Engines : Rover V8

An heroic engine

During the late 1950s, the US car industry turned to aluminium as a material to build their engines from. The reasons for this have been well documented, but primarily it was the quest for lighter weight and greater efficiency that led the producers to choose this route. One such manufacturer who embraced aluminium with both arms, and so developed a compact V8 for their Buick range of cars. The engine displaced 3528cc and because of its compact size and low weight, proved very easy to package. Of course, the late Fifties were not a time for the Americans to be countering profligacy, and this resulted in these benefits largely being overlooked by GM, and that fact made them susceptible to persuasion.

Within two years the American steel industry fought back: In the American “system” the steel industry wielded enormous influence within governmental circles and thanks in part to this “unfair advantage”, along with improved casting technology and the emergence of thin wall casting techniques, many of the advantages of aluminium as a base material for engines were negated. As a result, General Motors reversed its policy of using aluminium in their new engines – returning to cast iron.

Whether this was a good thing or a bad thing for GM in the USA was not paramount in the minds of Rover executives and their engineers in the mid-’60s. For several years, Spen King and Gordon Bashford had been investigating alternative power units to power their top of the range cars; the 3-litre straight-six engine found in the P5 was by this time well past its sell-by date, being heavy and uneconomical. Various engines were tried with little success, not least the gas turbine, which managed to absorb much in the way of resources before finally being discarded. Because of this development blind alley and the now pressing need to upgrade its existing 3-litre engine, the company decided to look outwards to find something suitable.

It was Rover’s Managing Director, William Martin-Hurst, who secured the use of the 3.5-litre V8 engine, having cast far and wide for something suitable – and deciding upon the Buick 215. Knowing that the engine had recently been phased out by General Motors, he approached the company, offering to purchase the rights to build it and all of the tooling. The deal was certainly an audacious one because of the fact that it involved an outright payment to the American multi-national, thereby avoiding further royalty payments in the future. The deal was hammered out during the winter months of 1964 and by the following January, the engine was the property of Rover.

Within months, the production of the engine was transferred to Solihull and the creation of the P5B soon followed. The next recipient for the compact and powerful engine was the Rover P6 – and in the process, a minor British legend was created. It did not end there though; Spen King worked on a couple of projects, which were based around the new engine – one being the sadly stillborn Rover P6BS, the other being the Range Rover. Like the P5B, the V8 engine was the making of the Range Rover; somehow it seems hard to imagine that car enjoying quite the success that it did without the smooth and powerful V8 engine under the bonnet. In an off-road vehicle, the stump-pulling torque produced by the ex-Buick engine had found perhaps its perfect role in life.

Or so it would seem.

In 1981, TVR in Blackpool had encountered problems with the export of their Tasmin model to the Middle East. The reason for this was that the V6 models that the company produced at the time were powered by the 2.8-litre Ford Granada/Capri engine – and the produce of Ford were very much unwelcome in Saudi Arabia at the time. As a result, the company searched around for an alternative that they could use. The search did not last long – and the company went knocking at BL’s door. With Rover SD-1 production running at worryingly low levels and the Triumph TR8 having just gone out of production, the company were more than willing to supply TVR with the engines they needed. After it became clear that the TVR Tasmin (already a good car with the Ford V6) was now an excellent, seriously quick performance car, and it seemed illogical to continue using the V8 in export markets, whilst continuing to use the Ford unit in the UK – and so, TVR got its Tasmin V8 model type approved for the UK, thus creating a legend.

When the rest of the specialist car industry in the UK saw how good the TVR Tasmin was, they were keen to jump onto the bandwagon – and in short shrift, Ginetta and Marcos were also producing muscle cars of the same ilk. And so it was – the British Specialist producers had an engine that they could call their own.

BL had attempted to make proper use of the engine themselves, slotting it into the MGB GT V8 and Triumph TR8, but in both cases and for different reasons, the cars both failed to live up to the promise that they had initially shown. The Range Rover continued to use the V8 engine throughout its life, yet this never really proved to be a barrier to sales, even during the second fuel crisis of 1979 and the ensuing world recession. Even when the 1994 remake of the Range Rover (codenamed Pegasus or P38) appeared, it continued to use the venerable engine in the Land Rover Discovery.

Why did the “Rover” V8 live such a long life? Unlike the A-series engine, which was successful despite its shortcomings, the ex-Buick unit did not really have any. It was light, it was compact, it was powerful – and most importantly, it was exceptionally under stressed, which meant it had an almost infinite potential for tuning. That endeared it with the performance car fraternity, but it also meant that BL and following that, Rover were able to keep the engine in production by merely tinkering with the details in order to ensure that it remained competitive.

That, by any stretch of the imagination makes the V8 a hero.

Were there any downsides to the “Rover” V8? Yes: only that no one within Leyland was forceful enough to ensure that it was used in the Triumph Stag. With it, the Stag would have undoubtedly caused its maker a whole lot less grief, and therefore, remained in production for a lot longer. But even that is no fault of the engine – only the company’s shortsighted and partisan management.


End of the road is near for well-travelled V8

RICHARD TRUETT, November 2003, Automotive
News

WELCOME to the automotive version of What’s My Line Guess today’s mystery guest.

I was born small and light, just 215 cubic inches and 318 pounds, in 1961 in Flint, Mich. I was raised in Europe. My corporate parents were General Motors, British Leyland/Rover Group, BMW AG and Ford Motor Co. I have worked for Buick , Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Rover, Land Rover, MG, Triumph, Morgan, Marcos, TVR and others.

Who – rather, what – am I?

If you said the venerable all-aluminum Fireball V8 engine that first saw duty in the 1961 Buick Special, you win. The lightweight V8, which GM ended up selling to Rover, turned out to be one of the industry’s longest-running and most versatile workhorses. But the end is near.

When the redesigned Land Rover Discovery comes to the US market next year, it will be powered by an overhead-cam Jaguar engine, not the aluminum V8 that Land Rover has used since 1970. Production of the V8 ends next summer, just shy of one million units, says Land Rover employee Roger Crathorne.

Conceived in the 1950s

Development work on the engine started in 1958. It was the first mass-produced, all-aluminum, American-made engine, according to Buick :A Complete Hi”STORY” by Larry Gustin and Terry Dunham. Cliff Studaker, 81, a retired Buick senior project engineer who oversaw development of the Fireball V8, says GM had no idea that the engine would be so versatile, flexible and tunable. The job was to design a lightweight engine for Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac compacts.

With a two-barrel carburettor, the engine made 155hp. With a four-barrel it was rated at 185. Engineers at Oldsmobile tweaked their version, adding special heads and an optional turbocharger. The turbo Olds 215 Rockette engine cranked out 215hp.

“We knew it was setting the stage for things to come,” Studaker recalls. “It took some special development work on bolt engagements and torques so as not to strip out aluminum threads, matching the cast iron main bearing caps to regular production blocks.”

After building about 750,000 of the engines, GM decided to drop it at the end of the 1963 model year. Studaker says that although the engine got great reviews for power and smoothness, cost was an issue. So GM abandoned it for Buick’s first V6. The V6 was based on the aluminum V8 but was made of cast iron.

“The reason we stopped using (the V8) is that the economy took a turn,” Studaker says. “It was an expensive engine to build, a lot more than cast iron – close to 50 percent more.” According to The Rover V8 Engine by David Hardcastle, a Rover official spotted an unused Buick V8 engine at a boat engine factory while visiting the United States in 1966 and learned that the engine was out of production. That year, Rover struck a deal with GM. Rover bought the blueprints and all the production tooling for an undisclosed sum and began producing the engines in England.

Gone to England

Buick’s chief engineer, Joe Turlay, retired and moved to England to work for Rover. Turlay helped Rover set up the engine’s production lines and make improvements in casting the aluminum block, pistons and heads.

Throughout the years, the Rover Co., which became part of British Leyland in 1968, and its successor companies constantly improved the engine. Rover tried three times without success to sell the engine in the United States before it finally became a hit in the 1986 Range Rover. The ill-fated Rover 3500S of 1970, the Rover 3500 SD1 five-door of 1980 and the 1979-81 Triumph TR8 sports car all used versions of the Buick-designed engine. Also, the engine was used with success in the low-volume Morgan Plus 8 roadster for more than 20 years.

Bill Baker, Land Rover’s longtime public relations chief, credits the aluminum V8 with helping the Range Rover get off to a good start in the United States in 1986.

“It was ideally suited to the Range Rover because of its compactness and torque,” says Baker. “Other SUVs had V8s, but ours had a certain élan to it because it was the only all-aluminum one.” When the engine re-entered the American market in 1986, it had undergone a major transformation. Modern electronic fuel injection and an electronic ignition system combined with a stiffer block and other internal upgrades turned the little engine into a powerful charmer.

Place a 2004 Rover engine next to the original Buick-built version, and you would never know the two are related. The valve covers, ignition system, water pump and fuel system have been improved over the years. The displacement has grown from 3.5-litres (215 cubic inches) to 4.6-litres (288 cubic inches).

Specifications & applications

Capacity Bore Stroke Max. Power Max. Torque Applications
3528cc 88.9mm 71.12mm 91bhp @ 3500rpm 166lb ft @ 2000rpm 1979-82: Land Rover 109
125bhp @ 4000rpm 185lb ft @ 2500rpm 1981-86: Range Rover
127bhp @ 4000rpm 194lb ft @ 2500rpm 1970-71: Range Rover
130bhp @ 5000rpm 185lb ft @ 2500rpm 1971-77: Range Rover
132bhp @ 5000rpm 186lb ft @ 2500rpm 1977-86: Range Rover
132bhp @ 5000rpm 1980-82: Triumph TR8
1980-81: Rover SD1 (US-spec)
134bhp @ 5000rpm 187lb ft @ 2500rpm 1986-xx: Range Rover
135bhp @ 4750rpm 185lb ft @ 2500rpm 1970-71: Range Rover
135bhp @ 4750rpm 205lb ft @ 3000rpm 1970-xx: Range Rover
1975-78: Land Rover 101 (military)
137bhp @ xx00rpm 193lb ft @ 2900rpm 1974-77: MGB GT V8
143bhp @ 5000rpm 202lb ft @ 2700rpm 19xx-76: Rover P6 V8
144bhp @ 5000rpm 197lb ft @ 2700rpm 1968-xx: Rover P6 V8
150bhp @ 5000rpm 204lb ft @ 2700rpm 19xx-76: Rover P6 V8S
151bhp @ 5200rpm 201lb ft @ 2750rpm 1967-73: Rover P5 3.5-litre / 3½-litre
155bhp @ 5250rpm 198lb ft @ 2500rpm 1976-86: Rover SD1
165bhp @ 4750rpm 206lb ft @ 3200rpm 19xx-xx: Range Rover
190bhp @ 5280rpm 220lb ft @ 4000rpm 1982-86: Rover SD1 Vitesse
3948cc 164bhp @ 4750rpm 212lb ft @ 2600rpm 1989-date: Land Rover Discovery
178bhp @ 4750rpm 220lb ft @ 3250rpm 19xx-xx: Range Rover
185bhp @ 4750rpm 235lb ft @ 2600rpm 19xx-xx: Range Rover
3948cc 190bhp @ 4750rpm 236lb ft @ 3000rpm 1994-2001: Range Rover
4278cc 200bhp @ 4850rpm 250lb ft @ 3250rpm 1994-96: Range Rover
4554cc 225bhp @ 4750rpm 277lb ft @ 3000rpm 1994-2001: Range Rover

Gallery

Rover V8

The 3500 unit, installed in an early Rover SD1.

Rover V8

The visually appealing MGB GT V8 installation.

Posted in: Engines, P5, P6, Range Rover, SD1
Keith Adams

About the Author:

AROnlineholic between 2001 and 2014 - editor of Classic Car Weekly, and all round car nut...

13 Comments on "Engines : Rover V8"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Paul Taylor Paul T says:

    I would have loved to have seen one of these shoehorned into an MG ZS in the spirit of the Rover 75/MG ZT V8.

  2. alex scott says:

    or the mini v8….alex

  3. Lucas Wollam says:

    So let me get this straight…this was an afterthought of an engine to GM, yet 750,000 units were produced by them in a mere 3-4 years? And it took the english 40 years to produce a million? Sheer ineptitude…GM gave up on this engine way too soon.

  4. Yvo Bové says:

    A few years ago I bought two Rover – v8 – engines.
    Those are SD1 – V8 – engines.
    In september we started a project in the school of Bokrijk, a few miles from here.Together with two students we are taking the whole engine apart, we examine the parts and next month we put everything back together again
    At the moment the cilinderheads are disassembled. Next week we will disassemble the valves, the pistons, pistonrods and crankcase.
    We are already looking forward for the mechanical adventures of next week.
    It’s a nice engine to work with

    Greetings, the Belgium Rover V8 – team

  5. Mikey C says:

    A couple of points

    While TVR made great use of the engine, the real pioneer was Morgan, with the Plus 8 coming out in 1968.

    The other, is the 4.4L version fitted to the P76, which sadly saw no further use.

  6. Richard16378 says:

    The GM V8′s were also the basis of the Repco Formula 1 engines, which Brabham used to great effect in 1966 & 67.

    A 32 valve version in 1968 couldn’t really compete with the Cosworth DFV.

    Were the GM units used in any Holdens, or did the bare blocks find their way to Australia by other means?

  7. Andrew says:

    Hi,

    We supply a range of GM V8′s and all related parts if you ever require anything.

    Andrew

  8. Nate says:

    Wasn’t a stillborn 4.6 32v version of the Rover V8 considered for the Range Rover in the 90s?

  9. Nick says:

    I am the proud owner of a complete Rover 3.5 V8 engine, ex military, never been fitted in any vehicle and still in its test cradle awaiting World War 3.

    I was going to build a V8 kit car but I bought mentally fast bikes instead.

    I have hung on to this engine for twelve years knowing that one day someone would want something special for a project. It has everything carbs, manifold, clutch plate, even the original plug leads.

    If someone has a special use for it I would let it go. Leave me a message if interested

  10. David 3500 says:

    @ Nate:

    I don’t know whether it was a 4.6-litre, but I have heard that a 32-valve version of the Land Rover V8 engine was considered in about the time period you mention. Sadly I do not know how far the project progressed, although would imagine it was canned because of the huge investment needed and the relatively low numbers that would have been built compared to other Rover Group engines. Clearly its use was limited to the Range Rover and Land Rover Discovery, an even smaller badge of Defenders and also for low volume sports car manufacturers such as TVR, Morgan, Marcos and Ginetta. There was no prospect of using it in a Rover passenger car, so there was clearly not a strong enough business case to proceed with the project.

  11. David 3500 says:

    A couple more bits of information for the list:

    The Land Rover Discovery used the carburettor-fed 3528cc V8 from September 1989 until September 1990. It was replaced by the fuel-injected version (identified by the ‘V8i’ badging) from September 1990, which ran until October 1993. From October 1993 this engine was replaced by the 182bhp 3947cc version, which remained in service in the first generation model until August 1998. This continued to use the ‘V8i’ identifying badging on the rear door.

    In the second generation Range Rover (September 1994 onwards), the 3947cc was given the new displacement size of 3950cc, which enabled Land Rover to market it as a 4.0-litre engine to compete head-on with the 4-litre six-cylinder Jeep Grand Cherokee.

    The new 4-litre (3950cc) engine size designation was only applied to the Discovery when the Series II range was announced in September 1998. It carried a ‘V8′ badge located on the offside edge of the rear door.

    The 200bhp 4278cc (known as a 4.2-litre) was used from September 1992 until December 1994 in the first generation Range Rover, predominantly in long-wheelbase Vogue LSE form. The first generation Range Rover (known as the ‘Classic’ from September 1994) continued to use the 3947cc engine right up until the last example left the assembly line in February 1996.

    The 4554cc (4.6-litre) V8 engine was also fitted in the facelifted Land Rover Discovery Series II in 2002 and offered as the sole engine option for the North American market.

    The last Land Rover V8-powered Land Rover Discovery Series II came off the assembly line in May 2004, although the last V8 engine was actually completed the previous month.

    I hope this helps.

  12. Nate says:

    Interestingly, TVR produced the TVR 2-litre V8S, a one-off 2 litre supercharged version of the V8S – this was created for the Italian market to overcome their strict taxation based on engine capacity.

    The engine was a modified 3.5 litre Rover V8 fitted with a smaller-throw crank to reduce the engine capacity, retaining the 88.9 mm bore but with a short stroke of 40.25 mm. This meant a displacement of 1,998 cc (2.0 L), with a compression rate of 8.0:1. Lucas electronic fuel injection was fitted, along with an intercooled Eaton supercharger.

    All of this produced 233 PS (171 kW; 230 bhp) at 6,200 rpm and 266 N·m (196 lb·ft) at 3,700 rpm.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TVR_S_Series#2-litre_V8S

Have your say...