The world’s Oddest Head Restraints

The head-restraints in the Rover 3500 always struck me as overkill, the ones in the back I mean.

1968 Rover 3500 rear headrestraint.
1968 Rover 3500 rear head-restraint.

Sorry about the reflections in the photo. 80% of that head restraint is not adding comfort or restraint. Why did they make them so big? We wrote about the 3500 before. And here is the front head restraint which is has a markedly different form.


This one can be set to the right height.

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I get the impression the Wikipedia entry was written by a fan: “The 3500 was introduced in April 1968[8] (one year after the Rover company was purchased by Triumph’s owner, Leyland) and continued to be offered until 1977. The manufacturer asserted that the light metal V8 engine weighed the same as the four-cylinder unit of the Rover 2000, and the more powerful car’s maximum speed of 114 mph (183 km/h)[9] as well as its 10.5-second acceleration time from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) were considered impressive,[8] and usefully faster than most of the cars with which, on the UK market, the car competed on price and specifications. (The glaring exception was the Jaguar 340, substantially quicker and, in terms of manufacturers’ recommended prices, 15 per cent cheaper[9] than the Rover 3500, the Jaguar representing exceptional value as a “run-out” model, shortly to be replaced by the Jaguar XJ6.)”

Rover planned the 3500 before they were taken over by British Leyland. With the 3500 and Triumph 2500 on sale at the same time there was now an internecine feud taking place and Triumph lost. We have reflected before on how Triumph, not Rover, had the credentials to be a BMW-beater whereas Rover ought to have been closer to Jaguar. Alas, BL owned them as well. Something had to give.

Author: richard herriott

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

24 thoughts on “The world’s Oddest Head Restraints”

    1. This example may have been restored. Still, the design is rich-looking. Some late Alfas had great seats as did the not-too-ancient Thesis. Have a stare at leather in the Delta. Or (not an ironic remark) the Vignale leather.

    2. Opulence is as opulence does. Or doesn’t. With the front seats pushed all the way back, the car transforms into a four door two-seater.

  1. Having previously owned both a 3500 and a mark II Jaguar the Rover was a more modern and comfortable car to be in and drive. Rover made a good attempt toward interior safety and ergonomics before it was fashionable. Under dash padded shin bins not only provided safety for ones legs but gave extra storage and finish to an area other manufacturers left open for all to see the wiring and mechanics.
    Their interior design was a departure from traditional wood trimmed versions found in Jags, it was modern, safer and unique in the day.
    Rover’s steering column ended at the scuttle, safer in a collision and was jointed giving height adjustment.
    Their stressed skeletal frame structure provided roll over protection even without the body panels mounted.
    I assume it’s well known the 2000 version was designed to be turbine powered hence the very unusual front suspension allowing a wide unobstructed engine compartment.
    Alas this was not to be but no doubt was a advantage when the American design V8 appeared many years later.

    1. According to Jim Randle – (who worked for Spen King on P6 & its P7 derivative), the problem with the P6’s front suspension was that because the engine bay was designed to accommodate recouperators for the gas turbine, its location meant the damper and spring rates were fed directly into the bulkhead which didn’t do much for front-end refinement. Also the geometry was all wrong since the top link was going off towards the horizon, while the bottom link was going wherever it was pointing, so the roll centre was constantly on the move. Not ideal.

      Nevertheless, he did say the P6 was the cleverest car he worked on – which is saying something.

    2. While this is true it didn’t detract in any way from the use this car was designed for. I found it ” responsive and chuckable” for navigating round -a- bouts with a comfortable an adsorbant ride but not an all out high performance machine, Rover’s de’dion rear set up probably offset any flaws at the front.

      The idea of turning the top link 90° to feed suspension loads into the main structure instead of weak extremities reminds of the Citroen 2CV, another successful car with questionable geometry.

      I would add that most cars of the period were flawed in some form concerning suspensions but for the customer and use it was designed for the Rover was a success.

    3. There is indeed a lot going for the P6. It looked forward at the time yet is seen now as being emblematic of tradition. I suppose the technological novelties are harder to see than the wood, chrome and leather – which are seen as very conservative (and I have made that mistake too). So, how would hypothetical product planners proceed with a portfolio of Triumph, Rover and Jaguar? Richard’s Law of Brand Positioning shows there are three natural slots in the market: sporting, economy and luxury. Triumph were not very expensive and they were sporty (all those roadsters). Jaguar is about luxury and performance. Rovers were not especially sporty and aspired to luxury. They had a very varied product range. I’d argue that despite some good cars there was not enough in Rover’s heritage or brand to make them worth keeping. The P6 could have been a Jaguar, it was good enough. BL could then have had Austin, Triumph and Jaguar to fill the three natural classes. The other brands could have been dropped.

  2. We discussed before the idea of Peak (Subaru) Legacy. I would go so far as to say that the 3500 was Peak Rover. Despite some good efforts thereafter (I will always have a soft spot for the Rover 200 and 800), it was all downhill from there. Certainly, no Rover that followed was as forward looking in both ethos and technical specification as the 3500.

    1. A case (not strong) could be made for the including the SD1 on the basis of it range of engines and styling. Then it’s downhill until a dead cat bounce with the Rover 75. What did Rover have apart from the SD1 in 1976? It was a single model brand. Triumph had sportscars and two saloons. The axing of Triumph is rather interesting: did it seem obviously a Good Idea to discontinue all their lines and focus on a one-car-at-time brand like Rover?

  3. Back on topic: those headrests look like an afterthought. Were they retro-fitted (by Rover or someone else) when concerns over whiplash became more prevalent in the 70s?

  4. The Rover 3500 had a more unusual option than headrest in the form of an external deck mounted spare wheel. This did no favours for rear vision plus made the aluminium deck lid difficult to open but as planned increased boot space.
    This was a return to past times and was not to be repeated until some modern SUVs revived the trend.
    Today’s solution was nowhere on the horizon for several decades.

    1. I didn’t get the sense that Mr. Randle was dismissing the P6 – in fact he told me he thinks very highly of it as an overall package. The rear suspension too was particularly clever. Of course later versions also pioneered run flat tyres – Dunlop Denovo). The fact that the P6 isn’t better regarded is a shame. Some cars gain affection over long production runs. That didn’t seem to happen with the P6, it ended up being redolent of the past – yet it was such a forward looking car – Britain’s DS in some ways.

    1. The P6 has become astonishingly popular (in relative terms) in my corner of Germany. I can’t recall ever seeing them on German roads until about a decade ago. And nowadays it’s not the rarest of sights on the streets of Hamburg. It’s actually a lot more popular than, say, a BMW E3 saloon.

      I know that some classic car enthusiasts are bored to death with the Beetle, 911, /8, Pagoda & R107 monotony here in Germany, but a P6 appears to be quite an inspired choice nonetheless. I wonder how it got people’s attention eventually?

    2. Who knows? The car has many engineering virtues so it is perhaps it appeals to Germany’s many gentlemen mechanics. Or perhaps it has aged long enough to enter pop culture?

    1. A good film too. Also, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Vinnie Jones stoves some poor chap’s head in with the door.

  5. Ingvar: that’s an epic. I know enough (just) to see the ironies.
    I still think Rover didn’t deserve to survive. It tried to become what Triumph was (the 80s and early 90s cars) which made less sense than keeping Triumph in business. Rover had one car in 1980. Triumph had wound down Dolomite, Toledo, Stag, Spitfire (what a brand name) and the 2500 line and the TR series. That’s a whole line of mid/upper cars lost to keep a Jaguar competitor alive.

  6. I suspect the goofy shape was implemented by safety-conscious Rover to provide meaningful restraint at a time when the structure of a rear seat wasn’t structural at all, and wouldn’t have been able to react the necessary loads. (I can’t help but contrast these with the normal-looking but flimsy-feeling rear head restraints in the Jag XJ6, which didn’t even appear until the last couple years of Series III production!)

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