Advert of the Week : Rover SD1

Keith Adams

Monegasque registered SD1 for that international feel
Monegasque registered SD1 for that international feel

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.

The company launched it on a huge budget to complement the development and production resources that were poured into it. This advert typifies the mood of optimism within British Leyland at the time, showing off its newest product in a European setting, and in a most elegant way.

Enjoy the advert…

Keith Adams


  1. Still one of the best looking cars ever designed….was listening to Deodato whilst watching – very apt!:D

  2. My brother in-law was once escorted along the road by four Hells-Angels whilst driving his Morgan. Their idea of a joke, but he was quite frightened.

  3. Sadly, a major contributor to the collapse of BL. A tribute to the lack of foresight, business sense, and engineering skill, that were hallmarks of Bache and King. The wrong car, at the wrong time, built in a plant that was a byword for some of the worst build quality in the industry.

    • I think your comment requires explanation/amplification . The motoring press certainly didn’t think it was the wrong car at the wrong time, and my extensive experience of two of them was that it was infinitely superior in build quality to the 4.2 XJ6 which preceded them ( not, unfortunately, that that was saying much ) . It was also, in manual form anyway, a really super drive

  4. Good point.

    Many people point at the Stag as being typical of BL’s failure – beautiful, and a world-beater, but tragically flawed… but the Rover SD1’s failure will have had far more commercial and cultural significance. It’s been said before, but had the company built the SD1 to Mercedes-Benz quality levels, then we’d still have a strong Rover today…


  5. SD1s might have been flawed and beautiful, but did BL really have to skimp on a passenger wing mirror. Oh and when it does the U-turn it looks like it’s suspended on marshmallows.

    I’m not sure the MB W123 is really a good comparison for build quality it ended up heavy and none too quick despite cutting edge engines, and what car company really wants to see their wares still working as taxis 30 years on.

  6. Does this mean then, that given Mercedes’ recent disastrous build quality (see late 90s rust, premature engine failures and the M-class SUV) that they will be a failing manufacturer in a few years?

    Or maybe they were sick of being used as taxis, and will up the quality now that they’re all on Skodas?

    • this is what I don’t understand. If you read HJ it contains endless stories about people with self destructing French cars, especially diesels. Yet they still have a car industry – three marques, no less! Why is that?

      On a similar note my wife’s 2008 BMW 328 feels unbelievably lightweight, plasticky and poorly made, has already had a couple of thousands spent on it and I am aware that at 70,000 miles we are rapidly approaching total engine and gearbox failure country. I recently test drove a $46,000 X3 that had an unbelievably rough sounding high stressed 4 pot. It felt more like a $20,000 car. Yet people continue to pay massively over the odds for these vehicles. Again, why?

      • The French have two Marques..Citroen is owned by Peugeot. And Renault owns Nissan..So they have that going for them.
        Also The French have produced cars that the Market wanted..Think Renault 4 and 5. Or Peugeot 205 etc..Now think of Austin Maxis and Princesses irrelevant cars.
        Sure the large French cars such as R25..Safrane Citroen XM missed the mark..They are the exception that proves the rule.
        Also most cars from the 1970’s and early 1980’s were rust buckets not least the Toyota corolla and Datsuns..So in those terms all these cars were equals.
        And I don’t get what you say about French Diesels the 1990’s French Peugeot diesels are some of the best engines there ever was. Toyota have used Peugeot Diesel engines.Also Honda used the XUD diesel engine
        Don’t think Toyota ever picked a British engine…Did they? In fact apart from Subaru..I don’t think Toyota have used other makers engines at all.

  7. Great to see this advert (shot on “proper film”) before the days of video tape and digital productions. Showing my age when I say that, as I started my career in Industrial film production.

    Re: the one mirror, I recall in the mid/late 70s many cars were fitted with a drivers door mirror only and the passenger side was an option. Shame if this was the case on early Rover SD1’s

  8. Finally listened to it with the ‘original’ music – man! that’s the worst version of ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ I’ve ever heard – couldn’t BL afford Stevie Wonder?

  9. Well Mercedes sold a staggering 2.7m W123s, which suggests they got something right and BL got something wrong!

    When I look at SD1, I can’t help thinking it would have been a better Triumph, in an ideal world 2 cars could have been spun off the same platform, a racy Triumph hatchback, and a sober Rover saloon, as SD1 put off many buyers looking for something more conventional looking, who boughts Grandads and especially Volvo 244s instead.

  10. That would have been a pretty sensible way of going about things, Mikey C. BL lost the rather good Triumph 2000/2500 and the SD1’s being available as a hatchback only must have cost sales.

    BL might have been able to have pursued that kind of strategy if they’d never built the Princess. An interesting car in its own way, but I can’t help feel that we were robbed of a big Triumph in favour of a FWD Austin that nobody really wanted.

  11. Ah,the SD1.Fond memories as I was a working for an AR dealership during the 80’s.Snapped cambelts on 2300/2600 as oil gallery in head had blocked up.Also,why did they enlarge the tailgate window for increased visibility when the wiper they fitted parked downwards across the lower dip ?.The wipers were also far too slow for the performance of the car.Talking of performance,the best drive I had was in a twin plenum Vitesse with the windows down driving through Leicester after I had dropped the customer off home in it !.

  12. @ Rockabilly Red

    The Solihull plant where the early Rover SD1 was built was actually noted for its quality of build of previous generation Rovers and Land Rovers.

    However, you have to remember that many of those employed at Solihull for the assembly of the SD1 were not old skool Rover assembly workers who cared about what they were building, but had been brought in from other British Leyland assembly plants.

    The SD1 shows how good Bache and King were, but how bad senior managers and workers from other volume assembly plants had become. The Austin Morris way of doing things clearly was not the right way for Rover to go.

    It was a crying shame that the Rover SD1 (and Speke built Triumph Stag) were allowed to suffer such indignity.

  13. JH, I agree about the Princess, a car without a market. It wasn’t a Cortina rival, being too unconventional, it wasn’t a prestige executive car, as it was too slow and had the wrong badge.

    I can visualise a car range in 1977
    Marina replacement (RWD, ADO 77)
    Triumph SD2 on same platform
    Triumph SD1 hatch
    Rover SD1 saloon

  14. David3500, I was there. The place was awful. Whatever Solihull may or may not have been in the distant past, by the 70’s, the quality of product being built there was shocking – even by the standards of the time. On internal quality surveys, the plant ranked alongside Speke – and that took some doing. The SD1 did not achieve even industry average quality standards until production moved to Cowley North Works.

    I’m afraid that, for the company, the SD1 was a low volume, high cost, distraction. It was the wrong car, at the wrong time.

    If you want to see the true ‘genius’ of King, take a look at the beauty that was Maestro.

  15. SD1 was a nearly car,now in the present tense i work on mercedes benz audi and ford vehicles for a national hire company and we are dealer accredited for warranty work and boy do we work!biblical levels of unreliabilty with cdi engines due to emissions equipment same for audi DPF failures ago go etc etc etc count yourselves lucky with an SDI your biggest worry was a glovie full of water!to name some of the faults.

  16. Still a stunner the SD1 and, as I so very often think, the original looks better than the facelift (including the dash in the case of the SD1)

  17. Hi there!

    Lovely old cars, still one of the better classic cars around!

    My grandad saw this in a clay model in its early designs and he worked for the ICI which supplied the materials for the interior like cloth leather etc


  18. Right now, I’m choosing to forget what a badly built car this was and even how agricultural the live rear made the handling and ride, but simply enjoy looking at what was a stunning car then and a stunning car now.

    The film makes me feel both happy and sad in equal measure.

  19. I have read so much about the workmanship standards that prevailed in BMC and BLMH and BL over the years. I have read books by the higher echelons – the excellent Bank from the Brink by Michael Edwards, the Leyland Papers and many others. I have read books by the workforce and my father was final inspector on the Barb at Swindon for many years.
    YET – no one has explained to me why the workforce were so reluctant to do a good job – or could not do a good job even if they wanted to.
    Any bloggers who have real experience – were really involved and have a meaningful comment, please help. If your just a ‘pub expert’ can we just listen. Please.

    • I was a senior engineer at Cowley (PSF) in the 70’s and early 80’s. In truth, our cars were pretty much the same as everybody elses. On audit, our products came out about the same as Fords and Vauxhall. Surprisingly to many, some of the worst build of the period was on VWs. Daihatsu Charade was one of the best. But you must also remember that many of the plants in the company were antiquated and had been starved of investment for years – in particular, Cowley had been subject to the abuse of Leonard Lord for 20 years. When you consider that we were still building cars based on 50’s engineering, into the 80’s, we actually didn’t do such a bad job. If ADO77 had not been cancelled, and fortunes squandered on SD1, we might have had a chance.

  20. For those blaming Bache and King for the problems of the SD1, they easily forget their work (P6, Range Rover) in the old Rover company under the Wilks brothers.

    When the uncompetent higher mangement and politics make the industry a right mess, surely the engineers are not the ones to blame.

  21. Rover had to bring in a new car in 1976 as the P6 was 13 years old and starting to look old fashioned. The SD1 was a massive leap forward with its hatchback and Ferrari like styling and V8 engine. Had it been better built, it probably would have wiped the floor with its rivals across Europe. Yet even with poor quality and faults on early cars, it was still a big seller in Britain and improvements in 1982 saw sales remain high until it was cancelled in 1986.

  22. Most of the first SD1’s (3500) I saw in showrooms were in a chocolate brown colour. Nicer colours and metallics came later on and White always suited it.

    The SD1 looked big & prestigous in those days – and I think still does now.

  23. I have an SD1, which normally lives in my garage. We’re having some building work done at the moment, so it’s parked outside the house. Even after owning it for 18 years I’m still struck by what a handsome thing it is in a way that I suspect I would not be, if it was a W123 Mercedes. People calling at the house often say how they haven’t seen one for years.

    I’m in my early 40s, so never drove one when they were new – however, my Dad had a 3500SE and it was very good. Mind you, we knew a load of other people who had SD1s – and shall we say that their experiences of SD1 quality were more – err – “mixed”. So I think the thing that made the SD1 so flawed was its inconsistent quality. They weren’t all bad, and in fact some were very good. But enough were thorns in the side of their owners for this to be many peoples’ over-riding memory of them. And because they were so inconsistent, some of the people who had a good one, then chopped it in for another one after 3 years, found they’d acquired a nightmare on wheels and any goodwill BL had stored up was chucked away.

    What this does all mean, though, is that if you get a sorted one now, you’re in for a treat…

  24. Even with the big improvements in quality that came when production was moved to Cowley in 1981-82, the Rover SD1 was never quite up there with Mercedes for quality and irritating trim defects and some electrical faults continued. However, the paint quality( a problem on early cars), rustproofing and mechanical reliability on the sixes was vastly improved and maybe owners could put up with a bit of rattling trim for what was a very rewarding drive. Also upping trim levels on lesser cars led the fight to BMW, who tended to have meanly specced cars where most of the equipment you’d find on a Rover such as a stereo and electric windows were options.

  25. I seem to recall reading about a Motoring Magazine which tested the SD1
    The engine was a bit rough running.
    According to legend they went to the trouble of getting the engine stripped down.
    When they did so they found One of the cylinder bores was machined badly.
    And to “fix” the problem some genius fitted one oversized piston into this poorly machined cylinder.
    It just happened that this piston came from a Peugeot!!!!
    Go Figure.
    I think Britain seems to think it’s still “at War ” and this mend and make do “hillybilly ” type engineering is the way to go.
    P.S. Nothing wrong with “hillbilly” engineering..After all ask the US army in Iraq for example..It has it’s place..But Not in peacetime.

  26. I can remember the excitement when the Vitesse was launched in 1982. This was the fastest hatchback in the world and seemed Rover was back with an exciting addition to its range of cars. Indeed 1982 seemed to be a period of optimism after the dog years that preceded it, we’d proved to the world that Britain wouldn’t be walked over by the likes of Argentina, a wave of patriotism followed the Falklands War and the economy finally seemed to be moving again with falling inflation and rising output.

  27. An interesting choice of music, the sort of ‘girly’ tune you’d expect to see advertising a FIAT 500, rather than a large executive car!

  28. @ maestrowoff, it was the rather naff type of music favoured by seventies advertising agencies. If this is bad, try the music they used for the new S plate in 1977, sung badly to the tune of the 6.5 Special.
    However, I have never thought of a Rover SD1 as a she and something as macho and aggressive as an SD1 Vitesse would probably, if it was a male in real life, punch you in the face if you sung Isn’t She Lovely about it. If the normal 3500 was a bit of a bruiser, then the Vitesse was a heavwyweight boxer in a dinner jacket.

  29. @ Darren, Jaguar have mostly dispensed with the interiors people think of them for, but in the seventies Rover tended to be associated with wood, leather or high quality cloth and chrome, and some purists were put off by the SD1 not using this type of interior. This is why they gradually reintroduced these interiors as time went on. Also Ford Granadas and Cortinas, a big threat to smaller engined SD1s, were still using wood in their Ghia models to win buyers over.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.