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Rover 3500 (SD1)

Published: 8th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Fancy owning a motorsport legend? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their names on rally stages and race tracks, and still provide fine drives today

Bad luck and Rover seem to go together, the latest degeneration of a once proud name into a seemingly mis-spelt ‘Roewe’ Chinese clone of the last British production model would seem to be proof of the fact. Things were not too much better in the 1980s either… It was good times, and bad times, all the way for the Rover 3500. After a TWR car won the 1983 British Touring Car Championship and was then disqualified for technical infringements, Andy Rouse took the title fair and square in ’84. The next year the combination of Tom Walkinshaw and Win Percy notched up six wins in the European Touring Car series but missed out on the championship by a whisker. In ‘86 Percy clinched the Euro title, but four weeks later was demoted when the organisers decided they had incorrectly applied their own rules! How unlucky can you get? There’s always Tony Pond, who brought his factory-entered Vitesse to the start line of the 1984 Lombard RAC Rally, only to crash out on the very first special stage! Rover’s SD1 was a great idea, a hatchback body with styling by David Bache and engineering by the legendary Spen King. The Buick aluminium 3.5 V8 gave a torquey 155bhp on carbs, but it was a pity it linked to a rigid rear axle with drum brakes. There were four and six pot versions as well, but no-one was interested when they could have that lovely small block V8 instead. In Group 1 modified production form the engine gave a healthy 250bhp and in 1980 a first win was recorded at Brands Hatch for a car driven by Jeff Allam and Motor staff writer Rex Greenslade. The appearance of the fuel injected Vitesse in 1982 upped race power to 290bhp, and by ’84 the TWR cars (with rear disc brakes) were pushing 340bhp, but the Volvos racing in Europe boasted even more horses. That missed title in ’86 was the last ditch effort for the SD1 before it was replaced by the Honda-bred Rover 800. Big cars don’t work well on rallies, and with the same V8 stuffed in the TR7 Austin Rover saw little point in preparing the Vitesse for the loose. It did consider the 1983 Paris-Dakar rally but - Rover’s luck again - the event was cancelled. The rally car’s finest hour was when TWR prepared a batch for a special TV Rallysprint at Donington, and a certain Nigel Mansell won the day. In fact the SD1 was a rally winner – privateer Ken Wood was Scottish champion in ‘84. Nowadays, it’s not likely to match the Tigers, Porsches or Escorts in the British Historic Rally Championship, but it’s still alive in Classic Touring Car Racing Club events: Stephen Keating was 2003 Classic Thunder champion.

Rover 3500 (SD1) Summary

Production

1976-86: 303,345 (all models)

Technical

Engine: V8 all aluminium, single camshaft operating two valves per combustion chamber by pushrods. Twin SU HD8 carburettors or Lucas fuel injection (Vitesse). Capacity: 3528cc
Power: 3500 - 155bhp; Vitesse - 194bhp
Gearbox: Five-speed manual (BW/GM auto option)
Drive: Rear wheels
Suspension: Independent front with coil springs and struts; rear live axle with coil springs
Brakes: Disc front, drum rear

Claim to fame

Winner BTCC in 1984, runner-up ETCC 1986, class and outright race wins in UK and Europe during the 1980s. Nigel Mansell’s Rallysprint win best effort. Loved by police forces nationwide!

Famous names

Jeff Allam, Rex Greenslade, Steve Soper, Win Percy, Tom Walkinshaw, Peter Lovett, Rene Metge, Martin Brundle, Marc Duez, Jean Louis Schlesser, Andy Rouse, Denny Hulme, Tim Harvey, Hans Heyer, Tony Pond, Nigel Mansell, Ken Wood, Stephen Keating, Alan Roper

Where to buy

Classified ads in magazines, local newspapers, SD1 Club web site

What to look for

Rust all over, general neglect (many people lost interest as poor build quality caused cars to fall apart). Mechanicals generally sound with most parts still available. Ready supply of spare engines - used in Rover P5, Range Rover, TVRs as well as the SD1

What to pay

Just £500 will bag you a project, £5000 a good Vitesse. Go for the best you can buy to save expense and hassle on restoration work!

Clubs

Rover SD1 Club: http://www.roversd1club.net

Classic sport

Not much of a stage rally car, and a bit too big for Welsh lanes on navigational events. But still a classic racer, and mid-grid competitive in the Classic Touring Car Racing Club’s Group 1 series (http://www.classictouringcars.com). With big engine and nitrous oxide could be one for Santa Pod, too!

Maintenance, tuning and sport

Best engine for power is Vitesse with twin plenum chamber injection. Rover specialists such as RPI Engineering (01603 891209; http://www.v8engines.com) can supply conversions to 4.6-litre and beyond with up to 400bhp. Rimmer Bros (Tel: 01522 568000; http://www.rimmerbros.co.uk) can supply spares

Competitive Rating: 6



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