Rover SD1 is both the code name and eventual production name given to a series of executive cars built by British Leyland (BL), under the Rover marque. It was produced through its Specialist, Rover Triumph and Austin Rover divisions from 1976 until 1986, when it was replaced by the Rover 800. The SD1 was marketed under various names including Rover 3500, Rover 2300 and Rover Vitesse. In 1977 it won the European Car of the Year title.
In "SD1", the "SD" refers to "Specialist Division" and "1" is the first car to come from the in-house design team. The range is sometimes wrongly referred to as "SDi" ("i" is commonly used in car nomenclature to identify fuel injection).
The SD1 can be considered as the last "true" Rover, being the final Rover-badged vehicle to be produced at Solihull, as well as being the last to be designed largely by ex-Rover Company engineers and also the final Rover car to be fitted with the Rover V8 engine. Future Rovers would be built at the former British Motor Corporation factories at Longbridge and Cowley; and rely largely on Honda.
The new car was designed with simplicity of manufacture in mind in contrast to the P6, the design of which was rather complicated in areas such as the De Dion-type rear suspension. The SD1 used a well-known live rear axle instead. This different approach was chosen because surveys showed that although the automotive press was impressed by sophisticated and revolutionary designs the general buying public was not, unless the results were good. However, with the live rear axle came another retrograde step – the car was fitted with drum brakes at the rear.
Rover’s plans to use its then fairly new 2.2 L four-cylinder engine were soon abandoned as BL management ruled that substantially redesigned versions of Triumph’s six-cylinder engine were to power the car instead. The Rover V8 engine was fitted in the engine bay. The three-speed automatic gearbox was the BorgWarner 65 model.
The dashboard of the SD1 features an air vent, unusually, directly facing the passenger. The display binnacle sits on top of the dashboard in front of the driver to aid production in left-hand drive markets. The air vent doubles as a passage for the steering-wheel column, and the display binnacle can be easily fitted on top of the dashboard on either the left or right-hand side of the car.
An estate body had been envisaged, but it did not get beyond the prototype stage. Two similarly specified estates have survived, and are exhibited at the Heritage Motor Centre and the Haynes International Motor Museum respectively. One was used by BL chairman Sir Michael Edwardes as personal transport in the late 1970s. The two cars as befit prototypes differ in the detail of and around the tailgate. One car has a recessed tailgate, while the other has a clamshell arrangement, where the whole tailgate is visible when closed.
The SD1 was intended to be produced in a state-of-the-art extension to Rover’s historic Solihull factory alongside the TR7. It was largely funded by the British government, who had bailed BL out from bankruptcy in 1975. Unfortunately this did nothing to improve the patchy build quality that then plagued all of British Leyland. That, along with quick-wearing interior materials and poor detailing ensured that initial enthusiasm soon turned to disappointment.
Initial model and first additions to range
Rover 2300 6-cylinder engine, in situ in SD1
This car was launched on its home market in June 1976 in liftback form only, as the V8-engined Rover 3500: SOHC 2.3 L and 2.6 L sixes followed a year later. The car was warmly received by the press and even received the European Car of the Year award for 1977. Its launch on the European mainland coincided with its appearance at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1977, some three months after the Car of the Year announcement. Dealers had no left-hand drive cars for sale, however, since production had been blocked by a tool makers’ strike affecting several British Leyland plants and a "bodyshell dispute" at the company’s Castle Bromwich plant. Closer to home, the car and its design team received The Midlander of the Year Award for 1976, because they had between them done most in the year to increase the prestige of the (English) Midlands region.
Poor construction quality was apparent even in the company’s press department fleet. The British magazine Motor published a road test of an automatic 3500 in January 1977, and while keen to highlight the Rover’s general excellence, they also reported that the test car suffered from poor door seals, with daylight visible from inside past the rear door window frame’s edge on the left side of the car, and a curious steering vibration at speed which might (or might not) have resulted from the car’s front wheels not having been correctly balanced. Disappointment was recorded that the ventilation outlet directly in front of the driver appeared to be blocked, delivering barely a breeze even when fully open; the writer had encountered this problem on one other Rover 3500, although he had also driven other cars of the same type with an abundant output of fresh air through the vent in question. Nevertheless, in March 1977, Britain’s Autocar was able to publish an article by Raymond Mays a famous racing driver and team manager during, in particular, the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s, in which Mays explained why, after driving it for 12,000 miles, he considered his Rover 3500 was "the best car he [had] ever had", both for its many qualities as a driver’s car and for its excellent fuel economy even when driven hard. Similar problems persisted until 1980 and were reported in tests of the V8-S version.
In television shows John Steed in The New Avengers and George Cowley in The Professionals both used yellow Rover 3500 models. Although using different registration numbers both were possibly the same car.
[Text from Wikipedia]
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