Polski-Rover at Pride of Longbridge
My very first memory, earlier even than family events such as holidays and birthdays, is of my father’s old SD1 Vanden Plas. A V8 automatic Series 2 in Moonraker metallic, it imprinted itself firmly upon first my young retinas and later my developing mind. I am sure that this car is responsible for my love not only of British Leyland, but of cars in general. Since these memories, maybe from the age of four, I have longed to drive an SD1 V8. And I didn’t think my chance would come until I was at an age when I could insure one.
I tried doing so. On the Skelton ‘Cars I talked of Buying’ list there is an SD1. A Vanden Plas EFi that was being sold locally by a friend. I was close to enquiring before I got an insurance quotation. Suffice it to say I was given a miserably expensive quote and so thought that losing my SD1 virginity would have to wait – that or I’d have to start with a smaller engined version. However, I’d reckoned without Keith Adams.
Keith is, as I’m sure readers of the site know, a huge British Leyland fan, who has recently had his V8 Series 1 restored in Poland. He’s also a generous and big-hearted chap, who knew of my reasons for loving SD1s. I was discussing SD1s with him last year and he commented “Play your cards right, and you can have a go in mine when it comes back.” And so it was that on the 17th April 2010 I found myself behind the wheel of a V8 Rover, about to realise the ambition of some thirteen and a half years.
The first thing to strike me as I closed the door was that it’s a wide car. A very wide car. My mother had commented that upon passing her test and getting straight into an SD1 2300, it felt like an airliner – such was the feeling of width in the cabin. I mocked her when she first told me, but she wasn’t far off the mark – the handbrake was a fair way over to my left, as was the gearstick. I turned the key and felt a slight shiver down my spine as the big Buick V8 burbled into life. In gear, and off we went.
So what’s it like? I’d append ‘on the road’ but I was in Cofton Park. Well, first impressions were favourable. Looking down the creased and sculptured bonnet, which I had long admired from all angles but this, I felt that the SD1 disproved the old adage that one should never meet one’s heroes. It’s very much my kind of car. Big, quite lazy, yet with the feeling that had I put my foot down it would have gone like a scalded cat. The steering was assisted to the point of feeling easy, yet retaining plenty of feel – and I also relished my first go with a quartic wheel. There was only really one fly in the ointment – Keith mentioned that there was a screeching fan bearing, which seemed at it’s worst when letting in the clutch. Having not driven a manual any great distance since passing my driving test (I’m a convert to the lazy life an automatic brings), there was the constant nagging question in the back of my head – was the noise my lack of competence or the bearing?
Pulling back up beside Keith, I switched off the rumbling V8, and emerged from the Pendelican powerhouse a far happier man. As I shook his hand, I thanked him for helping me realise an almost lifelong dream. Would I have one? As a hobby car, of course I would. Like a shot. But as a daily, I don’t think I’d dare to. I’d forever be hoping that tomorrow wasn’t to be the day that the V8 rumble became somehow ordinary, or the day upon which I stopped feeling childishly thrilled at the thought I had my own SD1. Given the fond memories I associate with them, I’d rather the magic remained.
Don’t let that stop you, though…