The cars : Rover V8-S (1979-1980)

The Rover V8-S was rare when new, with approximately 1040 examples built. This was also quite an important model in the range because it was a first step to turning the SD1 into a proper luxury car.

James Taylor gives us a quick reminder of what the shortlived Rover V8-S was all about.


Rover V8-S: Not quite there…

Rover V8-S

That the Rover SD1 was built down to a price was obvious from the start. David Bache’s sleek masterpiece outshone anything else in its class on looks and panache, but British Leyland’s determination to keep the showroom price down led to a loss of the luxury that Rover buyers expected.

As traditional Rover buyers defected in droves to Volvo and other imported makes, moves were afoot to make a better fist of the SD1. Engineers and Stylists alike appear to have been instructed to give it a more traditional Rover ambience, while maintaining its modern and contemporary feel. So, they did their best.

One of the serious omissions from the existing specification was an air conditioning system, which was going to be essential when the car was introduced to the USA, so work began on an installation that could be properly built in rather than bolted on.

Rover V8-S
The aircon system was designed to be as easy as possible to use and was neatly integrated into the dash. Visible here are the chrome trim highlights that were another V8-S feature

Integrating air conditioning

This was drawn up in conjunction with the SU-Butec division of Pressed Steel Fisher, and was deliberately based on US practice so that customers used to US aircon systems would feel at home with it. Some of its components were even bought in from General Motors.

Installing the new aircon did not disrupt the existing lines of the car. From the outside, the only clue was an additional air intake slot just above the bumper, which fed air to the condenser radiator. On the inside, the system was neatly integrated into the existing dashboard, feeding cooled air through the standard directional vents.

The controls were mounted in the centre console, and bright trim on this, the air vents, the facia and the interior door locks added a more upmarket look. Unfortunately, the cost-cutters got to the design before it entered production: the brightwork was reduced to chromed plastic, and the ‘chrome’ finish tended to wear off after a while.

Rover V8-S
Here’s the styling car. The black bumpers are in place, and there’s an interesting version of the skeletal Viking ship badge with a red background

Upgraded styling inside and out

Nevertheless, Bache and his colleagues did try. They specified a new velour fabric for the upholstery, cloth coverings for the plastic door trims, and deep shag-pile carpets. They added head restraints to the rear seats, and all four head restraints had press-studs to take detachable cushions. The cost-cutters undermined this idea, too, and the car was released with only two detachable cushions as standard; the other two cost extra.

Exterior styling was done on a car that carried registration number WHP 121S. According to DVLA records, that was first registered in October 1977 and was last on the road in early 1987 – by then, though, it had been repainted grey. Photographs show that it was initially Triton Green, a bright new metallic paint chosen specially for the proposed new model.

Those same photographs also show that the all-black bumpers were in the specification early on, and they show trials with rear badging different from the production type. The name of V8-S had been chosen – it sounded good, and made clear this was a rather special model – and the badges eventually chosen for production set it against a black background to good effect.

Rover V8-S
This is the rear of the styling car. The bright tailpipe is there, but the plinth badges do not yet have the production design

Undoing some of the minimalism

Rover customers hadn’t been universally enamoured of Bache’s skeletal Viking ship badge (actually designed by Ian Beech), and so a new version of the traditional badge was designed for the nose.

Bright V8 badges on the wings added further distinction, and so did double coachlines and a chrome-plated exhaust tailpipe. The production specification ended up with other special features, such as headlamp wipers and gas struts to support the bonnet.

It also featured a special version of the Triplex Ten-Twenty windscreen with a graduated green anti-glare band at the top, and gold-painted alloy wheels. These caused many people to wince even when new, and were replaced by wheels with a silver finish on Platinum silver V8-S cars.

Rover V8-S
The V8-S came with two detachable head restraint cushions (which were similar to those used on Range Rovers). The studs for the rear pair can be seen here – although the rear cushions cost extra
Rover V8-S
The production badge certainly had class, just showing the name of the model against a black background and relying on red highlighting

And on to launch

So it was that the V8-S was introduced on 2 July 1979, and a launch stock of 900 cars ensured that every Rover Triumph outlet in the UK would have at least one example to sell. All those first 900 cars came with metallic paint in one of three colours (Midas Gold, Persian Aqua Blue or the attention-grabbing new Triton Green), but the plan was to make the V8-S available with the full range of SD1 colours after these had been sold.

Both manual and automatic versions were made available, the latter of course costing extra. The V8-S was released in the UK first, giving Rover a chance to sort out any problems that might arise with the new air conditioning system before it was rolled out to overseas buyers.

Switzerland received its first examples in February 1980, and here (as in West Germany) they were called 3500S models in sales literature, although the V8-S badging was always the same as on home market cars. Italy introduced the V8-S in March, and the US model SD1 arrived at the same time. However, V8-S production lasted only until the summer of 1980. The model was replaced by the much more resolved, but still imperfect, 1981-model 3500 Vanden Plas.

Rover V8-S
The Rover V8-S was made available overseas, but sales cannot have been large if 900 of the total 1040 built were sold in Britain! This press picture was issued at the time of the Italian launch, and shows a white car with small round indicator repeaters on the front wings, as required by Italian traffic regulations

A disadvantaged life

The V8-S failed to hit its mark. Sales were not helped by the world-wide reaction against large cars that followed the fuel price rises in 1979, but must also have been hindered by the obvious cost-cutting and poor build quality evident on too many examples. British Leyland learned the hard way that you can’t make a luxury car on the cheap.

Even so, the V8-S was a step in the right direction, taking Rover back towards the luxury car market where the marque had operated in the 1950s and 1960s. You can see why they wanted an eye-catching paint colour like Triton Green, which was pretty unmissable. The only problem with it was that it just wasn’t ‘Rover’ enough.

That said, an SD1 V8-S in Triton Green that hasn’t succumbed to rust or any of the other common SD1 maladies would be a real find today, and very much worth preserving. It would be a real period piece – slightly tasteless in the worst 1970s fashion, but all the more interesting for it now!

Rover V8-S
This car was registered by Rover as one of several in the FRW-T series that included press and other demonstrators. The blue is Persian Aqua, which was already available on standard models, although the gold wheels, black bumpers and new Viking ship badge were unique to the V8-S. The sunroof was standard on the V8-S but cost extra on other models at the time
James Taylor

23 Comments

    • I was about to say that! Love these – especially in Triton green. I’m sure I’ve seen one with a chocolate brown leather interior too?

  1. That Triton Green is hideous. I have had similar paint on two cars: a Vauxhall Viva S, which blew its engine on the first trip home; and a Mitsubishi Colt, which no-one in their right minds would steal because a) it was a horrible colour and b) it was a Mitsubishi Colt. Horrible to drive, but I got it up to 52mpg by steady tinkering. It was a Jack Russell car: full of character, none of it good.

  2. Those gold alloys are very tacky!

    In retrospect, it’s amazing that the SD1 was launched without a proper luxury version being planned.

  3. I always thought that the SD1 needed a proper sporting model in the range, given that it was already quite plush, with velour seats and the like.

    A lightweight model – with stuff like sound deadening, Radio, electric windows, parcel shelf etc deleted, proper sports seats, and the uprated brakes and suspension as fitted to the police spec cars – maybe even aluminium bonnet hatchback and doors for further weight saving.

    Think of it like the BMW 3.0CSL, a homologation special, halo and image building model aimed squarely at competition. Alas the names Vantage and Superleggera were already taken…

    Not all potential Rover drivers are interested in wood and Chrome add-ons!

  4. Well, I must admit to liking Triton Green and all the other ‘efforts’ afforded to the new V8S. I would be interested to learn more about the interesting version of the Skeletal badge featured on the bonnet of the 1977 car WHP 121S which did not make it into production…

  5. Rover probably wanted a slice of the American V8 market and fitting the V8S with air conditioning, essential in a luxury car aimed at the American market. was a sign they wanted the car to develop an American following. Also the V8 used in the SD1 was relatively economical, being capable of 25-30 mpg if driven carefully, and would have suited America’s awful 55 mph speed limit in 1979.

  6. It’s a very close toss-up between this and the Series 1.5 VDP. I was in Clark £”& Lambert in Eastbourne in 1979 while my dad was ranting about how many shades of Midas gold were on our V8 SD1. I was 12 and wondered into the showroom to see a Persian Aqua V8-S. it was so lovely inside compared to ours and I lusted after it. I’ll admit to being nerdy enough to de-stapled the brochure and put the centre page spread of it on my wall.

  7. Leather was out of fashion for luxury cars except Jaguars and Rolls Royces in the late seventies and velour was the material of choice on most upmarket cars, so the Rover V8S wasn’t unusual in this respect. A good velour alwaya made driving a car very comfortable and darker shades always looked classy.

  8. Great article .
    Much as I”ve always wanted a moonraker Vitesse a green V8-S would be great .
    I always loved Tr7 s and SD1s in” gangreen “ as we called it .

  9. I remember these when they came out and while the green was very much of its time the gold wheels looked really naff. The air slot above the front number plate made this model very distinctive.

    The article says that 1040 were built, of which 900 were built for launch. So only 140 were sold after launch which suggests a spectacularly poor seller for a car that was built for one year.

  10. I liked this car and its V8-S badges. A pity it didn’t get colour coded mirrors, though those features were newish on cars of that era.

  11. Triton Green is an acquired taste- it reminds me of the green paintwork and lurid green interiors you could order on Talbot Avengers of this era- but you can’t deny it makes the Rover stand out, although the gold wheels are a bit bling. I prefer it in Persian Blue, though.

  12. That headlamp wash wipe system (and any related spare parts) must be incredibly rare.
    Later series 1 1/2 VDPs and series 2 VDPs just having high pressure jets in the over riders.
    Was the system something that was required on standard cars for certain export markets
    as it seems a lot of work to develop it for just 1040 cars ?

  13. I’m looking hard at the pictures and I’m damned if I can see a headlamp wash/wipe system. Is it just me?

      • Ah, I see them on that picture. They look quite short, obviously don’t cover the whole lamp. Is it possible they were bought in items? Does seem improbable that BL would develop a system for this application alone.

  14. I used to see one of these when I cycled to school in Cornwall in the early-mid 1980’s. Triton Green with the gold wheels. I was early teens and just getting into cars. I am sure it was owned by the parents of one of the school kids. As it burbled past me on my Triumph Tempest 12 speed bicycle I inexplicably thought it was kind of cool. It was looking shabby though.

  15. My fave SD1 variant too. I see there’s one on the Icon Classic Car hire fleet in Southampton. No affiliation – just saw it while googling the V8-S.

  16. I had a Triton Green V8S back in 1985 for a couple of years, would have it back in a flash today. It’s good to see at least one Triton is on the road, there is another that was bought for restoration last year.

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