The Rover SD1 Estate is a fascinating study into how it is possible to convert a sporting fastback into a usable estate car.
It was deemed so successful in terms of concept that BL Chairman and Chief Executive, Michael Edwardes, adopted one of the two running prototypes produced, and used it as his daily runner. However, we weren’t given the opportunity to follow in his footsteps – and the car remained very much off the production plan.
Rover 3500E: the Volvo basher…
The story of the Rover SD1 estate car is another one of those nuggets of BL trivia that would never have escaped into the public domain had it not been for the concept’s attractiveness to Michael Edwardes in 1977. The newly-installed BL boss had spotted the SD1 hold-all in the Prototype Department and, sensing that it had done all it was going to do there, he took it on himself. The Chairman’s motor, therefore, was a suitable one-off.
It was a late, and some would say subsidiary, addition to the SD1 programme, and one that would have extended the car’s appeal to the emerging management classes that had taken the Ford Granada and Volvo estates to their collective hearts. By the time the Design Department started to examine the possibility of producing this additional SD1, finances and resources were tight – a result of the Ryder Report – and that meant outsourcing…
Once the design was finalised, Carbodies of Coventry was commissioned to produce a clay buck (right) for evaluation. That was judged a success, and Board approval was given to pursue the project further. At that point, BL took the project inhouse, and converted two SD1 saloons into estate cars: LOE 99P, registered 17 February 1976 (and now preserved at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon) and SHP 549R, registered 20 January 1977 (the one used by Michael Edwardes, and now resident in the Haynes Motor Museum).
Some questions over which SD1 was which
The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust at Gaydon has claimed that its car is the Edwardes one but, as it’s been untaxed since February 1977, it is very unlikely to be the case. According to Karen Pender’s Rover SD1 book, though, LOE is believed to have been used by Prince Charles for a while…
Interestingly, as can be seen in the photos below, these two cars have rather different tailgate treatments. SHP has a clamshell-style tailgate with rear wiper, similar to that shown on the Carbodies model, while LOE has a less stylish Volvo 240-style inset tailgate. This suggests that work may already have started on LOE before BL saw the Carbodies model, although this needs official confirmation.
The early shot of SHP as seen at the top of the page shows appealing early SD1-spec minimalism, but that was not to last. It has clearly been upgraded to Vanden Plas specification (but without the alloy wheels) at some point since then (probably at Edwardes’ behest, so as not to be left behind by the 1980 Model Year revised models), as there is no sign yet of the rear-head restraints, rubbing strips, chrome-backed door mirrors, extra badging and side-repeater indicators.
It remained taxed until November 1987. It’s hard to tell from this photo, but it looks like SHP may have had R O V E R badging on the tailgate, à la the 75 Tourer. But it now sports post-1980 style scripting and the Rover 3500E moniker for good measure.
As for the car itself, it disappeared from the product plans sometime around 1980 – the point in time, when it became clear that the SD1’s future shelf life would be limited, and that the potential benefit in market share would be negated by the investment costs required in order to get it into production. Moreover, with the SD1 line’s removal from Solihull and subsequent move to Cowley – and its 1982 Model Year revisions eating up vital budget needed to get the Maestro and Montego into production, it was clear that there would only be one fate for this promising car.
The good thing is that at least the two running prototypes were retained – and are still available for you to see…
- The converters : Crayford Engineering TR7 Tracer - 27 March 2023
- Concepts and prototypes : BL Safety Research Vehicles (1968-1977) - 19 November 2022
- Concepts and prototypes : Rover SD1 Estate (1976-1978) - 5 October 2022