Rover SD1@ 40 : Keith Hopkins – why the SD1 will beat Peugeot, Volvo, Ford…

As part of our Rover SD1 at 40 special, here’s why Leyland Cars’ Sales and Marketing Director, Keith Hopkins, thought his new car had the beating of the opposition. This article is taken from the British Leyland Mirror, 30 June 1976.

BL-Keith Hopkins 1975

Trading on the magical combination of tradition and advanced design and engineering, the Rover 3500 will retain old loyalties and make great inroads into the opposition, predicts Leyland Cars’ Sales and Marketing Director, Keith Hopkins.

‘The reaction to this motor car from the media and the trade throughout Britain and Europe is the best I have experienced in twenty two years with this company,’ Mr Hopkins said. ‘Leyland Cars dominates the executive saloon car sector of the UK market, and Rover has the biggest part of that domination. Our first selling task is to maintain that domination, to ensure that existing Rover owners buy this new Rover.’

The Rover owner, claims research material, is most likely to be a professional man with conservative tastes. But the new car has the right mixture of style, quality in detail and ride and handling with power to seek new sectors of the market.

Mr Hopkins explained: ‘We believe that the specification and price of this very exciting motor car give us an enormous conquest opportunity. Features of this car, particularly fuel consumption are way beyond the offerings of our major competitors in this category, BMW, Peugeot, Citroen, Volvo and the Ford Granada.

By any standards this is a very beautiful motor car. But undoubtedly its fuel consumption, much better than our original estimates, will knock our imported opposition. We originally estimated 23-25mpg for the automatic and 26-27 for the manual car. Yet during a day’s quite independent testing by correspondents over 250 miles, the automatic car registered an average 26.14mpg and the manual an average of 29.12. This beats the opposition into the ground.’

The 3500 retains the Rover traditions of comfort and internal luxury, quality, detail and quietness, yet successfully combines these elements with a completely new, markedly un-conservative style and greatly improved road holding and drive.

‘There’s no doubt that this car enables us to go for volumes and market shares we have never considered before for Rover. Response from our car clinics twelve months ago was very encouraging. The car was exposed completely anonymously to a cross section of the potential market. The audience did not know the car had any connection with Rover or Leyland Cars.

Rover SD1 tomorrow today

‘Predictably, some Rover owners felt that, although the car was impressive, it was not conservative enough for their taste. Yet our experience at the Princess car clinic taught us that, although people with Austin cars thought this car was something too modern for them, when they identified it as an Austin and a Leyland Car their reservations were overcome. Once the new Rover is launched under the new Rover name and has established its place on the market, the conservatism of the Rover owner is easily overcome.’

Leyland Cars launched their new executive saloon under the theme, Tomorrow. Today, and it is backed by the company’s biggest and most ambitious launch ever for a new car. A press launch was held for 200 journalists and the car has been shown to distributors, dealers and their salesmen throughout the country.

The car has been shown to 2000 fleet buyers, an all time record, and the response was fantastic. Leyland Cars are already committed to supply more than 500 cars on the first day to fleet buyers. A massive advertising programme starts today, with two pages in colour and black and white in national newspapers. The car will be on show at selected sites throughout the UK , on television and film and on offer as a prize in nationwide competitions. It will also appear in the much publicised new television series, The Avengers.

‘I really believe this to be an exceptional car,’ added Mr Hopkins.

‘My only concern is that we get sufficient quantities of the car at the right time, in the right place and at the right quality. Rover’s name for quality is probably the best in Leyland Cars and it is vital that we do nothing to jeopardise it. With the manufacturing programmes and launch stock we have established we shall have better availability than ever before. But it is vital that we keep up this continuity. Response to this Rover is one of the most impressive I have ever seen for a new car. What we need now is a steady supply of cars with guaranteed quality. Even with an outstanding car like this we cannot afford to keep people waiting too long.’

Keith Adams


  1. Ah the days when Peugeot, Citroen and Ford where spoken in the same breath as BMW. Surely it must have occurred to Mr Whittaker at the time of the cars launch that all these competitors – especially Ford offered a huge range of derivatives and engine options, the Granada going from 2.0L to 3.0 Ghia. All he had to offer was, er one car with a thumping great V8 in the year when the country was so broke it would be going cap in hand to the IMF within months of the SD1’s launch.

    • There was a waiting list for the SD1 even in V8 form
      soon after launch, even so, Leyland cars could not build enough to satisfy demand.

    • The SD1 was not catering for the same market as the Granada, which was regarded then ( and indeed now ) as very “low rent” . It was aimed at the market which had been vacated by the mark 2 Jaguars, and indeed I replaced my hideously unreliable 1977 XJ6 4.2 with a 3500 ( manual ) in 1979 , and I did not really regret it, although it certainly was not as luxurious as the Jaguar

  2. @ Christopher, also by the end of 1976, Granada production had been moved to Germany, so buying British would be another reason to buy an SD1, which was made in Britain by a British company. Also Jaguar’s sales were falling due to reliability issues and the massive thirst of their 4.2 and 5.3 litre models. It seemed the SD1 had it all in 1976, a British luxury car that was fantastic to drive, surprisingly economical for its size, cheaper than many of its rivals and futuristic looking. Had the car been well buiilt and reilable, it could have been Europe’s best selling luxury cars for years.

    • Well built and reliable – with derivatives that aligned with market expectations. The cheaper, 6 cylinder cars arrived a year late and there was no 2 litre model until the 80s – That could have been easily achieved in 76 with the Triumph slant 4. Couple that with the lack of a saloon body in this conservative sector of the market and it didn’t stand a hope – as history proved.

  3. For all Britain was in a terrible economic mess in 1976, the SD1 was one of three exciting technological developments from Britain that year, the over two being Concorde and the Inter City 125. All three products showed that Britain could still make exciting, cutting edge products and hinted at better times to come and a futuristic world frequently portayed on Tomorrow’s World. Obviously Concorde was never more than a rich man’s form of travel, but was a massive achievement, while the Inter City 125 has given 40 years almost trouble free service on the railways and revolutionised Inter City travel on non electric railway lines.

    • Glenn(I know you wrote this along time ago but)

      The trouble is the reality of the situation was that Concorde (a project the UK would have long ago abandoned had the French not held our feet to the fire), was a complete and utter commercial disaster, with only 12 sold for a total of £6 (to BA) and 6 Francs (to AF). Whilst it was a great technical achievement, in reality it was showing what could be done with state of the art 50s technology and by the mid 70s its systems and engines were more than a generation behind those of the Airbus A300 which actually entered passenger service a whole 2 years before Concorde.

      As for the Inter City 125, it is little more than a set of conventional (BR Mk3) railway coaches with a Class 29 Diesel locomotive at either end. Whilst it worked well enough, it was like the SD1 warmed up 50s and 60s technology under a modern skin. They also did not give trouble free service, by the early 80s BR was looking to re-engine them due to ongoing problems with the Paxman Valenta engines, eventually we have ended up with them being fitted with MTU engines. Whilst it offered improvements, it certainly was not “revolutionary” improvement over say a set of Mk2 carriages being pulled by a Class 47, with many regular rail customers upset at the lack of baggage space they offered over the BR Mk1 and Mk2 coaches when a 125 service was introduced on their route.

      I agree with you that Concorde, 125 and SD1 may have been spun as cutting edge products of the future at the time in 76, it was bleak in the UK. However, and most serious commentators saw through the hype and realised the reality, of a nation that whilst it still wanted to pretend that it was still “Best in Class”, but was falling rapidly behind its 1st world rivals.

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