Car of the Month : June 2005

It sounds better than a Guns ‘N’ Roses concert, and looks better than Natalie Imbruglia behind the wheel of a Citroen CX.

So I make no apologies for featuring another Rover SD1 as its Car of the Month. Owned by Rover SD1 Club Vice Chairman and Activities Organiser, Dave Puzey, this Vitesse Twin Plenum is something rather special…

Sweet emotion…

Giving it plenty, but failing to unstick the back end - tail happy? Not with super sticky tyres and uprated suspension...
Giving it plenty, but failing to unstick the back end – tail happy? Not with super sticky tyres and uprated suspension…

WHAT on Earth is there left to be told about the Rover SD1 Vitesse that we haven’t said before? Well, not much really. It’s an endearingly flawed legend in a Rover back catalogue filled with great cars. I mean, if you take a long hard look at the SD1 Vitesse, it is hard to work out why Rover befell the fate it did… It had everything – style, pace, and road presence – and at the time of its launch, there was nothing quite else like it available on the market.

If Rover remained building cars like this, the chances are, it would still be in business today, and more than likely strong enough to give BMW and Mercedes-Benz a bloody nose in the sales charts, too. Okay, it might have been a tad unreliable, and build quality wasn’t quite what is should have been, but on the whole, owners seemed to forgive it these foibles, safe in the knowledge that if they needed to get somewhere in a hurry, there was little to touch a Vitesse when pressing on…

When I needed to find an SD1 Vitesse for a story I was writing for totalMG magazine, the SD1 Owners Club put me in touch with Dave Puzey. They informed me that Dave’s example was pristine, and had been tuned to 270bhp, thanks to the addition of an ex-Land Rover 3.9-litre lump and a variety of other modifications – oh and would I be okay driving it?

Would I be okay? Is a bear a catholic (or is that the other way round)? Of course I would be okay!

And air intake big enough to suck up sheep, cows, small children... anything that stood in its way, really...
And air intake big enough to suck up sheep, cows, small children… anything that stood in its way, really…

Being re-united with an SD1 after several months in denial had been an eye-opening experience for me. Not only had my appreciation of the design’s beauty been re-awakened by my abstinence, but I had forgotten just how intimidating these cars are when you’re up close and personal. Watching it negotiate traffic was sheer poetry in motion for me… And although I was behind the wheel of a rather tasty MG ZT 260 at the time, my attention had been caught by this blood red Vitesse.

I guess once an SD1 aficionado, always an SD1 aficionado.

Driving the Vitesse was no disappointment either. Full-bore acceleration is an aural treat, with a soundtrack to die for. And as Dave’s car has 270bhp to do its bidding, its pace is more than enough to dispatch annoying BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Audis, with a mere flick of the right foot.

To add a cliche, it is a bit of a man’s car, because it’s pedals, steering and gear change are all delightfully meaty. But I like that – simply because it means you never forget the car’s true potential.

Sadly, my drive was all-too brief, and with Dave looking on, I couldn’t press on too much. I did ask if he wanted to swap his Vitesse for my shiny ’04-registered ZT V8. Needless to say he just laughed at me. Shame.

Dave. You’re a lucky, lucky man…

About Dave’s Vitesse…

…in his own words

“THE car was originally built in June 1985 and registered the following November. It is believed that all Twin Plenum Vitesses were built as single plenum cars and then reworked by Lotus, hence the gap. The car was originally ‘owned’ by a manager at Rover and sold into the market as a second hand car about nine to 12 months later. It is also believed that all twin plenum Vitesses were sold like this as there was an NVH issue which prevented them being sold as ‘new’ cars.

“After another four owners, I acquired the car two days after Christmas 1995, following a chance conversation whilst marshalling on the Network Q Rally that year. After much body restoration – new sills, front wings, tailgate, all door stripped and repaired and a new engine the car is as it stands today.”

Brief Specifications

Body: Standard Vitesse with the door rubbing strips removed. The front and rear spoilers are genuine Rover parts.

Interior: Standard except for a NAS spec SD1 steering wheel and a Jaguar XJS manual gear knob.

Suspension: Uprated springs at standard Vitesse ride height, it is low enough! Spax front and Koni rear adjustable dampers, the car no longer has ride levelling! Suspension bushes are a mix of standard and poly.

Wheels: Vitesse 6½” x 15″ alloys with 205/60-VR 15 Bridgestone tyres

Brakes: The front is fitted with XJS EBC grooved brake discs and callipers, the rear has standard drums. Braided hoses throughout.

Transmission: Standard but the gearbox runs on Motal synthetic gearbox oil.

Engine: Now based on a later ‘Thor’ 3.9-litre block and heads. Fully balanced and fitted with bigger valves operated by a JE101 cam via twin plenum rockers (welded up adjustable ones). Intake manifold ported and fitted with Hot Wire Fuel Injection with a ‘Stunned Buffalo’ chip! In excess of 270bhp. Centre pull throttle, ITG air filter, oil cooler, twin electric fans and the large stainless steel tubular exhaust manifolds feed into a 60mm diameter exhaust system with 3 silencer boxes.

Thanks must go to:
Quint Cowley for his excellent bodywork
Roy Burrell for building and maintaining a fantastic engine.

Photos by Alisdair Cusick, thanks to totalMG magazine for giving me the opportunity to be re-united with a Vitesse… it was worth it..

Keith Adams

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