Why we love the… Rover SD1

Dylan Jones explains why the SD1 is the car for him.

Since before I was born, my parents have always had BLMC cars and still do, running a Rover 416GTi for the past 9 years.

The running list goes something like this: an Austin 1100 which my mother donated to a local mechanic in North Wales where we were living because she couldn’t work out what was wrong with it. To say dad wasn’t best pleased when he got home would be a slight understatement. We never got it back though!

Then followed a 1300 Marina coupe with automatic opening bonnet (especially designed to open on the M6 for some reason). This met with an unfortunate end and was followed a couple of months later by a 1750 Maxi. We had this for a few years and followed it with a Chrysler Avenger (pah!).

A friend of my fathers, Les Gorman who runs his own garage in Enfield, North London (Sterling Auto Services) has always been into Rovers and has always specialised in Rovers. He was running an R registered SD1 3500, which he had bought for his girlfriend. I loved it, I thought it was brutal but graceful, and I wished we had one. The Minilites on it looked awesome at the time, though I’m not so sure now. I took every opportunity I had to go to the garage, even if it was to hold a spanner. I would get to see plenty of SD1’s in various states of repair and secretly hoped that one of them one day would turn out to be ours.

One day dad said to us that he was going to have a look at Les’ car (his was an ‘X” plate 3500 SE which was an ex-Met Police car. As competent as the Avenger was, the SD1 was the one I wanted to have on the drive. We went out for a drive in it and I knew from dads face that LYL 671X was coming home with us. The roar and grunt of the V8 really did put a smile on the face of anyone in it, especially if the revs were allowed to creep up.

I remember when we got it home, I couldn’t believe the size of the thing when up close to it. A neighbour had a Fiat 126 and I’m sure with a bit of persuasion we could have put that in the boot. It was huge! As we have always had dogs, it was very useful to put the dog in the boot and still be able to put all the luggage and games that you had to carry when kids were in the car. The plastic panels around the handbrake and choke on the centre console were an endless source of amusement (not for the parents though)- taking them off and seeing what was underneath. As it was an ex-Met Police car, there were no luxuries such as the electric windows often seen on SE’s. No sunroof, although there were 3 holes in the roof where the sirens had been, and various holes in the dashboard where ancillaries had been placed. But this didn’t matter- it was under the bonnet that it mattered. To boast to friends that we had a 3.5 litre V8 was great. I remember arguing with a friend at school whose mum had a brand new Renault 11, that the V8 was much better to have than a brand new ‘F” at the front of the number plate. I was so passionate about it and thought it was the best thing out there.

Every time a police SD1 went past with the flashing lights on, we were always the first to pull back out and everyone would stay parked up, as they assumed LYL was also a serving police car following behind.


I remember when we got it home, I couldn’t
believe the size of the thing when up close
to it. A neighbour had a Fiat 126 and I’m
sure with a bit of persuasion we could
have put that in the boot.

As my friend Mike Thomas points out in his commentary on the P6, the ride was superb. We would often glide up to Wales to visit family and the 5 hour journey would fly by. It is a shame that the build quality on the SD1 didn’t match that of the P6- what an even greater car it would have been then. Having said that, it was still a solid car, and you would have to pull the doors quite hard to ensure they closed properly.

It was the first car I ever drove on a public road. I had been left in the car on my own for a few minutes and whilst parked on a hill, I thought I’d test the solidity of the autobox. I let the handbrake down and pushing the button on the gear lever, I pulled it down to ‘1” and then straight back up to ‘P”. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop immediately and clicked a few times before nudging a low wall. Knowing mum would be back any minute and the car was on the pavement, I knew I’d be in for it! Luckily (for me) she had left the keys in, so I jumped in the drivers seat, started her up, foot to the floor and selected ‘R”. The car jumped back and I slammed the brakes on, letting the car gently roll back down to its original position. I made sure they wheels were still pointing into the kerb, switched her off and jumped back into the back seat. Later that evening I went out and checked the front valance, but all was OK. I’d had my first driving lesson at the age of 11 in an SD1 and passed!

It was put into great service and we had it for about 3 years when Les’ Series II Vanden Plas EFi came up for sale (also an ‘X” plater). We took this down to the coast for the day- I had never seen so many gadgets in a car before. It even had a phone which in 1990 was still something. Again, first drive, dad knew he had to have it. It had full leather, electric everything and a huge rear spoiler on the boot which made it immensely heavy to lift, but it looked damn good! The day before we were due to take delivery, Les phoned and said it had been stolen. It was found a few days later, but in no state to be sold to anyone unfortunately.

An early 820E was the replacement, but in hindsight- modern as the 800 was in comparison- it didn’t have the character or the menacing look of the SD1.

The SD1 is still the car for me, and I am pleading with Barclaycard to write off my debt so I can go out and realise my dream and own one. After seeing Keith Adams own SD1 on last night’s Top Gear as part of the Rover V8 obituary, I am more determined than never to own one of these.

I would also be interested in tracing the history of LYL 671X, so if anyone has any ideas I’d be grateful. Unfortunately I have no other records (chassis number etc) so the registration is all I have to go on.

Keith Adams

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