Rover 3500 SD1

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Rover 3500 SD1

1976 - 1986
United Kingdom
3528 cc
102 kW @ 5000 rpm
3 spd. auto
Top Speed:
127 mph / 175 km/h
Number Built:
1 star
Rover 3500 SD1
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


The Rover 3500 V8 represented a major advance on its predecessors. The David Bache designed hatchback was well situated in performance, looks, and economy, and helped bring back perhaps some lost prestige and desirability to the famous British marque.

But what made the 3500 so great was that, while broadening Rover’s appeal to other buyers, it never alienated the traditional Rover die-hards. The Buick-based 3.5-litre engine had its rev limit raised from 5200 rpm to 6000 rpm by valve alterations and improved cy1inder head porting and manifolding.

These modifications allowed the svelte V8 to not only rev more easily, but increase power to a healthy (for the time) 102 kW at 5000 rpm, with torque of 245 Nm at 3000 rpm. The maximum speed was 175 km/h and the Rover could make 0-100 km/h in a respectable 12.4 seconds, not blistering but not too shabby either.

In fact, the Rover 3500 came at a time when it was the norm for cars fitted with an engine displacement below 4 litres, and in automatic form, equated inevitably to fairly dull performance. But the 3.5 litre donk and the wonderful streamlined body ensured the car would always get the best out of the engine, even when coupled to the three-speed Borg Warner 65 automatic transmission.

Ride was improved over previous models due in part to damper modifications, they being lengthened to allow to longer travel and more progressive damping. Up front the Rover 3500 was fitted with a MacPherson strut, while the live rear axle was controlled by radius rods and a Watts linkage.

This helped reduce squat and dive to a minimum. The brakes were power-assisted 258 mm discs at the front and 229 mm drums at the rear. The firm suspension virtually eliminated nose-dive in most braking situations. The power assisted rack-and-pinion steering was accurate and responsive. with only 2.7 turns lock to lock and a turning circle of  10.4 m Best of all, the Rover 3500 was a highly maneuverable car.

The styling was a complete break with previous Rovers. David Bache admitted at the time that the 3500’s design was strongly influenced by models from Ferrari and Maserati, but most saw the connection the minute they laid eyes on it. The design of the nose section, the steeply raked windscreen, and the absence of a grille all helped minimise drag and turbulence.

In fact, the 3500 boasted a low drag coefficient of 0.39,  contributing strongly to Rovers' ability to avoid the then unwanted image of V8's as “gas-guzzling” monsters. In fact its economy was more than respectable, sipping a modest 12 to 15 litres/100 km. The standard equipment was lavish, and included alloy wheels, adjustable steering column, metallic spray, fog lamps, power-windows, air-conditioning, and remote control exterior mirrors. A sun roof was available as an option. Luggage and carrying space were excellent and the rear seat folded down, nearly doubling the luggage area.

Rover 3500 SD1 5 Speed

After its Australian launch the 3.5-litre Rover SDI was winning over many who wanted something a little different to the usual European fare. But, with a price-tag in excess of A$21,000 and a marketing push which aimed it at the luxury performance car arena alongside its stable-mate the Jaguar, the decision was made to give the car a little more driver involvement. Leyland's 1980 answer was the introduction of the five-speed manual version of the otherwise unchanged sedan. While there was no increase in power from the tried and proven alloy V8, the manual gearbox at least allowed you to use what was there to the best advantage.

The 3500 SD1 normally moved off the line sedately, but the wheel could certainly be made to spin with boots full of revs before dropping the clutch. It was a start procedure however which was not befitting the image of the car. First to fourth offered the conventional around town/general driving range with the 0.833 to 1 overdrive fifth an excellent touring gear. First to second changes made with a little spirit produce a heartening chirp from the rear wheels and once in third the car pulls to a very strong 140 km/h at a peak of 5500 rpm. Fourth gear ran out to 162 km/h at 4600 rpm. Cruising at 160 km/h in fifth gear saw a miserly 3800 revs on the tachometer. Change points for first and second came up at 60 km/h and 88 km/h.

On the open road using fifth to advantage you could consumption was around 12.8 to 10.8 litres/100km (22 to 26 mpg). The gear lever had a long throw, but was extremely positive in the selection. Using fifth required a positive change, while to down-change from fifth to fourth was a simple flick-of-the-wrist manoeuvre. The other uprate that occurred on the 1980 Rover 3500 five-speed was the now-standard four wheel disc brakes. In crash stops from 100 km/h the discs would pull the car up dead straight on four out of five runs to average out at a creditable 42.1 metres. Better still, road testers were unable to induce any fade.

Behind the Wheel

The interior of the car was magnificent - it was lined and trimmed in a soft suede-like velour, and the apparent spaciousness (there was not as much room as you would have expected for such a big car) created an air of modest decadence. The only real sacrifice made in terms of interior space was in legroom, both front and rear. The front seat passenger (and driver) was confined in a tunnel-like cocoon between the wall and the deep (high?) centre transmission inherited from the low-slung styling. The rear seat passenger was also short on legroom.

However, the tailgate lifted to reveal a cavernous luggage area. Both factors were related directly to the long, low-slung, sloping rear of the car which precluded moving the rear seats further back because of headroom shortages. As a package however, the Rover SDI 3.5-litre V8, five-speed manual sedan was a pleasant car to drive and one which, in its heyday, caused heads to turn. A thoughtfully made and well-performed vehicle, the Rover 3500 went on to steal plenty of business from the Volvo 264, Peugeot 604, and, dare we say, even the up-market Fords and Holden’s.
Rover 3500 SD1

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