No, Stand Ye Not By The Yonder Line

It’s not commonly known outside Denmark and northern Germany that the Danish border has only been in its current place since 1921. Before then much of what we call southern Denmark was in German hands.

1878 Rover SD-1 windscreen

Near the old border which runs east to west from Kolding, I found this car, a 1978 Rover SD1 which had been redecorated as a post-1982 Rover Vitesse (it’s a mash up). I am not an SD-1 expert so I restrict my comments to the vehicle shown in these photos. I passed by the car in order to visit Askov, a small town famous for its folk high-school which sojourn took me by the hand and led me to reflect on the borders generally and the joints and junctions of parts of the Rover SD1 in particular.

The design of the car is much to do with how the different parts are brought together, how functions are defined or blended. Some junctions should be as smooth and unobtrusive as possible. Others demand attention or are used to attract attention.

1978 Rover SD1 indicator

The side-repeater lamp attracted my beady stare. It has a small chrome bezel. If you ever wondered what was wrong with the repeater indicators on a Jaguar XJ (308) it might be the lack of some form of articulation as per the Rover’s. There aren’t so many things one can do to lend these features dignity. The Rover’s have as much dignity as a small orange piece of plastic can have.

1978 Rover SD1 side glass chrome trim.

The camera wandered next to the trailing edge of the sideglass. The chrome part is alright. But have you noticed all the sculpting on the triangular spacer that forms the end of the sideglass?  I don’t know what to make of it. It looks as if it suggests more parts than are there. It’s a little riot of detailing.

This is how BMW did their side glass in 1977, by the way:

Pure quality.

And this is how Mercedes solved the problem around the same time:

Our old friend.

Let’s go around the back of the Rover

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The rear screen has a pleasing feature. Notice the subtle chamfers on the trailing edge. They could have got away with having that as a straight edge: the difference between with and without chamfers is maybe a centimetre. They could have saved some money on the glass by keeping it simple But instead David Bache and Spen King** insisted on having the rear and side glass relate to one another by tailoring the rear screen’s corner to be closer to the side glass’s trailing corner.

Interestingly, the 1977 version of the car has the line of the rear windscreen running the other way entirely, in a way that was supposed to support the flow of the lines from side-glass to the rear screen. Both versions are acceptable aesthetically. The later one is more practical.

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It’s not until you look at a car close up and dissect it with the camera that you notice and understand something else. The Rover’s rear badge stretches from one side of the car to the other.

ROVER                                                                                                   Vitesse

it says. The other thing I notice is that the rear lamps are entirely within the frame of the rear end. Not one centimetre of the lamps wrap around the corner. It’s not that common on the cars of the last two decades to see rear lamps you can’t see from the side. We know of two examples here at DTW:

The 1990 Citroen XM in non-standard Maya Gold.


Now collectible: source

There is quite a lot to write about the SD-1 – it’s a much discussed car. Most of it has been already said so I have focussed on the bits you won’t read anywhere else.

They sold about 303,000 of these cars before replacing SD-1 with something a lot less carefully finessed. More reliable,yes, but not worth looking at so closely.

I have a little more to say on the SD1 in a few short days. I had a chance to sit inside the car and examine the driver’s/front passenger ashtray. Did anyone say Daytona?

(1977 Rover SD-1 slideshow source)

**maybe someone else did the facelifted 1982 SD.

Author: richard herriott

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

22 thoughts on “No, Stand Ye Not By The Yonder Line”

  1. **maybe someone else did the facelifted 1982 SD.

    Bache was fired in 1982, so he is likely to have been responsible for the facelift.

    1. Yes. He and Harold Musgrove had fundamental disagreements regarding the Maestro’s styling.

    2. ‘By then, JRT Engineers and Stylists had been merged into Austin-Morris, and Musgrove was dealing with David Bache, the man responsible for both Maestro and Montego. It’s a matter of public record that Harold did not get on with Bache at all, and explosive meetings followed around styling issues for Maestro and Montego.

      Harold wouldn’t be drawn the whys and wherefores: ‘It’s public knowledge that Bache was sacked at one of these styling meetings, and I ended up with a hunt for a new Styling Director. Through some of my contacts, it became known that Roy Axe was planning to move his family back to the UK, and it seemed ideal to approach him for the chief styling job at ARG.’

  2. The original 1976 SD1 was a brave design in that it dispensed with much of the ornamentation traditionally expected on an executive car, both externally and internally. The exterior had no brightwork apart from around the DLO and the (entirely functional) stainless steel bumper bars. The front end had no grille and just a minimalist, stylised version of the Rover Viking longship badge. The flanks were unadorned. The interior was pure functionalism, with no wood or leather and a simple black plastic instrument pod placed on top of a shelf*, rather than the traditional dashboard layout.

    Sadly, the 1982 facelift reverted to a much more traditional style, adopting the styling tropes traditionally associated with such cars. The front end received a full-width (albeit slim) grille, rather clumsy chrome trim around the headlamps and indicators, and a full-colour traditional longship badge. The flanks received side rubbing strips with bright inserts, matching the plastic bumpers that replaced the stainless steel originals. The side repeater lamps Richard mentioned were added to the front wings, even though they were entirely superfluous, given the extensive wraparound of the front indicators. The interior was adorned with wood inserts on the doors and fascia, and a much larger and more stylised instrument binnacle was introduced.

    The facelifted car might have looked more “expensive” than the slightly austere original, but lost much of its design purity, a shame, IMHO.

    1. The chrome trim around the lamps may have been inspired by the Vauxhall Senator and looked quite wrong. The interior also lost alot of its appeal. As facelifts go it was clearly one of the worst sort. It must have been painful to add those embellishments to a car that needed none.

    2. I can’t think of any instance of a car after around 1970 where chrome trim around headlights looks right.
      Citroën used this on some of the CX Prestige models, and it wasn’t looking good either – as did the vinyl roof, script badges and other adornments. As an addition to the bad looks these items also worked wonders as rust traps.

  3. Simon: it´s the brougham phenomenon. I supopse it runs counter to the idea of less being more. Most of these cars were designed to look acceptable in base model trim. There was not so much space for glitz. The chrome around the headlamps seems especially egregious whereas chrome on the DLO makes some kind of functional sense as well as being aesthetically pleasing.

    1. Exactly. The SD1 as well as the CX had this ‘less is more’ idea in them. The DLO is in fact a different case, as it’s a functional element that happens to be made of stainless steel, and not an element grafted on something that already perfectly fulfills its task.

  4. Richard, having looked at the advertisement and photographs, I wonder if it really is a modified 1978 car, rather than a post-1982 facelifted model as, to my eyes, it is a perfect example of the latter. The modifications would have been extensive, including new front valance, tailgate, front lights, indicators and side repeaters, chrome bonnet trim, grille, bumpers, side rubbing strips, exterior mirrors, C-pillar trims, rear badging, dashboard, door trims, seats, steering wheel. I wonder why would anyone go to all that trouble for a car that’s not worth a great deal of money? Maybe they do things differently in Denmark?

  5. Looking at the first SD1 photo, I remember rain gutters. A practical feature, since replaced by basically nothing. These days one leaves the driveway at a right angle at low speed after a rainshower and with a window cracked, only to have the water from the roof sluice inside. Highly annoying, and I must have committed the “error” dozens of times in the last quarter century. No wonder power window switches corrode. Still, I’m sure hundreds of millions have been saved over the years by not welding on such a practical thing, and no doubt they spoil the design aesthetic.

    My boxy ’80s Audi 90 quattro also had a rain gutter moulded into the windscreen vertical rubber, so that water never made it onto the side windows. Its replacement, a 90 quattro Sport just prior to the first A4 arriving, had no gutters of any kind, and driving in the rain, the driver’s side window used to be covered by a quivering blob of water, making it impossible to see out. That regression and about 250 kg weight gain turning it into a lumbering understeering beast with overly stiff springs and a rotten ride, put me off the brand altogether.

    1. David Pye wrote that every design is a failure in some way. The gutterless cars were easier to make, more wind-cheating and had lower drag at the expense of the water draining into the car. My XM is terrific in this regard. It has a low cD and you can see the water flowing off the screen, around the A-pillar and, if it´s lucky, into the car through the open side window.

    2. As mentioned here before, the Ford Sierra was an overtly aerodynamic car that still had drip rails. 1987’s Sierra Sapphire got rid of them.

  6. I’ve always thought the Rover SD1 had one of the nicest shaped fuel filler flaps. Certainly from a stylistic point of view; I can’t comment on how well it functioned. Probably came off in your hand.

    1. I believe it did not stay on at speeds over 50 mph. The fuel duct had imperial dimensions and didn’t fit metric pumps in the EU. The driver’s seat didn’t travel back as far as the passenger as it fouled the handbrake. The early headliners came off in damp weather, obscuring the driver’s vision; Lucas bulbs in the ashtray were too high a wattage leading to fires; the boot carpets came unmoored under heavy braking causing the bootlid to jam shut; the rear parcel shelf was 4mm too narrow (a problem in scaling the drawings) so it flopped into the boot; the oil filter could not be accessed except from under the car with the handbrake off and Lucas could not supply them for three months. The rear lamps were attached using torque screws and often cracked the lens leading to
      water ingress to the inner wing. Owners complained about a sloshing sound: four litres of rusty water in the cavity. The wiring looms were bound with something like Sellotape which perished in the heat; the central vents in the dashboard often popped open if the car hit a pothole; the doors were painted in a separate plant and shipped in open trucks to the main works; tales abound of cars with mismatched doors being shipped to dealers and then back to the factory; even then the paint often didn’t quite match; three hundred
      cars were resprayed one new colour rather than having the right doors fitted.

    2. John, I agree with you about the thoughtfully shaped SD1 fuel filler flap, which picked up the curve of the wheelarch.

      Perhaps this is a topic for some “best and worst” nominations on DTW? I would volunteer the Focus Mk3 for the latter category. The inept attempt to align the flap to the (ugly) rear light cluster made no sense at all when the model was facelifted and the lights slimmed down, but the flap remained the same size:

    3. Oh, lovely. Yes, that fuel filler cap on the Focus. It is a very quite good solution to a problem that need not have existed in the first place. *Given* all the other pararmeters that solution was fine. What the designers needed to do was to work back up the problem chain to avoid that contrived design in the first place. First, push the rear lamps out of the way. They were too big, made arrow-like to make the car look wide from the back and longer from the side. The bumper assembly needed to be pushed back too but the idea was to have more plastic and less metal. I don´t know if the precise location of the filler aperture was mandated by regs or some other deeper engineering requirement so let´s leave it where it is. The car has a lot of shoulder which creates a complex landscape for the filler cap – the more I look at it the more cramped that whole area is. This is pretty much a perfect example of being painted into a corner.

  7. More SD-1 foibles: 13) the electric power windows in Euro-market cars would wind up faster than they wound down on the left side of the car and the reverse on the right side of the car;
    14) the leatherette gaiter on the gear-lever could not be adequately secured during the production-line assembly of the car so for two months a team of men went through cars in the factory yard manually gluing the gaiter with a special tool;
    15) the b-pillar trim used a new type of one-shot clip instead of a screw so if the part was not installed right first time the trim was destroyed so thousands of cars arrived at dealers with a crack down the middle of the part;
    16) the rubber bushings in the steering column squeeked when turning left in freezing weather;
    17) the IP pod was secured with four screws which had to be put in clockwise so if they were put in in anti-clockwise order the pod would drift free;
    18) Bush supplied the car´s radio but BL supplied the mountings; in order to save money the mountings were not galvanised leading to the radio mountings failing catastrophically which meant the radio slid back into the centre console. Getting it out required the dash to be removed;
    19) the car was designed to use Jaguar engine mounts to cut costs but this was changed at the last minute requiring spacers to be fitted during assembly – these spacers tended to warp when the car reversed and that caused the gear box to make a neighing-sound like a horse.
    20) All the upholstery wore with unusual speed meaning the passenger bolster wore down to the foam in a matter of weeks plus it had the habit of becoming semi-molten in warm weather.
    21) None of the Euro-market V8s had a lockable glove-box. The gas-strut mechanism made by Delco would snap shut unexpectedly causing a risk to fingers so it was replaced with a wire and the lock disabled with a wedge of cork.
    22) The air-conditioning systems never worked because line-workers and management could not come to an agreement on Friday shift times when the air-con systems were being finished for assembly – dealers were sent a brochure and a piece of pipe if customers complained;
    23) many SD´s had a fuel warning light that never went off – customers were told to put black tape over the light and never run with less than a quarter of a tank.

    1. A disgraceful but sadly quite typical list. And the SD1 was one of BL’s most mechanically conventional cars! Imagine how bad things like the otherwise wonderful Jaguar 5.3 V12 ended up being!

      A list like that can’t be blamed on lazy workers, nor even on incompetent management. It smacks of poor product planning, which in my experience is caused 9 times out of 10 by a lack of money. Imagine if Britain had received its Marshall Aid interest free, as Germany did, and had then had the bravery to totally restructure and retool the car industry by about 1950. Imagine the kind of cars that could have been built by 1978. Shame.

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