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 then.
The Rover V8s revved freely, so always excelled when coupled to the five-speed manual as opposed to the three-speed Borg Warner auto. Virtually all Australian-spec SD1s were automatics, with the US-Federal-spec low compression ratio V8 engines and Lucas L-Jetronic, for a rousing (in that dismal time) 144bhp.
We could have stood a higher compression ratio but, apparently, Australia was used as a testbed for the American mechanicals, which raised the ire of those motoring journalists who spotted this.
Driven for a decade…
I’ve inherited the Rover and have driven it for a decade now as an everyday car. It’s only ever failed when the high-beam current melted the headlamp switch (upgraded relays solved this). Seals and gaskets leak over time and are replaced as necessary. Window lift rocker switch contacts were cleaned and everything works fine.
A new air-con dryer unit is needed (hard to find) and a relay just quit in the central locking. Some incipient rust in the door bottoms was drowned with Waxoyl until I can do a decent repair, and weather and Australian sun has blemished the metallic colour on the roof.
However, the engine and auto are still running (the car’s reaching 215,000km) and the interior cloth and plastics are in excellent shape.
Foibles are to be expected at this age
These are merely the foibles of a high-mileage car that’s over 35 years old. If it had some major weaknesses, they would have shown up ages ago. The original Pioneer radio-cassette deck failed long before the Rover’s own electricals.
In summary, I’d agree that:
- The design process took too long to complete (1971-75)
- Management in-fighting and turmoil led to 1) above with the loss of Rover men and ascendancy of BL men and bean counters
- Labour’s sense of entitlement, couldn’t care less about quality control
- Management’s blind eye to quality lapses
- Interference from Government (you can’t expand your factory here, build one over there instead to solve local unemployment, here’s a big bailout, sorry – no more bailouts, etc.)
- External industrial actions of suppliers.
The legacy of the Rover SD1? In any parking lot today, the SD1 is lower and sleeker than anything else – and, with the load-carrying ability of a hatchback, it’s eminently practical. An executive hatchback? You bet!
So I’d say the SD1 is a great design spoiled by indifferent build for too long after launch. Or maybe think of a Ferrari 365 Daytona with four fewer cylinders, 200 less bhp, but two extra doors. Wouldn’t you have one?
But before I go…
How my family ended up with this SD1
My stepfather was a bit of an Anglophile where cars were concerned. He had a 1967 Jaguar E-type 2+2, ’64 Jaguar Mk2 automatic (on which I learnt to drive) and a ’78 Triumph 2500TC (also great to learn on). He sold the Mark II and bought a new – or nearly-new – SD1.
Here’s why it was nearly-new: it was purchased for an elderly gentleman as a surprise gift and replacement for his Austin Princess limousine. He drove the Rover for a week but returned it to the dealer to go back to his limousine. He must have missed the leather and timber inside, and possibly the majestic bulk of the thing.
Does that say anything about traditional Rover owners of the time? I don’t know, but the SD1 found many new owners from outside of the traditional Rover buyers’ group. Before that, many P6Bs of the 1970s found favour with officers of the Australian armed forces. I suppose the junior ranks and enlisted men drove Japanese cars or Holden Toranas…
Certainly, SD1s sold reasonably well in the Australian luxury car market from 1980-85, taking into account the recession of 1981-83. A win at Bathurst Touring Car races didn’t hurt either and remember when bank accounts actually gave you interest?
The time I lost all the lights (main light switch) except the blinkers, in the bush at night, is a tale for another occasion.
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