Bache To The Future

More admiring glances and comments for the Polski-SD1 reinforces my thoughts about arguably British Leyland’s finest creation. 

Words and Photographs: Mike Humble 

Rover SD1: one of the most iconic motor cars of the 20th century? You decide.

Well, the Pride of Longbridge gathering is now just a fortnight away and, man, how time flies. It seems only five minutes ago I was in a panic re-spraying the rear doors to get my R8 214SLi ready for the long and boring journey from Horsham to Birmingham – is it just me or does anyone else reckon the M40 to be one of the most boring motorways in the UK? Mind you, the M11, of course, comes a close second. 

I have mentioned previously that the Rover had been put onto the back burner while I knuckled down into my new job but, suffice to say, normal service has now been resumed and those final niggling jobs, bar one, have been knocked on the head as t`wer. The really horrible past bodge to the fuel line has now been dealt with –  someone had previously snapped the plastic fuel line that runs parallel to the chassis rail and used a length of unbraided rubber hose which was crumbling away and becoming porous. Some decent fuel hose has now been fitted and sits a comfortable distance from the exhaust down pipe, unlike before. 

A previous repair to the fuel line was nasty and potentially quite lethal

A few days ago the car started running rather odd struggling to maintain a steady idle speed. Looking further into the problem, it transpired that the “Y” piece in the breather system had fallen to bits. Last year, I had bonded the cracked item with some success but age had taken its toll and the aforementioned component had split apart. Hopefully, Keith is sending a new item down but, in the meantime, I have used a T piece which I had in stock as a temporary measure – not the prettiest of lash ups, but a sufficient one nonetheless. 

More jubilee's than HM the Queen - but it's done the trick for now.

The remaining task of replacing the front dampers has ground to a halt and, on this occasion, I have to admit defeat. After copious amounts of heat, hammering and swearing one of the bolts which secures the steering arm to the hub refuses to budge. My torque wrench was clicking at an indicated 120 lbft trying to undo said bolt so, as a consequence, I decided to stop there and then before something sheared off and immobilized the car. The weeping N/S/F damper still seems to be damp, so I’m not that upset, besides, it recently passed the MoT like that but will need replacing in the near future. 

Both headlamps seem to continue working after the minor electrical meltdown last year and the brakes, thanks to a brace of wheel cylinders, all round bleed up and lining de-glaze are doing a sterling job at anchoring up. I have spent most of today burbling around West Sussex and, even though I say so myself, I’m pleased and happy with the way things are going – I just hope his Keithness concurs with my sentiments. One again, it’s bound to be a gut wrenching feeling when the car goes back to Northamptonshire – there have been an awful lot of hours tinkering and, even though I have always been conscious of my neighbours, they all love the car and many people have commented about how nice it looks and how lovely it sounds. 

A Parcel Force driver was delivering next door this very morning as I was giving the old girl a wash and the driver, who was old enough to remember these cars in the halcyon days of BL, was cooing over Pendeilcan white coachwork, while telling me a tale of when his Father-in-Law’s SD1’s engine went West on the M6 – it was a 2300 I may add. However, this has been the story all along with the Rover: everywhere I go, be it a Sainsbury’s or a Shell, people take the time to saunter over to me to share their stories about the Rover SD1 – some good, some bad – but all recounted with nostalgic fondness. There is, though, a common theme runs which all the people I have spoken to have mentioned – they all love the SD1’s styling. 

The TR7 - Has it improved with the passing of time?

British Leyland, by a long chalk, produced some of the very best looking cars ever seen throughout the world – for example, the Range Rover, Jaguar XJ and the SD1 along with, according to some, several of the very worst – Allegro, Maestro and Maxi. Many a harsh word has been said about the styling of cars such as, for instance, the Princess and TR7  but, on a personal level, I loved the raked and wedge look of the aforementioned cars and. in the case of the Princess, it was one of the most relaxing cars I have ever been a passenger in. 

Sometimes BL tried to be different and bold in its styling direction – much like Citroen with their offerings of the CX and XM, though the modern C6 is an ignored car in the UK yet deserves to do well. I have driven one and they are simply stunning, amazing and bonkers like big French cars used to be. Anyway, in the case of BL, the Princess and TR7 joined the ranks of the lame ducks thanks to the English tradition of a lack of development and chronic quality problems – all such a bloody shame while at the same time, unforgivable. 

This summed the SD1 in a nutshell – applauded at launch yet scuppered soon after, a car that promised so much and delivered heartache in equal measures. I reckon that, if the same catalogue of catastrophic blunders, mis-management and shocking reliability issues had occured in say Volkswagen, the guilty parties would have rounded up, taken to the middle of the Black Forest and quietly shot. Yet BL were allowed to lurch and stumble from one balls up to another – all very wrong and sad. 

Just a few of the 100s of cars from last year's Pride of Longbridge Gathering

Still all of us here on AROnline love the turbulent timeline of the British Motor Industry and, for us, what was so wrong seems so right. Every one of us keeps a pair of rose-tinted spectacles in the glovebox and I for one look forward to hearing about Montego wheel bearings, Rover 820 Vitesse oil leaks and Rover 75 head gaskets to name but a few. This year’s Pride of Longbridge gathering marks the fifth meeting and six years since “The Austin” closed its doors – my how time flies. 

You don’t even have to own a car from the BMC/BL/Rover marqueS – get off your backside and join us all at Cofton Park on 16 April 2011. 

See you there??

Mike Humble

About the Author:

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade. Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

15 Comments on "Bache To The Future"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. 406v6 406V6 says:

    A good article but the pictures are all squashed width-wise or stretched height-wise and detract from the words. How about tweaking the technical settings to sort this out?

  2. David says:

    A really nice article, Mike, and I am glad to see that your enthusiasm for Keith’s SD1 remains undiminished.

    You really hit the nail on the head as far as the styling of Citroen’s and BL’s products was concerned. Despite not being a big fan of the Princess (although it was a very reliable and comfortable car) or of the Triumph TR7, both were bold and confident in their styling. That really showed that BL really wanted to do something which was more avantegarde compared to its more restrained rivals but the company got its fingers burnt in the process. Now we seem to be experiencing the complete opposite – conservatism for fear of upsetting customers and seeing them buy into other brands.

    I would be very happy if we could combine the style and spirit of 1970s styling with the modern technology and build quality of current cars – even more so if it could result in a born-again Rover SD1 or 3-door Range Rover!

  3. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    CAR Magazine got really excited about the Maestro’s styling just before it came out, calling it ‘some of David Bache’s greatest work’. After launch, the design was accredited to Ian Beech, not Bache, and the degree of appreciation for it was down-graded accordingly!

    The 1970s press routinely talked about the ‘BL Wedge’, a reference to the TR7, Princess and SD1 and, as David says, they were bold and confident. They also indicated a step-change in design after the awfulnesses of the Maxi, Marina and especially the Allegro. 1970s schoolboys lusted after the TR7 despite the bad press it was getting. There was also interest in Europe in all three cars. You can make a decent case for the engineering qualities of all three, as well as the styling, but the quality let them down. A lesson learned the hard way…

  4. Simon Woodward says:

    The Rover SD1 and the Triumph TR7: had BL stuck it out with the TR7, there would have been the Lynx 2+2, the prettier ‘Broadside’ re-vamp, a 16V Sprint and the TR8 would have evolved into a 3.9 EFi. We would have had the gorgeous SD1 Estate and, with a bit of luck, there would have been a Vitesse version.

    Indeed, had BL any sense, they would have exploited the Range Rover quicker with a 4 door from day one and sold it with decent electrics. They could then have made and sold it all over the world because, at the beginning of the 1970s, they still had factories and dealers all over the place. Don’t forget the RR had a massive waiting list from day one despite its reliability issues and a lack of 4 doors because no one made anything as good.

    Furthermore, had the Maestro come out on time in 1977, it would have had to compete with the Escort Mk2, Vauxhall Chevette and Chrysler Sunbeam, all RWD and cart sprung, re-bodied 1960s cars. All simple, great cars but light years behind the Maestro’s engineering, styling and practicality. The same can be said of the Metro which should have come out in the mid 1070s and not 1980.

    I think what winds me up more about BL is the narrow mindedness of all those involved. They had some great designs and it is too easy to blame the Unions or reliability issues or bad assembly. However, I reckon it’s down to a combination of factors which should have been controlled from the top. The top brass should have managed labour relations better and encouraged pride in building their products. Dealers should have put their foot down over poor reliability and marketing should have got its finger out and taken a look at what Ford was doing.

    The UK still churns out some great Designers and Engineers – just look at JLR’s efforts of late or, for that matter, the Design Team which has brought the MG6 to the market. Have a look at all the major car makers and F1 and you will find a British-trained Engineer. We still also produce cars on a massive scale in the UK – 1.2 million last year – but sadly most of the UK-based OEMS are no longer British-owned.

    Had BL’s management managed and steered the ship a bit better then it wouldn’t have sprung a leak and eventually sunk.

  5. Two R8s says:

    There has never been a better collection of good looking cars and charismatic brands than when British Leyland was around. My selection would include everything except the Triumph – I like MG, Jaguar, LDV and the others, but I’ve never liked any of the Triumphs.

  6. KenS Ken Strachan says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with the styling of the Maestro and Maxi and have always liked the Montego – it wasn’t exactly pretty but, unlike the very bland Cavalier and heavily styled Sierra (especially the Sapphire), it had character in spades.

    The Marina was bland, but attractive, particularly with the unusual grille treatment of the early 1.8s. The TCs and Mark 3s were over-decorated.

    I like the Princess – it was quite a prestigious car when new – but could never be happy with the TR7 Hardtop. The Convertible was a big improvement, but nothing could compensate for dreadful unreliability and a pretty awful chassis. The wheelbase was too short and, even with a 2-litre engine, it was far too easy to swap ends – if you don’t believe me, read the running reports from Motor in the mid-Seventies. Peter Dron was a skilled driver, but kept putting holes in hedges!

    The Rover P6 was an old banger for a long time, but looks svelte and compact now there are so few on the roads. The facelift doesn’t look as tacky as it did in 1972. The SD1 – wonderful – and so clean and simple compared to modern designs.

  7. Simon Hodgetts says:

    I would agree completely with the statement that the SD1 was BL’s finest creation – it’s still an awesome looking car, still modern, and has fantastic presence – more than can be said for many modern cars. I always liked the rationality of the original car’s dashboard too – very functional and more a piece of Industrial Design than mere styling.

    However, as for the TR7 – it’s my personal favourite of the TR line. I always loved the styling, whether it be hardtop or convertible, and felt that the interior was one of BL’s finest (although I’m biased, because my ‘Nan used to sew the seat covers!).

    My dad had two Ambassadors and his best friend had two Princesses – for all the bad press they got, in my opinion, in the 1970s/early 1980s they offered great value for money. You got a ride quality that rivalled Jaguar and, in the Princess, the chance to drive a straight six, fantastic styling (in both cars), a huge boot, which rivalled any estate car (my Dad is a musician and always managed to get an electric piano, synthesiser and PA system in the back – his mate was a drummer who always managed to get a full drum-kit into his Princess), a well-trimmed and comfortable interior (luxurious in our ’84 Ambo HL), and cheap servicing – provided you lived in the West Midlands, where there were always ARG line workers happy to earn an extra few bob!!

    Great cars, IMHO – and far superior to anything by Ford at the time…

  8. Simon Hodgetts says:

    @Two R8s
    How odd – not even the Dolly Sprint?

  9. Simon Woodward says:

    @Simon Hodgetts
    The Triumph Stag, Spitfire, GT6, 2500Pi, TR6 and Dolomite Sprint were probably the smartest cars BL had in its line up but each to their own.

    I am working hard to get my GT6 back on the road this summer but it won’t be ready for the Gaydon meeting.

  10. Paul Taylor Paul T says:

    Simon Woodward :The Rover SD1 and the Triumph TR7: had BL stuck it out with the TR7, there would have been the Lynx 2+2, the prettier ‘Broadside’ re-vamp, a 16V Sprint and the TR8 would have evolved into a 3.9 EFi. We would have had the gorgeous SD1 Estate and, with a bit of luck, there would have been a Vitesse version.

    Indeed, had BL any sense, they would have exploited the Range Rover quicker with a 4 door from day one and sold it with decent electrics. They could then have made and sold it all over the world because, at the beginning of the 1970s, they still had factories and dealers all over the place. Don’t forget the RR had a massive waiting list from day one despite its reliability issues and a lack of 4 doors because no one made anything as good.

    Furthermore, had the Maestro come out on time in 1977, it would have had to compete with the Escort Mk2, Vauxhall Chevette and Chrysler Sunbeam, all RWD and cart sprung, re-bodied 1960s cars. All simple, great cars but light years behind the Maestro’s engineering, styling and practicality. The same can be said of the Metro which should have come out in the mid 1070s and not 1980.

    I think what winds me up more about BL is the narrow mindedness of all those involved. They had some great designs and it is too easy to blame the Unions or reliability issues or bad assembly. However, I reckon it’s down to a combination of factors which should have been controlled from the top. The top brass should have managed labour relations better and encouraged pride in building their products. Dealers should have put their foot down over poor reliability and marketing should have got its finger out and taken a look at what Ford was doing.

    The UK still churns out some great Designers and Engineers – just look at JLR’s efforts of late or, for that matter, the Design Team which has brought the MG6 to the market. Have a look at all the major car makers and F1 and you will find a British-trained Engineer. We still also produce cars on a massive scale in the UK – 1.2 million last year – but sadly most of the UK-based OEMS are no longer British-owned.

    Had BL’s management managed and steered the ship a bit better then it wouldn’t have sprung a leak and eventually sunk.

    The sound of a nail being hit on the head – top commentary, Simon.

  11. KenS Ken Strachan says:

    @Simon Woodward
    You say: “had the Maestro come out on time in 1977, it would have had to compete with the Escort Mk2, Vauxhall Chevette and Chrysler Sunbeam, all RWD and cart sprung, re-bodied 1960s cars.”

    Well, excuse the rustling of my anorak, but the Chevette only used the engine, steering column and a few other bits from the Viva. It was based on a new Opel Kadett platform from 1974, coil springs front and rear, and a Panhard rod and torque tube at the back to keep all 58 horses under strict control. It was nippy, economical and a great steer – especially with a 2300cc engine! However, the 1256cc engine suffered from short-lived timing chains (engine out to change them!) and fragile, pressed-steel tappet arms, which tended to be punctured by their pushrods.

  12. Simon Hodgetts says:

    @Simon Woodward
    They were exceptionally smart cars – especially the Stag and the Dolly Sprint. However, for some reason (irrationality on my part), I don’t see Triumphs up to the TR5 as BL cars – they seemed to be apart from the BL herd – really they ought to have been broken off from BL.

    I reckon the brand would have flourished had it been allowed to develop as a rival to BMW and Jaguar. Unfortunately, BL let the marque fester and then die before resurrecting it with the worthy, but hardly exciting (or stylish), Acclaim.

    The Rover 213/216 should have been badged as a Triumph, but I think, by that time, BAe had decided that Rover was the brand to lead with…

  13. Simon Woodward says:

    Ken Strachan :
    @Simon Woodward

    You say: “had the Maestro come out on time in 1977, it would have had to compete with the Escort Mk2, Vauxhall Chevette and Chrysler Sunbeam, all RWD and cart sprung, re-bodied 1960s cars.”

    Well, excuse the rustling of my anorak, but the Chevette only used the engine, steering column and a few other bits from the Viva. It was based on a new Opel Kadett platform from 1974, coil springs front and rear, and a Panhard rod and torque tube at the back to keep all 58 horses under strict control. It was nippy, economical and a great steer – especially with a 2300cc engine! However, the 1256cc engine suffered from short-lived timing chains (engine out to change them!) and fragile, pressed-steel tappet arms, which tended to be punctured by their pushrods.

    Good point – you are spot on with the Chevette and that was a big error on my part.

    I’ve always fancied a 2300 HS/HRS – it’s shame they didn’t make more as they are a real 1970’s pocket rocket. I wasn’t knocking the cars though – all were great cars – but just pointing out the leap forward BL could have made had they launched earlier and had the resources to develop a decent engine/gearbox.

  14. Stewart says:

    Thank god you did not refer to the Rover SD1 as being the four door Daytona as that really is wrong.

    The Ferrari Daytona may have influenced the SD1’s front indcators and the swage line scallop (the latter’s doubtful as it features in Bache’s work pre-SD1 – look at the Range Rover), but the far bigger influence on the SD1’s styling and packaging has to be the Maserati Indy, a true four seater – anyone who has travelled in the rear seats of one will confirm it’s got four proper seats, with leg room – with a good sized boot and a high sill tailgate.

Have your say...