MG Rover (SD1) Profile

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MG Rover (SD1) General Information

Many fans would struggle to identify this car. It’s marketing name “Rover 3500” being identical with previous generations wouldn’t help the case while SD1 was only an internal ident code. But I am a personal fan of this car and hope you will enjoy this car as much as I do once you read one of the longest car model stories here.

For further description of this unique, characterful model of car, read Part2 of this story below. There was motorsport controversy too, explained here 1st:

Even though it started life as a touring car, the Rover Vitesse was a huge and heavy rally car. Its engine itself was a massively heavy lump, but as a 3.5 V8 it produced masses of power and torque, and it's sound was more spectacular than that of most groupB cars! The engine in fact is identical to that of the TR7 V8, however 4 years further on meant improvement at least in the torque department. However the combination was so strange, there is a funny tale connected to the weight and torque issue of this car: At the start of asphalt stages Rover engineers were found chucking buckets of water at the rear wheels. Only when the rear wheels were spinning at stage starts, the heavily loaded rear axle had a chance to survive the torque of the beast. Indeed, exploded rear axles on the Rover 3500 Vitesse were at least as common a sight as Tony Pond crashing.
No kidding later this system was fine tuned to fitting a tank of soapy water into the boot with the navigator having a button to inject this soapy water onto the rear wheels at stage starts or in tight hairpins. I love it, can't we ban EU ideas as ESP systems and make soapy water injections compulsory instead?

For the rally world there were two outstandingly unique facts about the Rover SD1 3500. For one the shell was heavy but so strongly built that they were kept fully standard. OK, so this is groupA and of course the Rover SD1 featured an (only) 11-point roll cage and heavy duty suspension tweaks, but believe me, you won't find many groupA works rally cars with a body shell that is NOT seam-welded!

The other is that the Rover 3500 Vitesse rally cars were designed, built and run very much alongside the touring cars at TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing). Officially ARG (Austin Rover Group) signed responsible for the program, but behind the scenes everything was down to TWR, while ARG concentrated on the (Williams influenced, or more like Williams hampered) MG Metro 6R4. Often enough we say that rallying and racing are two completely different worlds and there are enough stories proving that a racing team engineering a rally car is naive and only leads to disaster and embarrassment. Not so TWR on the big Rover, this might be the one case to prove this stereotype wrong! For Tom Walkinshaw this was no contradiction as he explained: "I used to rally myself in a Mazda on a few occasions, I know what great challenge it is. Our team's Rover Vitesse touring car operation became too much of a routine. Team members started to be complacent rather than showing initiative. Therefore we needed a new challenge for the team and to go rallying with the same model of car was perfect!"

Indeed the car debuted in the Belgian Bianchi Rallye 1983 with Tom Walkinshaw himself behind the wheel. Two problems, a puncture proved the central lock wheel fittings were rubbish for on stage tyre changes as you couldn't open them without powered special tools. The time delay however didn't matter since racing driver Tom crashed it heavily. Indeed on the Bianchi Rally the car still had the touring car wheels and hubs, but that was easy to change. So ready for problem two: The car was rebuilt for Tony Pond rallying it on the Manx, where he retired with the soapy water on the rear axle system not invented yet. This was both in fact touring car prototype chassis 001, now rally prototype FJO 450Y. Despite the many big successes TWR only built 20 touring cars, it seems touring cars tend to have a longer life than rally cars. But incredibly 13 Rover SD1 Vitesse rally cars existed as works rally cars, at least 5 of which have a history as works touring cars as well!

The Rover Vitesse was certainly powerful and fast, but it wasn't very nimble. This however was helped by the fact that it was very easy to get it into wild oversteers. Because of the MG Metro 6R4 groupB project at the same time (Tony Pond and Colin Malkin were starting national rallies in an early 2500cc Metro 6R4 prototype already from 1983), the Rover 3500 Vitesse wasn't seen that often. But in 1984 it still had time to celebrate demolishing victories in groupA in the Hunsrück Rally and the Manx. On other occasions it challenged RWD groupB cars like the Opel Manta 400 for overall results! And annoying the groupB Manta's in fact so much so, had Tony Pond not written off B563 AOX / former touring car chassis 009 on the Manx 1985 within sight of the finish line, Rover would have been British Rally (manufacturer) Champions 1985!

Its most famous moment however was even less stunning. It was it's only works WRC start, the RAC 1984 (no touring car past, a freshly built rally car for this event A478 WOE). For weeks and months before the event everybody from opposition to press was looking forward to this occasion and convinced there was no way anybody would beat the big Rover in the groupA category on this event - But Tony Pond beat it, smashing it into a tree on the very first mile of the very first stage and retired!


More to the model of car itself:

I am a personal fan of this car. I always loved straight and functional designs. Characterful styles and curiosity value add to it nicely. Here the curiosity value is because we talk of a big luxury limousine with huuuuge engine noise, a sound that would near challenge an AC Cobra, or it is in fact the same engine as found in the Morgan Plus8 and several TVR models! Which means you need British humour. A successful German business man would sit in the back of his chauffeur driven Mercedes S-Class and not understand how anybody could possibly enjoy the Rover noise. Also its design was very brave, relative straight design, a closed front (no radiator grill) and indicators drawn well into the side gave this luxury car a sporty touch, while its 5-door liftback rear design added to functionality and uniqueness (so not unfunctional, conservative and boring enough for German Merc fans). Once you realise what car I am talking about, you will remember it having a name as its big V8 meant huge running cost, while it's reliability also hasn't improved with ageing cars. If it wasn't for that, I would seriously be looking at buying one today - yes, today!
- In fact update that story, V8s are indestructable and apparently this even goes for British built V8s in their later years. And part of the bad image of British cars is down to British humour. The British keep joking about their country, food, weather, tell us things like driving a British Leyland product is adventure because reliable cars are boring, while Germans, French, etc. don't understand this type of humour. The Germans take everything they are told so serious (which does make it tempting to take the mick), but as a honest example, I lived in both countries for several years and never mind what everybody tells or wants to believe, in England it rains and freezes less than in Germany - and I do miss my steak 'n Guinness pies and my mint sauce! And maybe I am not German enough to be living in this boring country, but I am disillusioned by all the modern cars. Why am I made to pay for air conditioning standard, when I am freezing 95% of the year and have electric windows for the 5% I am not! Why am I made to pay for a stereo when there is not a single German radio station not talking about soccer 24/7! And I hate soccer - ups, I keep forgetting that Germany is not a free country. But what I love is fun when driving or at least being treated like an adult who knows what he is doing, so why am I paying for a standard ESP system? Or how about the annoying peep alarms when parking, as if I wasn't responsible enough to not drive a 200BHP car if I can't even drive at 5mph? If a modern We-Troubleyou Golf 7 sets you back 25.000 Euros, I am sure someone will be very happy (re)building me a top Rover SD1 3500 for 25.000 Euros to "as new" standard that is reliable, much more gorgeous, much more unique, much more functional, much faster, much better sounding and especially much more fun than a modern day 25.000 Euros car! Yes, I am serious, offers welcome! And no, I am not very German, but don't I have a point? Golf 8 probably has a GPS tracker in which the government can tell exactly when, where and by how much over the speed limit I went, when I could be free and have fun in my noisy, oversteering Rover....

To identify the car, name confusion doesn't help. The big car was always Rover's main model. Rover was regarded as British Leyland's/BMC's luxury brand. For smaller or mid range cars they had enough other brand names, Austin, Morris, MG, Triumph. This contributed to Rovers not having straight model names. There were of course the Land Rover, Range Rover and even Freight Rover (= a V8 engined Leyland Sherpa!), but the limousine was just THE Rover. Previous generations were P5 & P6, but not as a marketed name. If P5, P6 or this SD1, and not helping model identification very much, according to engine capacity the top version was always called the 3500 - but there were also versions like the straight-6-cylinder 2600, or the diesel 2400 (which had indeed a diesel engine from Alfa, see British humour!), hence I could not simply put 3500 as model name either.

Often this groupA Rover in touring cars as well as rallying is referred to as the Rover Vitesse and that makes it a little easier as there was no P5 or P6 Vitesse. However there was later a Rover 827 Vitesse. So to be correct, Vitesse was not a model name but an equipment level like Peugeot's GTI or Ford's Ghia tag. Though Vitesse was the sporty version, the Ghia competitor would be the Vanden Plas. Both these equipment level names were not used on previous Rover models. However Vanden Plas is even a former BMC company name and was used as an equipment level on Jaguars and Daimlers too, while Vitesse is in fact a former Triumph model name, but on the SD1 it was solely for the sporty equipment level to stand alongside the luxury Vanden Plas. And just as a funny tale, the sporty Rover SD1 3500 would be the Vitesse, but when Tony Pond rallied it you could argue as Vanden Plas was originally a Flemish company and Rover Vanden Plas means in Flemish "Rover of the Pond".

In design Rover always tried to be unique and it is a big shame this was never really recognized by the public. Some even insisted BL went under for being too conservative, but in retrospect the problem of the Rovers was more that they were too far ahead of their time. I.e. in modern days we see a trend of manufacturers giving big limousines a coupé touch. The Mercedes CLS of 2006 is such an example and soon the Volkwagen Passat CC followed, both claiming they invented a trend. But already in 1962 Rover launched a P5 Coupé, which was a 4-door coupé on exactly these very same lines! The P6 was a straighter design with twin headlights. As the successor of the P6 Rover wanted something really unique and outstanding, and they didn't even carry on with the Px tags, the new generation, which is the car we cover here, is identified as SD1.

In fact the SD story is a story of its own. While there were other P6-successor prototypes, new face Spencer King together with Range Rover & P6 design legend David Bache somehow were moved together within BL to form the Specialist Division, short SD. They went absolutely bonkers with their idea of a Rover P6 successor. Well, it was a difficult task, as the P6 already was well ahead of its time. But in charge of a new Rover, their idea of a luxury car was a closed front, a Citroen CX design scheme*, 5-door liftback, big V8 noise, and even gullwing doors. BL was just about fast enough to remove the gullwing doors (yes, and imagine!) from the final car, otherwise SD's 1st design was launched before BL bosses could say the F-word (and no, I don't mean Ford)! Specialist Division moved Rover away from P-generation-codes, if even only for this one model. The SD2 was meant to be a little sister to the SD1, very much on Citroen BX lines. *-here on the Citroens: While King/Bache admitted to liking Citroen's daring designs, first SD1 designs were finished before the CX, so the old myth that the Rover SD1 was copied from the Citroen CX is simply not true! The Ferrari Daytona front and indicators design, yes for a luxury saloon, however is true! And while Bache/King openly admitted to having looked at Citroen for their SD2, the end result looked very much like a Citroen BX but with the BX coming only in 1982 - many years later! But in time for the SD2 the BL bosses were used to the F-thingy and killed it off before it left the drawing boards. Yet, just to show how capable this design team was, there was an SD3 too and that found its way onto the roads, just not under that name! One of BL's best tricks in committing suicide surely was to take on a licence built Honda Ballade as the next generation sporty Triumph saloon (the Acclaim). Hmm, Honda is not the worst of the Asians for sure, but out of all things a Honda Ballade sporty, characterful, Triumph? If you don't remember the Honda Ballade, they could as well have taken a Toyota Corolla, call it MG and then act surprised why their most loyal fans run away. Specialist Division not only criticised this Honda-Triumph but spent BL's money on designing their idea how they thought a Triumph Dolomite successor should look like. And surprisingly the BL bosses liked it, but with the Triumph brand already asian-diarrhea damaged beyond repair, this car still being launched, we suddenly saw the birth of small Rovers. First generation Rover 213 IS the SD3! And before you laugh, yes it was a bit of a shock to suddenly have a tiny Rover and also you may laugh about the 213 as it is so easy to forget this design is already over 30 years old. OK, with its non-aerodynamic, edgy front and high yet short, boxy saloon boot it didn't look more modern than the SD1, but for SD this was never meant to be a Rover: Original idea this as an alternative to the Honda Ballade, suiting the Triumph brand name? Er, YESSS!

But here we are still talking SD1 - and meant for luxury more than sport. The car is a 5-door liftback, a functional design that - to my mind not understandable and very sadly - never found a big market, not even when Ford tried that same theme in the 1980s with the Sierra and Granada Mk3 (Scorpio in most markets, but even the successful Granada name in UK couldn't rescue this car from embarrassment). After the P6 Rover tried an even more daring design (I still can't get over it actually was meant to have gullwing doors) and they made no secret that the closed front, long indicators design for this luxury car was inspired by nothing less than the Ferrari Daytona! You see how the SD1 was a truly wonderful, unique car. Sadly for the lack of acceptance of 5-door liftbacks in this upmarket segment as well as the big engine running cost and its bad reliability reputation, the SD1 did not help the already struggling company. In 1987 the SD1 was replaced by the 800-series (predecessor to the 75). Now there was no more confusion of identifying generation by name, as now the big cars were no more Rover's main model. The 800 was available as both, saloon and liftback, and its top version was the 827, using a 2.7 V6 engine from Honda - end of an era! Very much so! In British Rover design I actually love the 800 too, absolutely gorgeous and I would buy that too without hesitation, but a big Rover as FWD with a non-V8 engine of Japanese origin at that? No way! Though, many British Rover fans thought so too. MG Rover/ARG went bankrupt, swallowed, chewed, spit out by BMW and all that, returned to independency and writing red numbers in record time, what do you do first? Convert a Rover 75 to RWD with big V8 noise! Times moved on? Well, let's add a supercharger than! Brilliant! Please let me run a car company, I'd love to go bankrupt like this!

MG Rover (SD1) Related Content

MG Rover (SD1) Evolutions

Model & Evo. (Activity)
MG Rover (SD1) 3500 Vitesse (84-0) 299/7500 393/6800 4730.1770.1410 1350 (4.5) RWD (2820)

Random MG Rover (SD1) Photos

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MG Rover (SD1) Results

This is an unofficial Car Results list and may be incomplete.

Pos Event Driver Co-Driver # Rego hh:mm:ss
36th. 1987 WRC Rally of Great Britain G. Smith . UNKNOWN #49 [UNKNOWN] 0:00:00

MG Rover (SD1) Retirements

This is an unofficial Car Model Retirements list and may be incomplete.

Pos Event Driver Co-Driver # Rego Reason
Ret. 1986 WRC Rally of Great Britain G. Smith N. Ewing #79 [UNKNOWN] SS10 ?
Ret. 1985 WRC Rally of Great Britain R. Gooding S. Harrold #57 [UNKNOWN] SS40 crash
Ret. 1985 WRC Rally of Great Britain M. Stuart . UNKNOWN #44 [UNKNOWN] SS35 crash
Ret. 1984 WRC Rally of Great Britain T. Pond R. Arthur #18 [UNKNOWN] SS1 crash