Rover 3500 V8

Safety Express

Our prophet says: "The safest car in a crash is the one that avoids it with preventive safety design." - "The safest car in the world." After a full 1200 miles test, we found plenty of high points in the carīs performance specifications - weīve left the crash testing to the experts.

Ask most prople what they know about Rover and theyīll tell you itīs the safest car in the world to have a crash in. Rover achieved its safety message with a massive world-wide advertising campaign on the 2000 sedan - but much of the potential market is still unaware of the carīs real qualities.

The Rover 2000 derivatives are actually a fine range of luxurious, fast, safe, well-equipped executive expresses built to operate at minimum economy levels for their size and specification, and priced competitively in their market area.

The ultimate version is the Three Thousand Five V8 sedan - and it is almost 18 months since we tested the first version of this thoroughbred. Since then the car has been improved and its local distribution has finally gone to British Leyland folllowing the Rover merger in 1967.

Even as we road tested this car, we realised it was being "obsoleted" - only slightly, and by a new facelifted Rover 3,5 just released in Britain. Significanly, almost every point of criticism we noted on this car has been improved in the new one. But with world demand for the car, Australia is not likely to see the 71 Rover until after mid-year. When it comes, it will be New Zealand assembled - part of the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which we will reciprocate with Austins and Morrises.

Starting at basics, the Rover Three Thousand Five is a marvellous combination of effort from English and American design studios. The US influence is under the bonnet - and Rover still doesnīt play-up the American origins of the small-bore all-aluminium V8 that gives it the spunk to compete with the monsters of the trans-Atlantic market.

Rover inherited the alloy mill when Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac minions realised its amateur design team had come up with a powerplant that didnīt easily adapt to volume production techniques. It has had considerable refinement since then, plus some British equipment - and the SU carburettors replacing the traditional Yankee quadrajet are the most immediately obvious.

Rover engineers produced a "large" shoehorn und prised the lightweight alloy engine between the font flanks of its 2000 sedan, noting on the way that there was no longer sufficient room for a power steering booster. They commented that the base car needed no structural or mechanical modifications to accommodate a vast boost in power and performance.

To Rover engineers, familiar with the almost hand-crafted assembly of their favorite toys, this may not seem surprising, but it is an almost unique feat in automotive shoe-horning history.

The Three Thousand Five has retained the excellent handling qualities of the 2000 although the initial understeer handling habits of that car have been somewhat accentuated. With correct tyre pressures, the Rover can be aimed at a tight corner until understeer develops right up to full front end plough. Providing youīve passed the apex and have room to grab some lock with the large 17 in. steering wheel, you can change to oversteer by abandoning the throttle. Pushed to its limits, the car simply plough-understeers, but you have to be going ridiculously quickly for a car that is supposed to be a dignified sporting carriage.

In any case, I had to go to the test track to experience such sensations (although these handling traits can be developed on wet or dirt roads). Normal motoring even on fast open road sweepers wonīt shake the car from its neutral attitudes with a tendency to gentle nose-heaviness when committing the car to line. Due to the slow-reaction of the large-diameter wheel and some lost motion near top dead centre, I also found the car could be caught out of balance in open-road esses. The result was rather excessive body lean, and a "lurch" when changing locks.

The Rover still sets record point-to-point times on our test courses, and it proved the most comfortable riding car weīve yet punted to the snow country. For ride excellence it probably falls short only of the Jaguar XJ6 - and that is a big compliment.

Somehow, Rover engineers managed to blend handling and ride to keep individual proponents of both facets quite contented. The car is shod with Avon radials - tenacious in the wet, progressive and sensitive on dirt, and almost unbreakable with hard driving on dry bitumen. And they ride beautifully, too, though Rover fits only one type and tunes its suspension accordingly. Wear rates vary with the individual - from average with the sporting motorist to exceptional for the retired company director.

Itīs all done with Roverīs well-developed 2000-type suspension. Thereīs nothing special about double wishbones, but Rover engineers laid the coils over horizontally to take the weight through the kingpins, give more spring travel, and reduce unsprung weight. Líke the Jaguar XJ6, the Roverīs front suspension incorporates anti-dive geometry for braking - by inclining the top wishbone. An anti-roll bar is fitted.

Roverīs De Dion rear tube axle is almost a trade-mark. This uses fixed differential with double-universal half-shaft drives to the rear wheels, but the De Dion tube behind the differential acts virtually as a live axle. Two extended trailing arms locate the entire unit and coaxial coil/damper units provide the ride. Rear radius rods cut fore-and-aft movement.

We couldnīt tramp the Roverīs rear end with hard acceleration on corrugated dirt, although a slight spline looseness produced a definite click when moving from first to reverse for parking manoeuvres.

Take-up through the Borg Warner-adapted auto-transmission is otherwise smooth. Rover modified the normal Type 35 system to allow the intermediate gears to be held-in. This raised the change points from 44 mph and 70 mph to 60 mph and 88 mph - giving a magnificent manual hold range on the gearbox for cornering and braking. Acceleration, as with most auto gearboxes, is still at its maximum using drive and letting the box shift at the engineīs peak.

And the engine is smooth and quiet. A high compression ratio (10.5 to 1) demands 100 octane fuel and the engine protests if you get a sour load from a little-used depot, but you canīt fault its performance otherwise. It pulls the car strongly with excellent high-speed acceleration that makes it safe for highway overtaking and high speed handling. Its 184 bhp has to tug only 25 cwt which means you canīt beat 17 seconds for the quarter, but youīll get 115 mph on the top end - 100 mph all day - and the aerodynamic wedge body pushes so little air that a gallon goes around 20 mpg. My worst on test was 18.8 mpg - the best was 24 mpg. A 15 gallon tank gives a good range - even at worst consumption level.

Rover made one mechanical concession to the V8 in production - beefier brakes. Its engineers point out this wasnīt necessary to keep the car well ahead of general world braking standards, but they were anxious to ensure the 3.5 matched the 2000īs stopping performance, despite the extra weight and power. There are four-wheel discs - inboard at the rear to reduce unsprung weight.

Thatīs part of the safety scene. Rover has made much of its separate skin system, isolated reinforced cockpit cocoon, progressive crumple rate end sections and meccano-style, build-up panels. Mercedes surreptitiously suggests in its safety literatur that Rover swiped its world patent on progressive crumple rate panels, but I wonīt buy into that argument. The car has proven crash-safety qualities and many additional features.

Comfort and general driving ease must play a big part in safety, but other cockpit fittings are more obvious - generous crash-padding, protected knobs, switches, recessed levers and handles, simple precise instrumentation, ideal auxilliary controls (headlight flashers etc.) and a marvellous ventilation system.

After more than 1200 miles and one of the most comprehensive tests to date, I noted a number of items and areas for improvement. They covered: seat comfort - poor contour, bad padding, lack of lateral support; steering lock and intermittent windscreen washer/wiper; exterior style changes to grille badgework and rear reflectors.

Rover has changed or fitted all these points to its just-released 1971 car. Style-wise itīs switched the TT5 to a new black-out grille, with matching black rocker side panels and leather-covered pillars. The wheel trims are also new. The entire dash set-up has been re-arranged with circular dials and more auxiliary instrumentation. The switchgear has been revised and the intermittent washers have been fitted. Besides the anti-theft column lock, Rover has also built-in turn-knob quarter vents.

Power steering (Adwest system) is optional with a smaller-diameter steering wheel. Mechanically, the battery has been moved to the boot, and an alternator replaces the generator. There are detail changes to handles, winders and fittings.

I can think of only three other small points of criticism on this fine motor car - the radio volume control is mounted on the wrong side, the wind noise is excessive at high speed, and the big bonnet lid needs something better than an awkward manual stay.

There are some small details, too - no lights in the gloveboxes, blind spots from the windscreen wipers, lack of fresh-air volume at low speed from the ventilators and a complicated key system.

You can live with all of them, and quickly grow to love the Rover. Itīs imperfections are small, and its compensations in comfortable, efficient, fast, smooth and economical motoring are considerable. And you can still crash it safer than almost anything elase!

Wheels / Australia 1/1971