Buying Guide : Rover SD1

Fancy an SD1? Here’s what to look out for…


Years produced: 1976-1986
Body style: Five-door ‘executive’ hatchback
Engine options: 1994cc O-Series inline-four
2350cc, 2597cc inline-six
3528cc V8 (155bhp carburettor, 190bhp fuel injected)
2393cc inline-four turbodiesel (VM)
Transmission options: 4-speed manual, 5-speed manual & 3-speed automatic, rear wheel drive

Brief overview

The Rover SD1 can be divided neatly into three petrol “families”: the four cylinder version, the sixes and the V8. The V8 was available in fuel-injected “EFi” form (reserved for Vitesse and late model Vanden Plas), and all the rest were twin-carburetted.As well as these, 1982 saw the launch of the VM-powered turbodiesel (also shared with the Range Rover).

Neatly, the body style can be divided into Mark One and Mark Two versions. Mark ones can be easily identified by their chrome bumper finish (apart from V8-S and Vanden Plas), round instruments and slightly recessed headlamps. Mark twos came with a deeper rear window (to aid reversing), a glass fibre “chin” spoiler (except the base 2000 model) and plusher interior trim.

The smaller-engined models deliver surprsingly lively performance given their engine capacity and weight. The O-Series 2000 model rendered the 2300 largely redundent, unless the smoother engine note was essential. 2600 models were almost as quick as the V8s, although not quite as effortless. The 3500 model offered by far the best performance/economy compromise. Ride and handling are best described as “average” in today’s terms, although on a smooth motorway, all SD1s should feel relaxed and compliantly sprung.

What to look for

(Picture: What Car?)
(Picture: What Car?)

Engine & transmission:

The O-Series engine fitted to the 2000 is rugged and generally very reliable.Inline sixes should be closely checked for signs of camshaft wear and top end noise. Most early life problems should have been ironed out by now, but bear in mind that they should come with a full service history, given their past troubles.

V8s are rugged and long-lived, but look carefully for signs of any overheating, and ensure that there is evidence of regular oil changes.The 77mm gearboxes are generally reliable, but it is not unknown for these to break. Autos are less reliable, so it is essential to check that drive and reverse engage without a “thump” and that all changes are smooth and slurred. Check the automatic gearbox inhibitor works as it should.

Suspension, steering & brakes:

The SD1 suffers from wear and tear like any other car, but carefully check all linkages and joints at the front. These have a tendency to wear quite quickly. The rear axle has been known to fail, so ensure that there are no signs of oil leaking from the differential – when oil gets too low, these can sieze, with disastrous consequences.Rear dampers are also prone to a short life. Bear this in mind when viewing an SD1 – if it is equipped with Boge Nivomat self-levelling suspension, replacement units are well over £100 each.

The steering is of rack-and-pinion design, and in the power assisted versions (nearly all left will be sequipped with this), it is exceptionally light and direct. Check that there is no “knocking” when turning from lock to lock (do this at rest and listen carefully). Also, bear in mind that the steering column is very long, so tug the steering wheel (left and right, up and down) to ensure there are no loose componentry. These are relatively cheap to replace, but factor in the safety issue!

Brakes are a straightforward disc/drum arrangement, but consumption of front pads is heavy, especially on the automatics.Body & chassis:The potential enemy of any SD1 is… rust, due to water ingress. Paintwork should be closely checked, and on Mark ones, it is highly unlikely you will find one that has not received some paint later in life.Check everywhere, but pay particular attention to:
° Front and rear wheel arches.
° Boot floor.
° Sunroof mechanisms and drain holes.
° Outer sills.
° Door bottoms.
° Valance panels, front and rear.
° Bonnet and tailgate – inside and out.
° Floors – lift carpets to check for signs of water damage.
° Leaky windscreens – check surrounding panels.


Fragile trim on Mark ones meant that many will be missing parts. Choke levers on mark ones are a favourite. Mark twos much better in this respect, although they are still along way from being a high quality item.Check that the front seats recline as they should (problems with early ones) and – again – make sure that all carpets are dry, including the cubby under the false boot floor. A saggy rooflining will be extremely hard to repair – consider this.

Electrical system:

Electric windows can cause concern, although failures in switches, not motors cause this. Ensure that central locking works as it should – and on mark twos, ensure that the central locking does not unlock itself! Check trip computers in mark two models, and ensure that all warning lights and electrical gauges work as they should.


An ultra-stylish British “bruiser” of the old school. Most problems (apart from corrosion) are niggling ones, and because of its mechanical simplicity, relatively straighforward to put right. As long as it is not too rusty and it is one piece, an SD1 will prove to be an entertaining ownership proposition – as long as it is garaged and well-serviced.

Mark two models are far better built, and most that survive to this day will be this type, but a cared-for Mark one with its paintwork sorted out should prove little trouble, as long as you’re handy with a screwdriver. Without doubt, it is a future classic, and although the V8s and Vitesse models are the favoured versions right now, all SD1s will follow in time. Definitely a “useable classic”, but one worth ferreting away for the future.

Pick of the range: without doubt, a 3.5-litre manual, although all SD1 models are strong on character.

Keith Adams
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  1. Sorry, but the series 1 cars had stainless steel bumpers. On V8-S models they were painted black and on VDP cars they had a rubber trim mounted!
    The series 2 cars never have fitted a fibre glass spoiler!
    The spoilers (standard or late Vitesse deep chin) were a very flexible plastic. There were only some aftermarket spoilers which were made out of fibre glass which is really rubbish!
    The series 2 cars had black fibre glass bumpers.

    At the end of 1980 there was a small facelift (series 1,5 cars which were better equiped and had a much better build quality as the earlier cars.
    These cars were sold as 2300, 2300S, 2600s, 3500SE and VDP.
    All these models had the old headlamps and the old bumpers but the new kind of seats and the new plastics which were much more UV resistent.

  2. you could have summed the electrical system up in 4 words…………Lucas, Prince of Smoke……..

  3. Great car, remember my dad having a series 1 2600s. Comfortable and reliable. He had an accident when pulling out from a junction with a Ford Orion mk1. The Orion was a write off, the Rover drove home and was repaired! Fond memories…

  4. Having just purchased a Series (Mark?) 1 V8 auto I can confirm the accuracy of this summary – my car exhibits just about every one of the items identified!

  5. Are any of the 2.4 turbodiesel models still running in Britain, as diesel cars were rare at the time? I do recall testers in 1982-83 commenting on the Rover’s 110 mph performance, which wasn’t far behind a petrol 2300, and the 35-40 mpg economy. I’m sure a 2400 SD would make a practical classic if any are left.

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