R.A-S.H: The Rover SD1 (Part Two)


Good morrow, and welcome indeed to part two of part nine of Rusty’s Archive- Showroom Hyperbole. Now by Royal Appointment. *

Last time we met I was waxing all lyrical about the Rover 2300, 2600 and 3500 (or SD1) as they were fresh from launch. Today we’re going to the other extreme, to have a look at the car briefly before Rovers majestic missile was taken into the woods and given both barrels.

It’s the Rover SD1, again.

Those of you with eyes will have noticed that my lead image shows a Rover catalogue with a Sterling on the front cover. ‘Tis true, but this brochure is interesting in that it contains both the New Order and the Old Stager, side by side in a textbook example of a manufacturer hedging its bets.

Yeah, the SD1 was an old-fashioned concept by 1986 and, good as it was, had struggled through various reputation-tarnishing episodes throughout its life. In addition, the competition had grown much, much stronger over the decade and the Japanese and Germans were baying for blood. So Austin-Rovers senior management swapped Sherry for Sake and developed the SD1s replacement, the 800, alongside the Honda Legend.

I’ll be visiting that wonderful (!) machine in the future but, in 1986 Rover loyalists were understandably uncertain about the idea of their big British brute being usurped by a half-Japanese upstart. Furthermore the company probably had hundreds of unsold SD1s sitting in muddy compounds, so in 1986 both the new and old flagships sat in the brochure, cheek-by-jowl.


“A legacy of power”

This was the respectful opening phrase. The SD1 was very much being marketed on the basis of driver appeal, and rightly so.

“In the rarified world of top executive saloons, the Rover’s dynamic, purposeful styling is not the only quality which makes it distinctly different”.


The brochure continues to remind us even the entry models were equipped with sunroof, electric windows, central locking and a wealth of other luxuries. But; crucially:

“…on every model you’ll discover the pervasive sense of calm and confident refinement which is a part of the Rover’s character. That quality too was bred into the Rover from the beginning- in the certain knowledge that you wouldn’t accept anything less”.

I’m almost welling up here, reading that. It’s true; every SD1 had character so deep you could swim in it.


A facelift in the early ’80s had brough with it a host of updates including new and handsome flush-mounted headlamps. The Vanden-Plas model was by now quite celebrated and established, but there was another, far more exciting model growling in the corner. And they named it Vitesse.

“An instinct for power to match your own”.

Clearly aiming at Ze Germans, here. But dynamically the Vitesse could hold a pair of mid-digits up at anything from Stuttgart or Munich and just about get away with it, thanks to 190hp from that old V8, now fuel-injected (with twin throttle-body plenums on these late cars, and possibly slightly conservative power output ratings). And nought to sixty in 7.1 exhilarating seconds.


“Lowered suspension and low profile 205/60 VR tyres on 6.5″ spoked alloy wheels create a confident race-bred stance. A front spoiler and large rear spoiler indicate above average speed and handling ability.”

“….this Rover shares your instinct for the judicious use of power.”

Oh, yes. I really want one of these.  But until then, at least I own the brochure.

*Royal Appointment pending only.

<Disclaimer:- All photos were taken by the author and are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material, taken on my bathroom floor thanks to Arctic  conditions outdoors. All copyright rights remain in the possession of the manufacturer, long may they rest in peace. Yeah, seriously; thanks BMW, Thanks Phoenix Consortium…>

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9 responses to “R.A-S.H: The Rover SD1 (Part Two)”

  1. Preludacris Avatar

    <img src="http://smartautocar.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/cat-its-beautiful-757604.jpg&quot; width="300">
    Confession time: I previously knew nothing of these cars.
    I was probably better off then.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      My confession is that a Rover SD1 (a US-spec 3500) is the only British car I've ever test-driven without buying. What can I say, I was young and stupid. Now that I'm old and stupid I realize I should at least have made an offer.

      1. Rover1 Avatar

        Are you at all sure that you are living in the right country? Why didn't you buy it? Did it not break down on the test drive? I think we need the whole story……

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          Twenty or so years ago, the owner/operator of my hometown's service station (yes, just one, now zero) had a knack for finding inoperable British cars of the '60s and '70s for free or nearly free, fixing them at his station, then selling them at a modest profit. Mostly he worked with MGBs and Spitfires, as these were plentiful, often fell victim to neglect, and were easy to sell when running. Somehow, however, he ended up with a pair of 3500s.
          He assembled one good(ish) 3500 from the pair, stuck a high(ish) price on it owing to its rarity in rural Oregon, then waited. And waited. For at least a couple of years he waited.
          He offered me a test-drive one day while I was in town visiting family. I followed the local tradition of driving the car fairly hard to the top of the big, twisty hill leading out of town, then turned around and came back, covering a total distance of about five miles. It was… okay. At the time my experience with British cars was limited to my brother's Spitfire (which he had purchased years before, new, not from this guy) and a friend's TR6. I wasn't sure what to expect from a full-sized British car, but this just didn't strike me as impressive enough to justify the high asking price. I don't even remember now what the dollar figure was, just that it was, to me, a lot. I thanked him and went home.
          Looking back, he probably would have taken whatever I had cared to offer. As I said, I was young and stupid. Damn.
          So, although I've looked at other British cars for sale without driving them, and driven other British cars that weren't for sale, my tally for test-drives remains four, purchased three, still have two.

          1. Rover1 Avatar

            Thanks for the backstory ! I can certainly identify with that, and ,I myself, am now old enough to be unsure if being old and stupid is better than being young and stupid -it certainly seems to mean that I am making new, different mistakes and still unsure if I'm learning anything off them. Plus, bonus news,someone is trying to give me an SD1! Without an engine !! What could go wrong? ( Well,obviously, not the motor…) Should I accept? Where can I hide it from she who must be obeyed? What motor could I put in it? My world is suddenly full of Questions : )

          2. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
            mr. mzs zsm msz esq

            You need that SD1 and it would be best if you found a Buick nail head! Some of the smaller ones might fit more easily! I suggest you not try and hide it, rather dazzle her, like high beams do, but with expensive desirable gifts waiting for her when she gets home and finds it. Good road!

          3. Rover1 Avatar

            Such a persuasive argument!…Decision pending!

    2. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
      mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      It really is, that last photo of the Vitesse in particular is incredibly handsome. Rusty, I hope you someday buy one, as you too P, and Harrell – you as well, you do need a big car again after all – and me as well. Also you may not wish to watch this because you will want one even more so:
      [youtube Qp1JJYtigEk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qp1JJYtigEk youtube]

      1. Vavon Avatar

        You shoud have a look here…