Concepts and prototypes : Rover SD5 (1972-1974)

Think the idea of a new-age Land Rover Defender is a new one? Think again…

British Leyland’s Specialist Division had a very convincing crack at it back in the early 1970s.

Rover SD5: New age Landie

For all those who thought that the only Specialist Division prototypes produced were the Rover SD1 and Triumph SD2, here’s something of a treat for you. During the early 1970s, BL management investigated the possibility of replacing its long-lived Land Rover, and tasked the Specialist Division to come up with a low-cost, easy to produce alternative, which would carry on the name into the 1980s and beyond.

The photograph of the buck (below) clearly demonstrates that the new car, codenamed SD5, ticked all of those boxes and could have been very effective with Rover V8 power under the bonnet (as is the case in the pictures). However, in the event, development came along at just the wrong time in BL history and not only was funding a no-go in the post-Ryder Report era but Solihull still had a waiting list for the Land Rover and Range Rover.

Did the market really need an updated car?

The SD5 project was therefore cancelled and the company’s next new model launch would have to wait until 1979 with the arrival of the V8-powered Land Rover.

V8 engine and short wheelbase would have been a winning combination...
V8 engine and short wheelbase would have been a winning combination…
Styling sketch clearly shows that the Solihull stylists were looking to continue where the Land-Rover left off...
Styling sketch clearly shows that the Solihull stylists were looking to continue where the Land-Rover left off…
 Hose clean interior was a must...
Hose clean interior was a must…
Keith Adams


  1. “Cheaper to produce.” The SD5 was a missed opportunity. I’m sure the current Defender must be horribly labour intensive to produce.

  2. I hope that any production model would have been better looking than the rather home made looking version shown. It doesn’t look very substantial, either – even if it was rugged, vehicles in this market segment need to look the part, too.

  3. @Richard Moss, How does it not look robust? It’s one of the most robust looking cars I’ve seen, not bad looking too, although the front is rather too similar to the 1970 Range Rover…

  4. Looks very home-made, but then the original pre-production Range Rover looked very crude in places. So this could conceivably have scrubbed up well under the pen of David Bache.

    That said, we might not have had the first gen Disco. Again very much a ‘cobbled together’ design, but extremely well done (and the mostly bespoke interior really made that car).

  5. So,
    SD1 = 5 door hatch we all know.
    SD2 = Fiat-looking Dolly replacement (correct?)
    SD3 = Rover 200 based on Honda Ballade
    SD4 = ??
    SD5 = As this article.

    What was SD4 then?

  6. All google delivers is Land Rover Freelander diesels for SD4, which can’t be quite right…

    Project Bravo, the SD1 facelift, would it have taken a the 4th SD code?

    Always thought the SD2 was more BX than Fiat.

    • I think sd4 was a proposed replacement for the London taxi also based on range rover components

  7. It has got a Tim Dutton look about it rather than a robust LandRover look in my view.
    I think they did the right thing to leave it as a concept.
    Great to read about all these things though.

  8. Personally I think this looks great. I’m very fond of the Series Land Rovers, but this would have brought the Land Rover right up to date in the 1980s. If they’d built them as good as they looked maybe the African market wouldn’t have been lost to the Japanese… (in my alternative rose-tinted reality, a range of BL products would still be available on every continent of course!)

  9. My Uncle, Tony Poole was one of the top stylists for land Rover and gave the name to the Range Rover. He can be seen on ‘The Land Rover Story’ by James Taylor. I have his original sketch of the SD5….

  10. It is interesting to note that SD5 along with the later Land Rover Challenger prototype were derived from either the original Range Rover and Land Rover Discovery respectively (with the latter in turn derived from the former).

    Have read SD5 featured plastic bodywork and a modular construction to allow various bodystyles from pickup, hardtop, etc. Not sure whether it would have worked or whether either SD5 or Challenger would have served as adequate replacements for the original Defender, though like of the idea of a Defender replacement during that period being something akin to a British 2-door SWB Mercedes-Benz G-Class.

    Btw regarding LCV 2/3 project, is it known what the prototype was based on and what was planned for ECV 3 that ultimately never got underway (and was was envisioned to underpin the latter)?

  11. Having driven Series II and Series III Land Rovers and Toyota Land Cruisers for work – in the UK, in the mountains in Africa and in the outback in Australia in the 1970s – I can say that the Land Cruiser was the better make. But, as with the Land Rovers, the Land Cruiser of that era was a WUV – a Work Utility Vehicle, a curiously seldom heard expression that covers medium size vehicles intended not for those who feel the need for ‘Chelsea Tractors’, but for everyday employment transport which may include the need to go off-road, certainly off metalled roads. WUVs include Series Land Rovers and the original Defender, the original Range Rover, some Land Cruisers, Champs, real Jeeps, Mercedes G-wagons, Unimogs, the Ford F250 4WD, etc.

    What they do not include are today’s Defender and all manner of current cars (the Series Land Rovers and the original Land Rover were not ‘cars’) that happen to have four wheel drive.

    What I see here is an attempt to produce what might have been the forerunner of the Discovery and today’s Defender. Had it succeeded, it could have been made alongside Land Rovers WUVs.

    The SD5 was being considered at the time (1972-1974) when I was driving Series Land Rovers and a Land Cruiser in the mountains of Lesotho – for work, not ‘sport’. I’m sure, had it come into being, the well-heeled Jo’burgers wanting a weekend away in the Maluti Mountains would have jumped at it: a fast road vehicle with a touch of luxury, and with the ability to tackle muddy dirt roads and mountain passes after heavy rain. And BL might have kept the non-work and work markets it lost world-wide to a number of Far East motor manufacturers.

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