 mph.
New vehicles which are running for the first time at Bonneville are required to run on the short course at a speed of more than 175 mph, before being allowed to run on the long course where speeds are measured at three, four and five mile markers as well as the terminal speed.
A further two miles are available for slowing the cars. Cars running at over 185 mph are required to fit speed reducing parachutes. These ’chutes safely slow the cars in a stable manner to around 100 mph after which the brakes are used to stop at the seven mile marker.
In August, the So-Cal Racing Team accompanied by Nick, Peter, and the Roush crew made the 700-plus mile trek to Bonneville where the car was so “on target” it was almost an anticlimax as driver, Bonneville veteran Pat Kinne clicked off a licensing pass of 207 mph on the Bonneville ‘short course’, backed up with a blistering 223 mph pass on the long course. Some minor pitch-attitude tweaking saw the ZT-T make a final run at 225.609 mph (306.9 km/h). “Bonneville and record breaking is a very important part of MG history,” says Nick Stephenson. “225 mph with our ZT-T is part of our future, because it signals the direction for further high performance models.”
“Having the ratification for a world record would be the icing on the cake,” said So-Cal President Pete Chapouris, “However, regardless of that record, we are totally ecstatic with the performance of the MG ZT-T which exceeded our goal of a 200 mph estate by a comfortable margin.”
“We were completely thrilled,” said Peter Stevens. “We had high hopes that the X-15 would perform as predicted, but in a competitive situation, exaggerated by the extremely harsh environment of Bonneville, you can never be certain. Not only are we tremendously pleased with the outright achievement, but that this form of extreme performance testing has demonstrated the capability of future powertrain and chassis developments.”