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.

      • Well if productivity is on the floor, the day shift are warming themselves on a brazier at the factory gate and the night shift are fast asleep, you don’t need that many orders to end up with awaiting list

      • The ‘waiting list’ was caused by hopeless productivity. Demand was so low, a nightshift was never instituted at Solihull for SD1.

        • I distinctly remember dad trying to source one at the time and they had been totally overwhelmed by demand, with waiting lists, zero discounting and cars even being sold over list.
          Then, a few months later (when it was off the road, waiting for an unobtainable new power steering pump), he was told that parts were almost unobtainable, as everything they could source was going straight to the factory for production.
          I can assure you, they were in great demand for a short while.

    • 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

      • Not sure about all models of the Granada being low rent, maybe the L models with smaller engines that often ended up as taxis due to their hard wearing plastic and cloth interiors and huge interior space, but GXL and Ghia models were definitely aimed at managing directors with their wood and velour interiors and unstressed 2 ,8 litre engines. Also the supposedly low rent Granada in Mark 2 form proved itself to be a very reliable and quite desirable car if you went for the GL upwards and wth the V6.

        • Ford even offered a taxi spec for the Granada, with basic trim, diesel engine and electrics upgraded for a meter and radio.

          • I can remember the Granada Taxi being launched in 1981, but never saw that many, probably because diesel was still hard to obtain in some areas in the early eighties, and the Cortina was cheaper.

          • I know the Cortina wasn’t offered as a diesel at least in the UK, but the Sierra had a 2.3 litte engine from Peugeot. I don’t think there was a taxi spec though.

      • I dont remember the Granada ever being considered low rent. There are plenty of press reviews from that era comparing it to the likes of BMW’s and Mercedes, never mind Rovers and Triumphs. In terms of sales it wiped the floor with BL’s offerings and defined the Executive car market in the 1970s. Ghia models at least where far better finished than the SD1’s low rent “industrial” interior.

  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.

      • The problem with the HST was it was too good. In the late 70’s BR was running the second fastest intercity service in the world and they did it for buttons. Which gave our penny pinching useless politicians and civil servants the excuse they needed to cancel investment in APT and proper high speed lines. Handing those markets to the French, Japanese and the Germans.

        The SD1 is a little different, similar to the TR7, in that it showed you could get decent ride and handling by using a cost effective live rear axle. Alas just like the the TR7, the SD1 was ruined by a workforce and management that thought the world owed them a living. By the time they were made to face reality, it was too late; the shoddy build quality had destroyed the product.

        Concorde was the last harrah of the British aircraft industry, destroyed by idiot civil civils, politicians and British managers. What other country would allow their national airline to bad mouth their own planes, thus destroying any hope of export orders?

        Even after the idiots in Westminster destroyed everything, they got a second chance. We could have been a founding member of Airbus but pulled out. Airbuses could be rolling off UK production lines, instead we got wing manufacture and that was no thanks to our idiot government.

        Alas was Boris the clown in charge, I doubt Airbus UK has much of a future. Decade of destroying the UK economy and the fools in Westminster haven’t learnt a thing.

      • A little bit dismissive on the HST. It gave an immediate 25% speed increase (with commensurate reduction in journey times) whilst giving an improved ride. It took the record for fastest diesel train in the world, which I believe it still holds. With regard to the engines, most of them gave 30 years’ service, covering millions of miles, before anything as good
        could be found to replace them.
        Also, the locomotive was class 43 not 29

        • The HST is a Class 43, the reference to Class 29 is the Paxman Ventura diesel engine of the Class 29 locomotive , and the Paxman Valenta of the Class 43, The Valenta was a development of the less powerful Ventura

      • Bit unfair on the HST there – The power cars where actually Class 43. There where no other high speed diesel trains cruising at 125mph anywhere in 1976 so it was revolutionary in that it pushed established technology. The MK3 coaches with their air bag secondary suspension and 23M length where a huge improvement over the MK2. All this technology was wrapped up in a stylish appearance that allowed BR to market them very successfully. They also allowed Inter City to flourish despite being deprived of mainline electrification that was taken for granted on every other European railway.

  4. The APT could have seen massive improvements to the WCML, with Glasgow to London journey times of under 4 hours, and speeds up to 155 mph in places. Instead the project was left to die as no one was prepared to make the tilt mechanism work properly and it took another 20 years for the WCML to get a watered down high speed service with the 125 mph Pendolinos.

    • The APT always seemed to feel like it was given the green light before all the bugs were sorted out, & on an inadequate budget too.

      This was in contrast to the HST 125, which had years of trials before it went into service.

    • The pendolinos use a developed version of the APT’s tilt system – it was sold to Fiat Ferroviaria who used it along with their own ideas to develop a system that worked!

      • I think that’s a bit of an old wives tale. Europe was experimenting with tilt mechanisms at the same time we where with the APT. The APT used a hydraulic system, the Fiat based system used by Alstom on the Pendolino uses electrical actuators on each bogie.

    • The tilting mechanism was actually pretty reliable in the end. The main problems with APT related to the transmissions that coupled the driving wheels to the body mounted traction motors and regular train components such as the brake cylinders that operated disc brakes at low speeds. BR was given an ultimatum to get the prototypes into service or the project would be cancelled, this resulted in the disastrous December 1981 service launch between Glasgow and London in the depths of one of the coldest winters on record resulting in the APT’s failing with the same weather related problems as other trains – effectively condemning it.

  5. You do not seem to realise that wing manufacture is in fact the most critical aspect of an aeroplane both in performance and economic terms . Nor do you seem to realise that the Airbus family ( like the 777 ) is a highly cooperative venture, with parts being made in UK, France ( not many ! ), Germany, Spain etc. Whether any aeroplane manufacture is now an economic proposition is very much a moot point : the costs of proper development are now very difficult to recover , and the costs of taking a short cut can be catastrophic, as Boeing is now finding out . Like you, I am sorry that we no longer manufacture complete civil aircraft in the UK , but I am unsure whether it would have been profitable to continue to do so

    • I was in Barrow in Furness the other day and this is one of the few places in Britain where a large part of the workforce is involved in manufacturing. Due to a 25 year contact to build nuclear submarines, BAE Systems have doubled their workforce in the last 7 years and provide well paid employment to 10,000 people in the town. It makes a change from seeing the shipyard become housing or a retail park, which is the fate of many other manufacturing sites.

  6. Despite the early quality / reliability issues with the SD1, it came good within a few years with the addition of the 2600 / 2300 and later 2000 versions – and of course the ultimate Vitesse. Although less powerful than the 3500, something like a 2600 still had the same good looks and delivered agreeable performance.

    • @ Hilton D, the SD1 didn’t really come good until the move to Cowley and a light restyle in January 1982. Even then, quality was acceptable, rather than good, and the car couldn’t quite match its German or Swedish rivals for reliability and durability. Yet later cars didn’t suffer from the endless faults of the Solihull cars, rust protection was tightened up and a 1982-96 SD1 was an OK buy if it was maintained well and you expected a few quality issues. That said, the Vitesse was an awesome car when launched and still fondly remembered now.

  7. I agree Volvo / Saab / BMW quality would have been hard to match by Rover back then, particularly when it came to rust protection. Having driven a company Volvo 240 estate, I can vouch for that car’s solid build. Happy driving days.

    • @ Hilton D, Volvo used to sell on the point of their cars having the longest lifespan of any mass produced car on the market. It was common to see original 240s in the mid nineties and a local taxi firm ran a pair of 240 DLs from the late seventies until 1995.

      • A Volvo P1800S, remember the TV series “The Saint” in the USA , an owner car clocked up 3 million miles, google Volvo P1800 for more details.
        The Volvo Amazon introduced in 1956 was noted for longevity, long after
        production ceased, a very high survival rate, more than half still on the road

    • Would have been hard to match – why? Surely if your lagging so far behind competitors in terms of quality you get hold of their cars, strip them down to see how they go together and then do the same – dont you?

      • The SD1 should have had a rigorous quality control policy from the start and the six cylinder engines properly developed, or as has been said on here numerous times, a bigger version of the E6 used on the 2300 and 2600. I’m sure Rover should have purchased a Mercedes 280 during the development period of the SD1 and examined why the car had such a good reputation for quality and durability. Instead Rover launched a car that was built in an expensive new factory with an inexperienced workforce that was prone to industrial action and the SD1 was lacking in any meaningful quality control.

        • Thr problem was money and who the prestige brand was. Bill Lyons wanted his beloved Jaguar top of the pile, and the XJ was priced at lot lower than a Mercedes. This meant that the SD1 had to be cheaper to manufacture, and priced closer towards the Granada than Rover’s traditional market. John Barber and his team drove down the costs, so it’s was not in the same class as its predecessor.

  8. One thing that put a lot of people off the SD1 was the nationalisation of BL. The target customers, business and professional types, many of them were experiencing first hand the horror of strikes, three day weeks and union militants in their own businesses, they saw the way Mr Benn and his ilk were going along with it and how Ted Heath failed to stand up to them.

    Business people in many cases were thinking ‘is my business next?’ when they saw BL get taken over by the State. As a result they didn’t want to give support to BL by buying Rovers or Jaguars… And so Volvo, SAAB, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Ford and GM, with their Granadas Monzas and Senators picked up plenty of business.

    I know people who didn’t buy another Jag or Land/Range-Rover on principle, until the businesses were back in private ownership.

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