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Rover 3500 (SD1)

Jam to Jerusalem Published: 12th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Vitesse
  • Worst model: 2000/diesel
  • Budget buy: Good 2600
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): LxW mm 4730 x 1770
  • Spares situation: Good
  • DIY ease?: Generally good
  • Club support: Improving
  • Appreciating asset?: Slowly but surely
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Only if you get a good one
V8 is best bet; sixes can be fi ckle, 2000 dire and TD rough V8 is best bet; sixes can be fi ckle, 2000 dire and TD rough
80s facelift included chrome detailing which causes rust 80s facelift included chrome detailing which causes rust
Said to be inspired by Ferrari’s Daytona, the looks of SD1 has aged pretty well although rust is rife Said to be inspired by Ferrari’s Daytona, the looks of SD1 has aged pretty well although rust is rife
Fastback style makes for great practicality. Even brand new shells are now available Fastback style makes for great practicality. Even brand new shells are now available
Futuristic cabin was comfy but lacked stamina Futuristic cabin was comfy but lacked stamina
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One of the original ‘jam sandwich’ police cars, the SD1 Rover is a fi ne car as well as an up and coming classic – just pray you fi nd a good one!

Pros & Cons

Looks, ability, top V8 cars, spaciousness, value
Unreliability, rough examples, troublesome sixes, image

If ever a car represented a brilliant idea, badly executed, it was the Rover SD1. As a much needed and long awaited replacement for the inventive P6 2200/3500 range (and Triumph’s 2000/2500 models), it appeared in 3.5-litre guise in 1976 and ditched Rover’s wood and leather image, opting for then ultra modern plastic fi nishes, and a swooping hatchback body, which owes a strong visual debt to the Ferrari Daytona. Although more conventional than the P6 it received rave reviews and scooped the 1977 Car of the Year Trophy. Here, at last, was a car that could give Ford’s Granada and BMW’s 5-Series a hard time. It never quite happened though, and this Rover really became a bit of a dog. That said, 30 years on, the SD1 is at last gaining classic status offering prestige motoring for peanuts.


There was talk of a saloon and an estate

Incredibly, the car was fi rst conceived 40 years ago. The SD1 was launched during the scorching summer of 1976 and it promised great things for Rover with striking looks, a hatchback (unheard of in an executive car at the time) and numerous other ingenious feature you’d expect from the company that made the quite brilliant P6 (although some aspects were strangely retrograde such as a conventional rear suspension and drum brakes). Despite a new factory and great publicity, the SD1 was horribly made, and broke down frequently. It soon gained a reputation for being a real dog, but instead of praising the car’s many qualities, owners instead yearned for the rock solid faithfulness of Rovers of old like the P6 in fact.

In 1977 all-new straight six engines joined the lower ranks of the SD1 range to replace the P6. The 2.3 and 2.6-litre units are actually Triumph designs, which also helped bring down the curtain on the old 2000/2500 ranges. Despite being fairly advanced for their time, these engines were fi rst instigated in 1970 and while few parts are similar, is broadly based upon the old 2.5 six-cylinder unit, which was an old Standard engine of the 1950s! Yet again, poor BL development meant that these units – and the car – became a joke. As a result, plans for an estate and four-door SD1 withered, but the car’s dynamic prowess kept loyal buyers coming to the showrooms, and a 1982 facelift (new dash, tailgate window and a host of physical changes) saw an expanded range care of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, a 2.4-litre VM-engined diesel, the iconic and brutish 190bhp Vitesse V8, a twin plenim hotshot and the Vanden Plas fl agship. Build was improving, but still not fabulous compared to the BMWs and Audis and Ford Granadas it was competing with, and the SD1 was viewed as another missed opportunity when the Rover 800 replaced it in 1986. That wasn’t the end of the SD1 saga though, for it found a new lease of life in India where the country’s Standard Motors produced the car from 1985 for three years equipped with a modifi ed Triumph TR4 engine. Sadly, it developed the nickname ‘Stranded 2000’ due to unreliability, and less than 3500 were made. Interestingly, Standard approached Rover as far back as 1981 with the proposal – so it obviously knew that Rover was having trouble selling the things! Today, SD1s are rarer than P6s and P5s, but their mix of stylishness, fi ne driving dynamics, and sheer go in V8 form, make them attractive collectors cars – if you’re brave enough.


The SD1 drove like no other Rover before. Here was an executive express that rode as well as any prestigious German while that trusty but lusty V8 hardly lacked pace.Once you became accustomed to the hypersensitive, high geared power steering, which at fi rst makes the car feel too darty, you can revel in the up-to-date sensitivity of it. Ultra tall gearing (most manuals had fi ve-speeds) means it can more than hold its own like a modern on motorways, too.In terms of performance the 155bhp V8 and the 136bhp 2600 are the best bets. The 2300 and the Austin Princess-sourced 2000 engines appear sluggish yet offer no economy gains – especially if saddled with automatic transmission, as many are.
The less said about the Italian VM diesel the better, but in complete contrast, top SD1s such as the Vitesse are splendid sports tourer, so it’s no wonder that these rapid Rovers were such a success on the track during the mid 1980s. From a practical standpoint the SD1 ranks highly. Here is a commodious, stylish hatchback that thinks its an estate, while trim levels range from simply civilised to positively luxurious, especially with Vanden Plas models. Talking of practicality, owning an SD1 is almost as painless as an MGB thanks to the car’s popularity in India where it was locally made. A stash of body spares were unearthed a couple of years ago – even complete shells – so maintaining one shouldn’t be too much of a worry.


Early P and R-reg Mk1 3500s are particularly sought after, along with the chest thumping Vitesse (particularly the twin plenum nutter version) and you can pay anything from £1500 to £10,000 for an immaculate example. Four and six-cylinder variants are tougher to value, and less desirable. You’ll see a lot of clapped out cars, but with £2000 and a bit of patience, you could end up with a very tasty car indeed – and that’s extremely good value considering the quality metal you’re getting. Bangers stillstart from loose change – and deservedly so, but don’t dismiss one for vital spares. People are starting to restore SD1 but you have to remember that it will be a labour of love and you’ll never see a meaningful return on your outlay and effort. Half competed projects may be worth considering, though.

What To Look For

  • Body rust is the biggest problem as Rover build quality was hardly at it its peak during the late 1970s. As a result, many cars will be bodged, not helped by their lowly values.
  • First the structural stuff. Watch for front inner suspension tower corrosion, lower bulkhead, floorpan (especially around the fuel tank and where the Watts linkage) and reside in the rear suspension. You really need to crawl underneath for a good check.
  • To a lesser extent look for rotted sills and wheelarches, door bottoms and tailgate. Blocked sunroof drainholes can lead to sunroof housing rot while the bonded windscreens are known leakers – have a feel in the glovebox for dampness to confirm.
  • The Ferrari-like nose takes a real beating from stones, but one unusually robust area is the sills. Warm air was directed through them and even if they have gone all frilly, Triumph Specialist Rimmer Brothers can supply remanufactured items.
  • Check the underside for the usual rot and past accident damage. Incidentally, SD1s are jacked up from the car’s extremities – never the sills.
  • The good news is that thanks to a stash of par ts found in India, SD1 exper t Rimmer Bros has all you need, including all new Indian bodyshells for £1595.
  • Too pricey? Well, bonnets go for around £100, wings £50, tailgates £95 – so don’t pay over the odds at autojumbles for ‘ rare’ second-hand rusty ones!
  • Interiors are typical 1970s BL fl imsy. Dash tops warp, cloth seat trim falls to pieces and switchgear gets tired. Replacing these items is difficult. And watch the headlining as it drops Jag-like and is as diffi cult to put back.
  • Cracked windscreens spell big trouble. They’re bonded, and you’ll pay £300 for a replacement – if you can find one, that is.
  • Engines are a worr y, especially the 2300/2600 units. Gummed camshaft oil feed non return valves on these sixes caused most of the cam troubles that these Triumph units are noted for. Most owners of the few survivors simply remove them but they are not especially pleasant engines.
  • Oil pressure should be around 50 psi at 2500 revs for a warm engine. Cam belts need changing if there’s any doubt about when they were last done, to avoid smashed cylinder heads. The rough old O Series 2.0-litre four cylinder found in the Princess is the more robust engine – if hardly exciting. At the time, they were regarded as the only overhead cam engine with ohv tappet noise!
  • Regular oil changes are essential on V8s, especially little used ones (think oil pressure of 35psi at motorway speeds). Clogged oilways can lead to hydraulic lifter wear. A rattly top end means new tappet lifters. Make sure quality antifreeze has been used. Furredwaterways and blown head can result otherwise but it’s by far the most trustworthy engine.
  • There is a diesel – it’s an Italian VM unit that was also used in Land Rovers and a particularly prickly engine known for popping head gaskets and lunching turbos.
  • Manual ‘boxes (known as the LT 77 unit) are a bit of a toughie. Synchros can pack up and seep oil and the Vitesse unit can prove frail. It’s recommended that a modern synthetic lube is used.
  • Autos (a GM unit) usually signify an easier life but their design means that the units are pressurised from the exhaust manifold. When worn, the automatic transmision fl uid is sucked into the engine, meaning over-smoky exhausts. Rear axles are usually bombproof, unless they’ve been on a thrashed V8.
  • Unlike the P6, the SD1 used a conventional suspension set-up, although special Nivomat dampers were employed to give a self-levelling quality. Expect these to be shot now (check that the car sits level and all square) but they may already have been replaced with normal dampers as they are horrendously dear. However, to do the job properly, the springs should be changed to suit.
  • Still on the suspension, the car uses a mulitude of rubber bushes which deteriorate. Poly bushes tightens the handling but the ride usually comes off the worst.
  • The rear brakes were a retro step back to drums and apart from being inferior, they have a habit of seizing their self adjusters.
  • Dodgy electrics are common. Sulky central locking and electric windows are a way of life, as are frazzling electronic ignition units, duff alternators and dodgy OPUS (dubbed ‘opeless’) electronic ignition systems. Thankfully the EFI system fitted to last on the line top cars seems durable if serviced properly.
  • Triumph specialist Rimmer Brothers is the offi cial saviour of the SD1 and can supply many parts and advice. Club back up is very strong too.

Three Of A Kind

Citroen CX
Citroen CX
On the face of it, the Frenchie has a lot in common with the SD1 and was launched around same time. Another accomplished car but big money loser, the CX took over from where the DS left off – and look where prices for that icon are going! Best models are top Pallas versions and rare Turbos but it’s more a case of whatever you can get these days.
BMW 5 Series
BMW 5 Series
This is just the car that the SD1 was designed to compete with head on and in terms of dynamics then the Brit had all bases covered. Sadly, build quality and reliability fell to the German and a good 1970s 5 Series makes a splendid sporty yet hardy saloon. The 520 is okay but really it’s the straight sixes which have the smoothness and the power.
Rover P5
Rover P5
Okay, so perhaps it’s not a logical choice but the good old P5 shares the same V8, has class and culture by the bucketload and apart from rust, is as durable as the later SD1. Obviously the older Rover lacks modern SD1 dynamics but cruises as well and feels like a proper Rover should. Values are starting to drift upwards – and not before time.


Had BMW made the SD1, it would have been a world-beater instead of a motoring footnote. But this Rover that thinks it’s a Ferrari makes an interesting and surprisingly practical classic buy. Every dog has its day, and the SD1 will surely to have its 15 minutes of fame soon.

Classic Motoring

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