Blog : Rover SD1’s missed opportunities?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

Rover SD1 'Sport' - a budget Bitter SC/Ferrrai 400?
Robert J Shread's Rover SD1 'Sport' - a budget Bitter SC/Ferrrari 400?

More action from the Facebook group. This time it’s Photoshopped might-have-beens, and a pair that’s really tickled my fancy. The Rover SD1 always struck me as a car that could have been the basis for a nice range to cover all the niches within the executive sector – and it had a nice, simple, modular platform to enable this to happen. Just look at the Triumph TR7 and the attempts to spin-off alternative models, such as the Lynx and Broadside to see what I’m getting at.

Of course, it’s a purely hypothetical to wonder what could have been, especially as BL didn’t even have the money or resources to get the SD1 estate into production – and as for the Triumph SD2, the cost accountants managed to kill that one stone dead. But imagine if the SD1 had been built by GM – in its good years – and had the time and resources to really develop the SD1, and these CGIs suddenly take on a new poignancy.

Look at the Carlton, Senator and Monza to see what I mean. With something as stylish as the SD1 as a starting point, the sky would have been the limit.

Ah well…

Keep posting your CGIs on Facebook – the best ones will be featured here.

Richard Kilpatrick's SD1 Coupe, with its Stag-like shoulder-line...
Richard Kilpatrick's SD1 Coupe, with its Stag-like shoulder-line...
Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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37 Comments

  1. Few would doubt that the estate was a missed opportunity but even if there was no money why did they not do a 4 door saloon?

    A traditional 3 box would have needed a lot of new metal but would a Princess style 4 door using the 5 door shape?

    Change the front headlights into 2 light units and badge it Triumph and you have another range for minimal cost that could win more sales than would inevitably be taken from the Rover.

  2. Nope, sorry, to me it doesnae work as a notch-back, or for that matter an estate. A 3-door coupe on the other hand would have been a winner……..

  3. a shooting brake would be the one,a bit hard on the mince pies the saloon,i wouldnt want to get my booby sands on one.

  4. The curvy front makes it difficult to do a successful saloon, though it might work if you give it a more graceful Mk2 style rear end. Maybe a 75 style rear end would work

  5. Sorry, but I personally don’t think the SD1 lends itself well to a three-box saloon without compromising on its elegance and drama. The attempts shown are just dreadful, in my oppinion.

    The only realistic option would have been a production version of the estate, albeit with a much neater tailgate and lighting arrangement that was less utilitarian looking than those found on the two prototypes.

  6. A 4 door saloon should have been a no brainer. Then as now this was the default configuration for Executive cars. It could have been badged as a Triumph to replace the 2000/2500. Also, to match the Granada spec for spec why was there no 2 litre from launch? The TR7’s slant 4 would have done nicely.

  7. @ Paul:

    I think it was ultimately down to cost constraints based on body pressings and other tooling. This was so apparent back in 1973 when Graham Turner revised his amazing book, The Leyland Papers, and made reference to some of the areas where British Leyland was trying to reduce costs. It made for very sad reading, but his predictions based on reading papers from the BMC and Leyland files proved to be spot-on.

  8. I kind of like them the back end is a little too square compared the the front but other than that, the concept it good. I sold my XJ40 a couple of weeks ago and currently driving the old classic mini around again. One thing that aways puzzled me about the xj40, is that if jag managed to make a varint that was 12 to 14″ shorter then they might have sold quite a few more of them. the Bob (alike the 318Ti) tail SD1 above is pretty much what Jaguar should have optioned on the xj40. alex

  9. It is so very easy to sit back and write what should have been done, the SD1 was a very brave “Risk” back in the late 70s, luckily it paid off however it could have all gone just as wrong as say the Allegro, So you had said Agro and Princess that needed an opening hatch but were denied and an executive car with a 5th door which must of shocked the establishment.

    Looking back if I was let loose as a” Product planner” (perish the thought) then I would of demanded 4 door saloon and a sort of modern day 3litre Coupe or ahead of its time Passat CC (Have you seen how much VW charge for that contraption with not that much different interior?) And marketed it as a sports Coupe.

    I totally agree with the comments of platform sharing, So they had two basic platforms (difficult to do with the dimensions of the MIni right up to the Princess, so possibly two versions?) FWD and RWD (Marina, Triumph, Rover) The Marina should of been the 1st to have been updated with the front suspension of the SD1 along with the rear suspension, This could of been the Dolomite replacement instead of the Honda Ballard/Acclaim…. The TR7 using Dolomite components would of been late in the day for these revisions as they say never too late.

    However reading into the affairs of BL, the money was not there or was spent just keeping the roof over its head, Though some say squandered in other areas? (how much did the Maestro LCD display and talking dashboard cost to develop?/ also that Lucas engine management system, did it ever work properly?).

    The SD1 did get the badly needed attention but perhaps too late in its life? Diesel engine/Vitesse model, Though still think it was getting there and instead of spending on the 800 with Honda, Just a re skim and Improving what they had (quality mainly), I still like the 800 (wonder how much that actually cost to develop?) but could of been so much better.

    Sorry guys am not attracted to these renderings….

  10. RE: The renderings.. I’m thinking the to one should have actually been pillarless like a MB SEC…

    I’ll agree though, they’re not the prettiest, the C pillar on the colour ones is a direct lift from a Ferrari 400.. Maybe have needed more rake on the 4 door?

    As for the Passat CC? Not many people realise that underneath it’s not a Passat… but a Skoda Superb! And that comes in a 4/5 door arrangement as well a an estate.. Platform “maximised” 😀

    I

  11. @dontbuythebluemotion – the Passatt CC, and for that matter the Merc CLS make me shudder with their ugliness – I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but these 2 cars must have hit every branch when they fell out of the ugly tree! The SD1, especially late series 1 examples, were, in styling terms, just about perfect – BL didn’t need to make any other derivatives – if punters wanted a BL saloon, the Triumph 2500 was just about still available, and there was always the XJ-6, or there was the Dolly Sprint if they wanted something smaller. I always thought it was a mistake on ARG’s part to launch the 800 as a saloon – and so did they – the hatchback was a much more balanced looking car, with heavy SD1 styling cues……

  12. The SD1 was, in my opinion, perect as it was, especially the later models. The 3-door coupe is probably the only one that might have had market appeal here, although a 4 door saloon would probably have been a big hit in the US and Canada.

  13. Very interesting feature, SDi with a boot looks good, its a shame that wasnt available as one of the range,it may have enhanced sales to the execetive market. Also already mentioned could have been delveloped into SDi replacement. although with Honda involvement was good for BL/ARG, I wonder if BL/ARG could not it themselves. I also wondered why R800 was produced as a saloon at the begining,it may that it was based at the time to the Honda Accord, I dont think there was a hatchback at the time.You would thought BL/ARG at the time could have worked more closely with in the departments so that some delvelopements from other models could been installed in others in the BL range to keep range of vechicles refreshed and up to date.BL was rather slow in producing a better range for the SDi, I know with the Met Police involement with the SDi at MRD then these inprovements helped to put the Vitesse on the road.

  14. Interesting photoshop images. The saloon works for me (well almost) but the coupe less so, though I do like the idea of an SD1 coupe. I think the MK1 Granada coupe was nicer (and readily available).

  15. We all have an idea of “What we would of Done” had we been in charge! However we must not forget at the time of Launch BL was a sinking ship, Mr Edwards was about to throw the deadwood overboard just to stay afloat, commissioning an SD1 saloon at the time would of been am sure the last this on his mind ! Besides a Hatchback is more practical, designing a saloon would just be for hear sake to blend in with the establishment!.

    The SD1 would not receive the development until Mr Musgrove stepped in! shame but due to saving the rest of BL there were no penny’s left, Had the money been there from the start then am guessing but there could of been a Triumph version? However looking back Triumph and Suspect Reliability were infamously related (as I am led to believe? but I can remember loads of normal Dolomites/Toledos that lingered on by the same owners well into the late 80s/early 90s..) so the decision was made early on to rid Triumph, despite a loyal following.

    On the other hand Mr Bach’s creation doesn’t quite lend itself to a saloon conversion, so without the money to change major panel work could possibly be why it stayed this way, or narrow mindedness? whereas the 800 Fastback to my eyes always looked like the afterthought it was, Just my opinion of course.

    Have always thought BL/AR should of had both hands in the Honda parts bin, But jumping into bed with them left themselves a mixed bag of blessings.

  16. Of course, BL’s proposed SD1 replacement – Project Bravo – would have been a saloon. Just looked at this again:

    Underbody:
    o Front end and suspension as TR7/8
    o New mid-section similar to SD1
    o Rear end and axle – combination of SD1 and Lynx
    Engines:
    o 2.0-litre O-Series
    o 2.6-litre 6-cylinder OHC
    o 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel – bought outTransmission:
    o 77mm gearbox
    o Mid-range axle

    Dimensions:
    o Wheelbase 105″
    o Front track 55.5″/56″
    o Rear track 56.5″/57″

    Weight:
    2194-2305lb (target)

    Were they really planning to replace the SD1 with a smaller car? Bravo’s wheelbase was 5″ shorter than the SD1 and the front and rear tracks were 3″ and 2″ narrower respectively. No V8, either.

    Anyway, the bit that interests me here is Keith’s statement, “it [the SD1] had a nice, simple, modular platform to enable this to happen.” Just wondering how modular? And if the company proposed any SD1 variants – other than the estate – that we don’t know about.

  17. However, the whole concept of the SD1 was to break with the traditional image of a Rover as a large saloon festooned with wood and leather and the hatchback design was unique in this class- I know Renault had the 30, but very few people wanted one. Maybe an estate would have proved an interesting addition to the range, but a saloon would have been a backward step.

  18. A four door saloon would probably have diluted the SD1’s image, appeal.

    The two door sport and 3 door coupe are interesting proposals but would either have looked so right as the 5 door?

  19. Is is true Michael Edwards had a prototype SD1 estate as a company car? I think I saw it at Gaydon a while back (gold colour) Yet another “Should have been”

  20. Mark, your rendering is certainly more in keeping with the styling of the time.. Think the gold one has a rear that’s perhaps a bit to young..

  21. I never liked the SD1 hatchback shape – it reminded me of a sandal on wheels, and would have preferred a saloon and estate. Ford thought it could manage with just a hatchback when it replaced the Granada with the Scorpio, but it was the hatchback that was eventually axed. Imagine a hatchback version of the bug-eyed Scorpio – perhaps someone could do a photoshopped one!

  22. Oh David Bache, why didn’t you listen. The design is good, but it’s not a Rover. The interior is clever, but it wasn’t a Rover. Where was the Grill ?

    Rover – A poor man’s Rolls-Royce. So that would make it a Mercedes-Benz.

    Driven by Doctors, Bank Managers, Accountants, Head Teachers.

    The status symbol of going to open the boot, to get out your Golf Clubs out.

    My Dad’s manager hated his firm’s 2300. Swapped it for a Ford Granada (mk2) Ghia. This was before the EEC, shake up. After that he always had Mercedes-Benz’s.

    That was the enemy.

    Such a waste.

    • Don’t forget retired army officers were enthusiastic Rover owners, and there is a British Leyland advert from 1976 where a retired officer type goes into a showroom to buy an SD1. It did seem Rover was the car that conservative older professionals who appreciated the car’s durability, sturdy engineering and understated wealth. However, wonder if the retired colonel became very disappointed with his SD1 and traded it in for a Volvo.

  23. The fact he could buy a decent, well made car made the EEC the enemy? Maybe I’ve got that wrong. If your Dads boss decided the future was a Ford Granada I very much doubt he would have been tempted by some sort of “Auntie” Rover if that had still been in production instead of the SD1. The SD1 as a package was perfect and well ahead of the opposition when launched in 76/77. They just needed to build them properly and in sufficient numbers to meet demand. A saloon version as photo-shopped above – possibly badged as a Triumph – should also have been a no brainer for BL.

    • Compare the equivalent Mercedes-Benz, of the same time the W123. That is what the SD1 should have been. Not a Hatchback, with no distinguishing Grill.

      Everyone accepts that Rover’s engineering was good. But the build quality and the style alienated its customers.

      Ford did the same with the Sierra. That’s how Vauxhall got back into the game, with the Cavalier.

      ******

      The EEC shake up was around 1983, when British companies could no-longer insist on a buying British only. Fleet buyers, started to order Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo’s, for executives.

      Reps, were still with, Ford, Vauxhall, and Austin till, the late 90’s when the cars were seen has part of their wages, not a necessary tool.

      That’s when their were more new BMW 3 Series on the road than Ford Modeo’s.

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