Engines : Rover SD1 Six (PE166)

Although the SD1 Six had something of a poor reputation in the trade thanks to its well-documented problems, it is a very capable engine. However, it could have been so much more had it been given the start it so richly deserved.

Robert Leitch casts an analytical eye over this oft-maligned engine and separates fact from fiction…

Leyland’s first, Triumph’s last

Rover 2300 and 2500

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended.
T S Eliot, Four Quartets – East Coker

The merger agreed on 17 January 1968 which briefly created the world’s fourth-largest car manufacturer was a new beginning, yet it was inevitable that some of the ‘houses’ from which this rambling megastructure was constituted would eventually fall.

The engine which powered the mid-range Rover SD1 cars represented both a beginning, as the first all-new engine from the merged company, and an end, as the last power unit to be designed by the Engineering Department of the Triumph Motor Company,

British Leyland’s engine needs

With the rich benefit of hindsight, it should have been clear that the utmost priority should have been given to developing a new range of engines to replace the bewildering and overlapping range of power units inherited by the merged business, many of which originated in the two middle decades of the 20th century.

It is indicative of the paralysis and petty tribalism which prevailed in the first decade of British Leyland’s existence that the first new ‘Leyland’ engine did not appear until October 1977, nearly ten years after the company’s creation.

Given the project number RT1 in February 1971, the new large car to replace the Rover P6 and large Triumph saloons, was the first joint Rover-Triumph project. The designation lasted but two months, changed to SD1 to reflect Leyland’s newly-constituted ‘Specialist Division’. The division of labours should have been an indication that the two marques were not yet ready to merge seamlessly into one.

Rover takes charge of the cars

Rover’s Engineers under Spen King, and the Solihull Design Studio under David Bache took responsibility for the body and chassis of the car, building on the work begun on the P10 project to replace the P6 2200/3500. Triumph’s Designers had been given the chance to produce their own ideas for a big car replacement codenamed ‘Puma’ in an internal competition.

Rover’s proposal won the day, but Triumph’s consolation was that three of the new car’s major components, the six-cylinder engine, the LT77 gearbox, and the rear axle would be designed at Canley. Observers at the time would have considered the choice of design office to be well-judged. Triumph’s engineering star seemed to be at its zenith, with the OHC slant-four ‘Saab’ engine being followed by a V8 derivative which appeared far more in tune with modern European practice than Rover’s Buick-derived V8.

The icing on the cake was the award-winning PE114 Dolomite Sprint engine, the world’s first mass-produced four-valve per cylinder engine. As the years passed, history has viewed that era’s Triumph engines less kindly, and regrettably their heritage of cylinder head and gasket problems was to manifest itself again in the SD1 engine.


In 1970, working under Jim Parkinson, Triumph Engineer Mike Loasby, a recent recruit from Aston Martin, was put in charge of the development of an engine project codenamed PE166 intended to power the ‘Innsbruck’ Triumph 2000 and 2.5PI and its proposed Puma and Bobcat replacement projects.

It was demonstrative of the lack of integration of the merged company two years after its constitution that there was no group-wide engine programme and individual companies appear to have had near total autonomy to develop major powertrain components without reference to the needs of the overall organisation.

The earliest proposal was for a low-cost overhead camshaft conversion of the existing Triumph six bottom-end, almost certainly never built as a prototype. The simple in-line valve layout, combined with the base engine’s 74.7mm bore could only have brought limited benefits – there would have been no opportunity to increase the valve area significantly, and the gain in more accurate valve operation at high engine speeds would be unnoticed on a long-stroke engine delivering its power low in the rev range.

Time for change

Furthermore, the Triumph bottom-end was already stretched to the absolute limits of its capacity, having evolved from 803cc four cylinder engine of the 1953 Standard Eight. All was to change with the decision to produce only one car to replace the Rover P6 and large Triumph saloons, with the design responsibilities divided between Solihull and Canley.

It was clear that a far more radical approach was required to create a power unit for a car intended to compete directly world-wide with the products of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, all of whom already had larger and more advanced sixes in their armouries, and were not marking time in furthering their development.

Closer to home, the Ford Essex V6, freed from the shackles of the gross Zephyr/Zodiac MkIV, was gaining friends among the British specialist manufacturers, traditionally Triumph and BMC customers. In Ford’s own range the compact unit first demonstrated its potential in the Capri – once installed in the 1972 Consul/Granada, both chassis and engine presented both Rover and Triumph’s Engineers with significant benchmarks.


By the start of 1972 the Design Team’s brief had been expanded to permit a more ambitious and appropriate cylinder head design, and an increase in cylinder centres to accommodate a larger bore, and ‘squarer’ proportions. The intent at this stage was to produce an engine in one capacity of around 2300cc.

The Engineers may have been freed from the confines of the old Triumph block, but the dead hands of ‘cost engineering’ and component sharing were constantly on their shoulders. In late 1972 it was decided that the connecting rods from the Dolomite Sprint should also be used in the new engine, necessitating a reduction in the height of the block.

Despite this constraint, the means was found to increase the stroke to 84mm creating a hitherto unanticipated larger capacity version of 2597cc. The bore had previously been set at 81mm for the two engine sizes, allowing the great majority of components to be common to both.

Retaining existing Triumph parts

Two significant constraints were to remain in place until 1973, a late stage of the engine’s design, just prior to the ordering of production tooling. The first was the retention of elements of the original Triumph block to allow continued use of existing casting and machining equipment.

The second was the expectation that the new engine would be used in the Innsbruck Triumph 2000/2500, which, until 1973, was expected to be sold in parallel with the Rover SD1. This seems astonishing, given that the 1969 facelift would be seven years old by the earliest expected production date for the new engine, but its implication was that a significant finite limit on the length of the engine was imposed by the confines of the big Triumph’s engine bay.

In early 1973 it was decided that production of the big Triumphs would cease with the introduction of the six-cylinder-engined SD1. Far less constrained by the limits of the SD1’s spacious engine bay, the Design Team was able to consider alternative proportions including an 86mm bore variation which provided a capacity of 2928cc.

Time pressure mounts

With a commitment to production looming, the Design Team took the best advantage they could of their late emancipation from the final constraints of the old Triumph block and bodyshell. The block was lengthened by 20mm, the bore and stroke dimensions of 81mm and 76mm/84mm were retained and water passages were introduced between the cylinders.

Those familiar with the engine’s stablemates will note that non-conjoined bores were a luxury enjoyed but rarely in the British Leyland power unit armoury. While the incorporation of coolant passages between cylinders is without doubt sound engineering practice, the additional space also allowed the opportunity of a substantial future increase in bore size if and when circumstances permitted.

A widely-reported challenge faced by the Design Team indicates that one of the hurdles they faced was the inability of the local production infrastructure to accommodate the engineering practice of the time. Beans Industries, the Leyland subsidiary which was to cast the new block, requested that the water jacket should be reduced in height to facilitate casting of the deep-sided block.

Oil issues

This was accepted at first and the resultant difficulty of high piston temperatures was addressed by an oil-cooling solution whereby an oilway ran through the conrod and sprayed lubricant on the underside of the piston. In the background, the Design Team continued to work on a method of achieving a full height water-jacket, and this was incorporated into the production engine.

As a result of the introduction of the oil-cooling passage in the conrods, the only significant strand of commonality with an existing Leyland engine was lost. If the design of the lower half of the engine was in a constant state of flux until it was committed to production, the development path of the top end was far more linear, drawing on Lewis Dawtrey’s acclaimed work on the Dolomite Sprint’s 16 valve cylinder head.

Although the six-cylinder engine had only two valves per cylinder, the valve gear was operationally identical to the four-cylinder engine, with inlet valve operated directly through inverted bucket tappets, while the same cam operated the exhaust valve through a rocker arm. While the use of a single cam to operate both valves is clearly efficient in terms of parts count, it has the disadvantage of imposing the same opening period on each valve. In practice this was of no real significance, as symmetrical valve timing was used in almost all engines produced at the time.

Dolomite Sprint lessons

Again drawing on the Dolomite Sprint engine experience, a pent-roof combustion chamber was used partly formed in the head and partly in the pistons. Considerable work was done on optimising valve sizes during the development stage, with some experimentation into using a very large inlet valve and an exhaust valve relatively smaller than was the accepted norm.

The disparity was found to hinder rather than help breathing and, in final form, an inlet valve head diameter of 42mm was achieved, the equivalent diameter for the exhaust valve was 35.6mm. The choice of an opposed valve layout with a sizeable 40 degree included angle was wholly appropriate given the engine’s relatively small bore dimension in comparison with its main competitors.

The benefits of this design rigour were demonstrated when the first prototypes developed over 150bhp, uncomfortably close to the V8’s output. It is evident that some measures were taken thereafter to tailor the engines’ output to their place in the SD1 range, under the guise of optimisation of fuel efficiency.


The basic architecture of the engine has been outlined in the ‘development’ section, but a number of its features, innovative rather than radical, deserve further comment.

The new engine would not have caused any unease at Jaguar or Alfa Romeo were there ever any prizes offered for aesthetically pleasing engines. Physically unprepossessing, with its featureless black ‘coffin-lid’ cam cover and HT leads and intake trunking draped over looking like an afterthought, it nevertheless was impressive in the way it filled the SD1’s sizeable engine bay.

Far more important was the engineering within and around the bland exterior.

Many merits from design

The engine’s bottom-end was made massively strong at the insistence of Spen King, in his role as Director of Engineering and Product Planning, but the choice of four, rather than seven, main bearings appeared to go against the accepted convention of the time – a decade previously, BMC had expended considerable cost and effort in engineering three extra bearings into the C-Series bottom end for its new MGC and Austin 3 litre applications.

However, the idea of improving efficiency by reducing bottom end friction seems to have been a priority with British Leyland’s all-company Engine Development Group in the first half of the 1970s. The implementation of the resulting design decision was above criticism, with a massively strong forged EN16 steel crank (rather than a lower cost but weaker nodular iron casting) running in four sizeable bearings. If further vindication of the four bearing decision was required, the same number featured on Mercedes-Benz’s 1975 M123 engine.

A number of other notable features deserve comment:

  • The engine was Leyland’s first to feature a toothed-belt camshaft drive.
  • The distributor was driven off the nose of the camshaft and was set horizontally to minimise the engine’s overall height.
  • A number of sintered components, a technology relatively new in automotive applications, featured including the combined timing pulley and torsional damper, and the water pump impeller.
  • The top end design was based on a stack system with a die-cast aluminium alloy camshaft carrier. This gave considerable production engineering advantages over the discrete bearing caps used in the Dolomite Sprint engine, and also anticipated the construction used for the K-Series engine by many years.
  • Controlled tightening of the cylinder head bolts featured on the production line, applying a system first used on the Cofton Hackett E-Series line. The elimination of manual tightening was all but essential for accurate fixing of the complex alloy castings of the SD1 and had the additional advantage of eliminating the requirement to re-tighten cylinder head bolts at the first service.
  • The Design Council award-winning thermostatic inlet air temperature control device, which first appeared on other Leyland engines a few years previously, featured on the SD1 six.

Not reaching its potential

LJK Setright’s thorough and incisive analysis of the engine in CAR’s November 1977 issue observes the extent to which the engine was de-tuned relative to its power potential: ‘There is plenty scope for tuning it for high performance: for production ease, the bore of the inlet manifold is appreciably less than the mating bore in the cylinder head, and the same step-up can be seen on the other face where the exhaust ports lead into the inlet manifold.

‘Cleaning up these passages and blending their junctions would be an easy first step on the road to more power, which could be followed by more conventional tricks such as a better ignition system (an electronic one would be far more welcome than the cheap Kettering distributor that is fitted as standard) and a more adventurous camshaft than the present one which only gives valve openings of 238 degrees.

‘The fact that the Rover’s performance figures are pro rata less impressive (compared with the Porsche 928 V8) has nothing to do with its head design, but is due entirely to the obvious and deliberate de-tuning of the engine to modest levels, consistent with a desire to set running economies above other aspects of performance. We have only to see how sharply the BMEP falls off above 5000rpm in the 2300 and above 4000 in the 2600 to see how restrictive the timing and carburation must be.’

Version differences

As they were developed as one engine, the Rover 2300 and 2600 versions differed only in the crankshaft throws and piston type – even the connecting rods were the same. The 2600 engine used high-duty solid skirted Mahle pistons, while Hepworth and Grandage supplied their W-slot pistons for the 2350cc engine, with an appropriate height set above the gudgeon pin to allow the same 9.2:1 compression ratio as the larger capacity engine.

While the commonality of components between the two versions of the engine was remarkable, there was no evidence of any sharing of major parts with any other Leyland group engine, either existing or projected.


By the mid-1970s, the new engine under development faced some stern competition. The table below outlines the characteristics of the most significant rivals.

Manufacturer Rover Mercedes-Benz Renault
Ford BMW
Date 1978 1975 1975 1977 1976
Designation M123 Douvrin V6 Cologne V6 M30 B25
Application 2600 W123 250 Renault 30TS Granada 2.8 525
Configuration 6 in line 6 in line 90 degree V6 60 degree V6 6 in line
Bore x stroke (mm) 81.0 x 84.0 86.0 x 72.5 88.0 x 73.0 93.0 x 68.5 86.0 x 71.6
Cubic Capacity 2597cc 2525cc 2664cc 2792cc 2495cc
Head/block material Alloy/iron Alloy/iron Alloy/alloy Iron/iron Alloy/iron
Valve gear SOHC 12v SOHC 12v SOHC 12v Pushrod 12v SOHC 12v
Main bearings 4 4 4 4 7
Compression ratio 9.25:1 8.70:1 8.65:1 9.20:1 9.00:1
Carburettor 2 SU 1 Solex 1 Solex 1 Weber 1 Solex
Power bhp (DIN)
@ rpm
136 @ 5000 127 @5500 131@5500 135@5200 148@5800
Torque lb ft
@ rpm
152@3750 145@3500 150@2500 159@3000 153@4000

The figures indicate that, when production began in late 1977, the new Leyland six matched the capabilities of its main competitors on paper, but certainly did not set any new standards within the class.

Some brief observations are worthwhile in relation to the four engines listed.

Mercedes Benz M123
Something of an oddity in Mercedes’ six-cylinder pantheon, the M123 was developed to power the W123 250 models produced from 1976 to 1985, and never appeared in any other Mercedes Benz car. It was effectively a cut-down version of the twin-cam 2.8 litre M110, produced from 1972 to 1985, a ‘pinnacle” product which was Stuttgart’s robust and meticulously-engineered response to the BMW M30. The smaller single overhead cam engine bears closer comparison with the SD1 six not only for its short production life and limited application, but also for its four main bearing crankshaft, a design decision which flew in the face of accepted practice at the time, but was not without its benefits.

PRV Douvrin V6
At the inception of the SD1’s development, it is highly unlikely that the design team anticipated the seriousness of the competition the burgeoning French motor industry would present by the time of their car’s launch. The Renault 30TS and Peugeot 604’s success had its foundation in the all-new 2.7 litre all-alloy V6, the product of a joint venture amongst Peugeot, Renault and Volvo.

Despite having almost exactly three-quarters of its capacity, the French unit delivered performance close to that of the Rover V8, and smoothness which belied its ‘wrong” 90 degree V angle. Equally notable was the compact and light engine’s supreme adaptability – in a bewildering array of vehicles it was employed in front-engine, rear-wheel drive, transverse and longitudinal front-wheel drive, mid-engined and even, in the DeLorean DMC12 and various Alpines, rear-engined configurations.

Produced until 1998, the V6 was accompanied by closely related in-line four-cylinder petrol and diesel units widely used across the Peugeot, Citroën and Renault ranges. Of all the rivals listed, this is without doubt the one that Leyland, had they been blessed with broader vision and deeper capital reserves, would have done best to emulate.

Ford Cologne V6
In 1977, a rationalisation of Ford’s European production facilities sent the British-built Essex V6 into exile in South Africa, its place in the second-generation Granada being taken by the older, smaller and lighter German Cologne V6. Dating from 1964 it shared the British engine’s 60 degree V angle and general configuration, but had no major parts in common.

The German engine’s cast iron heads and pushrod valve operation betray a lack of sophistication in the company of its straight-six compatriots, but outputs were well up to the class benchmark, and improved on those of the bulkier British V6. In the second iteration of the Granada it was a more than acceptable substitute for the Essex unit, the carburetted 2.8 providing comparable power and torque outputs to its predecessor, despite giving away 200cc. The 160bhp fuel-injected version trumped the 155bhp of the carburetted SD1, although the character of the delivery was markedly different.

A six-cylinder extension of Alexander Von Falkenhausen’s masterpiece, the 1961 M10 in line slant-four, the single overhead cam crossflow M30 was first produced for the 1968 2500-2800 cars. The pair were widely regarded as the outstanding conventional engines of the 1960s and 1970s, and still set class standards when they were replaced during the 1980s by the more cost-effective and in many ways inferior M40, M50 and M60 units.

The ‘cooking’ carburettor 2.5 chosen for comparison leads the group for power, while the relatively high revolutions at which maximum torque is developed indicates the sporting character appropriate to the manufacturer’s carefully nurtured brand identity.


The six-cylinder Rover SD1s made their public debut at the Earls Court Motorfair in October 1977. Supplies of the 2600 were built up slowly and it was not until May 1978 that the first 2300s were delivered to customers. Their arrival was less momentous than the V8 engined SD1’s launch a year previously, but the engines were reviewed with keen interest not only for indications of the future direction of Leyland’s power unit design, but also for their effect on the performance of the SD1, still wildly regarded with some awe and now to be available to a far wider group of customers.

By 1977 even the weekly British motoring press were far from deferential to Leyland and its products, as was evidenced by the lukewarm reception given to the Marina and Allegro. The company could therefore take comfort from the measured enthusiasm which greeted the new engine.

Motor summed the 2600 up in its 22 October 1977 road test as follows: ‘Though nearly a litre smaller than the V8, Leyland’s new single ohc six-cylinder engine gives the Rover a very similar – and excellent – performance. It is smooth and flexible, but noisy when accelerating at high revs and lacks good low speed torque.’

Why such long gearing?

In the same issue, Roger Bell’s impressions of the 2300 scarcely mention the engine but concentrate on the omission of power steering and the fifth gear from the smallest-engined version. Perhaps he was making a tactfully oblique reference to the small engine’s power and torque deficiency when he stated: ‘Much as I like long-legged gearing, the 2300’s 123bhp is scarcely enough to pull such a heavy car along in an overdrive giving 25mph/1000rpm. You invariably have to slot down two ratios to get going again after slowing down. Fourth (20.8 mph / 1000rpm seems just about right so why spend extra on a largely redundant fifth?’

In the November 1977 issue of CAR, the new Rover engine found an unequivocal champion in LJK Setright. Particular praise was given to the rigidity of the block, with deep-ribbed skirts extending well below the crankshaft centreline, and the bold decision to use four rather than seven bearings.

Setright speculates that Harry Mundy may have been instrumental in that decision – around 1971 he was advocating reduction of bottom-end friction as the most fruitful path to improving power and efficiency. The idea is an enduring Setright theme. In a later article on the Bristol six-cylinder engine (CAR July 1981), he memorably comments that: ‘These proportions … allowed the short crankshaft to spin freely in four main bearings instead of labouring in seven.’

An unlikely fan

Of the upper half of the engine, Setright is no less effusive, he notes that while the inlet valve area of the contemporary Porsche 928 engine was less than 19 per cent of the piston area, the equivalent figure for the Leyland engine was 27 per cent.

He expounds further with the following: ‘….you only have to look at the high-duty solid-skirted pistons (with steel constrictor bands, as in the Sprint) provided by Mahle for the 2600, or look at the elegance and obvious efficiency of the camshaft and tappet gear in their separate aluminium alloy die-casting above the head, and at the smooth profiling and generous section of the 12 ports, to see that there is plenty of scope here for making an engine of quite brilliant performance should our motoring way of life take a turn for the better some time during the next 10 years.’

Setright’s impressions of the early 2600 were characteristically iconoclastic – he was at pains to challenge the accepted orthodoxy that the smaller engines diminish the SD1’s appeal, and suggests that the six-cylinder units imbued a different but welcome character to the car: ‘It (the 2600) is a gentleman’s car in a way that the V8 cannot aspire to emulate. The engine is a smooth hummer, quick to answer the throttle pedal, strong enough to qualify the car as a fast one, but always impeccable in its manners.’

(Not) moving with the times

As the years passed, opinions polarised somewhat. In the December 1980 issue of the same publication the trenchantly perceptive Ian Fraser summed up the engine of the 2600S (a new designation denoting trim changes and improved equipment, although the engines remained unchanged) he had just driven to the Paris Salon as follows: ‘Apart from being a finicky cold-starter (the manual choke requires frequent and prolonged use), the engine’s other hurdle is its lack of refinement.

‘There’s nothing you could put your finger on and quantify, like a transient vibration period, but there’s a nagging rawness about the way it does things. Never smooth, never truly harsh, just a limbo-land engine floating in a greyness that’s curiously behind the times. Conversely, this does bring character to the car: the engine, and the whole car around it, has a hearty, full-bodied feel to it that you can grow to like very much.’

Earlier in Fraser’s article is a single sentence which turned out to be extraordinarily prescient: ‘It remains the sort of power unit that history will record as merely a means of moving a Rover, rather than as a work of art in its own right.’

SD1 Series 2 changes

The manual choke to which Ian Fraser referred was banished to history along with its elegant but fragile console-mounted operating lever, when the Cowley-built Series 2 cars appeared, including the new automatic-choke SU carburettors among a wide range of refinements. However, it was notable that beyond the new carburettors, no substantive changes were reported to the six-cylinder engines.

CAR’s assessment of the updated cars in January 1982 seemed prematurely elegaic. What SD1 admirer would not have felt a chill on reading these words? ‘When, at the turn of the century, the last Rover SD1 is compressed into a cube of waste steel, it will be the 1982 versions that historians will implore us to remember.’

Returning to the six-cylinder engined cars, a process of ongoing refinement had delivered some benefits. Later in the same article the un-named writer makes these telling observations: ‘More convincing, more driveable and more refined, the 2600S has now moved from the prototype stage into the fully-developed model it has always strived (sic) to be… Rover have developed a greater understanding of exhaust noise problems and have been able to do something about it in the 2600S, the taming of the pipes has transformed the car into a silky performer not far removed from the smoothness of the V8s.’

Down the boulevard of broken dreams

The collected road test comments suggest that, for an all-new engine, the SD1 six in 2.6 litre form was, at best, adequate for its job. The smaller capacity version of the engine was considerably worse, its low speed torque deficiency making it appear considerably less powerful than a 13bhp difference would suggest.

There was no compensation in running costs either – low gearing and an unfavourable power to weight ratio made the 2300 less economical than the V8 in both manual and automatic forms. There is evidence that the new engine was burdened by high unit costs. The immensely strong bottom end, high quality materials, and built-in expansion capacity suggest a design which defied the company’s bean counters.

The protracted development period, lack of commonality with any other engines and largely new production equipment also took their toll in costs. The problem would have been exacerbated by relatively small production numbers. The SD1 engine’s highest annual production was just over 30,000, dwindling to 10-15,000 in later years. The Austin-Morris O-series annual production, by comparison, peaked at around 100,000 engines per annum.

Paying the price

The consumer was to pay the price in the currency of ruthless reductions in equipment levels in the early six-cylinder models. In order to achieve the 2600’s £5800 price tag, £1000 less than the 3500, power steering and electric windows were omitted from the specification.

The sacrifices paid by early 2300 owners were far greater: self-levelling rear suspension, fifth gear, halogen headlights and even the boot carpets were omitted, and drivers had a constant reminder of their parsimony in the form of a cut-down tachometer-less instrument module which would have disgraced a van.

Competitive pressures ensured that equipment levels were quickly upgraded, the effect on unit profitability no doubt being shouldered as grudgingly as ever by Leyland’s ultimate proprietors, the British taxpayer.

Any engine’s lack of distinction in performance, refinement, or fuel efficiency could be forgiven readily if it demonstrated bulletproof reliability and longevity in service. With its immensely strong bottom end, relatively simple valvegear design and unstressed state of tune, the SD1 six appeared at least to have the potential to provide durability and dependability.

Regrettably this was not to be the case, and the trade and consumers soon became aware of a variety of top end problems leading to costly and often catastrophic failures.

Known problems

The most widely known point of failure was the abnormally high incidence of camshaft and valve gear failure, resulting from blockages to the oil feed passage to the camshaft and valve rockers. The system was designed to provide an intermittent oil feed to limit the amount of oil in the top end and thereby reduce oil consumption – standard engineering practice, but in this application sludge build up could block the oil supply completely with disastrous results.

It might also be speculated that the Dolomite Sprint-inspired valve gear had a particularly hard job – each cam had twice the normal amount of work to do, and in the six-cylinder engines also had to cope with far larger valves and consequently stronger springs than the 16-valve four. What is certain was that the situation was not helped by the lengthening of oil change intervals from 6000 to 12,000 miles with the 1982 facelift.

In the 1970s and 1980s top end problems were widespread among the new breed of OHC engines. As well as the Triumph engines mentioned previously, Ford’s Pinto and CVH engines and their GM competitors suffered a variety of wear, lubrication, sealing and gasket frailties.

Not fixing the known problems

Nevertheless, Leyland’s failure to make the changes necessary to address their new engine’s Achilles Heel as soon as the first failures became evident seems like an act of serious commercial negligence, given that the engine was a showpiece for the company’s engineering capabilities, and that a sustained reputation for poor build quality and unreliability across the entire product range was setting sales of most of their products on a downward spiral.

Production of the SD1 six ended in May 1986. Despite an existence lived out in the permanent shadow of the charismatic V8, the six-cylinder engines powered almost exactly half the 303,345 SD1s produced. The 2600 was unquestionably the more popular six, accounting for 35.6 per cent of overall SD1 production. For comparison, the equivalent percentages for the 2300 and all V8s are 14.2 per cent and 37.6 per cent respectively.


Before the Series 2 SD1 range appeared, the plans for its XX successor, and indeed its principal technical details, were widely known. Rover’s future passenger car engineering direction was to be Honda-led and exclusively front-wheel drive, and held no place for the SD1 straight six, nor indeed the V8 which had cast a shadow over its entire relatively short existence.

Premature though it may have been, the Rover six’s demise simply reflected changing realities in the world of automotive engineering. The widespread adoption of front-wheel drive even in very large cars, and the pressure of crumple zones, pedestrian impact protection, and ancillaries on engine bay space were to ensure that by the early 1980s the V6 was the near-universally favoured large engine solution for the world’s carmakers.

Today, other than for BMW, for whom the configuration has become nothing less than a corporate leitmotif, and Volvo, with its ingeniously applied modular engine, the straight six has been consigned to the history books.


To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s rather unfair description of Clement Attlee, the SD1 six was ‘a modest engine with much to be modest about.’ It is intriguing to speculate firstly on what might have been had the undoubted potential of the unit been realised, and secondly, whether the one and only purpose the engine served, powering the middle-range Rover SD1s could have been more effectively achieved by using different ‘building blocks’ from the corporation’s range of engines.

Unrealised Potential

Onwards and upwards
Technical analyses of the new Rover engine which appeared at the time of its launch naturally speculated on the directions its future development would take. A capacity increase was the most obvious. The reduced block height set in 1973 probably ended the possibility of any substantive stroke increase beyond the 2600’s 84mm, but Setright mentions ‘there is enough meat in the bores to permit opening them out by 3mm or so’ (CAR Magazine November 1977).

This size increase presumably would still retain the water passages between cylinders – maintaining commonality of components between the two versions would give useful capacities of 2.5 and 2.8 litres. Beyond this, the Robson/Langworth Triumph history mentions a capacity of 2928cc being achieved with an 86mm bore, before the engine dimensions were finalised for production.

It should be noted that the water passages between cylinders were a late addition and, if sacrificed, as was the case in the majority of existing Leyland engines, a full three litres would surely be attainable. Given that its valve-gear design was derived from a four-valve per cylinder unit, it was speculated that the Rover unit would eventually follow the same path.

Untapped heights

The power figures achieved easily from the Dolomite Sprint engine clearly demonstrate that had a 24-valve, 3.0-litre, fuel-injected engine been developed, it could have provided a class leading 200+ bhp within the lifetime of the SD1.

Several factors militated against such development. The first was the economic and political turmoil resulting from oil supply uncertainty, which triggered rampant inflation and was to bedevil economies world-wide and hit the UK particularly hard from 1973 until the early 1980s. Conspicuous consumption fell from favour, to be replaced by a spirit of belt-tightening and a quest for ever greater efficiency.

The other was the undoubted influence of Jaguar on any upward development of the Rover range. Commercial logic would have suggested building on the SD1’s favourable reception by moving the six-cylinder engines into the sector occupied by the original 155bhp V8, and developing its V8 versions to provide the far greater power and larger capacity it was only to deliver late in its life. It was surely no coincidence that the fuel-injected Vitesse and Vanden Plas V8s appeared as late as October 1982 when the countdown had already begun to the August 1984 Jaguar flotation.

Playing by the European rules

Another commercial opportunity missed was the adaptation of the six-cylinder engines to fit the fiscal strictures imposed by most European Governments on large-engined cars. These took the form of increased sales tax, road tax and, in Italy, even driving licence restrictions. These varied widely from country to country, but particularly penalised capacities of 2.8-litres and above.

The German manufacturers manifestly recognised and exploited this with their engines, which were invariably just below the 2.8-litre limit. The competing 3.5-litre V8 SD1 was left in the invidious position of attracting a disproportionately high tax burden in much of Europe while giving no more power than its smaller capacity rivals.

A de-restricted 2.6-litre, with the cam timing and manifolding alterations necessary to provide 150-160bhp, would have provided an acceptable substitute with a far lower consumer tax burden, and could have been developed at minimal cost.

For the most fiscally punitive territories, Italy and Greece being the prime examples, a short-stroke 2.0-litre six would have widened the cars’ market considerably. Again de-restriction would easily have lifted the power output to 2300 levels. Such an engine would have been an ideal candidate for turbocharging, curiously ignored by Italian legislators when setting their limits.

With the benefit of hindsight, tailoring the six-cylinder engines to European tax categories would have made sound business sense and, at far less cost and risk, could have delivered many more sales than the SD1’s inglorious North American adventure.

Missing the Diesel boat

Another potential development route, also mentioned in Robson and Langworth’s book was a diesel version. The engine’s immensely strong bottom end looks to have been designed with this possibility in mind, and a high-efficiency, high-performance turbo-diesel would have fitted the Zeitgeist of the SD1’s era perfectly.

The diesel deficiency was partly addressed from April 1982 by the bought-in VM turbo-diesel engine in the 2400SD, which briefly made it the fastest diesel car sold in the UK. The Italian engine was costly, lag-prone and over-complicated as a result of its modular design.

A home-grown six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine would not only have filled an important gap in the SD1 range – it could, in time, have changed the course of the entire company’s history. The other Leyland product in desperate need of a high quality diesel engine was the Range Rover.

Had Austin-Rover used the SD1 six as the basis of their second Perkins joint venture, rather than the Iceberg V8, would it have needed to open their door to BMW in their search for an engine good enough for the 1995 P38A Range Rover?

A pointless exercise?

E6 – an engine for nothing?

For a few thousand SD1s built by Leyland South Africa from 1977 to 1983, this option became reality. As a result of the 1976 closure of Leyland Australia, the tooling for the P76’s 2622cc E-Series six was transferred to Blackheath, in Western Cape province, for use in the locally-built SD1.

The engine was in a very soft state of tune, giving only 110bhp, but was reported to be smooth, torquey and surprisingly economical. Intriguingly, it is reported that some examples were delivered to the UK for evaluation purposes. Since this can be assumed to have happened once the SD1 six was in production, it seems possible that Leyland management may have seen an opportunity for a particularly ruthless piece of rationalisation and cost-cutting!

With its archaically undersquare dimensions and simple in-line ohc valve configuration, the E-Series six resembled the inchoate PE166 proposal which never developed beyond the drawing board. It was in no sense a better engine than the SD1 six in its final form, but given the 95bhp output of the Maxi HL, effectively two-thirds of the same engine, it can be seen that the highest power outputs ever required of the Triumph-designed engine were well within the capability of its similarly-sized, BMC-designed stablemate.

The real attraction of the E-Series option is that it would have cost virtually nothing to develop and would have provided additional utilisation for the chronically under-employed Cofton Hackett plant. Giving consideration to the group’s wider needs, if a ready-designed engine had been used in the SD1 the talents of these Triumph Engineers could have been better employed on the truly modern small engine which was so desperately needed to meet the challenges of the Peugeot XA and Volkswagen EA111.

Six-Cylinder O-Series

The other new Leyland engine, the four-cylinder 1.7 and 2.0-litre O-Series became available with the launch of the Princess 2 in July 1978, only nine months after the Rover engine. Less ambitious in its engineering than its six-cylinder near-contemporary, and far more constrained by manufacturing costs and its early applications, it nevertheless proved extraordinarily adaptable and enduring.

A six-cylinder O-Series would never have fitted under the Triumph Innsbruck bonnet, but the convoluted path the SD1 six followed to production led to it being almost the same size per cylinder module as its Austin-Morris counterpart.

The putative O-6 would almost certainly have been shorter than the production SD1 six. As with the E-Series, although with far greater development potential, the attraction of this option would be the opportunity of sharing production facilities and the development process with a high-volume mass market engine – exactly the strategy which served Volkswagen and Audi so well with the EA827 series.

V6 Options

It has been observed that there were at least three in-house routes already in place to provide a V6 of the right size for the SD1. A cut-down Rover V8 is the most obvious – such an engine was produced in tiny quantities from 1984 with DOHC four-valve heads for the Metro 6R4 and XJ220.

The most persuasive reason for this option not being pursued was that the V8 production facility was operating at full capacity for most of the SD1’s life. Similar arguments could be used against the feasibility of a six-cylinder derivative of the Stag V8 – the disruption to the shared production tooling meant that the time taken to produce one V8 was the same as was required to make three slant-fours.

There is a further, intriguing, if improbable, option involving halving a Jaguar V12 to produce a 2.7 litre V6. Close in size to the Douvrin V6, but with the correct 60-degree V angle, it could have been put into production at very little cost in capital or development time. Whether the chronically under-utilised Jaguar V12 production line could have provided the 600 engines a week required at the peak of SD1 six production is questionable.

A more viable version of this strategy would have been to utilise the research and development which had gone into the Jaguar V12 as the basis of a range of in-line fours and V6s, including diesels, designed for high-volume production. If this plan could have emulated the success of the French PRV engines, Leyland’s investment would have been rewarded with an engine range which remained competitive well into the final decade of the 20th century.

Instead, by developing an engine from their past rather than creating an engine for their future, the company found themselves with a major component line incapable of serving them any further purpose after fewer than nine years of operation and just over 150,000 units produced.

Reference Sources

Rover SD1 – The Complete Story. Karen Pender (Crowood Books 1998)
Triumph Cars – The Complete Story. Graham Robson and Richard Langworth (MRP Publishing 2004)
The Last Chance Saloon. The Rise and Fall of an Industry BMC>MG-Rover – Keith Adams (2004)
Jaguar – The Engineering Story. Jeff Daniels (Haynes 2004)
Autocar 21 June 1973 – Triumph’s new Dolomite Sprint – Edward Eves
Motor 22 October 1977 (Rover 2300/2600 launch) Six-pot Rovers – Philip Turner. Driving the 2300 – Roger Bell
CAR November 1977 (Rover 2300/2600 launch) Balance of Power – LJK Setright. Six-shot Rover – LJK Setright
CAR December 1980Rover 2600S – Ian Fraser
CAR February 1982Rover Recital – Author not stated


The 2600 unit, installed in an early Rover SD1.
The 2600 unit, installed in an early Rover SD1

Robert Leitch


  1. That need to develop a new engine from the basics of an old one was driven by cost considerations – and was a common feature of BL engine design at the time. The R and S series were developed from the E series, and the O series from the B series (and the later M16 and T series were based on the O). The extent to which this policy was sccueesful is debatable, with the T being an outstanding engine, but the others having flaws – especcially the O which was rough and gutless. Did they actually save any money over the cost of developing a new engine? It seems that the changes required were so great, and new challenges emerged during development which pushed up costs, that the savings over the development of a new unit were probably limited.

    The shining exception to this practice was the K-series, an engine ahead of its time which eventually replaced all predecessor engines – although when expanded to 1.8 cooling became problematic and resulted in the well known head gasket problems.

  2. The sharing of parts between the two capacities reminds me of the AJ6/AJ16 used in the XJ40 and X300. All versions of that engine used the same block (2.9, 3.2, 3.6 and 4.0) and varied the capacity by changing the stroke whilst still using the same connecting rods, pistons and cylinder head (except the 2.9 which used one V12 head).

    This makes life easier for the DIY mechanic as my 4L Sovereign is now quite happily using a head from a 3.2

  3. A very comprehensive article on the 2600/6 engine. I always thought the vast majority of SD1’s were V8 powered. I guess the 2.6 litre was a good size bridge between the economy 2300 and the 3500.

    I guess the 2000 SD1 would have been underpowered given the body size and weight.

  4. I’ve had direct comparison between a SD1 2300 SE and a Renault 25 2.2i GTX and its like chalk and cheese, and there was only 5 years difference, sadly with the SD as the cheese. I dont know what they did to the Rover engine to make it so damn slow but even in perfect tune it was horrible compared to the long stroke Douvrin 4. I suppose you could say it sounded nicer, but thats subjective.
    What I dont understand is I know for a fact that the Rover nee Buick V8 could put out much more power than the 143/200 tune in the SD1, so why cripple the S6? Why didnt they leave the S6 in its prototype (decent) configuration, and do the work on the V8 instead?

  5. For a brief period my Grandfather owned an early mk2 Sd1 with the 2-litre ‘O’ series engine.
    Marketed as the new ‘Rover 2000’ this car performed better than it deserved to, but the engine looked puny in the large Sd1 engine bay!

  6. Jonathan Carling – The O Series “rough and gutless”? Have you never driven an MG Maestro EFi/2.0i? Admittedly the engine is not the most refined unit around, but gutless it most certainly isn’t.

  7. David 3500 – you’re right, I was thinking of the original fitted to the Marina and Princess in 77/78

  8. Dennis – the 1.6L Maestego was the R/S series but 2L cars had the O series. Assuming that the 1.7 was not used (because of tax breaks) I would have thought that a shorter stroke O series would have been a more logical unit to use than the R & S series.

  9. I’ve had examples of all the different petrol variants of sd1. The 2300 lacks sufficient torque to pull the gearing, running out of breath once in fifth gear. it sounds a lot sweeter and free revving than the 2600 but is no better on fuel.
    The 2600 is a decent compromise. in manual form it’s not far behind the v8 in performance with 30 mpg a realistic possibility.
    Both of my sixes had religious 3000 mile oil changes and were still going strong well into six figure mileages.
    The 2.0 O series SD1 had lower final drive gearing and in this application was in a higher state of tune (twin carbs and 101bhp) than a standard O. not exactly fast but not a slow car either, not the disaster you would expect.

  10. I started my working career as mechanic at a small bl dealer in the Netherlands.
    Having worked there from 1979 till 1990, i remember this engine very well.
    We once had an 2600 in the shop with 40000 km on it and making a very
    strange hammering noise We stood around it listening and suddenly
    the engine seased up!
    It turned out to be a repair liner(we delivered the car brandnew) had
    come loose and once it went down far enough into the block the piston rings
    jumped over it causing the sudden stop.

  11. Very nice comprehensive article – thanks. Lots of details that I hadn’t knitted together.
    Of course Triumph had predicted the fall from favour of the in-line 6 way back in ’63, which is why Ricardo were commissioned to help them develop the slant-4 and V-8 Dolomite & Stag engines.
    The Dolomite 1850 was a very good overall performer, but the Stag engine was under-whelming with its 145 bhp.
    I still admire the SD1 cars – wouldn’t they have been great with a robust OHC injected 3-litre V6?
    Enjoyed your article and research immensely.

  12. While Triumph already had the Slant-4 engine which during development potentially ranged from a 1200-1300cc to the 2.0-litre (via Saab and Ricardo), it is curious that BL did not try to reduce costs by spawning a 1300-1600cc OHC Inline-4 derived from the SD1-Six to replace Triumph’s existing 1296-1493cc engines.

  13. As an aside, modular engines are all the rage at the moment, having a basic cylinder size and using extra cylinders to create greater capacity, and it seems that the 6 cylinder JLR Ingenium engine will be a straight six, so akin to the E6.

    Indeed V6 engines seem to be in relative decline (other than at Audi). Great for FWD cars, but most of them seem to be going for smaller turbo 4s now, or have given up in that sector.

    • the E6 was used in the UK exclusively in FWD and with cars getting bigger, and the decline in the use of end on transmissions the width problem is pretty much irrelevant. Indeed Audi would almost certainly be able to fit a straight six under their bonnet.

    • No they don’t, the natural angle of the V with 6 cylinders being 120 or 60 degrees, only if you use a different angle for the V does balancing or the use of offset crank pins become necessary

  14. As posted earlier elsewhere on this site: I think this SD1 Six engine was a waste of money and resources. In 1968 the BLMC Board could and should have decided that E6 would be the six cylinder of choice in the SD1.

    Equally, they could and should have decided to further develop the E4-series as BL’s standard midsize fwd engine: enlarging to 1798 cc or more, adding a five speed end-on gearbox to reduce height (as eventually happened with R- and S-series), perhaps dieselising, etc.

    As the E’s bore couldn’t be enlarged, a 2 litre E4 would have taken an unlikely 110mm stroke. Perhaps, if necessary a 2 litre E could have been developed as in the later S-type: with 400cc per cylinder, a modular series of 1.2l/3cyl, 1.6l/4cyl, 2.0l/5-cyl and 2.4l/6-cyl would have been possible.

    Next, Triumph’s slant 4 could have acted as the company’s standard 4 cylinder engine in all medium rwd applications, perhaps including SD1.

    This combination would have saved the unnecessary development of the SD1 Six as well as that of the O-series, freeing resources to develop the Maxi into a decent car (without Those Doors!), that in 4-door form could have doubled as successor to the 1800, avoiding a separate Princess.
    A decent Maxi could even have have served as basis for an 1100/1300 successor: did anyone ever notice the Maxi and the Allegro were of equal width? Seems that one “platform” in two lengths would have sufficed…

    BTW: all rwd cars (TR7/8/Lynx, SD1, SD2 and even the Marina) could have been more related than they already were: one common component set of engines, suspensions, axles, gearboxes, brakes, steering, aircon, etc. would have realised more savings without grave consequences.

    In the late 1970’s, a completely new, interrelated mid/large V6 and L4 petrol and diesel engine range could have been pulled off the Jaguar V12, as suggested by Keith Adams in his excellent review of the SD1 Six above. BL could have gone the same route Renault and PSA did with their common PRV/Douvrin engines, and later followed their example with the small XU-engine.

    I always wonder why all this (the rational things) didn’t happen. I suppose most people involved (management, unions and government) didn’t really realise the gravity of BL’s situation until too late. Perhaps it would be nice to try and write a counterfactual history of BL’s first decade. Perhaps one day I will…

    • Your comments re. RWD products is exactly what ADO77 (and later TM1) was intended to be. Sadly, the vast waste on SD1 meant that we simply didn’t have the money for the project.

  15. Sorry, I just realised it wasn’t Keith who wrote the excellent SD1 Six review above, including the fascinating idea of a Jaguar V12-related medium/large engine range, but Robert Leitch. Credit where it’s due!

  16. It is true that in theory there were many possibilities for sharing engines and platforms within the whole model range of BL. It is also true that these possibilities were not so extended in reality for various perfectly valid reasons. However, in my opinion there are two major issues that remain unforgivable after all those years.
    1) The senior BL management allowed too much independence in the different marques, even in vital issues, something that cancelled the whole point of the merger. The product planning was something that should happen after evaluation of the whole range of the available assets. Instead, there were different engineering departments that didn’t talk to each other. Even in the cases that the management imposed their opinion to the marques, this was not often under honest motives, and subsequently not the brightest of the moves. A classic example is the devaluation of Rover in favour of Jaguar.

    2) The idea of improving and honing a product was in many cases criminally ignored in favour of replacement with something completely new. We ‘ve seen so many times that this “new” product was offered on the market “half baked” because there was neither the time, nor the money to develop it properly. Result: A market failure.
    I realised the value of this practice while discussing with a friend who is into classic Toyotas. He was telling me how Toyota was keeping the same engines and platforms for years and years, each time honing and developing them further, and building gradualy the faith into its increasing number of customers.
    On the opposite, BL had for example the ADO16 which was a phenomenal success for many years, and instead of stepping on it and just improve its well known shortcomings in order strengthen its position, they threw it away and spent money on something new that was actually worse…

    • Fully agree. Using the E-series as widely as possible and developing it along the way would have been a wise way forward. The E6 was already said to be silky smooth, the Efi S-series proved what could be done by honing the basically sound 4 cylinder. Same goes for the Triumph Slant 4.

      Producing just one of these engines in all applicable BL cars would probably have required extra production capacity thus extra capital expenditure. Therefore using and improving these two would have given better engines at reasonable costs, no need to develop SD1 Six and O-series, and good return on investment. All of which could have been useful to BL…

  17. I’ve no idea where all this enthusiasm for the E series motor comes from . In 4 cylinder form it was a real nail , rough, unrefined and lacking power, and whilst in cylinder form it was smooth , it was notably thirsty and of an inflexible design caused by the constraint on overall length ( not to mention with an unfashionably high stroke/bore ratio which carried with it the usual high piston speed disadvantages)

    • You have a point there: in an ideal world, this engine would have been rather different. In hindsight, I think BMC allowed Issigonis far too much freedom to pursue his particular ideas.

      For me, it’s not so much enthousiasm for the E-series as such, but a wish to think how BL could have been succesful from it’s situation at the start.
      S-series proves there E-series could have been developed and honed, like Demetris advocates in general.

      Now what could have become from BL if management would have started a fierce drive for more quality and stricter rationalisation from day one??

    • The e series 1.5 was a very smooth engine and neither the 1.5 nor 1.75 were particularly low powered in comparison to contemporary engines of similar size. Not so the 1750, S series moved to 1.6 and 1.4 which was the logic sizes for the engine. This would have given a 2lt and 2.4 E6 which could have had a wide range of applications. along with a mooted 2.8 and 3.2 V8.
      I think this was pretty much the original proposal for the engine but as the maxi grew the engine sizes for the E4 moved up and A took over the lower end of the engine range, And when Leyland took over they brought with them a whole range of engines which muddied the pitch further.

  18. The most simplest thing BL should have done was design a modular engine based around he ideals of the Triumph Slant 4 for the whole group, and make component sharing easier and production transferable. However as we know BL had many issues, with too many big cheeses stirring the pot and no real guiding hand. Imagine if someone at Ford had said we will build avant garde cars and put forward the Allegro!.

    • I’m not sure the extra cost of tooling and production capacity would have been offset by economies of scale, not to mention the money spent on E-series and Cofton Hacket. Perhaps one engine family for the whole group would have been a next phase, after Slant 4 and E?

  19. I never understood why the E series engine was developed in the first place

    The B series covered much of the same market and was in production in 1.6 and 1.8 forms throughout the 60s, and would stay in mass production (for the Marina and Princess) until the late 70s! It’s not as if the E suddenly made the B seemed obsolete when it was launched as presumably BL would have used it instead of developing the O series.

    I have no problem with Triumph developing the SD1 6, developing a modernised version of the Triumph 2000 engine at the time was a perfectly logical approach to take.

    • Thought the E-Series was developed as a new-size engine family to replace both the A-Series and B-Series due to the increasingly worn-out tooling of the A-Series and B-Series?

      Can see your point regarding the B-Series though only if BMC increased the B-Series to 2.0-litres and updated the engine into a 86-115+ hp 1.6-2.0-litre B-OHC in the early/mid-1960s, there is the potential issue of what engine an updated ADO16 would be powered by in the absence of the E-Series engine.

      Also find it difficult to imagine a 1.6 B-Series let alone a 1.6 B-OHC being able to compete with a properly developed 1.6 E-Series engine.

      While ideally preferring some form of the 9X engine being carried over into production, BMC would have been better off going down the following engine route:

      A-Series – Updated into a 970-1275cc A-OHC with 60-84 hp (ideally featuring all-alloy with 8 port head and 5-bearing crankshaft), perhaps later also spawning a dieselized or even turbo-diesel 1275cc A-Series via Perkins / etc that would be roughly comparable to similar sized 1.3-1.4 diesel engines found in the mk1 Fiat Panda abs mk1 Fiat Uno as well as the mk2 Volkswagen Polo.

      E-Series – E4 mainly conceived as a 1390-1598cc 4-cylinder with 78-104 hp whilst allowing for 2.2-2.6 E6 and 3.2-3.5 V8 engines along with dieselized variants (later evolving into an earlier S-Series featuring 4-valves per cylinder), the E-V8 being utilized in non-Rover models in event Rover joins BMC (in place of Jaguar) or if BL merger still happens (intended to remedy production capacity problems involving the Rover V8).

      B-Series – Updated into a 100-115+ hp 1798-1998cc B-OHC prior to eventually evolving into 1.8-2.0 O/M/T-Series and dieselized variants.

      • Was the E series really much better than the B?

        Once they realised that the Maxi was a flop, they could have used the engine capacity to replace the B series in the Marina, and more easily used the E4 in the Princess, but chose to keep the B. Developing the 1.7 O series in the first place doesn’t suggest the E4 was that well regarded.

        Would the B series have fitted in the Allegro?

        • Though the E-Series as it was underdeveloped there was room to improve it as a 1.4-1.6 to take over from the 1.5-1.6 B-Series, while the B-Series was significantly heavier and itself should have been updated (and uprated to 2.0-litre) beforehand.

          Have read that people were very much against the Marina using the B-Series during development instead of the E-Series.

          Have wondered myself whether it would have been possible to fit a B-Series / B-OHC let alone an O-Series into an Allegro though see little point apart from a 2.0 B-Series / B-OHC or 2.0 O-Series.

          • Of course the E turned up in the Australian Marina anyway – and being Aussies we gave it the 2.6 E6 as well. That was way too much engine for the chassis!

  20. I guess the B series was getting outdated & heavy.

    The last few years the tooling needed a lot of shimming up & even the new tooling compromised the O series, which had to carry it over.

  21. Thinking about it, perhaps the sensible way forward would have been something like:
    SD1 at launch – Rover V8, 2.2 and 2.6 litre E6s (as a stop-gap until PE146/ 166 available), Triumph Sprint 2 litre slant 4, then,
    SD1 updated at say 5 years – Rover V8 (with/ without injection), new PE146 and PE166 straight sixes (perfected after a longer development period, and perhaps spawning a new 4 cylinder engine to replace B, E, O and aged Triumph 4s in other cars), diesel version of PE166, Sprint 2 litre slant 4.
    New model after 10 years, perhaps without V8, but with injected versions of PE146/166, perhaps with different capacities. New 4 cylinder engine to replace Sprint unit, which would be getting on a bit by then.

    Advantages – may have made it possible to introduce 6 and 4 cylinder SD1s at same time as V8, use of a proven engine range would have enabled more concentration on getting other aspects of car right (e.g. painting it and screwing it together properly), would give 2 litre model which was more attractive in some European countries from the start, would use up under-capacity on E-series line, would massively rationalise BL engines, longer development period for PE146/ PE166 would have enabled a better outcome for those engines and development of a new family of associated 4 cylinder engines for the smaller cars.

  22. Perhaps along with the merger not happening, Leyland Motors would have been better off composed with just Triumph and Jaguar (possibly followed by Leyland Motors aka Jaguar-Triumph acquiring Saab) instead of Triumph and Rover?

    That way Triumph would be using a 2400-3000cc SD1-Six along with a related 1300-1600cc OHC Inline-4 at the lower-end as well as the 1700-2000cc Slant-4 and related 3000-4000cc V8 engines with collaboration with Saab remedying the problems the problems of the latter engines (along with spawning dieselized variants).

    The 1300-1600cc OHC Inline-4 would eventually be replaced by 1300-1600cc Slant-4 engines (or even 3-cylinder engines should Triumph or Saab go down-market), with possible consideration also given to a 2000-3000cc V6 derived from the Triumph-Saab V8 to replace the SD1-Six.

    Eventually the above along with Jaguar’s engines (including the XK6 and a properly developed Daimler V8) is mostly replaced by either a related Inline-4 and V6 derived from the Jaguar V12 or a fully-realized late-1980s modular design concept that went on to form the basis of the Jaguar AJ-V8 ranging from a 2.0-litre Inline-4 to a 6.0-litre V12.

    • Funny, I was thinking something similar the other day. After the formation of BLMC, there were a lot of doubles. BMC had never chosen between similar Austin and Morris. Triumph rivaled both MG and Rover, the latter itself rivalling Jaguar.
      Triumph and Jaguar would have complemented one another very well, both being the flashier makers in their segments. Possibly Austin would have fitted as well. That would have left Morris and MG (a historically logical combination) plus Rover; those three would have been the more sturdy combination.

      We really should start a what-if section in this site…

      Basically twon logical combinations could have been formed: the flashier Austin-Triumph-Jaguar and more sturdy Morris-MG-Rover

      • Have a few ideas, with the right groundwork the UK would have ended up with at least 2-3 large carmakers besides the likes of Ford and Vauxhall with even Chrysler having a UK presence.

        Were s what-if section created (for both BMC and non-BMC marques) beyond the counterfactual articles it should be with the caveat for writers to cite sources or a plausible rationale that would form the basis of alternate scenarios.

        • Love the idee, but seriously doubt whether the UK market could have long term supported “at least 2-3 large carmakers” (truely British ones, that is). What “right groundwork” did you have in mind??

          • Part of it involves quite a few pre-war changes with the rest being post-war, BMC and Leyland would still exist as separate companies. Followed possibly by BSA or another company (Fedden, etc), who may or may not have grown to become the UK’s 3rd largest carmaker via the war reparations and Panhard routes.

            Though it is arguably doable for all 3 of them to survive long term as UK independent carmakers, it is possible for one or two carmakers to be merged with non-UK carmakers as an equal instead of being treated like Saab (under GM), Lancia (under Fiat) or BL/AR/etc (under Honda and BMW).

            Singer meanwhile would be acquired by Chrysler instead of the Rootes Group, effectively producing rebadged Simcas later Chryslers without needing to worry about merging the UK and European Chrysler divisions.

  23. Collaboration could and should have happened even with out any mergers. BMC was desperately short of modern engines at the 2lt + range to put into sports cars and middle to top end models.

    Buying in the triumph slant 4 to use in the MGB or 1800 might have been a better way forward than developing (pushing) the b and e series to work at higher capacities than they were conceived for.

    A degree of “character,” and “autonomy” might have been lost, but ultimately it would have provided a better product and allowed engineering and financial focus on other areas such as up producing a modern small capacity engine (or buying in the all aluminium imp engine. Modernising the mini and 1100 properly etc.

    • I’ve long noticed that BMC had a big gap in their engine range between the B & C series.

      Was a 4 cylinder C series considered, being 2/3 of a 2912cc engine?

      This would have been 1941cc, maybe a bit to close to the 1798cc B series.

      Also 6 cylinder B series would have been 2233cc & 2433cc, based on the 1489cc & 1622cc units.

      • A 2.0-litre 4-cylinder C-Series was looked into for the MGB, conceivably they could have also spawned an earlier 1759cc 4-cylinder from the 2639cc C-Series that may or may not have been tested in a Morris Oxford II (since the latter was allegedly a 1750cc OHV version of the Oxford MO 1476cc side-valve engine).

        Considering that Gerald Palmer produced a Twin-Cam 2.6 C-Series prototype engine, makes one wonder whether a 1759-1941cc Twin-Cam 4-cylinder along with a 2912cc Twin-Cam 6-cylinder C-Series would have lived up to its potential.

        Perhaps the 1759-1941cc C-Series 4-cylinder could have featured in more upmarket / sporting applications with the 1798-1998cc B-Series featuring in more mainstream applications prior to both being replaced by the B-OHC followed by the O-Series and later M/T-Series successor engines?

      • The 2433cc B series 6 cylinder was actually built in Australia and called the Blue Streak. It powered the Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 mid sized Farinas.

  24. The German magazine “auto motor und sport” once had a Rover SD1 2600 for a long-term test. They reported that one day the engine couldn’t be started. The importer picked up the car and investigated the cause for this trouble. They found that a cylinder liner had come loose, slipped down the bore and eventually blocked the crankshaft. The interesting thing was that this was the only liner found in the engine and that the engine wasn’t meant to have any liners in the first place. This was not seen as a favourable example for good product quality.

  25. An absolute shame, a good looking car ruined by its six cylinder engines that were supposed to bring Rover ownership into the budget of people who couldn’t afford the V8. The six cylinders became better with age, but it was too late, better off car buyers and company car chiefs had moved over to V6 Granadas( ironically seen as British well into the eighties) and more reliable products from Germany and Sweden.

  26. Fascinating article. Just one thing though: one of the original prototype 6R4 engines was indeed a cut-down Rover V8 but the production one that went on to rally success and to power the fastest car in the world (much modified from the Metro version though for the XJ220), was a bespoke designed unit which was different in design.

  27. I fail to understand the enthusiasm for the “E” series engine, in Australia we built them in 1500,1750 4 cylinder and 2625cc 6 cylinders and had head gasket problems due to the bores being too close together (siamesed), designed this way to allow mounting across the engine bay.

    • Also released in 2226cc form in the Kimberley & Tasman X6. To be fair, BL’s Engineering team back in the U.K. stated flatly that the seemingly logical evolution to the 2623cc ‘six’ could never happen, because it wouldn’t be sturdy enough to last. BL Australia had better ideas. They even put it in the baby P76!

  28. Perhaps a silly idea to consider though could a properly developed 2.0-3.0-litre version of the PE166 engine with its potential realized have spawned a 5-cylinder variant (with possible use in dieselized form)?

    Rover’s earlier attempt with the P7 5-cylinder prototype was limited by the lack of a decent fuel-injection system during development, while the later P10 DOHC 4-cylinder may or may not have had similar potential to spawn 5/6-cylinder engines like the earlier P7 prototype given it was said to use the same tooling as the P6 OHC 4-cylinder.

    • Always wondered what troubles Rover couldn’t overcome while carburetting the P7 5-cylinder, when Audi (rather succesfully according to contemporary reports) fitted their first 5S-engine with one large Solex fallstromvergasser. Could anyone please tell me why the Rover people didn’t come up with one simple large (SU??) carburettor?

      • Cannot really say, wonder though whether Rover’s 5-cylinder with a single SU carburettor would have been a significant improvement over the existing P6 4-cylinder as well as well serve as a mid-range engine between the former and the Rover V8 powered models?

      • Quite so. Something like the inlet manifold of the carburetted BMW 4 springs to mind. The carburettor feeds a chamber with 5 intakes leading from it in a star formation. The outermost cylinders intakes bend parallel to the block and reach the chamber adjacent to the head. The next cylinders’ intakes bend likewise, but reach the intake chamber further out. The centre cylinder’s intake goes straight outwards and bends upwards to the chamber at its outer edge. So all inlets are the same length, and one carburettor only, so no fiddly balancing

  29. First of all i would guess that the large Solex used on the Audi five, would be a double body one. Then, the biggest SU available was the 2 inch, HD8 or HS8. Remember that 2 of these were required in the 4 cyl 2000 TC engine. A single HS8 for a 5 cylinder 2.5 litre engine with high performance ambitions, would just not be enough. Then, it is the matter of the available space to fit a long enough inlet manifold in order to provide similar fuelling to all cylinders. With such a short space between the cylinder head and the inner wing in the P6, this was not just possible. This is why they tried the triple carb approach, with not much success. The ideal solution in fuelling the Rover 5 cyl given the available space, would be the use of 5 Amal carbs, one for each cylinder, rather like some 8 port A series engines conversions. But i doubt that this would be a viable solution for a production car either!

  30. Thanks you for your comments! Agree that a single carburettor might only have worked for the Rover as an interim solution until a reliable FI-system would have become available.

    However, a low tech/low tune carburettor solution might have worked for an sufficiently improved (by Rover-Triumph engineers) BL E/R/S-series engine in 1.6 four, 2.0 five and 2.4 six form, thereby eliminating the need to develop PE166 as well as O-series, freeing resources that were dearly needed elsewhere.

    • If the E/R/S-Series engines were properly developed into the British equivalent of Volkswagen’s big-block EA827 that some speculate it to be (at least in potential based on its apparent similarity to the latter), together with the height of the block being significantly reduced and capable of being enlarged to a 2-litre 4-cylinder (via enlarged 88.5mm bore centres, etc). Then there would be some justification in eliminating the need for the O-Series and other engine projects such as the PE166.

      Also Is it known though to what degree the 9X 4/6-cylinder engine was essentially a downscaled version of the E-Series and thus in essence a potential British version of Volkswagen’s small-block EA111 engine?

  31. Don’t know about 9X. Maybe we should be happy no money was spent on productionising it. BL’s (engine) problem was not that it had too few engines. but rather too many and underdeveloped ones. Focus on improving quality and rationalisation might have helped more than even more “revolutionary” (or not) new engines.

    Doubt whether height reduction of the actual E-series block would have been a serious option. I think maximum height reduction would have been achieved by earlier (than R/S-series application in LC10) replacement of the gearbox in sump by an end-on ‘box. And then still, as the Siamese bores wouldn’t allow enlarging the bores, I’m afraid a 2.0 four would have needed 110mm stroke plus accompanying unrealistically high stroke speeds.

    Therefore I think to make best use of the considerable investment in E-series and Cofton Hacket, a modular development towards 400cc cylinders in 4, 5 and 6 versions would have been the way to go.

    • While the Siamese bores limited enlargement potential, how was it the case the E6 was allegedly capable of being enlarged to around 3.0/3.1-litres (maybe 3050-3100cc IIRC) or is the latter on the basis of what the engine was capable of in its earlier inchoate form prior to using the Siamese bores?

      Seems the E-Series could have benefited from the bore being increased by another 5mm (likely by ditching the Siamese bores) and not being so grossly undersquare, which would allow for a 2-litre 4-cylinder E-Series with a displacement of around 1983cc as well as a 2.5 E5 and 3.0 E6.

      At least a 2-litre 4-cylinder E-Series would have allowed it to become proper alternative to the O/M/T-Series in NA, Turbocharged as well as maybe even in dieselized form as well (given Issigonis’s book make brief mention of dieselized E-Series).

      The idea of the 9X is that if it is indeed in essence a downscaled E-Series, then in 3/4-cylinder form it could slot beneath the lower-displacement versions of the E-Series powering more compact cars (with the exception of the 3-cylinder E-Series prototype engines) as well as effectively replace the A-Series. The 9X engine was even envisaged with to spawn Twin-Cam variants.

      Though the E-Series derived 1113cc 3-cylinder engine used in the BL ECV3 produced a decent amount of power, the main concern with the notion of the E-Series replacing all the engines within BMC / BL is its ability to adequately cover the sub-1300cc and 2-litre 4-cylinder ends of the range. There is also the question of whether an ECV3-like 3-cylinder could have easily fitted into the likes of a Mini and Metro.

      • Not sure I understand what you mean by “ditching the Siames bores”. I’m no technician, but aren’t Siamese bores by definition constructed in such a way that their liners conjoin to achieve minimal thickness, so nothing of those liners could be bored out c.q. left out anymore?
        If E-series coud have been bored out, then why did Harry Webster encounter such difficulties having the original 1.5 maximum?

        I remember you mentioning a 1.9 litre ralley version and even a 2 litre version, can you tell more about those? Were they realised by boring the 1.75 litre or by even further stroking it??

        • Meant during the E-Series development where there was said to be potential for another 6mm to be added to the existing 82.5mm bore centres via the extra space in the 1800/2200, only with added scope during the early stages for the bores themselves to be enlarged by another 5mm allowing for the E-Series to adequately replace both the B-Series and C-Series engines.

          Not sure of the source for the idea of a 3050-3100cc E6, since the site appears to have ceased to exist though it would have certain given BMC / BL another option if true. Perhaps others much more knowledgeable then myself could help clear up the matter?

          Originally found out about the 1915cc Allegro rally car years back from an old issue of practical classics, the closest I could find was the following article below where the overbore was apparently achieved using Fiat pistons though not without its pitfalls.


          • Thanks again! Until further “evidence” emerges, I’ll stick to my idea that a 2-litre E-series for the 1970’s would be best realised as a 5-cylinder with one large carburettor (plus some further refinements as per later S-series and possibly a new -light metal??- Rover-Triumph designed cross-flow engine head, all shared with the corresponding 1.6 four and 2.4 six).

          • Which vehicles do you envision using the hypothetical 2-litre E5?

            While the 2.2-litre E6 was said to be considered for both the Allegro and Maxi at one point, it is somewhat difficult imagining the range-topping models of both being equipped with a 2-litre E5 though it would certainly be more potent then either the existing 91-95 hp or 106 hp Downton-tuned 1750 E-Series.

            IIRC the info on the E6 was originally found on one of previous iterations of the MacDroitwich forum from years back with the thread in question long since vanished, can perfectly understand wanting to verify the claims.

    • Basically, this 2.0 5-cylinder E-series would have been used instead of 1.8 B- and 2.0 O-series (the latter of which would not have been developed, just as SD1’s PE166 wouldn’t).

      In my counterfactual history, the main difference would be the realisation by the newly formed BLMC Board that the merger was born out of sheer necessity, as most or all constituant companies could not yield the investments needed to replace their current models. Revenues were too low and costs too high. Therefore drastic action was required to focus the new company on growth (both saleswise and financially) through enormously improved quality and extensive rationalisation. This would have led to a number of consequent decisions in the late 1960’s:

      1) To postpone introduction of the Maxi, in order to properly complete its development (including a better and heigth reducing end-on gearbox) and rebody it completely (wthout Those Doors) along the lines of Renault’s 16, the later Aquila prototype and the ADO71 Princess, possibly followed by a 4 door sedan version to replace ADO17 (meanwhile avoiding separate development of the Princess as well).
      This would also partly rectify Issigonis’ first ‘demonstrable stumble’ with ADO17, which was meant to replace BMC’s middle class best sellers but gave way Ford’s Cortina.

      This improved Maxi would have used 1.6 and 2.0 litres E-series (possibly along with 1.3 A-series, depending on market preferences).

      2) To introduce ADO22 ASAP, to give the market and dealers the improved ADO16 successor they wanted at low development costs while retaining it’s proven strengths. This would also bridge the time towards the introduction of the improved Max, which in turn could be used as a basis for ADO22’s eventual successor.

      ADO22 (and its successor) would have used A-series and 1.6 E-series engines.

      3) To base the Morris Marina on the RWD Triumph Toledo (rather than on the Minor), which was production ready in 1969, thus reducing development costs and time, whilst also rendering a more modern product.

      This Marina would have used 1.6 and 2.0 ltre E-series as well as 1.3 A-series.

      4) To use Triumph’s new Slant Four (in 1.5 to 2.0 litre capacities) as the standard medium RWD engine, after considering that neither this engine nor E-series could be made in sufficient numbers at acceptable costs to cater for all cars in the range, therefore accepting that for the intermediate future (10 to 15 or perhaps 20 years?) two engine families would be the optimal rationalisation achievable.

      Slant Four would be part of a whole range of RWD components to be used by all medium and large RWD cars for the 1970’s and beyond, eventually spawning TR7/8/Lynx, Rover SD1 (including Estate) and SD2 as well as a Morris Marina successor.

      But that is a totally different story again, as is the (counter)fact that both engine families would eventually be replaced by a completely new engine range of 1.6-2.0 litre fours and related 2.4-3.0 litre (V-??) sixes, probably somewhere in the late 1980’s, possibly related to Jaguars XJ12, as described in the main story above: “Of all the rivals listed, this (PRV/Douvrin – Zebo) is without doubt the one that Leyland, had they been blessed with broader vision and deeper capital reserves, would have done best to emulate”.

      • Aside from the 2.4 E6 and the 3.5 Rover V8, what other engines do you see powering the Rover SD1 in place O-Series and SD1-Six / PE166? Do you envision Rover being allowed to develop a production version of the 2.8 V8 Redcap Project unit to slot between the 2.4 E6 and 3.5 Rover V8?

        This 2.8 Rover V8 project would have benefited the SD1 along with other cars using the existing 3.5 Rover V8, which would have otherwise been penalized for displacing above 2.8-litres as was the case in markets such as Germany. It was even envisioned in dieselized form at one point for Land Rover and Range Rover.

        Would turbocharging be considered for the 2-litre E5 and Slant-Four engines? In the case of the latter would BL still continue to collaborate with Saab on the Slant-Four?

        Going by the 1.6 S-Series Turbo used in the Janspeed Rover 216 Vitesse Turbo which put out 150 hp, such a hypothetical 2-litre E5 Turbo would potentially put out as much as 188 hp at most (almost though not quite on par with the M/T-Series Turbo that was said to be capable of 250-275 hp at most IIRC with the gearbox being the limiting factor).

        Also interested to know how your counterfactual would go about eventually replacing the A-Series and Triumph SC engines, do you still see some form of K-Series appearing (albeit 3/4-cylinders with displacements not growing beyond 1.4-litres)?

        If the new engine range in this counterfactual is similar to the AJ12 / AJ26 modular design concept from the 1980s that eventually resulted in the Jaguar AJ-V8 as mentioned in the following link below (ranging from 4/6-cylinder to V12 engines), then it sounds a lot more appealing than an engine family directly derived from the Jaguar V12. – https://ralphhosier.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/the-genesis-of-the-jaguar-v8/

        Interestingly the link above seems to resemble the approach mentioned in the SD1-Six article of using the research and development that went into the Jaguar V12 as the basis for a new engine family, since the AJ-V8 was produced as a 3.2 in its lowest displacement it would also potentially allow for a hypothetical 120 hp 1600cc 4-cylinder.

        • I think SD1 would be best served with 3 petrol engines (base, intermediate and top) and a diesel. I’m not sure the numbers would add up for a 2.8 V8 (around 80% of 3.5 so 124 bhp?) between a 2.4-litre E with 125-130 bhp and the familiar 3.5 V8 (155 bhp). So beside 2.4 E and V8 i’d say a 2.0 Triumph litre Slant Four as base unit, unless that proved too costly. David Knowles in his TR7 Story claims Slant Four was considerably more expensive than O-series, my guess is that E-series was comparable to O-series or cheaper (read somewhere E-series was lighter than O-series, even with cast iron head). In that case 2.0 E5 (100+ bhp?) could be considered as well, as the SD1 base engine wouldn’t have to be a particular sporty one. At launch all would be carburettor engines, later on to be equiped with EFI (2.0 120-125 bhp, 2.4 150 bhp, V8 170 and 200 bhp?).

          As for diesel, E-series is said to have been tried in diesel versions. The cast iron block and head seem a good basis. Perhaps SD1 could have done with a 2.4 six NA and/or a 2.0 five and 2.4 six TD.

          Turbocharging would later have become an issue. I always assume neither E-series nor Slant Four could have been made in required numbers for all BLMC models without (considerable?) additional investment. Then there is the issue of the rather different nature of both engines (Slant Four being considerably more sporty) and the matter of costs. Question is if it wouldn’t have been a waste of money to develop turbo versions of both engines and if so, which one to choose. Must confess I don’t really know: perhaps Slant Four would be the most obvious candidate, not only because of the relationship with Saab, while E-series might benefit most. Suppose it really would depend on market circumstances and devleopments, any other thoughts?

          And yes, eventually A-series would probably have needed replacing as well, though that really depends on the question whether BLMC would have remained active in the small car segment (hard to image not so in the 1970s or 80s though). Anyway not BLMC’s first priority, I’d say, an earlier than 1980 A+ development could give it a lot more life and perhaps a theoretical 1.2-litre E3 could cater for some applications as well, but in the end there would probably have been a lightweight (so alloy?)1.0/1.1 three and related 1.3/1.4 four, probably with 12v/16v heads and possibly turbocharging as well. Theoretically the 1.0 3-cylinder could have yielded a small V6 as well, but who (or what – car) would have needed that??

          As for the counterfactual next generation of engines: really depends on Jaguar remaining part of the company (as well as on whether BL makes the transition to a sort of British VAG, with Austin in the role of slightly upmarket mass make (and perhaps Morris still as price fighter??), as well as MG, Triumph, Rover, Land/Range Rover and Jaguar all evolving into specialised premium makes…).
          If Jaguar were to leave, hard to imagine BL sharing any developments with Jaguar anymore. So let’s suppose Jaguar would not leave home, then the joint development of a new family of fours, sixes (line or V??) and V8s would be a very attractive thought. One technical question would be whether to couple a new V6 for FWD and RWD applications on the V8: I’d prefer a 60 degrees V6, while the V8 would probably be 90 degrees. Perhaps BLMC would better develop related FWD fours and fives (by then an established tradition!) as well as RWD sixes in line and V8s.

          Finally, how ever much I enjoy thinking up all the above, I don’t think all this tinkering with engines would have saved BL. As stated earlier, the realisation (or better still: the admission, they must have known) by the Board that their company was in rather deep trouble instaed of all the fanfare surrounding the merger would have been instrumental, as well as immediate action to cope with those troubles. Strategic choices in model policy (two good, related midsize cars instead of four unrelated bad ones), focus on higher sales and revenues through better quality and stringent rationalisation, as well as drastic improvement of Industrial relations and perhaps an earlier way to work around EC-tarifs would all have been more necessary than some tinkering with engines.

          • One of the intended applications for the 2.8 Rover V8 was the Rover P10 project (later becoming the SD1) as the range-topping engine (above the planned 2.2 DOHC 16v Twin-Cam fuel-injected 4-cylinder unit), with the 3.5 Rover V8 likely intended at most as an entry-level engine for the Rover P8.

            It is possible the 2.8 Rover V8 would have been produced in a higher state of tune depending on the model, roughly comparable to similar sized engines from other rivals so say around 130-150 hp (possibly even around 165 hp via fuel-injection).

            That is not even mentioning Rover’s apparent intention of either carrying over features from the shelved fuel-injected 145-170 hp 2.2 DOHC 16v 4-cylinder engine to the Rover V8 or using the tooling to develop a new more sophisticated replacement for the Rover V8, initially earmarked for the P8.

            Developments which would have inevitably filtered down to the 2.8 Rover V8 though obviously the situation of this counterfactual would not allow features such as Twin/Quad-Cams, multi-valves, etc to be approved for production beyond maybe the standard 2.8 Rover V8 and fuel-injection.

            Continued collaboration with Saab on the Slant-Four would have also allowed the possibility for BL to benefit from later using the 250-300 hp 4-litre Saab V8 (think reliable Triumph V8) developed during the mid/late-1980s (and tested in a Saab 9000 with scope for further enlargement to a 4.6-litre V8 or more), yet not much point if BL decides to opt for the Jaguar-inspired modular engine route. If BL did decide in favor of the Saab V8 it leaves them needing a suitable 6-cylinder replacement for the 2.4 E6, which minus the Jaguar-inspired modular engine family would either likely be a 90-degree V6 derived from the Saab V8 or some equivalent of the KV6. .

            Also possible Jaguar’s 6-cylinder modular engine may have indeed been a V6, perhaps with some degree of similarity to the later Duratec V6-deirved yet specialized Jaguar AJ-V6.

            It would also be difficult figuring out which marques within BL should have been axed, with or without figuring Jaguar into the equation.

            Agree there are other factors involved such as a suitable range of models, etc. Though in reality BL’s problems stem from much earlier and the merger should have never happened in retrospect, the situation with Leyland Motors effectively taking over BMC to form BL is almost like expecting Liechtenstein alone to bail out Greece. It is not so much about saving BL by tinkering with engines, rather it is about cutting costs by gradually reducing competing engine ranges that are in turn eventually replaced by around 2 or so engine families.

            BMC are partly to blame for not rationalizing their marques soon after merging nor allowing the remaining marques the chance to establish separate identities beforehand from the late-1950s onwards (at least in terms of engineering), while Lord Nuffield is to blame for not investing in Morris as proposed by Miles Thomas like Leonard Lord did for Austin.

  32. I’ve been reading all of this with lots of interest over the past few days – thanks! I particularly agree with the last para of the most recent comment. I came across a stack of copies of 60s and 70s Car magazines in the window of my local Oxfam a couple of years ago. I bought several of them, including the magazine immediately following the formation of BL. There was a big article in that one about all BL’s woes. I’m afraid to say it foresaw the whole thing – elderly factories, outdated models which couldn’t compete with imports, labour relations problems, huge overlaps in the model range etc. Certainly, whoever wrote the article was clear eyed enough to see BL having a struggle for survival from day one. I read it and thought that at least you couldn’t say they weren’t warned.

  33. In all fairness I think it would have been a superhuman task to make a succes out of the BLMC merger. As described very clearly by Chris Cowin in his Chronicle of a Car Crash, the merger was just an seemingly unavoidable accident waiting to happen. Neither Leyland nor the BMC were in a position to enter into such an undertaking. There were very many factors, both external (political, economical) and internal (financial, the models, industrial relations, organizational and managerial) that could singlehandedly have brought the company down, let alone all combined into one. It’s very nice to think what could and/or should have been done, for instance in respect tot rationalisation of the engines, as all the above (and I suppose we could rather easily agree what swift rationalisation could have been achieved, freeing resources that were dearly needed elsewhere), but the big issue would have been to convince all involved that drastic action was needed and indeed unavoidable.

    Perhaps it would have been possible to align management and staff, but nothing good was to become of this merger without firm backing from both workforce on the production line c.q. unions and politics. I doubt whether those last two major influences (unions and government) were even near ready to accept drastic measures. Without their full support for such action, either to invest heavily by the government to transform BLMC into something resembling todays VAG, or to accept such investment would not be forthcoming and thus set out on a course towards producing only premium products and leaving the mass market, BL was always doomed, from start tot finish, as indeed the rot had set in a lot earlier (especially at the BMC). Guess the gradual downfall was the only achievable way to enter a next phase of resurgence and growth, but it remains fascinating to think of what might have been otherwise…

    Keith Adams, how about a specific What if-section for counterfactuals in this marvellous site, if only under Blogs? Wouldn’t that be a great way to celebrate 50 years of BL??
    Anyhow, many thanks for offering us this wonderful platform in the first place, keep up the good work and have an excellent New Year @BL50

  34. To be fair, rationalisation began early on at British Leyland, with the pointless( by 1969) Riley marque being scraped and Mini becoming a brand in its own right in the same year, but it was a slow process and didn’t really accelerate until the eighties, when Austin Rover was created and Morris and Triumph were ditched, and the range at last became coherent.

  35. i dont know why rover developed their own straight 6 when there was already a jag unit that was proven and well tested. if it was good enough for the basis of the v12 and the author proposed that a cut down v6 from that was also a shorter design possibility as a power unit, why not the original straight 6 developed?

    • The Jaguar AJ6 is heavy, even though it is less heavy than it’s predecessor. There sure was room for a lighter six to put in smaller cars.

  36. It is said prototypes of the Jaguar V12-based V6 engines did not produce enough power to be considered for use in Jaguar’s existing models, at least when compared to the production Jaguar AJ6 “slant-6” engine which was also said to have initially been derived from the V12.

    However it would have been interesting to see what the prototype Jaguar V6s were putting out in terms of power for Rover / Triumph / etc (or even a smaller Jaguar), rough estimates of the 2.7-3.0-litre variants suggest a figure of around 140-167 hp whereas divided V6 versions of tuned road-going V12s would suggest further scope for a figure closer to 190-200 hp.

    That is not even mentioning if Jaguar were able to resolve the issues of the rejected 5-litre V12 DOHC variant, let alone larger displacement 3.5-4.2-litre V6s derived from higher displacement versions of the Jaguar V12 (plus lower displacement 2.5-litre unit) or twin-turbo / supercharged V6s similar to what was investigated / produced on the Jaguar AJ6 engine.

  37. Might it have been a lot cheaper for British Leyland, instead of developing two new sixes for the Rover SD1, to use the proven 2.5 litre Triumph six, which was a powerful and refined engine, and maybe to use the 2 litre O series, which occured later on, in the base model.

    • Yes, particularly if the 2.5 Triumph six had taken the place of the 2300 and the 2.8 Redcap V8 the place of the 2600. With maybe the 2200 Rover from the P6 as the base engine. Both the proven Rover 2200 and Triumph 2500 engines would obviously also have been available from day 1 – unlike the 2300/2600. The 2.8 Redcap would have been a relatively straightforward development of the existing 3.5 V8 and thus should also have been available from day 1. Having owned a 3500 Vanden Plas – what a tragedy they fumbled the ball with this car. I also owned a Triumph 2500 and could never understand why they didn’t use this sweet engine in the SD1.

  38. Not sure how much development was left in the 2.5-litre Triumph I6, have heard some allegedly managed to enlarge the engine to 2.7-litres though obviously the drawbacks were not worth the cost.

    The PIs also had a reputation of unreliability while the 124 hp of the most potent non-PI 2.5-litre engine would not have compared well with rivals, in comparison the existing 136 hp 2.6 PE166 was a restricted engine capable of around 150-160 hp (with a hypothetically tuned 2.6-litre E6 possessing similar potential far above the 121 hp in its low state of tune).

    • My Triumph 2500 was taken out to about 2730 using Mazda pistons. It was just as smooth and bulletproof as ever and could really hold overdrive top on the motorway.

      • Interesting, read elsewhere the absolute limit of the 2500 engine was about 2773cc. Which would have certainty been useful for Triumph had it been possible to enter it into production, even the SC 4-cylinder did not have to be so badly developed and limited with the cost-cutting motivated 1296-1493cc floppy crank engines and their weaknesses including the recessed bores,

  39. The 2600 was the best compromise between the slightly underpowered 2300 and the 3500, which wasn’t a lot faster in non Vitesse form. After 1981, when reliability was tightened up and refinement improved, a 2600 SE would have made a good long distance cruiser with its low noise levels and the possibility of 30 mpg on a long journey.

  40. The SD model might not have done much in Britain where diesel executive cars were still rare, but proved to be a big success in France and Italy, where taxation rules favoured large diesel cars. In this respect, there was one decent success story among the gloomy stories surrounding the smaller engined Rovers. Also the VM 2.4 later powered a diesel Range Rover.
    However, for all the Solihull built cars were poor, I still think the Cowley era SD1s were a lot better. OK quality and reliabillity still weren’t the best, but you saw far fewer of these on the hard shoulder and rust protection and build quality seemed a lot better.

  41. Is it known (or would anybody dare make an educated guess) what the costs were of developing the SD1 six cylinder? In other words, how much money could have been spent on other projects if for instance a development of E6 would have been used?

  42. Typical British Leyland, develop an expensive and unreliable range of engines, when other proven engines were still available. The reliability woes with the 2.3 and 2.6 must have cost them a packet in warranty costs as well. Then there was the loss of repeat purchases, as someone enraged with the unreliability of their 2600 was unlikely to buy another one.

  43. Thinking back, was the mistake made earlier on, which was when Triumph decided to develop the slant 4 AND a related V8? If they had developed an I6 instead, there would have been a ready made engine for SD1

    After all while the V8 was suited for the Stag and might have made a nice flagship for Innsbruck (ignoring the engine problems and the clash with the Rover 3500) was it really the right replacement engine for the existing Triumph 6?

  44. Thank you for this article!

    BL/BMC seemed to be masters of missing opportunities and doing neat things for completely the wrong reasons. The MG1100 and then the Austin 1300GT almost anticipated the rise of hot hatches replacing roadsters as the cheap route to a bit of speed and fun, and could have developed those cars into leaders in that field… the 6 cylinder E series was stronger than a Triumph 2500 engine so they had good powerful transverse engines that could have formed the basis of a hot hatch straight away. And then someone could have suggested putting a transverse gearbox on a Dolomite Sprint engine…?

    But instead BMC fwd cars became less and less on-point over time, while they continued building the same olde worlde roadsters for the sports car market.

    Conversely, BMW showed that you could continue to make niche RWD straight six sports saloons, even as the rest of the world switched to transverse straight sixes for all but the very sportiest large cars.

    The Rover/Triumph SD1 could have / should have been a car that could do that too, it had a super strong RWD body that looked fast standing still, and if they’d allowed the Triumph engine people to make the new six cylinder simply a 3 litre Dolomite Sprint engine, it probably would have been cheaper and quicker to develop, and it would have made 200hp straight out of the box, which would have blown away the Rover V8 and a lot of other fancier things as well.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, but if I had been in charge, the SD1 would have come as a luxurious automatic V8 barge badged as a Rover, or a sporty manual OHC straight 6 sports saloon badged as a Triumph.

  45. Another thing that has been pointed out in the article was the meanness in equipment levels on early six cylinder cars. I could imagine someone trading in a Rover 2200 TC, with its wood and leather interior, would be quite shocked to find their Rover 2300 had cheap cloth seats, a nasty looking plastic dashboard with only basic instrumentation and no carpet in the boot. Also this model was denied the slick shifting five speed transmission found on the 2600 in favour of a poor four speeder. Another own goal for Rover as the 2300 initially had only one trim level, while the Granada had three.

  46. I guess the later SD1 2000 would have similar basic spec to the 2300 too. I wonder what the sales levels of the smaller engined Rover SD1’s were like compared to the 3500.

    • @ Hilton D, the 2000 was the entry model, but was much nicer inside than the late seventies 2300. I think the majority of SD1s sold were six cylinder cars and I’d imagine the 2300 was a rise in sales with the energy crisis, when a better equipped 2300 S was launched, and the 2600 received more equipment.
      Rovers didn’t get a leather and wood model until 1980 when the Vanden Plas was launched. Indeed, except for very high end cars like Jaguars, velour had become the material of choice for upmarket cars by the late seventies: it was cheaper than leather, less slippery and looked good with the right material.

  47. Yes I remember velour trim was also favoured by Vauxhall & Ford on higher spec cars. Probably most people (private buyers) who bought a Rover 2300 / 2600 did so as it looked externally same as a 3500 V8 – hence snob value?

    • The Rover 2300 would be like the 200 model was to Mercedes, relatively basic but carrying an upmarket badge. However, the penny pinching was obvious on the 2300 and probably Rover hoped buyers would spend more on a 2600, which came with better appointed interior and a five speed transmission to make driving more relaxed.
      Indeed the 2600 did about 90% of what the 3500 could do and was cheaper to own and insure, and became more important to Rover when the energy crisis and recession hit in 1979/80. The 2300 also benefited from higher equipment levels as buyers downgraded.

  48. In 1977 my father replaced his 1974 2200 TC with a 2600 SD1. Comparing interiors, the 2200TC had nice ribbed cloth seats and nasty plastic wood. The 2200TC instrument shelf was lovely, with the row of dials (particularly when lit at night) probably the nicest of any car I’ve driven. The 2600 had no wood, of course, which wasn’t a loss. The ribbed cloth seats were fine but the instrument binnacle was only adequate and not particularly attractive. One of my gripes about the 2600 was, as described earlier in these comments, its lack of engine refinement. It was coarse right through the rev range and never really calmed down. It put me off 6-cylinder engines for years, although I now know that the crudeness was nothing to do with the number of cylinders. The gearchange was pretty crude too. I wish I’d been able to drive a 3500 V8. My biggest gripe about the 2600 was its shocking paintwork with scab-like rust patches appearing after only a couple of years.

  49. British Leyland South Africa had the best idea, which could have saved millions in development costs and warranty repairs, enlarge the E6 to 2.6 litres. This engine seemingly had far fewer reliability issues than the Rover six and was noted as being smooth and powerful. Also the 2.2 E6 used in the Princess 2200 could have powered the entry model, again this was a refined engine and while not the most powerful, would have been acceptable for the Rover 2300( or 2200 if it used the E6). I did wonder about using the Triumph sixes, but these were becoming outdated by 1977.

    • They wouldnt have even needed to enlarge it – the 2.6 is the 6 cylinder version of the E4 just as the 2200 is (1500/4) x 6! When you think about it they could have used the E series as a corporate engine. It was always designed to start around 1.3 litres so they could have had a 1.3 4, providing a 2 litre 6. A 1.6 4 (to align with market norms) giving a 2.4 litre 6 and the 1750/2600. Far too logical and sensible of course and not something that would have survived the politically toxic operation that was British Leyland.

      • Especially as the SD1 6s were mostly to create some “jobs for the boys” at Canley just when BL should have been rationalising their engine range.

  50. The most convenient resolution to the conundrum from a bring-to-production ASAP perspective would have been the usage of the E6 (apart from not being US emissions compliant) and a putative O6 to cover the 2.2-3.0-litre range (leaving aside notions of a 2-litre E6 in light of the US-geared ambitions for the 2-litre O-Series), more so if the O-Series in general was fast-tracked years earlier to around the same time as the smaller six (if not ideally preceding the former by a few years) or at absolute minimum to more plausibly coincide with the SD1’s launch.

    At the same time short of adopting a Volvo-like transverse FWD end-on transmission approach (plus optional AWD) to its inline-sixes if such a thing was even possible (in event of shift away from RWD), the company would have eventually needed a V6 of some sort come mid/late-80s and after.

    Would cancelling PE166 have actually saved money depending on how far along Triumph was and would the Triumph folks have allowed it? Am not so sure.

    Also if the SD1 was a suitable recipient for both PE166, E6 and a potential O6 (not forgetting the South African 2.6-litre E6 Land Rover Series 3S), why wasn’t it factored in for the Range Rover as an entry-level petrol (albeit also capable of being transformed into a diesel)? Especially considering future plans for the Range Rover to receive a 3-litre Six turbo-diesel under development as part of Project Storm (that included Td5) before BMW stopped it.

  51. Drove an SD1 with the 2.6 many years ago. Most of the car was already past its use-by date but the engine was as sweet and smooth as you like.

    • I think with the light restyle in 1982, attention was paid to the 2.6 to make it smoother, as the original 2.6 wasn’t as refined as it should have been. The last Rover 2600 I was a passenger was a facelift model that was very quiet and was also an automatic, which might have helped.

  52. Find it interesting the engine was planned to be used in Bobcat above the SC and Slant-Four engines, that said it would have been a challenge for Triumph to properly demarcate the 105-127 hp (potentially capable of 140+ hp) 2.0 Slant-Four and 123 hp 2.3 PE146 engines unless they uprated the latter to roughly match if not exceed the 136 hp 2.6 PE166 with the latter and larger versions in turn reaching 150-160+ hp.

    TBH two questions come to mind, did Bobcat later SD2 really need the six when the Slant-Four was capable of similar outputs plus a small-capacity 2.5-3-litre V8 and did Triumph really need to develop the PE146/PE166 when it would have been more expedient from their perspective to develop either a Slant-Six from the Four or a V6 from the V8 displacing around 2.25-3-litres?

    Unless Triumph were having second thoughts about their Slant-Four/V8 engine design (hence the SD2 proposal for a PE146/PE166-deirved 4-cylinder), what were they thinking in designing two engines. A pointless exercise indeed.

  53. I plan on doing a bit of development work to the Rover 2600 when I finally get it in my Spitfire! I’ve already got some bits and pieces together for some investigation.

    I’ve not measured a block yet, but judging by witness marks on the head I have there’s definitely enough space for an 86mm bore version with 5.4mm of thrust wall thickness remaining, which is plenty. An 84.5mm bore is also an option for a 2.8l I6, using Maestro/Montego turbo pistons if you can get hold of them (will fit directly to the stock rods).

    I’ve measured the camshaft and it is indeed a very conservative grind. Pointy little lobes with a decent amount of lift but very little area under the curve. Grinding the base diameter down by 1mm would allow you to plump that out a little.

    Ports are a little narrow for high power, but not intolerably so. There seems to be a decent amount of meat around them for porting, though I haven’t sectioned the head yet to find out definitively. The inlet port has a nice straight shot to the valve, though the exhaust is a lot flatter.

    I had a good conversation with a chappy called Bruno Pinho who used to run a Rover 2600 in Grp2 classic racing, and he was making 190hp with a redline of 7500rpm. Engine modifications were a hotter camshaft, electronic ignition, a better exhaust manifold and triple webers on a better inlet. With a bit more freer regulations and tuning he thought 230hp was achievable.

    I’ll be aiming squarely for the M20B25’s 170hp output with de-restriction and injection as a starter for 10. Mainly to prove that the engine was always a good design in the first place! Then we’ll start pushing for more…

  54. I always liked the PE166; it could have been far better developed:

    1] A Short-stroke 2-litre version [with a shorter block to make it lower too] – Lighter! More revvable! fit it with Dolomite Sprint style valvegear, decent manifolding and fuel-injection, would make it much more appropriate in a ‘sporty’ car [TR7? Badged as MG?] and the fuel injection would have helped with passing US emissions regs with fewer problems than hoary old SU carbs.

    2] A bored-out 3-litre version, again fuel-injected. Basic 12V version with good manifolding should see a smooth 150BHP; the 24V version should be good for 200BHP – I’m thinking here of what BMW did in the same timescale for the upmarket 5-series models. We’ve just made that obsolete lumbering pushrod Rover V8 thankfully obsolete!

  55. We have four of the experimental Triumph saloons modified to be used in the PE166 development program. I also know of five other survivors from the program However having spoken to some of those involved in testing at Triumph I cannot find a definitive total of numbers built. None of these cars seem to appear in the BMH archive, I have spent many hours researching there to no avail. The consensus is anything up to twenty cars were modified, but only four reached full driving status. None of the survivors escaped with their running gear still fitted, but we have finally re-fitted a PE166 motor to one of them recently.

  56. Whether it was for the preceding Triumph I6 (and SC four) or the PE166, did Triumph ever experiment with strokes below 76.2mm or is it likely that a 2-litre PE166 would in reality have featured approximately the same bore x stroke as the 2-litre Triumph I6?

    Because it is unusual there is nothing available beyond it being taken at face value the above engines were at their limits, considering BMC developed short-stroke 970 and 1070 A-Series. Also a near square version by way of the South African 1098 A-Series engine.

    • In reference to above Reliant’s reverse-engineered all-alloy design derived from the discontinued 803cc in the Standard Eight and no longer constrained by the 76 mm stroke, started out at 61 mm in the 594-748cc Reliant OHV before eventually going on to feature a 69.09 mm stroke in the 848cc Reliant OHV.

  57. I think the V8 was the Rover’s big selling point as buyers liked the sound and Leyland had an eye on selling the car to America, the land of the V8, and the snall block ex Buick in the Rover would have been more economical than the V8s found in American cars. The engine was also used in the Range Rover, where its excellent torque was appreciated, and on a top of the range Land Rover. Also the V8 found its way into some Sherpa police vans, which really transformed them for work like responding to disturbances, even if the mpg was horrific.

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