(first posted 12/11/2013) Britain in the 1970s was a country full of contrasts, with many examples of the best and of the worst – the best summers I can remember and the three-day working week with staged power cuts; some of best music ever and some of the worst music ever; the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 and horrible industrial strife; a Wimbledon winner and football riots; Fawlty Towers and a faulty fashion sense. It was the same with cars.
We were offered the BMW 5 series and the Vauxhall Ventora; the Alfasud and the Austin Allegro; the VW Golf and the Morris Marina; the Peugeot 504 and the Ford Zodiac Mk 4; the Citroen GS and the Ford Escort; the Mercedes Benz 450SEL 6.9 and the razor edge Aston Martin Lagonda; the list goes on.
British Leyland was a representative of all of this – one of the many intriguing things about BL in the 1970s is that while some of the products were inadequate in most senses, the company had more than its fair share of best, or close to best-in-class cars. There were the Jaguar XJ6 and 12, the XJ-S, the Land-Rover and Range Rover. Maybe you’d add the Mini, perhaps the Princess (don’t laugh – five people and their baggage rarely traveled in more space and comfort with such a strong contemporary style), the innovative Triumph Dolomite Sprint, perhaps even the Triumph TR7 convertible (in a small class, I accept). By 1980 the Austin Mini Metro and Leyland T45 big truck range were candidates as well.
Yes, there were some absolute clunkers – the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina come to mind immediately, as well as the old sports cars that were still hanging in there. But for many, the true star of BL in the 1970s was the 1976 Rover 3500, known as the SD1.
A bit of background: SD1 refers to Specialist Division project No 1. The Specialist Division was BL’s name for the Jaguar-Rover-Triumph grouping within the organisation, and the Rover SD1 was to be the first new product from this grouping. There never was an SD2, but as this is BL you won’t be surprised by that. Therefore, although this was a Rover, it was from a very different company than any previous Rover, and that shows in many ways in the product.
There were several reasons for this status for the SD1 – the styling, the engine, the performance of the car, the contrast between it and earlier Rovers, perhaps most of all the confidence it exuded at a time when such a commodity was in short supply for most, except maybe for the Bay City Rollers.
The SD1 was styled by David Bache, who had been Rover’s styling director for around 20 years, with the 1963 Rover 2000 (known as the P6) and the 1958 Rover 3 litre (known as the P5) on his CV. To my eye, both these cars also take an inspiration from elsewhere – the P5 from the 1955 Chrysler (especially around the screen and glasshouse) and the 2000 from the Citroen DS (around the roof line). The SD1’s styling is often likened to the Ferrari 365GTB/4, known as the Daytona, and Bache acknowledged its influence and that of the Ferrari 250LM.
But a strong claim can be made for inspiration from the Pininfarina designed BMC 1800 Berlina Aerodinamica (isn’t Italian a wonderful language – even aerodynamic saloon sounds like an invitation from Sophia Loren) of 1968.
The powerful and lasting influence of the Aerodinamica car was certainly there in the Citroen CX of 1974 and the Lancia Gamma of 1975.
Given the timing, I’d contest charges of plagiarism from Citroen or Lancia and, to my eyes at least, the 1976 version of the Rover is the best and strongest execution of the group, with the greatest presence and a superb stance on the road. Yes, it does have a likeness to the Ferrari, and there is a well known photo of BL lining it up against a Maserati Bora and a Ghibli. But with the exception of some details, such as the front indicators, personally I put its style down more to contemporary fashion, and an astute observation of it, than anything else.
The engine was familiar but still striking for this class of car in Europe. It was a V-8, then a preserve of Mercedes Benz in Europe, give or take some Opels and imported Australian Chrysler Valiants. It had been used by Rover since 1967, an all-aluminum engine that had originally been designed and built by Buick, where it was known as the Buick 215 and installed in the 1961 Buick Special, Pontiac Tempest and LeMans.
Its high power to weight ratio made this an attractive engine for motorsport and marine applications and it was in a boat that Rover first saw it, shortly after GM had ceased production. Manufacturing issues associated with cast aluminum and some cooling issues had raised the production cost ahead of that of a cast iron engine, so GM withdrew it. Rover obtained the rights from GM, and in 1967 put the engine into the P5 3 Litre, to create the 3.5 Litre, and into the P6 2000 to create the 3500. All Rover’s competitors were limited to, at most, six cylinders and many were more focused on four cylinder variants, so the V-8 was a strong draw. Rover built on the capability of this engine by fitting a 5 speed gearbox, with a tall fifth gear for good cruising. This created an essential part of the character of the car. In V-8 form, the car had around 155BHP and a genuine 125mph.
Given that the Rover SD1 had to replace the complete Rover P6 range (2000 and 3500), and the Triumph 2000 and 2500, Rover also offered the 2300 and 2600 with heavily reworked overhead camshaft versions of the Triumph’s elderly 6 cylinder engines and slightly reduced specification levels. These cars came in 1977, but the V-8 is the car we remember.
The styling and the hatchback configuration were a big change for the regular Rover customer, but the interior was just as much of a change. Rover was, to this point, one of the more conservative brands in the UK, with a high dose of wood and leather in the interior, even if the underlying architecture was essentially more modern. The SD1, as offered in 1976, had no wood and no leather, and no option for it either. Instead, we were offered an interior that has stood the test of time because it was modern, attractive and ergonomically pretty sound.
Bache showed that you didn’t have to try to match the style of a Bentley or a (1970s) Jaguar to be attractive in this market, but instead gave us an interior that was much more modeled on the principles of industrial design, featuring soft feel plastics, an instrument binnacle that was actually a pod on the top of a shelf and a dash moulding that was common to left and right hand drive. Distinctive, attractive, modern.
Underneath, the car was perhaps surprisingly conventional – front MacPherson struts, a torque tube style live rear axle, rear wheel drive, the 5 speed manual or 3 speed automatic, and carburettors rather than fuel injection.
In July 1976, the impact of this car on British public was unlike anything seen for a long time, before or after – here was a car from our own (government owned) BL, which offered more for £4750 than the BMW2500 did for £6600, or than the Jaguar XJ6 3.4. The V6 Peugeot 604, at £5300, looked lost; the Ford Granada looked old and inadequate. The Citroen CX and Lancia Gamma could only offer 4 cylinder engines; the Volvo 244 and 264 looked even more like fridges with bumpers than before, the Renault 30 just ungainly. Chrysler and GM (in the UK at least) had no answer at all.
I referred earlier to the confidence this car exuded – partly that was from the appearance and stance, something the Citroen for example didn’t do, partly it was from its challenge to conformity and tradition and partly from its performance and value for money. Here was a car faster than a Mercedes-Benz 280SE for around 60% of the cost; it looked more modern and dramatic than anything in its class; it handled better than almost all its competitors; it went faster than most as well; it was 1976 on wheels. It was European Car of the Year for 1977. It was a hit; it was a runaway success.
Or rather it would have been if BL had been able to meet the demand. You know something is going wrong when franchised dealers sell cars at 10-15% over list, which is recorded as having happened in 1976 and 1977. The day after launch, a car was auctioned for £600.00 (12%) over list. But bigger problems were in store.
Remembering that this is 1970s Britain, you just know industrial relations strife will come into any account sooner or later. The SD1 had it within days of the launch, when a dispute arose in the factory over a raffle of five of the new cars for assembly workers. Non-assembly workers objected and many staged a 24-hour strike. Then, a week later, a two-hour stoppage occurred involving 1770 workers, who complained of excessive heat (1976 was one the best summers I can remember) in the factory. On 5th August, two workers were disciplined for poor punctuality resulting in a walkout by paint shop staff, which halted SD1 production for 24 hours. All of these events came to public notice, promptly.
Production of bodies for SD1 was as much as 50 per cent below target, although the targets were set by agreement with shop stewards. Nearly eight months after the car was launched, the assembly factory at Solihull was turning out fewer than 400 cars a week, mainly because of the failure to supply enough bodies.
The situation was also exacerbated by the infamous tool-makers strike, across all of BL in the early months of 1977, which began as soon as the Castle Bromwich body plant resumed normal working – domestic supplies were drastically cut, but more disastrously when the SD1 was put on sale in Europe in March 1977, the dealers had no stock to sell. By October 1977, SD1 production was again halted, this time the cause was a six-week strike by 57 axle assemblers.
BL spent 1977 and 1978 fruitlessly trying to establish a third shift at the (brand new) factory, and to achieve 20,00 cars a week. Disputes elsewhere within the BL factory network and at suppliers led to significant loss of production and interruptions as well, with lines of incomplete cars being a familiar sight, waiting for the last magic component. It may seem bizarre now but in January 1978, SD1 production was again halted for 24 hours after six inspectors walked out in protest at the colour of their overalls, and 40 other inspectors struck in sympathy. Inspectors must have white coats!
And by 1978, the car’s reputation for reliability and durability started to nosedive – weaknesses in the paint processes, electrical systems, some of the trim materials, the fit and finish of the body assembly leading to wind noise and leaks were some of the main complaints. The six cylinder cars also suffered from camshaft failures and there is at least one account of a car being delivered to the customer with no working reverse gear!
In 1979, Rover offered the V-8S – essentially a 3500 with all the options added, including air conditioning. which could be seen as a precursor to the American specification car. The less said abut the SD1’s American career the better (CC on that subject here). Sales were measured in hundreds and ended in months. The V-8S was “available in most Rover showrooms”, but not all, for some reason.
Six years in, Rover facelifted the car, and moved production to Cowley, Oxford (now the MINI factory) from Solihull, where the new factory was closed. Now we were in the 1980s, so the car got the automotive equivalent of big hair and shoulder pads. Bumpers were bigger, headlamps bigger, rub strips on the doors, more chrome, revised rear window profile and a wiper, a bigger pod for the instruments, and some wood and leather inside. The black car featured here is a 1985 3500SE, which by then had a full leather and wood interior.
The SD1 swansong was the 1982 Rover Vitesse, such as the red car above. This had a 193bhp version of the V-8 with the performance and appearance to match. Wide wheels, stripes, a large rear spoiler and significant attitude boost made this the enthusiast’s Rover for the 1980s. Also offered after the 1982 facelift were a four cylinder Rover 2000 and a diesel engine in the 2400SD.
Throughout the late 1970s and the 1980s, the SD1 was the car ofc hoice of many police forces, especially for motorway patrol and the like, to the extent that cars were stockpiled when production stopped in 1986. To see what these cars (and their drivers) could do, such as 7 miles across central London in less than 16 minutes, go here – you can even here the V8! The SD1 had some motorsport success also, in the European Touring Car Championship in the early 1980s.
The SD1 was the last rear drive Rover, the last V-8 Rover and the last all British Rover. Its successor, the 800 series (sold as the Sterling in North America – CC here) was a shared project with Honda and the last large Rover, the awkward and contrived 75, was developed with help from BMW in Germany.
The SD1 is now a scarce car, even in the UK. I have seen just one on the road this year, and just one last year. Many were lost to corrosion, many also scrapped for their V8s or rear axles for motorsport use. Banger racing has also claimed many – it always looks fun but then you consider the heritage implications and rapidly go away from it.
But to those of us who remember scouring our local newsagents for the weekly car magazines after school one Wednesday in July 1976, this is one car we truly remember from the 1970s, and I for one would take a tidy Rover 3500 series 1 over any car mentioned in this blog
And the best music of the 1970s? Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Without a doubt!
What a thorough and detailed article, thank you Roger. Such a handsome, handsome car. One of the few designs I find achingly good looking. A facelift 3500 is in my top 5 classics to one day own.
It really says something, that despite the SD1’s reputation of less than successful quality, it’s still sought after by enthusiasts. Although not an everyday sight here anymore, there are still plenty around in regular use. There were at least 6 at the Cambridge Swapmeet I wrote about recently.
Re the early cars with the symmetrical dashboard, the problem was of course the complete and utter lack of a right hand air vent for the driver (in RHD cars). An odd oversight, but one which sums up the SD1 perfectly: beautiful but flawed. And I lust after one regardless!
Regarding the air vent, wouldn’t left hand drive cars have the same problem? It looks as though the air vent becomes the cutout for the steering column when you switch it over.
Yes, the dashboard design follows the Range Rover concept of a single molding for LHD and RHD with a modular binnacle which also simplifies LHD/RHD swaps and theoretically allows you to build a dual control car.
I love the word “binnacle”.
binnacle binnacle binnacle binnacle
I was with you until tubular bells. From the P6 to this is a long way down. Why did the police like them, legroom?
They were relatively cheap and in V-8 form there wasn’t a whole lot on the road in those days the Rover couldn’t catch. Having room in the back in which to stuff suspects after apprehension was a bonus, as was the car being British; I assume a lot of townships were keen to have British-made cars.
I’m in full agreement with Roger til Tubular Bells.My Uncle’s last British car,he converted to BMW after a disaster with a new SD1.Water leaks,out of the radiator and when it rained into the car,electrical gremlins,engine problems and orange peel textured paint were some of the things I can remember.It could have been so different,once again BL snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,they made a car that was on paper a step up from Ford and Vauxhall and turned out a dud yet again.
Best 70s album,Blue Oyster Cult’s Agents of Fortune was the one I liked best at the time
I’m not a hater on this car. It’s just that it was such a wasted opportunity. Look at the visual continuity from the P3 to the space age P4, the coupe to the P6 and it all came to a halt with this. If they were looking for a car to reference, they had one of the best looking in their own stable; the Range Rover. Maybe this would have fit alongside a TR8.
Blackjack did win the sweetest World Championship of all with that engine, so the car does have its pluses.
Thanks for the article, Roger. Despite my predisposition, it was a great, well-researched read.
GP – Gram Parsons and Emmy-Lou Harris
I think BL also essentially squandered their previous success with the Triumph 2000/2500. As I’ve said elsewhere, the big Triumphs sold very well for most of their lifespan to people who wanted something a bit more upscale than a Cortina, but still on the conservative side. The SD1 was awfully racy for that crowd and not really the same thing. When the SD1 was doing well, it sold as well as the P6 or the big Triumphs, but not both together.
GP – Gram Parsons and Emmy-Lou Harris
Perhaps not the best album of the seventies but certainly one of my favorites. I wore out a vinyl copy of the LP and then, somehow, managed to wear out a CD as well. Yes, I had to spring for another CD to replace it; actually the replacement CD is the two-fer with both “GP” and “Grievous Angel”.
Yep, my personal favourite.
When I try to objectively consider the best, I have to include Marvin’s “What’s Going On”, Fleetwood Mac “Rumours”, Stones “Exile”, Bowie “Ziggy”, Curtis Mayfield “Superfly”, Pink Floyd “The Wall”, AC/DC “Back in Black” (1980 is technically still the seventies) and about 20 others.
I’ve banned AC/DC in my car because it makes me drive too fast.
+10 for Gram and Emmylou! I remain secretly jealous of Gram’s good looks (not that I’d ever trade places with him). He must have been a phenomenal hit with the ladies.
Don that car wasn’t designed to be a replacement for the Rover 2000/3500,it was meant to be a Leyland and a very poor substitute at that.Leyland was going down the gurgler/drainpipe financially and foisted it on Rover,a big mistake and Rover has not made a decent car since.Perhaps the BMW Rovers? I have driven many Rover 2000 and 3500 and 3500s cars when new,the SD1 is a sad and sorry end for a once innovative English company.
A couple of other model variations worth mentioning include the Vanden Plas, which had a lot of extra toys and trim (standard A/C, metallic paint, Connolly leather, alloy wheels, sunroof, power windows and locks, cruise control), and the later Vanden Plas EFi, a sort of hybrid of the VDP and the Vitesse, with the 190 HP V-8 and automatic.
Aside from the build issues, which are hard to get around when talking about this car, the comparatively basic mechanical layout eventually didn’t do it any favors against its European rivals. Drum brakes and a live axle weren’t necessarily unforgivable in 1977, especially for the (list) price, but the brakes, in particular, became a bit embarrassing when it came to the Vitesse, which was a fast car for the early ’80s.
The live axle admittedly was as much a matter of perception as anything else. It wasn’t exactly a truck axle on cart springs, what with the Watt’s linkage and self-leveling struts. Spen King insisted that a well-located live axle wasn’t necessarily inferior to the independent rear suspensions of the time, and given that the likely alternative was semi-trailing arms à la Stag/Triumph 2000, I think he had a point.
There was almost an SD2: a very peculiar-looking medium-size car intended to replace the Dolomite and sharing its front suspension and various pieces with the TR7. Rover-Triumph did a lot of work on the SD2 and invested a fair bit of money in it, but the project was shelved and finally axed after the Ryder Report, as there was just no money for it. Instead, the Dolomite continued through about 1980 and was replaced by the Honda Ballade-based Triumph Acclaim and Rover 200.
Having seen a picture of the SD2 it deserved not to be made,what a horrid looking thing!
If nothing else, it makes me more charitable toward the Triumph Acclaim. (“Well, it could have been worse.”)
A college friend in the early ’80s had an SD-1 in the beautiful yellow shown above. Loved riding with him – the car was an anomaly in a sea of mostly Detriot and Asian import iron.
Consistent with the article, his car spent a *lot* of time in the shop.
My friends father one day randomly showed up with one of the later version of these, brand new, and drove the snot out of it up to a ski resort for some slalom skiing.
I seem to remember it said vitesse, but regardless, it was a fun amazing drive. In fact all the rides he gaves us was like that, he always pushed any vehicle 100% and then some. Being a an executive of a car dealership, allowed him this I guess. Apparently lots of fancy other car brands, supplied with a new model every quarter was perks of the job. Part of the salary.
Far more exiting than any other newish vehicle i had been in at the time. Seemed head and shoulders above any ford or other normal car at the time. I think it was he most exhilarating vehicle experience, until i caught a ride in a -70 ish firebird formula 400.
When the Audi A7 came out in 2010, I immediately compared it to the Rover SD-1. Having been born 18 years after this car’s debut, my only exposure to it was the Top Gear BL special which featured the Sprint, Princess and SD-1. I think its the precursor to the A7 in all the right ways – aerodynamic liftback body, understated speed and a very well laid out interior. When I become successful in the future, I can’t wait to get and A7 and restomod an SD-1 with a 2-JZ engine.
Thank you for a well-researched story, Roger. I recognized these as English cop cars from 80s movies, and that’s it.
I like the look of these, especially the interior. Replace that bell song with “Who’s Next,” let me throw on a Hesketh teddy bear shirt and I’ll pretend to be James Hunt on a bender. 🙂
James Hunt and Hesketh Bear………now we’re talking!
Sadly that’s about the extent of my knowledge! Saw the recent movie “Rush” with my teenage daughter and she’s become an old-school F1 fan. I’m just trying to keep up, and teach her how to drive my little Mazda.
There are 5 of these laying around at a garage nearby still quite common in HawkesBay, the only one worth having is the V8 manual.
Wow, now that was a great article. tons of facts, and very well written.
I’ve always liked these a lot, even though the front fascia was too much of a Daytona rip-off for me. But all in all, it’s a great-looking car – while elegant, it has “speed!” written all over it. I sometimes see a yellow one parked curbside in another part of town, but other than that, these seem to have gotten pretty scarce. Well, they probably were scarce over here to begin with, although I have no clear picture of how they sold in Germany. But British cars usually had a tough time over here anyway.
As a kid, I had two SD-1 toy cars by Corgi; a plain-jane civilian model in blue, and an impressive-looking police cruiser. Caught the bad guys every time!
RJR Rodney Jaguar Rover still stock new parts for these they have the only new front airdams for the Vitesse model on the planet they bought truck fulls of new parts from NZ Motor holdings when they cleared some warehouses so if you have one or any Jag give them a call or look for a website they wreck and repair Jags and Rovers always have done if you want the parts its likely they have them if they exist at all .
If you want to buy a classic Jag email my Doctor, G Beacham he and his son create Jags for export and restores and modifies old cars for clients, He recently fitted fuel injection and a 7 speed transmission to a 1931 V12 Rolls Royce a german spent 2mill plus restoring then upgrading this car for modern traffic huge disc brakes the lot are all creatively hidden on that Rolls its beautifully done and looks stock.
Excellent article. It is good to read about this car from an English perspective. It is as though BL had been studying Chrysler in the US. Too bad that so many self-inflicted wounds prevented BL from making enough money on this car to keep moving forward.
When I look at this car, I see the inspiration for the Chevy Citation. The greenhouse proportions are very similar. I must say that I prefer a more conservative look, but the V8/5 speed combo (especially at that price) would have been hard to resist.
Check out the chrysler/simca alpine for a citation doppleganger.
isn’t the Citation a doppleganger for the Alpine? Alpine was launched in 1975
JP, I was thinking of the Chevy Monza 2+2 but your reference to the Citation 4 door trumps all. I seem to recall reading that Mitchell was quoted using the Daytona as his influence for the Monza but never do I remember reading of influences in the original Citation.
Great article by Mr Carr. A sad commentary of unions run amuck, destroying a nations car industry in the process. In many small instances here, the UAW has done the same thing, one reason why many of us went to the Japanese in the late 70’s/early 80’s and never looked back.
So many great albums from the 70’s and it’s a fluid, objective argument. One thing you can’t argue is longevity, sales and the songs themselves…..
Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd
Great article, I’d forgotten what a goodlooking car that was. I disagree about the Rover 75 though. Always wish they had brought it to North America, for a bit of British style at a relatively affordable price.
Great article. The thing that struck (oops, pun somewhat intended) were the reasons why the Rover workers struck, i.e. the raffle, color of inspectors’ coats. Jeeze, it wasn’t as if the factory conditions were dangerous & were paid in pennies. Didn’t these people realize the consequences of their petty BS?
As for ’70s Brit-rock, Tubelar Bells is OK, especially since Vivian Stanshill is on it. My fave raves would include:
1. The Kinks-Muswell Hillbillies
2. Paul McCartney & Wings-Band on the Run
3. The Jam-All Mod Cons
4. Elvis Costello-This Year’s Model
5. Rod Stewart-Every Picture Tells A Story
6. T. Rex-Electric Warrior
Can’t put Wings that high, but I want to go listen to the rest of those right now. “Got a hub cap diamond star halo…”
Great article. The original dash pod affair is still (to my eyes) attractive. I seem to recall other cars having similar arrangement but can’t recall which ones.
Can’t argue with Tubular Bells, V. Stanshill’s bit is golden, but can I put in a word for B. Connolly’s reading of “The Bell”?
DiskoJoe – I don’t see Bowie on your list, tsk, tsp 🙂
alistair- How about Alladin Sane?
Diskojoe – sure, won’t say no to any Bowie, but I was thinking a little earlier, beginning of the ’70’s – Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.
What’s fascinating about the British auto industry from the sixties on is that they struggled so hard to define, or re-define, what it meant to be a British car. Prior to the Mini, that was always quite self-evident.
The Issigonis-FWD-Hydrolastic revolution was a bold attempt to completely redefine it, with a lot of French influence. But that sparked a counter-revolution with reactionary cars like the Marina and such.
Rover too went from very old-school Brit to avant-garde/French influence with their P6 2000. And then swung back to a rather American format with the SD1.
Meanwhile, the French stuck (mostly) to their way, with some variation. But the Germans knew exactly what their cars should be, and stuck to it religiously. No soul searching in Munich or Stuttgart! Well, VW did have to re-invent itself, but once in 70 years is allowable.
Meanwhile, the Brits flayed around, trying to find a formula that would work. Of course there were other issues that affected their quality, but constant change is NOT a recipe for that important ingredient.
Jaguar and Land Rover were the only ones who kept a fairly constant direction, and they’re the ones that still exist today.
That is similar to what is going on with the US auto industry; we are trying to define and redefine ourselves with major influence from the Asian cars. We cannot out Asian the Asians and we need to stop trying.
That is true about Jaguar and Land Rover, but sadly they are owned by non British companies and Jaguar looks nothing like what it used to be.
Not only are they aping the Asians, they are still trying to build knockoff German luxury. The Asians did that with the original Infiniti and Lexus cars, but even those now have their own style and flair. It would be nice to see American cars being truly American again, with their own style and substance, but now they are just generic.
you’re spot on – Rover just ended up doing more wood and leather interiors and chrome grilles, as if “British” has a similar meaning to “old fashioned”, and it didn’t work, It wasn’t the only reason for the failure of Rover, of course, but a contributory factor to that failure, over a longer term, was the image the cars gathered from such a style.
Jaguar’s recent renaissance has come with a distinctive and still, I think, British style that is not just trying to replicate a 1950s Jaguar Mk 8.There’s more wood in the XF that many previous Jaguars but it’s used much more imaginatively.
As a lifelong enthusiast of British cars, this is one to cry over. When it became obvious that BL couldn’t make something as good as this work, you knew they were in terminal decline.
As to best album of the ’70’s, yer all wrong. It’s “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.”
Oh, I’ll see that and raise you “Quadrophenia,” but only because the ‘Oo was the only band SP ever covered.
The Sex Pistols also covered the Monkees and Iggy Pop, FWIW.
I suspect the survival rates of the 4 and 6 cylinder models are even worse since they are less desirable and still rust like crazy. So if you want to stand out then a plain fleet spec SD1 2000 is a better bet than a 3500 Vanden Plas or Vitesse, in the same way that a Pontiac Le Mans with a straight 6 and dog dish hubcaps stands out in a sea of GTO replicas.
An instrument repairman I met when I was still working in the chemistry lab had one of these cars, an automatic in BRG with tan interior. I found this out when we started talking about cars and I mentioned I’d had a 1966 Rover 2000 (P5). He was quite happy with it, and well capable of fixing most problems himself.
A few months after that conversation I saw a BRG SD1 at a gas station in town, walked up to the lady and mentioned that I’d met her husband at work, secure in the knowledge that there couldn’t possibly be more than one of these cars in Port Orchard. Oddly enough, I didn’t see the car again after that.
Thank you Roger, very nice article.
My ninety (90) old year neighbour has a 1983 VandenPlas in the heated garage, the last car her husband bought back in 1984.
I sometime take it out for a spin, sunroof open, let the V8 roar a bit and check all the fluids for her.
She still drives it to church almost every sunday, ecept for the wintermonths.
The Bastos Rovers of TWR racing (Tom Walkingshaw Racing) made a real impresion onme during hte 24 hours of Spa way back when, they raced against the 240 Volvo Turbo’s and Holden’s from an Australian team.
One of these ex-Bastos racers was at the first floor of the Antwerp local Reanult dealer for years, you could just see the upper part of the car.
Always wanted that Rover Vitesse.
Here a picture of the Bastos Rover in action
The things that british unions were allowed to get away with in the 1970s are incredible. I was watching a documentary called the history of modern britain by andrew marr and was stunned that these people were essentially permitted to bring the nation to its knees. Meanwhile in the USA as evidenced in the documentary American dream the national guard with bayonets fixed was sent into to reopen a Hormel pig processing plant in Austin MN. As for the car I think i would have kept my P6 had i’d been in the market. That interior reminds me of alot of the buildings going up then, cold, sparse, snd ugly
Probably the reason why Margaret Thatcher came into power back then, the British knew it was either bend or bust for the UK.
At this moment France and the EU desperately need an Iron Lady !
True ,back then and perhaps always the unionised UK workforce left a lot to be desired but Thatcher and her mate Reagan,the president who said “the truth can be attractively packaged”when it was clearly false were supported by a major media mogul who renounced his Australian citizenship to become an American citizen to enable him to buy out USA media.Meanwhile the octogenarian media billionaire continues to demand his puppet Australian prime minister to do his bidding.Rupert controls approximately 70% of the Australian media and wants more control.I have far more faith in individuals than I do global nouveau dictators.
Thatcher used the police and is still a hated person today by many because of it. Thank God we do not allow our police to be armed, is it acceptable for the police to taunt strikers by waving their overtime pay packets? It was a nasty time but at least today the pervasive class system seems a ridiculous anachronism
And wow! 14:10 into the liver run video there’s a white 70-72 Trans Am!
You aren’t a petrolhead without one of these in your fantasy garage. Worth noting that it is one of the few cars as well known to the general punters by its codename as it’s real model name. By chance, perhaps, this is a distinction shared with a another contemporary piece of British genius which may be of interest to some here – the High Speed Train, formally the Inter City 125 – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InterCity_125. Still, after nearly 40 years!, in daily service across the UK and still the fastest diesel train in the world. Forget the sound of a V8, get in the rear coach of one of these leaving Kings Cross in London, open the windows and feel the ground shake!
Brilliant piece, it’s fascinating to see what Rover did with that Buick V8. I thought the Taurus/Sable were ahead of their time in 1986, but this 3500 was ten years ahead of that.
To GM’s credit, they sent Buick’s retired chief engine designer, Joe Turlay, to Britain to consult; his Rover supervisor told him his input saved millions because of his inside knowledge. It didn’t hurt that Rover had a stronger motive than GM to make it work.
Chrysler had an aluminum /6 too, but it succumbed to various issues.
No doubt about his contribution once he realised it needed to maintain high revs
This made me chuckle – From the V8 register
“When Turley arrived he was puzzled by the Rover engineers’ insistence on more power and a higher rev range. The Buick ran out of revs at 4,700 rpm and was getting unhappy at that. Rover wanted at least 5,200 and possibly 5,500. “Why do you want all those revs?” asked Turley, “people just don’t drive like that”. So he was sat alongside a Rover test driver who proceeded to hurtle him across country and up the M6 at over 100mph in those pre-limit days to show him what sort of treatment the engine would have to withstand. After that experience he returned shattered with an insight into what Rover wanted.
Turley was invaluable in interpreting the original drawings. Rover could not understand why the engines they had did not conform to the drawings. Turley was able to point out where things had been changed in production, the changes not being recorded on the original drawings”
These and the Citroen CX are the first cars I can honestly remember being obsessed with as a kid. Considering the pain and strife these caused many of the owners, I’m going for
“Never Mind The Bollocks” by the Sex Pistols.
My neighbor, when I used to live in Ukraine, had one in the mid ’90s in a nice metallic blue. What a fancy car for our small town! He wrapped it around utility post going about 90 km/h and mistakenly selecting second gear instead of 4th. Had a couple broken ribs, but otherwise okay. Bought another one and kept 1st car for parts.
Wow. These look similar to the Buick and Olds mid-size fastback sedans. Freaky.
Thanks for the tune…
I didn’t listened to it for ages… 😀
I owned a BL rover I believe a 1982/Red
Had to have the good re painted because the material under the hood was not sufficient to protect the finish.
I loved the car but it did spend a lot of time in the shop mostly fit electrical work .
Fast and fun to drive. Wish I could have kept it but due to ongoing upkeep cost decided it had to go.
The very first car featured in a full page ad in Indian news papers. So was the instant hype. Everyone tongue was spelling only one name Standard 2000. As a auto buff the first sight a green one on our Cantonment area which drew the attention of many never forgettable in my life. A car in the league of a true sports car or somewhat affirmative like never before and even the car was included in the Government service of Karnataka.That was the SD1 in the disguise of Standard 2000 but not with the powerful engines or at least a capable to handle our terrains.Hopeless transplant of very under powered engine with low fuel efficiency credited the fall from the hall of fame to a damp squib.The managements mistook venture finally axed this fabulous ,gorgeous perhaps the best ever designed car to hit our Indian shores.
I’m still seing these cars around the traps some running in traffic others parked in driveways others with the grass growing up around them in fields, despite their problems all models sold in NZ quite well, the V8 manual was still the best example.
We didn’t get the SD-1 over here until 1980, I think. Don’t ever recal seeing one in the flesh prowling the streets of southern Connecticut. Too bad. Such exciting flesh it was. To look at that car (especially in those wonderful ads you provide – livid colors on stark black background) one is transported 10 years into the future. So unfortunate the SD-1’s technology failed to make the trip. Still, it is a nice car to remember. Thanks
Great style, abysmal lack of quality.
Sadly that sums it up perfectly.
I drive past this every day. Vanden plas is going to be pretty nice inside, but Ihave some doubts as to whether it will ever move. No idea what the cars at the back are – any suggestions?
The spoiler on the one on the right looks exactly like the standard one used on the facelift 1982 SD1s. That on the car on the left I don’t recognise (though it’s not the Maestro Turbo type).
I remember when these came out – jawdropping in 1976 – like a prototype of some supercar. Traffic-stopping; everyone stopped for a look. The interior not so great – lots of poor plastics and not so good wearing materials that got tatty quickly. I thought the inside design more like a student project – very unrefined and not as ‘classy’ as the earlier Rovers – my family had several P6’s from new.
This was the car that saw Rover lose its reputation for craftsmanship and durability- the beginning of the long slide into oblivion.
Trivial facts: David Bache designed the second iteration of the Austin A30 dashboard – and it shows – very stylish. He was later sacked by British Leyland because his designs were too unconventional!
While I like the overall shape, the detailing kills it for me. The over flush front indicators next to the under flush headlights. The two separate badges under the tail lights rather than one full with strip ( which the later cars gained, if I remember correctly.
The industrial issues have been well covered, and on that topic, one of the more infamous union trouble makers, Derek ‘Red’ Robinson died recently.
I actually saw a few of these in the wild in the US back in the early ’80s, and finally got to sit in one at a British car show about ten years ago. It’s hard to pinpoint a reason why they couldn’t give these away in the US – quality concerns? Lack of marketing money? Rover not a very familiar brand to Americans? (they had been off the market here for several years). They certainly looked nice and were practical, and Americans love their V8 engines.
I like Tubular Bells, but for that sort of eclectic instrumental pop I’d much rather listen to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra (though that was from a decade later). There are too many great ’70s albums to choose just one.
Great article, but saddened to be reminded of the 70’s and early 80s industrial turmoil. I remember the power cuts in the 70s, and the convoys of coal lorries with police escorts on the M4 to keep the steelworks open in the early 80s, violent times.
Rover is one of my favourite makes, my experience includes a P5 3 litre coupe, P5B saloon, and the SD1 Vitesse, no one who drove or rode in one of those at speed was ever indifferent to it.
Also, I must have been lucky but I never experienced to problems that seemed to be reported about British cars as the Rovers I experienced had a depth of engineering and were good reliable daily drivers..
Still have a 2002 Rover 75 diesel Connoisseur, a lovely car which has proved better built and more reliable than my brothers lower mileage 2005 VW Passat diesel which needed a new DMF, alternator pulley and despite regular cambelt changes, snapped the cambelt and wrote the car off.
I had a well looked after 78 Mercedes 350SE that sheered the torque converter stranding me on the M4 with only 115k miles on the clock, shortly followed by a seized camshaft, so I laugh at tales of superior German engineering, though my 96 Audi A6 really did live up to the image
Someone in the comments above has it right in saying you have to consider one for a dream garage, Ferrari-esque, V8, roomy. I do love the idea of these. The reality, in this country, was something else. The engine was badly hit by emissions requirements, only about 135bhp for the 3200 pounds. The vast majority were autos (given their quite high price point), and they were simply gutless, as well as very thirsty (14mpg for a 12 second 0-60). The build quality? Well, let’s just say plenty were sold in ’79, year of release – and, as word spread, bugger-all thereafter. Incredibly, we got the first injected versions in about ’81, which the local mags were astonished to reveal were even worse. I drove an example of the improved ’84 model (an auto) in about 1989. I desperately wanted to like it, but it was noisy (heaps of hissy, slurping induction noise), not very smooth, slow, choppy-riding, and the back axle jumped sideways at every bump. The back seat of this big car was awful, as the cushion was about an inch off the floor; room, but great discomfort.
Though the image of the car still persists in my mind as attractive, in truth it was a car not just badly built but badly engineered. It wasn’t at all the best in it’s class. It was the cheapest, and it showed.
Ever heard of the Standard 2000? It is basically a Rover SD1 with a Vangaurd engine from the 40s.