Blog : Raise a glass to… 40 years of the Rover SD1 – Part Two

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

David Morgan tells us why the Rover SD1 has such a special place in his heart.

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I will admit it: no other car from the British Leyland stable has commanded such a high level of affection from me as the Rover SD1. Those sleek, avant-garde lines unashamedly influenced by the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 and Maserati Indy still ooze drama 40 years on, while its shape takes a more restrained nod towards the 1965 Rover-BRM Le Mans race car – even those tail lamp clusters have Mercedes Benz-style fluted lenses to help keep them clean.

This subtle cross-reference with Mercedes-Benz is perhaps no surprise given that British Leyland’s senior managers had never hidden the fact that Rover was their preferred company to take on the might of Mercedes-Benz, starting with the stillborn Rover P8 luxury saloon.

In essence, the SD1 represented a bold move forward that rightly or wrongly did not maintain an obvious link to the Rover Company’s illustrious past, but instead became more submerged in changing trends in the executive market. While the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000/2500 three-box saloons were still selling in healthy numbers in the early 1970s, there was growing confirmation amongst mainly French manufacturers of a desire to move to hatchback body styles.

The first of these was the Citroën CX, which was launched in 1974, and would enjoy a production life of 17 years, resulting in almost 1.2 million examples built in hatchback and estate forms. This was followed a year later by the Renault 20 and 30 model which saw over 700,000 examples being built up until its demise in 1984. Even Audi got in on the act from 1976 with the C2 generation 100 Avant, followed by Saab with the 900 in 1978. Trollhattan’s effort was particularly successful with the three and five-door 900 hatchback accounting for over half of the 908,000 examples built over a fifteen year production life.

Impressive though these figures were it was the likes of the Mercedes Benz W123 Series and Volvo 240/260 saloons that would go on to sell in bigger numbers – 2.4 million W123 saloons and almost 1.5 million 240/260 four-door saloons. The addition of an estate bodystyle further broadened their appeal.

Admittedly, both Rover and Triumph had previously experienced limited sales success with their respective P6 Estoura and 2000/2500 estate models. This was not helped by the fact they involved complex conversion build or body panel pressing arrangements with external contractors such as FLM Panelcraft Ltd and Carbodies Ltd. As a consequence, this likely made them too expensive and specialised in their appeal to achieve their true sales potential. However, there was the prospect of a regular mainline-built estate variant based on the SD1 and offering genuine load-lugging abilities…

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Announced on 30 June 1976, the SD1’s executive ambitions were prominently emphasised when it came to exterior colours. Whereas the P6 had indulged in a mid-life fetish for racy hues such as Paprika and Avocado, the SD1’s colour range was more reserved and upmarket. Early publicity shots tended to feature elegant paint colours such as Midas (gold metallic), Platinum (silver metallic) and Richelieu (dark red).

However, climb inside, and the SD1’s stylish interior lacked the executive niceties of wood trim and chrome detailing as found in its P6 and Triumph 2000/2500 forebears. Admittedly, it was still a nice place to be, but loyal Rover buyers liked luxury appointments and they would ultimately have to wait a further three years before there was a return to those traditional gestures.

Well equipped though the SD1 was in 3500 form, there was still an options list offering additional features to enhance practicality and safety. This comprised of electric windows (£99.45), automatic transmission (£149.76), rear seat belts (£35.10), passenger door mirror (£19.89), Dunlop Denovo tyres (£91.26) and alloy wheels at £175.50.

With a list price of £4750.26 in standard spec form the SD1 3500 was, going by Autocar’s new car prices, over £1700 less than a BMW 528 and over £1000 cheaper than the Mercedes Benz 250 and Volvo 264 DL. When compared with other executive hatchbacks, the Citroen CX in 2400 Pallas form was just £44 cheaper than the Rover while the Renault 30TS was £152 cheaper.

Early road tests of the SD1 3500 were highly favourable, with Autocar praising its level of standard equipment and improved performance and economy over the outgoing P6 3500. Motor were as equally impressed, giving it a full five stars for its new 77mm gearbox and handling. Meanwhile, performance, handling and roadholding found much favour with roadtesters from CAR Magazine. Even when the SD1 was pitched against ten other rivals in a group test conducted by Autocar later on that year, each road-tester still placed it in their individual top-three choice against the Jaguar XJ 3.4, Peugeot 604, Renault 30 and BMW 528.

The SD1 3500’s impressive ride, handling and all-round comfort, together with strong performance and excellent practicality resulted in it being voted Car of the Year 1977. It also won the Don Safety Trophy in the same year for the number of safety initiatives incorporated into its design. Other awards quickly followed and included the AA Gold Medal for its major contribution to ‘safety, comfort, economy, enjoyment and advancement of motoring’. Meanwhile, for those into towing it was voted Tow Car of the Year in 1978. Praise indeed for a British car in such a short space of time. Even Roger Moore drove one!

RogerMoore-RoverSD1

Promotion of the SD1 was extensive and stretched to appearances in popular television programmes such as the New Avengers and The Professionals. In most cases it was usually the same Tumeric example loaned to the production companies although, as with other BL models, there were issues with how long the cars could be borrowed for. This meant that continuity of use became affected. As a result, production companies would seek alternative arrangements with other car manufacturers such as Ford, which relished the chance for free product placement in popular television programmes.

By the late 1970s, the SD1’s popularity had been enhanced with the availability of the 2.3 (PE146) and 2.6-litre (PE166) straight-six engines from October 1977 and the introduction of the high-spec V8S variant in 1979. As the first Rover saloon to cost in excess of £10,000, the V8S offered features such as front and rear head restraints, alloy wheels and air conditioning as standard, while leather seat facings had now become available as an option.

Customers also approved of the change of the bonnet badge from the skeletal design back to the traditional acrylic rendition last seen on the P6. Despite being finely finished in stainless-effect metal and actually very expensive to make, the skeletal design was widely considered to be ‘cheap-looking’. Rover’s Designers therefore reverted to a more traditional acrylic badge with Eurostyle ‘ROVER’ lettering on its heading for the 1979 SD1 range.

Rover SD1 NAS (USA)

More luxury in the form of a flagship Vanden Plas derivative arrived in 1980 complete with leather seats and automatic transmission as standard. However, no amount of luxury could save the SD1 from being a poor seller in the North American market due to the now familiar problems of poor quality and reliability issues, while hatchbacks were generally not perceived as having the same degree of status as a conventional saloon.

As a result, it was withdrawn from the North American market in 1981 having been on sale for just one year. Interestingly, North America was actually one of Saab’s most successful export markets for sales of the 900, even in hatchback form, despite it being limited to a four-cylinder engine.

One of the most important milestones in the SD1’s production life undoubtedly came in January 1982 when the facelifted model was unveiled. With much of this revision programme having been overseen by Gordon Sked in the Solihull design studio, the message about its upmarket executive ambitions could not have been made any clearer. While design critics might argue that some of the SD1’s design purity was lost with the additional chrome detailing and new side trim for the exterior, it nevertheless met the objective of raising the presence of the SD1 against newer and highly competent offerings such as the E28 BMW 5-Series and Volvo 740.

The desire to improve the SD1’s export success and popularity in the lucrative company car market also took a major step forward with the introduction of the 2.4-litre VM turbo-diesel engine and the 2-litre O-Series engine for a new entry level 2000 variant. But for me the icing on the cake came in October 1982 with the introduction of the Vitesse.

Priced at £14,950 and initially built to order only, the Vitesse boasted a Lucas L-Jetronic fuel-injected V8 engine producing 190bhp. Together with the cosmetic enhancements of multi-spoke alloy wheels inspired by the Borrani aluminium rimmed wire wheels found on classic Ferraris, and even the availability of a Ferrari-resembling shade of red paint called Monza Red, the Vitesse provided some extra performance car appeal to the SD1’s image.

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By March 1983, the Rover Vitesse was battling it out on race circuits against the likes of the BMW 635 CSi and Opel Monza in the Touring Car series and receiving favourable coverage in the motor sport sections of print publications.

As a young lad in the mid-1980s with an avid interest in cars, it was the sight of a Rover Vitesse parked up in the East Devon town where I lived that sparked my own personal passion for the SD1. Even the Vitesse name – French for speed – sounded as exotic as the car looked. Regular trips to the local Austin Rover dealer to get the latest copy of the Today’s Cars sales brochure (the successor to the Austin-Morris-MG-Rover-Triumph and Cars brochure titles) were inevitable. With each issue changes in colour, trim and specification to all SD1s, but particularly the Vitesse model, were always noted. The arrival of a poster for my bedroom wall featuring a side-on shot of an SD1 Vitesse finished in Moonraker Blue metallic soon gave marching orders to a white Lamborghini Countach and Cyndi Lauper.

Back to the adult world and, in May 1984, the Vitesse’s dynamic enhancements, together with the highest level of luxury available, were introduced into a new flagship 3500 Vanden Plas EFi. While this latest addition offered leather seats, automatic transmission, detachable head restraint cushions and air conditioning as standard, the regular Vanden Plas trim level with its familiar carburettor-fed V8 engine could also be specified with the 2.6-litre straight-six engine. Only the 2000 and 2400SD Turbo engine choices continued to be offered with one trim level.

Now entering its twilight years and with there being regular press coverage that the replacement ‘XX’ model – the Rover 800 Series – was due for a 1986 launch, the SD1 still managed to find a place in popular television. Examples appearing on television included a 3500 Vanden Plas EFi finished in Opporto Red metallic which was used in the BBC series Blot on the Landscape. Meanwhile, in the new prime time soap opera EastEnders, an early example finished in Brazilia Brown was used by the character Dennis Watts, only to be replaced in 1986 by a new 2600 Vanden Plas in Silverleaf metallic. Before then a pre-facelift 2600S finished in Pharaoh Gold metallic had appeared in the 1981 video for the music track Don’t You Want Me by the Human League.

The last hurrah for the SD1 was essentially the Vitesse with twin throttle plenums which went on sale from November 1985 priced at £17,029.29.

By July 1986, the final Rover SD1, a Vitesse twin plenum finished in Silverleaf metallic, rolled off the assembly line at Cowley. This model was retained for the British Motor Heritage collection. However, some models such as the 2000, 2400 SD Turbo and 3500 Vanden Plas EFi had actually been discontinued the previous year. According to figures held at the British Motor Museum, total UK production for the SD1 was 303,345 examples.

Even after the launch of the Rover 800 Series, sales literature continued to promote the availability of new old stock variants of the SD1 such as the 2300 and 2600 Vanden Plas. For unsold examples of the Vitesse variant it got unexpected exposure in the news in January 1987 when Prince Edward was filmed leaving the Royal Marines Training Camp at Lympstone in East Devon, behind the wheel of a Silverleaf example, having just quit a career with the Royal Marines. The final batch of new old stock SD1s was registered in the autumn of 1987 on E registrations, some of these were under Austin Rover’s Management Company Car Plan.

So, did the Rover SD1 really miss the mark by being an executive hatchback rather than a saloon, or was it more down to other factors such as its familiar issues of poor quality and supply not meeting initial demand that hampered its success?

Sales of the Saab 900, Citroën CX and Renault 20 and 30 confirm that there was a healthy demand for an executive hatchback, particularly in central Europe, with their success continuing into the 1990s. Even the replacement Citroën XM and Renault 25 were well received and enjoyed their greatest success in central Europe, while the third-generation Ford Granada hatchback sold particularly well in the UK.

However, in the case of Citroën with the CX, they also recognised early on the growing popularity of genuine load-lugging estates to supplement their sales and deliver greater economies of scale on the production line. This approach also worked well for both Mercedes Benz and Volvo, with nearly 200,000 W123 estates being built between 1976 and 1985 and almost one million Volvo 240/260 estates from 1974 until 1993 to add to the more impressive sales of the saloon bodystyle.

Perhaps one of BL’s less obvious early mistakes with the SD1 was not having the commitment (or financial ability) to take their own estate bodystyle into production. Instead, annual sales forecasts for the Rover SD1 were predicted to be higher than those for the P6 and Triumph 2000/2500 combined; a prediction that would prove to be wildly over-optimistic.

Ironically, today, Citroën and Renault cannot deliver a viable business case for producing another executive hatchback. In contrast, premium German manufacturers such as Audi and BMW, which now offer a greater number of body styles based on a core body structure, have kick-started interest in executive class hatchbacks once again through the A7 Sportback and 5 Series Gran Turismo.

The popularity of these variants is unlikely to translate into higher demand than their saloon and estate counterparts. Nevertheless, they do continue the implied spirit of the Rover SD1 by offering a premium-badged car with greater practicality and style than a conventional three-box saloon, even if they ultimately lack the character and forward-looking ethos of the SD1.

So, raise a glass to 40 years of the Rover SD1 and long may it continue to be affectionately remembered as the car that dared to be different in so many ways.

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42 Comments

  1. Wonderful car… if only the build quality had matched its good looks and the way it drove. Am I right in my understanding that USA legislation at the time precluded the fitment of flush fitting headlamps? The inset quad lamp arrangement of the USA version turned a beautiful car into one with a rather, shall we say, challenging face! Incidentally, the Citroen CX was never sold as a hatchback in its saloon guise, despite its shape suggesting otherwise. Citroen probably missed a trick here which they repeated with the C6…

    • The USA required an approved sealed beam. Retractable covers, etc, also were permitted. Flush lamps with replaceable bulbs were approved around 1985. The first volume car with flush lamps was the Ford Taurus.

  2. It was different, was met with massive accolades by the motoring press when launched 40 years ago and had a V8 engine that could return the same sort of economy as a 2 litre Ford Cortina, with massively more driving enjoyment. The SD1, like the Jaguar XJS a year before, was a huge achievement for British Leyland, which was becoming a national joke.
    Sadly we all know the strikes, terrible build quality and reliability issues ruined the SD1’s chances, but when quality reached an acceptable standard in 1982 and the Vitesse arrived, the car still had a chance. Only problem was BMW, Ford, SAAB, Volvo, Mercedes and Audi were serious competitors by then.

    • Don’t loose sight of the facts will you….the press didn’t spend their own money on SD1 (or XJS for that matter). The problem was, neither did enough other people. Which ever way you cut it, SD1 was a huge failure for the company. It was a massive investment that never paid it’s way. That investment ensured that volume cars would be starved for years.

      XJS was considered a huge disappointment at the time, regardless of how it’s seen now – it simply wasn’t an E-Type. But importantly, it cost the company a fraction of what SD1 cost, and was a basically well engineered car. So much so that the underframe was able to carry on for years in DB7 and XK, right up until X100 was replaced by X150.

          • I wonder if it’s more complicated than that, though. I’d love to know if the problem was that the early cars were just badly assembled, or whether it was that they were impossible to build right (trim badly specified, components poor quality etc). The problems with the paint plant, for instance, falls into the latter category, but the water leaks – were they a result of design or sloppy assembly (or both)? I’d love to know. Perhaps James Taylor’s new book will tell us more.

          • To Julian’s point, there’s plenty of blame to go around for the shoddy quality of SD1. Shop floor, management, and suppliers all did their bit to bugger it.

      • I think you make a good point, to an outsider the SD1 is not so different than the Pinifarini 1800 with a rover V8 in it. Leyland could have produce that back in the 60’s by putting the V8 into the pinifarini bodywork and using the austin 3lt running gear.

        That would have cost a fraction of the SD1, would have used more reliable technology, and would have appeared five years earlier.

        Having said that, the SD1 is a great car.

        • On what basis do you assume that product would have been a better business proposition than SD1?

          Also, note that SD1 was spoiled by its build quality and subsequent poor reputation, not its design or manufacturing costs. There’s no reason to think that any alternative product would be more successful under the same conditions, and every additional technical novelty would be one more obstacle for BL to stumble over.

          • Arriving five years earlier and using mechanical underpinnings already developed would
            1. make development and production costs lower.

            2. be launched with fewer competitors of a similar class.

            3. using existing underpinnings is likely to result in better reliability as they’d all ready proved themselves.

            It’s all just guess work, but these are my guesses.

          • To your followup points,

            BL didn’t need another executive car to sell in Britain in 1971. It had the Triumph 2000, P6, and XJ6.

            It’s hard to see how carrying over bits of 3-Liter would be particularly beneficial from an efficiency perspective. The SD1 was dead simple, so the unique parts weren’t expensive. The 77mm gearbox was terrific, and money well spent for BL.

            While the Pininfarina aerodynamic styling might have been appropriate for the time, I think the SD1 looks better.

  3. The numbers for the competition give the clearest indication for the magnitude of failure of the SD1. The SAAB 900 sold 3x as many, the Citroen CX 4x, the Volvo 240/260 5x and the Mercedes W123 8x.

    The Mercedes figure is the really telling one. BL managed 300,000; Mercedes 2,400,000 – way more than even ADO16. BL just weren’t in the same league. Even if SD1 had managed to sell as well as the P6 and Triumph 2000 combined, they would still have been be a bit player.

  4. Yes. I think the highest volume for SD1 was forecast at launch at 1500 a week, which would still only be 750,000 over 10 years production (or a little more than twice what was achieved). Nice car though.

  5. I’m amazed at what good value the Rover 3500 was in 1976. It was £ 1000-1700 cheaper than its six cylinder rivals from BMW, Mercedes and Volvo and only cost slightly more than Citroen and Renault’s top of the range cars, which in the Citroen’s case came with a relatively small 2.4 litre engine. For your £ 4750, probably £ 5000 if you chose a couple of options, you could buy a 3.5 litre V8 hatchback which beat its rivals for maximum speed, fuel economy, space and driving enjoyment. Possibly only the Citroen CX looked as distinctive and exciting, but this didn’t have a V8, and while the Volvo 264 would probably outlast all the other cars in the group, it was extremely conservative to look at and drive.
    It’s so sad what happened with the SD1, when it had so much to offer and when the range was expanded in 1982 to include a diesel, the Vitesse and 2000, logically the Rover should have been able to take on everything from a 2 litre Granada to a performance enhanced BMW 7 series. Actually the diesel, while it didn’t sell well in Britain, where diesel cars were rare in the early eighties, became popular in France and Italy, where diesel executive cars were taking off for taxation reasons.

  6. The issue was that the car looked good, but it was not properly engineered for production, hence the subsequent build quality and reliability issues.

  7. The CX would have been a better example (for the article) of an executive hatchback, if it had ever been one.

    Saloon (albeit a fastback style) and estate only.

    • The Lancia Gamma was another example of a fastback saloon, one which didn’t look anywhere near as nice as the stunning coupe version!

  8. I think once the second generation of SD1s came out, the car had acceptable, if not Mercedes like, quality and still looked good. For all the export market had shrunk by 1982 and the Granada was top dog in the Rover’s class, with plenty of justification, it was a nice car in V6 form, the SD1 was still Britain’s second biggest selling executive car. For the money, nothing came close to the V8 for performance, refinement and value for money, and the Vitesse was the fastest hatchback in the world at the time. If you were prepared to put up with some niggling faults and were in a position to change new cars regularly( the SD1 didn’t age particularly well), the SD1 was still worth a look.

  9. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption that SD1 sales would equal those of the Triumph 2000/2500 and P6 ranges combined. That they didn’t shows the scale of failure.

    I wonder if a rakish fastback was really what “Rover” customers wanted. Rover cars up until then had been fairly conservative looking, even the P6, and I can imagine many of the older customers not fancying that exotic looking hatchback and buying the conventional and sober Volvo 240 instead

    • Well put. That was pretty well what happened. There was no real market for an ‘executive’ hatchback, regardless of whatever other ‘qualities’ the SD1 may have had. The market was, and remains, dominated by 3 box sedans and estate cars (now largely replaced by SUV’s). In any meaningful way, SD1 was a mistake that was compounded by poor build, unreliability, modest engineering (to be kind), poor dealers, and a badge that meant very little in export markets.

      It cost us dear.

  10. @ maestrowoff, plenty of Rover owners, after a bad experience with a first generation SD1, moved across to Volvo. This was a car that had all the old Rover values- durability, conservative styling, reliability and well appointed interiors- and was extremely safe in a crash. After the styling was freshened up in 1981, when the front end became less severe, the 240 seemed to boom in the sales charts.
    However, it would be wrong to say the executive market only wanted saloons and estates. The SD1 was second in the sales charts for executive cars for most of its life, and cars like the SAAB 900/9000, Renault 30, Audi Avant and Citroen CX had considerable followings.

    • The SD1 may have been second in the UK, but you’d expect the only British made car in its class to do that as a minimum!

      The SD1 may have had the rakish styling, but engineering wise was in some ways a cut below many of those European rivals. Indeed the Princess probably has more in common with a R20 or SAAB 900 than the SD1 did.

  11. @ maestrowoof, actually the Princess was a far better car than people realise and was more reliable than the SD1. It looked just as radical and distinctive as an SD1, but with a boot to keep conservative buyers happy, had fwd( the SD1 was rwd) and had masses of space and rode like a Jaguar. I’ve always been a Princess fan and considered the 2.2 to be a very quiet and civilised cruiser.

  12. Just £4750 for a new Rover 3500 at launch sounds a snip, even back then (I paid £2750 for a new Datsun Cherry in 1979)… not in the same league obviously.

    Although Rover owners may not have taken to the SD1 at first, its appeal increased with the availability of different engines and trim. For the cost of a single car, I’m surprised that Rover couldn’t have allowed the TV Companies to keep it for longer and thus increase publicity exposure.

    • Whether it was to traditional Rover buyers or new money, BL had no trouble selling every SD1 it could make until the car earned a bad reputation.

      The SD1 blew the doors off the P6 in the showroom, and all previous Rover sales. It averaged about 60,000 units per year, which is more than Rover had ever sold in any previous year.

  13. Just to add my Australian two cents to this discourse:

    When my stepfather bought a new SD1 3500SE in 1982 (among the last Series 1s), it was still car-of-the-future stuff – alloy V8, EFI, hatchback, etc. It was impressive, but I couldn’t help wondering why the auto was only a 3-speed, when those backward Americans all had 4-speed autos (with overdrive) by then. The Rover V8s revved freely, so always excelled when coupled to the 5-speed manual than to the 3-speed Borg Warner auto.

    Virtually all Aust-spec SD1s were automatics, with the US-Federal-spec low compression ratio V8 engines and Lucas L-Jetronic, for a rousing (in that dismal time) 144 bhp. We could have stood a higher compression ratio but apparently Australia was used as a test bed for the American mechanicals, which raised the ire of those motoring journalists who spotted this.

    I’ve inherited the Rover and have driven it for a decade now as an everyday car. It’s only ever failed when the high-beam current melted the headlamp switch (upgraded relays solved this). Seals and gaskets leak over time and are replaced as necessary. Window lift rocker switch contacts were cleaned and everything works fine.

    A new air-con drier unit is needed (hard to find), and a relay just quit in the central locking. Some incipient rust in the door bottoms was drowned with waxoyl until I can do a decent repair, and weather and Australian sun has blemished the metallic colour on the roof.

    But the engine and auto are still running (the car’s reaching 215,000 kms) and the interior cloth and plastics are in excellent shape.

    These are merely the foibles of a high-mileage car that’s over 35 years old. If it had some major weaknesses, they would have shown up ages ago. The original Pioneer radio-cassette deck failed long before the Rover’s own electricals.

    In summary, I’d agree that:

    1. the design process took too long to complete (1971-75);
    2. management in-fighting and turmoil led to (1), loss of Rover men, ascendancy of BL men and bean counters;
    3. labour’s sense of entitlement, couldn’t care less about quality control;
    4. management’s blind eye to quality lapses;
    5. interference from government (you can’t expand your factory here, build one over there instead to solve local unemployment, here’s a big bailout, sorry – no more bailouts, etc.)
    6. external industrial actions of suppliers.

    The legacy of the Rover SD1? In any parking lot today, the SD1 is lower and sleeker than anything else. And with the load-carrying capability of a hatchback, it’s eminently practical. An executive hatchback? You bet!

    So I’d say the SD1 is a great design spoiled by indifferent build for too long after launch.

    Or maybe think of a Ferrari 365 Daytona with 4 less cylinders, 200 less hp, but 2 extra doors. Wouldn’t you have one?

  14. I have been watching the first series of The Professionals and the cars they drove were the products of Rover and Triumph, rather than the better known Capris and Granadas. According to the website, problems with the cars reliability and British Leyland only being willing to loan Mark 1 Productions cars for short periods saw them move over to Ford for the next four seasons.
    However, Rovers do appear quite frequently later on as police cars and the occasional Jaguar and Princess appear in minor roles, so all wasn’t lost for British Leyland. Also their cars seem to have a better fate than Mark 3 Cortinas and FD Vauhxall Victors that were regularly destroyed.

    • Right Glenn… I also read that BL were less flexible in loaning cars for extended periods of filming, so Ford took the opportunity to provide Granada’s and that famous Capri 3.0.

      Triumph 2500’s (Police) and a Rover SD1 appeared in some episodes. I recall seeing a Ventora FD (ex hubcaps) being blown up on one occasion! Bit sad as I liked Ventora’s

      • I’m sure Ford wanted the free product placement and having a new Mark Three 3.0 S Capri in The Professionals helped sales. Seemingly the German built Fords used in the last four series of The Professionals gave very few problems.
        Also British Leyland provided the vehicles for The New Avengers, which had a shorter run and I’m unsure if they switched to Ford as the cars all seem to be Leyland that they drive. Again reliability issues emerged, Steed was given a Jaguar XJC for the first series that was set up for racing and was totally unsuitable for road use and troublesome and Purdey’s Triumph TR7 was constantly breaking down.

  15. Suppose reliability and quality were Mercedes like from day one, and an estate version introduced after a couple of years, then the Rover SD1 would have destroyed the opposition. Nothing looked as exciting in the executive class at the time, went as well in V8 and 2600 straight six form, offered better value for money, and had such a large boot. I’d imagine a Vitesse estate version, if this was created, would have had plenty of takers.
    We all know the SD1 was flawed and never reached the quality and sales levels of its rivals across Europe, but if it was better built, I reckon companies like Mercedes and BMW would have been panicked.

  16. The SD1 was such a poorly engineered replacement for the wonderful P6. The solid rear axle, drum brakes, bumpy ride, cheap interior and dreadful build quality of the SD1 were an embarrassment to the Rover name. Slick looks (from some angles) can’t disguise its inherent shortcomings. It made even the Triumph 2000 look classy! Think of what could have been with the P8!

    • @ Chris W, I’ll agree with you on the quality issues, but the V8 was on of the best cars to drive in its class and the Vitesse version was considered as good to drive as an Aston Martin. Early cars looked cheap inside with plastic everywhere, but following complaints from traditionalists, wood made a reappearance, and top of the range cars were offered with leather seats again. Just a shame Rover never got the quality totally right.

      • I’m sorry Glenn but a bit of wood and leather can’t cover up the engineering failings. With the exception of the V8 engine, the SD1 had all the quality and innovation of a MKIV Cortina! Rover was going places before it became part of Leyland. Just look at what came out of Solihull before the merger: as well as the P6 and the rights to the Buick V8, the company came up with the prototype P7, P8 and Range Rover. Only the latter survived the axe!

        • @ Chris W, the main problem was the dreadful reliability on the six cylinder cars and poor rust protection. People who were used to Rovers being very reliable and durable cars often had a nasty shock with a Rover 2600. Yet the styling and driving experience in the bigger engined cars was up there with the best.

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