Today we have a small lesson in what amounts to a leafy cul-de-sac off a side-road in a dead-end of British motoring history.
For me the Rover SD1’s is a story starring the Buick-derived V8, a car known as the 3500 or 3500S. That’s the car that gets much of the press, it seems to me. That being the case, I have but a vague, passive knowledge about the 2300 and 2600,meaning if you asked me to confirm or reject the statement “Rover sold cars known as the 2300 and Rover 2600” I might have confirmed it hesitantly. That would have been after asking what years had you in mind.
Driven to Write has featured the starring 3500S, of course, but today I thought I’d simply remind you of the spear-carriers in the SD1 history. Both cars used versions of the PE166, which is thought to be derived from the Triumph L6 engine. Citing a certain R. Leitch (cited at Wikipedia), “Both the capacity variants use a 81.0 millimetres (3.19 in) bore, with a 76.0 millimetres (2.99 in) or 84.0 millimetres (3.31 in) stroke giving 2350cc or 2597cc capacity respectively.“
Since ARonline (Wikipedia’s source) already says quite a lot about the Rover six-banger engine, it is probably redundant of me to try to outdo that sterling resource. I will note that ARonline reaches the same conclusions as I do about the irony of the Triumph-derived engine powering the Rover SD1.
First, it seems cruel as the SD1 didn’t “replace” the large Triumph cars so much as assassinate them and jump on their bodies. Second, the engines came almost a decade after Leyland had both firms under their control. And thirdly, these expensively-developed and late-to-the-party engines only ever served in Rover SD1 rather than being general to BL cars. They weren’t used in the SD1’s successor and weren’t used in other contemporaries of the SD1.
There’s a fourthly to add to the list. Were these engines even needed? Austin had the E-series of engines, ranging from L4 to L6. The 6s had capacities of 2.2 litres and 2.6 litres and that latter one even saw service in the SD1 in South Africa. Admittedly, the E-series engines were developed before the PE166 but that didn’t stop them being used as late as 1980 in Maxis. I expect one of our resident engine experts (book, please!) can explain why the E-series was not fit for use in the Rover (there must be a reason).
But this being a tale of BL, the reason is as likely to be political. “Harry Cudge, chief-ball bearing designer at Austin, ensured the E-series could never fit in Rover’s engine bay by the clever device of using an extra-long exhaust manifold….et cetera” is not true but sounds like it might be.
I presume the intention was to have been to have an in-house, relatively modern 6-pot engine for the Rover and the ancient Austin E-series was not going to cut it. And the Triumph people needed something to do. Conceivably, the Triumph chaps didn’t even know their engines were going to end up powering a car which stood cheerfully on the corpse of the Triumph 2500. So where were Rover’s engine development team standing at this time?
Well, it gets worse now we consider it further. Rover didn’t really have a lot of socks in that box. The P6 (1963-1977) had some 4-cylinder engines of 2.0 and 2.2 litre capacity. The 2.0 was developed to become the 2.2 and was on sale from 1973 to 1977. Clearly that engine amounted to a dead-end and, I suppose, overlapped too much with the E-series engines which could be had as L4s.
That small tour around BLs engine range shows Rover were not well-stocked with engines: the L4 didn’t outlive the P6 and the V8 was way too big. Triumph had the L4 engines, ranging from 1300 to about 1.9 litres plus the L6 engines used in their large car – in a way Triumph had much the most complete range of engines and, indeed cars.
That just leads me back to my newly-established view that BL killed the wrong car company. Rover was as much a path to nowhere as its 2300 and 2600 engines. The SD1’s successor used O-, M- and T-series engines plus Honda units. Those engine codes reveal the fate of Rover. The letter-designations are a relic of the engines’ origins in Austin’s workshops not Rover’s or Triumph’s. So, Rover ended its days under BL as restyled Hondas with Austin engines.
For the record, Setright (in Car, 1977) considered the 2600 to be a rather better car than the V8. It had most of the same features and the performance was not much worse but the refinement better. Autocar (Oct 1977) came to much the same conclusion, noting the 2600 had a more sporting character.