Concepts and prototypes : Rover SD1 estate

The Rover SD1 estate car is a fascinating study into how it is possible to convert a sporting fastback into a usable estate car.

It was deemed so successful in terms of concept that BL Chairman and Chief Executive, Michael Edwardes, adopted one of the two running prototypes produced, and used it as his daily runner. However we weren’t given the opportunity to follow in his footsteps – and the car remained very much off the production plan.

Declan Berridge tells the story of this handsome load-lugger…


Volvo basher…

Sir Michael Edwards' SD1 estate was a regular sighting in the City of London between 1977 and 1979 - and proved a popular magazine scoop of the time.

Sir Michael Edwards’ SD1 estate was a regular sighting in the City of London between 1977 and 1979 – and proved a popular magazine scoop of the time.

THE story of the SD1 estate car is another one of those nuggets of BL trivia that would never have escaped into the public domain had it not been for the concept’s attractiveness to Michael Edwardes. The diminuitive BL boss had spotted the SD1 hold-all in the prototype department, and sensing that it had done all it was going to do there, he took it on himself. The Chairman’s motor, therefore, was a suitable one-off.

It was a late, and some would say subsidiary, addition to the SD1 programme, and one that would have extended the car’s appeal to the emerging management classes that had taken the Volvo and Granada estates to their collective hearts. By the time the design department started to examine the possibility of producing this additonal SD1, finances and resources were tight – a result of the Ryder Report – and that meant outsourcing…

Once the design was finalised, Carbodies of Coventry was commissioned to produce a clay buck (right) for evaluation. That was judged a success, and board approval was given to pursue the project further. At that point, BL took the project in-house, and converted two SD1 saloons into estate cars: LOE 99P, registered 17 Feb 1976 (and now preserved at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon) and SHP 549R, registered 20 Jan 1977 (the one used by Michael Edwardes, and now resident in the Haynes Motor Museum).

British Motor Industry Heritage Trust has claimed that its car is the Edwardes one, but as it’s been untaxed since February 1977 it is very unlikely to be the case. According to Karen Pender’s SD1 book, though, LOE is believed to have been used by Prince Charles for a while…

Interestingly, as can be seen in the photos below, these two cars have rather different tailgate treatments. SHP has a clamshell-style tailgate with rear wiper, similar to that shown on the Carbodies model, while LOE has a less stylish Volvo 240-style inset tailgate. This suggests that work may already have started on LOE before BL saw the Carbodies model, although this needs official confirmation.

The Heritage Motor Centre's SD1 estate. Note the inset tailgate...

The Heritage Motor Centre’s SD1 estate. Note the inset tailgate…

Haynes' SD1 estate, which sports a more attractive clamshell tailgate. Note the odd mix of wheeltrims and interior appointments. The car appears to have been retrospectively converted to Vanden Plas specification judging from the rear head restraints and side rubbing strips.

Haynes’ SD1 estate, which sports a more attractive clamshell tailgate. Note the odd mix of wheeltrims and interior appointments. The car appears to have been retrospectively converted to Vanden Plas specification judging from the rear head restraints and side rubbing strips.

The early shot of SHP as seen at the top of the page shows appealing early SD1 spec minimalism, but that was not to last. It has clearly been upgraded to Vanden Plas specification (but without the alloy wheels) at some point since then (probably at Edwardes’ behest, so as not to be left behind by the 1980 Model Year revised models), as there is no sign yet of the rear head-restraints, rubbing strips, chrome backed door mirrors, extra badging and side-repeater indicators.

It remained taxed until November 1987. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but it looks like SHP may have had R O V E R badging on the tailgate, à la the 75 Tourer.

If anyone has a decent rear view shot of the Michael Edwards SD1 from new, we’d love to hear from you

Michael Edwards' SD1 estate - now in Vanden Plas form, and still on display at the Haynes Motor Museum in Sparkford.

Michael Edwards’ SD1 estate – now in Vanden Plas form, and still on display at the Haynes Motor Museum in Sparkford.

Terry Orchard took the four above pictures of the SD1 Estate that resides in Sparkford. He said: 'I had the good fortune to drive the SD1 Estate at the Haynes Museum test track at Sparkford in October 2008. I was invited by Classics Monthly to take my Series 1 P6 Estoura 3500 for a photo shoot of unusual estate cars. The Haynes Museum had put an MoT on the SD1 prototype. I drove it myself a few laps of the test track, getting quite a buzz being one of the first to drive it after it had spent so many years on display in the Museum.'

Terry Orchard took the four above pictures of the SD1 Estate that resides in Sparkford. He said: ‘I had the good fortune to drive the SD1 Estate at the Haynes Museum test track at Sparkford in October 2008. I was invited by Classics Monthly to take my Series 1 P6 Estoura 3500 for a photo shoot of unusual estate cars. The Haynes Museum had put an MoT on the SD1 prototype. I drove it myself a few laps of the test track, getting quite a buzz being one of the first to drive it after it had spent so many years on display in the Museum.’

As for the car itself, it disappeared from the product plans sometime around 1980 – the point in time, when it became clear that the SD1’s future shelf life would be limited, and that the potential benefit in market share would be negated by the investment costs required in order to get it into production. And with the SD1 line’s removal from Solihull and subsequent move to Cowley – and its 1982 Model Year revisions eating up vital budget needed to get the Maestro and Montego into production, it was clear that there would only be one fate for this promising car.

The good thing is that at least the two running prototypes were retained – and are still available for you to see…

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

6 Comments on "Concepts and prototypes : Rover SD1 estate"

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  1. jason18tc says:

    Not keen on the side repeater lamps on the wings, but what a car this could have been!

  2. Will M says:

    The side repeaters look pointless on top of the wing above the front indicator.

    Maybe if they were back a bit on the wing and lower down they would look better. Is that not the point of side repeaters?

    Very elegant car. Would’ve made a nice shooting brake in production, in Vanden Plas spec – an on-road Range Rover!

  3. Wow, I took a photo of that car at the Haynes Motor Museum just last Friday.

  4. mike price-james says:

    And a different road test,

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/3987548652/in/photostream/

    Go to the bottom of the page for the extra pages.

  5. mike price-james says:

    And another:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/5162025773/

    Same rules apply for extra pages.

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