1986 Rover 3500Review
The Reason Rover No Longer Exists —
I have driven several Rover SD1s – and they are linked by two defining characteristics. One is the legendary Rover V8, a gem of an engine (in the right state of tune). The other trait is that they’re all crap. A revelation when new, it was a massive departure for Rover. Gone was the leather and wood, and the old frumpy styling – replaced by a sleek 5 door executive hatchback with a plastic interior. It even won European Car of the Year and various safety awards. They sold like hot cakes. To begin with, anyway. People then started to realise that they’d spent their life savings on a car that was, at best - going to need a lot of repairing; at worst – going to kill them. In one of the more extreme disasters of the British Leyland era, an award-winning masterpiece was turned into a notorious lemon, just waiting to absorb all of your cash. Stories abound of people being trapped inside their cars when central locking failed and electric windows stopped working. Those who were lucky enough to have a sunroof escaped, others not so lucky (there are reports of people being drowned in their cars when electrics locked them in after accidents). The build quality was simply disgusting. It is said of many British Leyland cars that ‘the bad ones were built on a Friday afternoon’. Clearly, the only time SD1’s were built was on Friday afternoons. Rampant rust, electrical faults, suspension issues (one Australian magazine had complete front-end suspension failure after just 2500kms!), ignition failure (even when driving), and plastic trim that would barely last the warranty period (it warped in England – where there is no sun! Imagine what it’s like over here in Australia!) and compulsory oil leaks led to the Rover earning a very well deserved reputation as a lemon. Its saving grace was the V8 – beloved of UK (and elsewhere) petrol-heads and proving so successful it was fitted to over 30 different cars and lasted in production for 40 years. It made what was otherwise a revolting car somewhat bearable. It is a collector’s car now – mainly because it’s virtually impossible to run one for everyday use – that really hasn’t worn its year well. A couple of years ago, I drove one with the intention of buying it. The combination of leather and wood, the Rover heritage, the Rover V8, and its unique shape all intoxicating me. That is, until I drove it. Never have my hopes and dreams been so quickly dashed – what pile a rubbish (and this was one that I knew had been well cared for!). The suspension didn’t seem to have any travel - bumping and thumping like a big Mini; the trim was all feeble and squeaked; I couldn’t see the bonnet from the driver’s seat which made manoeuvring very difficult; and worst of all – that wonderful V8 was hopelessly gutless. I knew that the Australian versions had a de-tuned EFi Rover V8 to meet emissions restrictions, but they took the whole heart and soul out of it. My 2.1 litre Audi went quicker than this 3.5 litre V8 – the old WB Statesman a positively rocket-like experience compared to the Rover. I decided it was time to take it back. Then I thought, well since I’ve got it, I’ll put it back into first gear and give it all she’s got off the line – maybe that will be more impressive. What was impressive was the amount of white smoke it blew. The Maserati sitting behind me at the lights disappeared in a cloud, and when the angry driver flew passed me at a rate of knots, I got the biggest sneer I’ve ever deserved. To add insult, it didn’t go that quickly even when it was trying it’s hardest. I took it back and politely said “no thank you”. And that was the best one I’ve ever driven! The others, suffice to say, I wouldn’t have if you gave them to me. They are all gutless - although the V8 is better on carbs or if converted to later Range Rover EFi – but its what’s around the engine (ie. the rest of the car) that is really crap. From bad body work, to terrible interiors, to frail engine ancillaries (I’ve been reliably informed that a power steering pump will need a rebuild even 30 000kms) and the most appalling electrics this side of a Russian car, conspire to write this car off as the disaster it is deservedly known as.
Pros: Not much - the V8 if it's tuned right. Looks (if not all rusted away)
Cons: Everything else. Just don't do it, for pity's sake!
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