Rover 3500 V8

"Great car, but it needs more power", was a comment frequently made about the Rover 2000 when it was introduced some years back.

In those days it was a tremendously sophisticated motor car, designed not only to carry people rapidly in a high degree of comfort, but to cosset them in a cocoon of foam plastic and carefully collapsing metal should they get into trouble. It was both actively and passively safe. It handled and steered well and had brilliant brakes. And its high speed touring ability was outstanding. It was so good in all these departments that its straight line performance, while adequate, felt positively shoddy by comparison.

Then came the 2000 TC. It had all the comfort and sophistication of the 2000 but considerably more performance. It was warmly received by Rover owners who were enthusiast drivers - motorists who liked to swap cogs, hear the little four-cylinder engine revving like mad, and watch their progress on a tachometer. The motoring press received it warmly too. It won rave reviews everywhere, and one American magazine which is given to sweeping statements inferred that it was the best car that had ever been made!

But there were many Rover owners who still werenīt tempted - not because the 2000 body was small by Rover standards - but because the little engine had to work too hard, and the by-products of its energy - noise and vibration - albeit very discreet noise and vibration, upset the drawing-room atmosphere of the car. They wanted something smoother and quieter - in keeping with the three-litre Rover saloon they happened to be driving at the moment.

Rover executives were aware of this of course. The opportunity to get just such an engine came with news that General Motors were dropping from production the lightweight aluminium V8 that had been used to power the Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac "compact" range in the early 1960s. The engine wasnīt being dropped because it wasnīt a success. Quite the contrary. GM built three-quarters of a million of them, before they discovered that their new thin well iron block V8s were almost as light, and less costly. The cost of production of the aluminium V8 wasnīt so high that it couldnīt be incorporated in an car of the Roverīs quality however, and the deal was done.

The engine first appeared in the Rover three-litre - re-christened 3.5 in honor of the V8s capacity, and soon after was shoe-horned into a 2000 body. It was a tight squeeze. Exhaust system and a few other engine details had to be changed, and the battery was relegated to a spot in the boot. Weight distribution considerations may have entered into this, but they neednīt have because the V8 is only a few pounds heavier than the four!

The Rover in this form is available with only one transmission - a Borg Warner 35. Unlike the 2000 and TC, four-speed manual is not offered. And itīs no great loss anyway, because the Borg Warner works very well, and can be over-ridden manually almost at will. The engine runs on a compression ratio of 10,5:1 but takes super grade petrol without complaint. Two SU carburettors are fitted, and gross output is 184 bhp at 5200 rpm with 225 lb.ft. of torque at 3000 rpm. It is well oversquare with dimensions of 88.9 by 71 mm. Capacity is 3528cc.

The engine is all alloy except for steel cylinder liners (dry). Specific output is 52.2 bhp/litre, and thanks to the carīs all-up reasonable weight, power/weight ratio is a gratifyingly small 14.8 lb./bhp.

The Borg Warner transmission can be used almost as a manual, and at first glance, it is hard to tell that the floor mounted shift does not in fact control a four-speed transmission. Final drive ratio is 3.08, compared to the 2000s 3.54. This gives theoretical gearing of 23.5 mph/1000 rpm. In fact, because of slippage in the automatic, this figure would never be realised. The transmission has a multiplication factor of 2 to 1.

Suspension is unchanged from the Rover 2000. At the front, double wishbones and horizontally located coils are used, the upper wishbone angled to minimise dive under braking. Additionally thereīs an anti-roll bar to keep things on an even keel. The rear suspension is a "semi-independent" arrangement using a de Dion tube behind the differential and two double-universal axle shafts. This is mounted on two long trailing Watts linkage type arms and there is additionally a transverse linkage bar from the final drive. Coils provide the springing. Sounds complicated, but in fact it is a fairly straightforward arrangement - and efficient.

Four-wheel servo-assisted disc brakes are fitted. They have a total swept area of 372 and give - as you would expect - stopping of the very highest order. The front brakes are mounted conventionally, while the rears are mounted inboard, thus reducing unsprung weight.

Steering is a variable ratio recirculating ball arrangement, with 4,5 turns of lock.The wheel itself feels too big, but it is obviously designed this way as the top half neatly frames the instrument cluster. It is adjustable.

Like we said, Rover owners value a drawing-room atmosphere in their car, and the Three Thousand Five lines up to this tradition very strongly. The car is without question designed for four people only. The individual front seats are sumptuously upholstered in a combination of leather and vinyl - with the leather managing to look considerably less attractive than the vinyl. However, it smells better - and whoever heard of a motorised drawing-room that didnīt smell of leather?

Interior appointments are of a high order but instrumentation isnīt especially comprehensive, nor is the rectangular speedo especially legible. The wipers have a clever rheostat control that varies the interval of sweeping and the other controls are ranged along the dash and clearly marked with symbolic drawings.

In front of both driver and passenger are deep, sloping bins. These bins are padded to protect occupentsī knees in accidents and are quite flexible.

The Three Thousand Five gave a scintillating account of itself over our test course. It is not a big car, and it shot along the narrow winding roads we picked with great agility and safety. Over rough surfaces the driver is kept informed by a steering system that manages to provide good insulation in addition to lashings of feedback and vibration.

The suspension is remarkably silent over potholes and gibbers, and gives a peculiar "see-sawing" ride over more gentle undulations. The steering is heavy at parking speeds, but is very sharp once the car gets moving.

Braking is excellent. We stamped on the big brake pedal time and time again and the car just kept stopping and stopping. A best stop of 1g. was recorded. There was no fade, and no sign of temperament - wheel locking or swerving off the straight line.

The transmission is very responsive and we found ourselves snicking up and down between drive and intermediate when we wanted engine braking to slow down or more power for an overtaking manoeuvre. It is much quicker to do this than to kick the transmission down with the throttle. Kickdowns are available up to 60 mph and the car runs to 75 mph in intermediate under full throttle before changing.

Rover owners wonīt be able to complain about performance now. The 3.5 ran the quarter mile in 17.5 sec., recorded a speed of 115 mph through the "traps" and accelerated to 80 mph in 22 sec.

On the open road the car just naturaly rolled along at an effortless 80 mph. And there was power on tap for bursts up to 90 and 100. We canīt say that the car was drawing-room quiet at these speeds, but it was still easy to converse and listen to the radio.

Fuel consumption worked out at 19.8 mpg, for some pretty rapid mileage.

The Rover Three Thousand Five sells for $5945, and at that price is, we think, very good buying. It has the mechanical sophistication of Mercedes, Detroit performance, and British comfort and quality. It is a rare combination of pukka and pizzazz. We like it - a lot.

Modern Motor / Australia 1969