1980 Rover V8-S Roadtest

“Roverpowering!” Archie Vicar describes his impressions of the new Rover V8-S. The text is a what appears to be transcript of an article that appeared in Today´s Motoring Magazine, July 1980 (pages 45-46). The original photos were by Nigel Rollister-Hyde. Due to reproduction problems, archive photos have been used.

1980 Rover V8-S in Triton Green
1980 Rover V8-S in Triton Green

That the Rover 3500 is a remarkable car goes without saying. Since its launch in 1976 it has won a firm following and has set a new benchmark in the large hatchback class. But the 1976 car was far from perfect, some say. It lacked a height-tilt adjustment for the driver´s seat cushion and a rear screen wiper, for example. Furthermore, the rear seats were set far too low and the passenger´s vent seldom functioned reliably. The steering wheel also obscured the minor instruments too and the lights’ master switch was hard to see. But there were compensations such as

Rover 3500 interior (photo thanks for Aronline.co.uk)
Rover 3500 interior (photo credit to the good people at Aronline.co.uk)

the magnificent, if thirsty, engine and the practical hatchback arrangement. What have Rover done to bring the car up to date?

On a lengthy test drive to Zurich in Switzerland, Today´s Motoring Magazine set out to discover if the new modifications are enough to keep Rover´s big car up to the standards set by the competition which include the Audi 100T, the vastly over-rated BMW 528i, the stalwart Peugeot 604, the commendable Ford Granada 2.8i Ghia, the stodgy Mercedes 280E and the wonderfully refined and capable Opel Senator 3.0CD. All of them (barring the BMW) offer clear advantages but in different areas. Rover´s ace is the provision of luxurious carpeting and air-conditioning.

The car of the year 1976
The car of the year 1976

On a foggy March day we set off from Malvern in our Triton Green Rover V8-S and as the miles peacefully passed it became quickly evident that air-conditioning was of great use in dispelling unwanted moisture from the interior. Alas this came at considerable cost to fuel economy which fell to about 16 mpg over the course of the 1900 mile test drive. The carpets have added an extra degree of hush to what was already a quiet interior (though still not as quiet as Peugeot´s 604).

Technically, this Rover corrected some of the flaws of its predecessor, the Rover “P6” which was blighted by a complex de Dion rear-suspension, a simply byzantine front-structure and overly-costly rear disc brakes. The replacement “SD1” has a trusty live axle, drum brakes at the rear and a much simpler design for the forward end of the car. Carried over is, of course, the Rover V8 of 3528 cc capacity with its chain cam drive. Twin SU HIF6 side-draught carburetors supply the Niagara of four star the car demands under most conditions. The boot capacity is a rather paltry 12.7 cubic feet, which the dreadful Mercedes and dazzling Opel beat, offering 14.c cu ft each (though the Opel´s boot is more usefully shaped). Because of Rover´s small boot we had to send back snapper Nigel Rollister-Hyde by SwissAir from Zurich as he took up so much valuable space needed by my wine, Cuban cigars and various Helvetian specialties.

Rover SD-1: Australian market advertisement.
Rover SD-1: Australian market advertisement.

Incidentally, we stayed at the excellent Hotel Storchen on Wienplatz in Central Zurich and despite the excellent security on offer the Rover was stolen on our second night. Luckily, the local police located the car just around the corner, lodged on a traffic island with a badly dented front bumper. We suspected it ran out of petrol. Also luckily, when I parked the car it had been left without anything of value barring my favourite briar which remained unmolested on the dashboard. The thieves had nothing to show for their efforts. A call to Rover´s local agent (in Basel) was needed to secure the services of a mechanic who diagnosed the problem to clogged carburetors, a short circuit in the Lucas electrics and a failed fuel pump. While he had the car up on the ramps he was able to balance the front wheels and replace the worn rear drums. It took three days for the spare parts to be flown over but eventually we were able to restart the stricken Rover and make our return to Blighty without any further problems barring engine misfiring near Saarbrucken and a small fright when we did actually run out of petrol as we rolled into a service station around Calais.

1980 Rover 3500.
1980 Rover 3500.

Generally, the car is smooth and relaxed at high speed, due to the lazy nature of the V8 and the excellent suppression of wind turbulence. Apart from the occasional bang over suspension joints, the Rover smothers road noise to good effect. The ashtray is quite big too. A spot of mountain driving on the backroads between Zurich and Interlaken showed that the front-seats could do with more lateral support.

1980 Rover_3500_SD1 side view

All in all, Rover´s V8-S is still a quite convincing competitor for its peers and is available with a choice of a five-speed manual or a 3-speed autobox (we chose the auto). We can see this vehicle as the start of welcome change in fortunes for both Rover and Triumph who jointly developed this fine driver´s car. If there is a fly in the ointment, it´s the price. Only the Mercedes 280E costs more and the economical and agile Senator costs a week´s wages less and is faster from 0-60. Food for thought, a veritable banquet indeed.

Details
Tyres: 196/70 HR 14
Weight: 27 cwt
0-60 mph sec: 9.1
Torque:198 lb.ft/2500 rpm

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

4 thoughts on “1980 Rover V8-S Roadtest”

  1. From memory of contemporary reports, my understanding was that the manual 3500 with its higher gearing was commendably economical on fuel. Given that the car in question here was automatic, the comments to its profligacy are probably accurate.

  2. No, your first instinct was right. Archie over-stated the fuel consumption somewhat. Period reviews claimed 20-22 mpg. Still quite severe though!
    My father had a 3500 at one
    point. It was a mechanical menace.

  3. I was eight or was it ten, when my Uncle Tom drove over from Scotland in a 3500. It was the green colour. For some reason the big steering wheel with block square in its middle looked impressive; a pre cursor to an air bag maybe. Impressive design from all angles. The decadence of the ‘3500’ badge on the tail blew us Irish with force, for it was the time of the oil crisis and queuing for petrol. I think the Austin Princess arrived at the same time. That was posh too. Many an insurance company drove them in Dublin. Both cars suffered from detaching rear bumpers, your snap shot Archie of the SD1 in Australia is a case in point. Gosh that was silly. Those were the days.

    1. My dad ran one of these, a 3500 with a brown exterior and a mustard interior. About the only two things I remember about it were the uncomfortable rear seats and the car´s incredible thirst. It also broke down quite a lot which was very distressing for my father who needed the car to speed to random places at short notice due to his line of work. There might be not one single one of these in Ireland. I last saw one in Denmark during the summer at a classic car meeting and I didn´t really like the look of it as it had been Vitessed.

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