Rover 3500 S

The first 16.000 miles (long term report)

For a number of drivers, automatic transmission is not the answer, and in spite of regular driving in city traffic they still prefer the extra control and positive drive of a manual gearbox and clutch, as well as the higher gearing which usually goes with it. This was a consideration which decided our Managing Director, Tim Gold Blyth, in favour of a Triumph 2.5 PI for his previous car; and when the Rover 3500 S was introduced in October 1971, with manual gearbox as standard equipment, this was chosen as the natural replacement for the Triumph. It was duly ordered, and the new car was delivered on L-registration day, 1st August 1972. To the total cost of 2.099, a heated rear window added 13, and power assisted steering 73, bringing the total to 2.176. The car has now completed some 16.000 miles in its first full year of operation and it is time to report.

It is a pleasure to record a year of thoroughly satisfactory motoring, in which although not pampered or given any abnormal treatment, the car has provided first class service. There has been a minimum of trouble and on the basis of this one we would have no hesitation in recommending the 3500 S to anyone as a thoroughly trouble-free and reliable car.

In comparison with the 3500 automatic, an earlier staff car on which we reported at 14.000 miles in August 1969, two faults are still present, but to a lesser degree. The first is vibration in the 80-95 mph speed range. This was very bad indeed on the previous car, to the extent that cruising speeds had to be either above or below this critical speed band, and on tackling the manufacturers about it, they fitted a new rear cross member and carried out extensive modifications to the rear suspension, alterations which were then offered to owners of other earlier 3500s. On the 3500 S we still experienced slight vibration, but in this case it extends over the speed range from 75-85 mph, and is not severe enough to prevent one from cruising within this speed range.

When we had the car for performance testing one of the rear tyres picked up a nail developing a slow puncture, and after this had been changed for the spare wheel it was noticed that the vibration was appreciably reduced, so it could be that rebalancing of all the wheels would cure it.

The other problem is that of brake "roar" during fairly firm braking from high speeds, again this is nowhere near as severe as it was on the previous car, when in fact we stopped and removed a wheel, expecting to find that the pads were worn through. The noise seems to be a characteristic of the suspension design, but it is not loud enough to be a nuisance on this later car, and the efficient braking and long pad life are commendable.

When the 3500 S was new, some trouble was experienced with sparking plugs fouling during prolonged exposure to heavy traffic. The original equipment Champion sparking plugs were replaced by AC plugs, which cured the problem, but at a later service these also were replaced by Champion plugs with a revised heat range and the trouble has not recurred. The engine is extremely prompt at starting, whether hot or cold, and it pulls strongly and without hesitation immediately after starting up in the morning. Some drivers reported that the choke warning light was not working; but of course this is temperature sensitive, and does not cut in until the engine has begun to warm up. It is not intended to be an indication of the time to push the mixture control in - it is purely a reminder for anyone who forgets to push the knob right home soon after starting from cold.

Performance comparison show that the engine is, as to be expected, right up to scratch, giving acceleration from rest through the gears to 100 mph in 29.4 sec, which is within 0.1 sec of the time set by the original test car.

Acceleration in the gears is fractionally quicker than the Road Test standard, and the slightly longer times taken through the gears are probably accounted for by the rather notchy gear change. A Rover engineer drove the car and commented that this gear change is below standard. Lever movement is positive - it is just that there is too much baulking as the lever moves into each gear. Synchromesh efficiency is still first class, and the splendid torrent of power available in each gear makes the 3500 S a really delightful car to drive. The gear ratios are well spaced, giving 34, 60 and 90 mph in the three indirect gears, although the V8 engine has the red line on the rev counter marked at the unusually low figure of 5.200 rpm.

In top gear, 4.000 rpm gives comfortably over 100 mph, and provides a high genuine cruising speed, at which the overall noise level is commendably low.

A little play has developed in the steering box, but there is provision for adjustment which would reduce this. The power assistance works well and does not give excessive response or spoil the sensitivity. The steering hisses noticeably when the mechanism is working hard. Directional stability is very good, and the car handles well - there is a lot of roll when corners are taken hard, but at least the driver feels in complete control, and if the tyres skid on wet roads it is the back end, which goes first, and the skid is easily checked.

After 9.000 miles has been covered, the recline adjustment of the driving seat became difficult to operate, and this was rectified at the routine service. A little later a broken indicator lens was replaced, a pair having to be fitted in order to obtain a match. Some minor body damage occurred in May this year, affecting the bonnet and two doors, but this was repaired and resprayed at a cost of 31.31. An advantage of the strong bright blue colour chosen for the 3500 S is that colour matching is easy.

A lot of the mileage has been covered in heavy traffic, which helps to reduce tyre wear, and at 16.000 miles the front tyres are still less than half worn. A lot of tread remains on the two rear tyres, although the wear rate has been approximately double that of the front ones, and the punctured tyre was found to have one or two cracks in the centre of the tread, so although it still had 4-mm of tread depth, it has been replaced, and the unused spare has been fitted on the other side. At the next service, these new tyres should be switched to the front wheels.

The battery is neatly stowed at the side of the boot, where it is away from engine heat, but it also tends to be overlooked, and certainly does not get attention as often as it might if mounted in the more usual position under the bonnet. On inspection we found a mushroom of corrosion "fungus" and after cleaning this away, it was found that the acid had eaten half way through the securing bolt.

Under the bonnet there are traces of an oil leak from above the oil filter block. Apparantly this has been present almost for the life of the car, and it has not been possible to cure it. Otherwise the engine has remained free from oil leaks, but is now due for a thorough clean to remove accumulated traffic and other grime.

Originally this car was fitted with a Philips mono cassette tape player and radio unit, and readers may remember that the car was used in our tape test day last year when we exposed a panel of judges to various cartridge and cassette tape players. This one was our secret check to see who could tell mono from stereo. Later this set was replaced with the Motorola 252 stereo cassette player and radio, and the results which this gives are really most impressive, and enough to determine anyone to buy a similar cassette unit for top quality stereo sound reproduction in a car. The speakers are fitted neatly in the doors, but the grille of one of them has been fouled by the window winder.

A few months ago the set developed a fault - it would still play cassettes but there was no radio reception - so it was removed for repair under warranty. The set was received back and fitted into the car on a Friday. The very same night, thieves broke in via the quarter vent, and stole the set, in the process cutting all wires, choke cable and so on, to remove it. The damage was repaired and the set replaced with a new one of exactly the same model. The point this does emphasize is that even with a rotary winding mechanism, quarter vents remain a weakness, enabling cars to be broken into easily, as well as being a source of wind noise.

Inside the car, the layout of facia and instruments with all the revisions introduced by Rover at the same time on other models, is very functional and neatly done, and the large clear instruments including kph markings on the speedometer are all very pleasing. Everything is still working perfectly with the exception of the map lamp, whose bulb has blown. The speedometer needle is steady, and is unusual in reading a fraction slow, 1 mph down all the way to 100 mph, and indicating 108 mph at a true 110 mph.

On the 3500 S the seats are upholstered in Ambla; leather is an extra now, except on the 3500 automatic. The seats remain comfortable and show little wear, but all of the trim could now do with cleaning with upholstery renovator. A small wear patch has developed on the carpet, just in front of the driving seat.

Rover fit as standard a tiny mirror of diminishing glass, which makes all following traffic seem much farther away than it really is. On this car, a conventional mirror has been fixed on top of it, and it is good to know that in the new model range this potentialy dangerous feature is at last abandoned throughout the range. The wipers, with their variable pause provision to cope with spray and intermittent light rain, are particularly appreciated.

As is often the case in cars with ample power available, the engine is so little stressed even in hard driving, that surprisingly good economy results. Our consumption figures have often been near 20 mpg, dropping to 16 mpg in London traffic. If the car is taken abroad, the need for 5-star fuel could prove an embarrassment. The old traditional Rover feature of a positive fuel reserve is appreciated, though it seems rather misleading that when the fuel gauge needle drops below the 1/4 mark, there are still 5 1/2 gallons left - quite a proportion of the 15.6 gallon contents when full.

In all respects this Rover 3500 S has come well up to expectations as a car which is a great pleasure to drive, has given no problems of unreliability or need for costly repairs, and had proved by no means expensive to run.

0-60 mph 8.9 sec

top speed 123 mph

overall fuel consumption 18.9 mpg

Autocar / UK October 1973