VotW – Rover SD1 – Design With Style

Our Video of the Week this go-round is on the story of an often forgotten car from a seldom remembered brand in the US – the Rover SD1.

Rover and British Leyland were beset by problems in the mid-1970s. Out of this cauldron of mismanagement came the Rover SD1 in 1976. It was called SD for the Specialist Division VotW - Rover SD1 - Design With Styleand 1 for the first car to come from the in-house styling department. Despite a dramatic, innovative design both inside and out, the option of classic V8 grunt, and more or less universally praised dynamics, the SD1’s reputation and its longevity suffered at the hands of a company in meltdown.

And it could all have been so different. The car, which was styled by Rover’s design genius David Bache, had some grand ambitions. It had been designed to look like a family version of contemporary Italian supercars (they even got a load of Italian supercars in for comparison purposes early in the design process) while the attractive interior was intelligently designed from both a user’s and an engineering perspective. Such was BL’s confidence in it that they ploughed £31 million into a new factory (which in the end would be mothballed after just five years).

The car even received rave reviews from the motoring press. “It is hard to be over-enthusiastic about the new 3500,” said Autocar. “On every score, its qualities justify any kind of enthusiasm. It would have been hard to predict, especially looking at the bald paper specification, just how well the car would perform, handle and ride.

“Add to that the spaciousness and aerodynamic efficiency of the body, and the attention paid to ensuring that the car will last, and it is easy to see why all competitors are casting worried glances, not only at the car but also at its price. If the 3500 will be built in sufficient numbers, if the quality can be maintained along with the price, and if the ground is not cut from under its wheels by ill-advised legislation, the new 3500 should be one of the successes of the decade.”

But production numbers, of course, could not be maintained and nor could the quality. And all we are left with in the 21st century is a whole bag of ‘what ifs’ and a dwindling handful of what was once one of the most promising cars ever to be created in Britain.

Michael Carnell
Editor at Just British
Michael Carnell is the editor and founder of the Just British Online Motoring Magazine. As a lifelong British car fan, he has owned or driven British cars of all ages from Austins and MGs to Jaguars and Triumphs. He currently owns a 1966 Vanden Plas Princess 1100, a 1977 MGB, a 1978 Triumph Spitfire, and a 2002 Land Rover Discovery.

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