The Rover SD1 was the final car designed, engineered and styled by the dream team that brought us the P5, P6 and Range Rover, Spen King, Gordon Bashford and David Bache. The SD1 was another revolutionary Rover with daring fastback styling, and a lightweight unstressed V8 up-front.
Initially it sold extremely well, but tales of poor quality circulated in the press, and buyers started shopping elsewhere. The car was improved constantly during its life, so the final models were fast, appealing and genuinely desirable. Range was extended first by the six-cylinder SD1s, then by the four-pot, diesel and the Vitesse. Of the non-V8 cars, the six-cylinder is the most desirable, but a reputation for unreliability from their Triumph-designed engines still haunts them.
The O-series-powered 2000 appeared in 1982 with the Series 2 facelift, and goes better than you might imagine, too. There’s also enough room in the engine bay to climb in while servicing – and like all SD1s, that’s still facilitated by plentiful parts supply.
The best came last though. Once referred to as ‘the poor man’s Aston Martin’ by Motor magazine, the 1983 Vitesse remains a fast and effective bruiser of a sports saloon, despite the relatively paltry horsepower figure. Extrovert spoilers and racy trim completed the Vitesse’s transformation, and, despite the SD1 having been around for six years when it first appeared, it was a surprise success for Rover.
Later twin-plenum version homologation special, developed with help from Lotus, was more powerful, while TWR-prepared touring car racers won at international level.
Reviews, blogs and news stories
Featuring five-door supercar styling, and some of the nicest engine notes to grace an executive car, the Rover SD1 has a place in the hearts of many car enthusiasts today. However, when it was new, poor build quality, flaky paint, and the poor image of its builder meant that its sales potential went unfulfilled in […]
Ever wanted a full breakdown of BMC>MGR production figures, but didn’t know where to go? Fear not – AROnline has all the numbers you’ll ever need.
Igor Spajic When my stepfather bought a new Rover SD1 3500SE in 1982 (among the last Series 1s), it was still car-of-the-future stuff – alloy V8, EFI, hatchback, etc. It was impressive, but I couldn’t help wondering why the auto was only a three-speed, when those backward Americans all had four-speed autos (with overdrive) by […]
Although it has received a bit rap in the trade thanks to its well-documented problems, the SD1 Six is a very capable engine. However, it could have been so much more had it been given the start it so richly deserved. On its 35th birthday, Robert Leitch casts an analytical eye over this oft-maligned engine […]
The full story of the Rover V8 – and how it found its way from the USA to Solihull, and then become an unlikely hero…
Keith Adams A rare, South African-specification, CKD-built Rover 2600 SDX has been offered on eBay. The car, which was built in Leyland South Africa‘s Blackheath plant, is freshly imported and ready to go. It’s a Midas Gold example and was registered in 1980 – it differs from the UK version by being powered by the stretched […]
As part of our Rover SD1 at 40 special, here’s what Leyland Cars boss, Derek Whittaker had to say on the subject. This article is taken from the British Leyland Mirror, 30 June 1976. In common with his senior executives Derek Whittaker, Managing Director of Leyland Cars, is filled with enthusiasm for the new Rover. He feels […]
As part of our Rover SD1 at 40 special, here’s what Leyland Cars’ Director of Engineering and Product Planning, Spen King, had to say on the subject. This article is taken from the British Leyland Mirror, 30 June 1976. Spen King (second from left) outlines the engineering philosophy behind the Rover 3500 The one word, simplicity, encapsulates the […]
As part of our Rover SD1 at 40 special, here’s why Leyland Cars’ Sales and Marketing Director, Keith Hopkins, thought his new car had the beating of the opposition. This article is taken from the British Leyland Mirror, 30 June 1976. Trading on the magical combination of tradition and advanced design and engineering, the Rover 3500 […]
Tomorrow’s car today… Ian Nicholls reminds us just how important the Rover SD1 was at launch, 40 years ago – not just for its maker, but for the economy as a whole. Many British Leyland cars had the term ‘make or break’ applied to them, but perhaps it only really applied to two vehicles, the […]
In 1976, the Rover SD1 was the pride of the British car industry. It was great to look at, excellent value, and stacked up well against all comers. It proved so good that it convinced the panel of the European car of the year to vote it their favourite car – awarding it the prize against strong opposition such as the Ford Fiesta.