Mike Humble once again, casts a spotlight onto the many cars that seemed commonplace on the UK roads in this ever popular section.
The Rover 3500 SD1 is without a doubt, a legend and even today, still held in high regard, but what about the six pot siblings of the 2300 and 2600? has time been a healer for the lesser SD1?
Always the bridesmaid?
The Rover with six appeal:
The Rover SD1 maybe symbolised more about British Leyland than the Allegro or Marina ever could. You can forgive the latter two, simply because they were the early panic built fruitions of the sprawling empire that formed as a result of merging Leyland Motors with BMC. But the big hatchback Rover deserved to do well on so many levels, and came so close to automotive perfection. Thanks to unforgivable senior management meddling, shocking early quality and union bloody mindedness, the words sung by the late Billy Fury are quite fitting: halfway to paradise… so near, yet so far away.
But just for a moment – let’s forget about the laughable reliability, the flaking paint, or workforce on strike for 53 weeks of the year. Who could deny that the SD1 back in `76 looked amazing and in 2012 still gains an admiring stare? In my own opinion, the Rover SD1 casts one of those legendary silhouettes along with the Esprit, Jaguar XJ or Mini; it’s a unique style which just like Twiggy – seems ageless. When Keith Adams’ own SD1 was snoozing on my drive recently, the view after drawing the curtains would make even the dankest of mornings, seem like a summer evening.
The 2300 and 2600 sadly never enjoyed the same legend status of the big V8, which I think is unfair. Yes the Triumph designed straight six was at best tolerable in reliability terms, but anyone who has tried a nice healthy two six, will know the potential was there to give the three five a good scrap. Rumour has it that engineers made sure the engine was held back in terms of power owing to running prototypes almost eclipsing the V8. Pop the bonnet and the long block lacks the imposing view of the eight, rather like your Nan’s old stereogram, nothing flash to look at, but boy what a sound when you switched on and turned up the music.
Fitted with a five-speed manual box, the in line sixes could effortlessly swallow the mileage and burble away in top showing three figures all day long and many a Police Constabulary preferred the 2600 to the 3500. My own mind rewinds to the days of my late teens when an old friend, Nigel Ripley, bought a rusty, beaten up W plate 2600 manual with a shoestring MoT. The rear dampers were shot and one of the SUs had a float problem, resulting in the fuel overflow pipe having to empty into a milk bottle. After an hour of cruising, you would have to tip the full of petrol back into the tank, but as they say – waste not want not!
The nearside brake calliper was part seized too, making the car lurch violently towards the kerb in anything but the lightest of anchoring. So there we were, both smokers, clunking around in a big manual Rover 2600 with no brakes and a massive fuel leak, I can tell you now – I’ve rarely had so much fun behind the wheel since. Shove the stumpy stick into third at a walking pace, plant your size 9 onto the distortion pedal and watch the twitching needle of the speedometer almost nudge a ton – oh such happy days. The smaller 2300 was not quite so strong, partly hamstrung by leggy gearing, but compared to an equivalent Granada, the SD 2300 was ultra hushed.
Smart and slightly intimidating looks with a bold interior that doffed it’s cap to no other Rover before it, the SD1 makes a smart choice as the first foothold on the classic car ladder. The later models after 1982 had many of wrinkles ironed out with far better build quality and paint application, comfy seats and long travel suspension cushioned out the road while long gearing took away the urgency of progress. Such a shame that the 800 series that replaced the SD1 lacked so much style and pedigree, but after saying that, I am starting the view the earliest of the Rover 800 range with great fondness too!
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