Rover 3500 S

Manual box transforms Three-thousand-five

Introduced in the spring of 1968, the Rover "Three-thousand-five" has hitherto been available only in automatic form. While admirably suited to leisurely driving and city work, there is no denying that the associated torque convertor imposes significant penalties in terms of flatout performance. A favourable power-weight ratio helps to offset this, but there were many who longed for a manual option. To meet this demand, Rover have developed the 3500 S. The results surpass all expectations. In this guise, the Three-thousand-five is more than a match for its competitions, both British and foreign.

In essence, the 3500 S is a straightforward adaptation of the existing 3500. The gearbox, a development of that used in the 2000 and 2000 TC, has a strengthened and finned case. Oil capacity has been more than doubled and a pump, driven off the rear of the layshaft, provides positive lubrication for gears and bearings. Torque capacity is further enhanced by the use of taper-roller (instead of needle-roller) layshaft bearings. Gears are shot-peened to improve resistance to fatigue. Another refinement - one shared by current four-cylinder models - is a remote-control change mechanism integral with the gearbox cover.

Since the revised bell-housing calls for a new exhaust system, the opportunity has been taken to increase its bore and re-locate the junction of the down-pipes. The result is a reduced back-pressure and a slight gain in peak power. The 3500 automatic retains the earlier system!

In company with the automatic version, the 3500 S has SU carburettors of improved design. Designated HIF 6 (Horizontal Integral Float-chamber), these provide more stable carburation during conditions of hard acceleration, cornering and braking. Cold-starting is also said to be improved.

The only significant economy concerns upholstery. This is box-pleated Ambla, whereas the 3500 is upholstered in leather. The latter is, however, available at extra cost.

There is a number of detail changes, some applicable to the 3500 and other models. These will be dealt with under the appropriate heading.

Selling at Ģ1988.13 (including inertia-reel belts and purchase tax), the 3500 S undercuts the 3500 by Ģ81.24.


Thanks to the use of aluminium alloy for the block and heads, Roverīs vee-eight is deceptively light. As a result, the 3500 S scales a realistic 26.6 cwt - 1.2 cwt more than the 2000 TC tested earlier in the year. It is interesting to note that the 3500 tested last autumn weighed almost precisely the same, making performance comparisons particularly revealing.

The first thing that impresses is the engineīs eager response to the throttle. Relieved of the sobering influence of a torque converter, it has assumed a decidedly sporting character. Even so, it has lost none of its silky smoothness and delightful flexibility.

Performance amply fulfils this early promise. Top speed averaged 122 mph, with a staggering 125 mph coming up in the faster direction (just entering the red on the dead-accurate tachometer). The mileometer also proved spot-on, as did the speedometer over most of its range.

Acceleration is equally impressive. 60 mph coming up in only 9.1 sec. from rest. The standing quarter-mile is covered in 16.8 sec. with the "ton" coming up in comfortably under half-a-minute. Of equal importance is the engineīs excellent mid-range performance. As an example, 50-70 mph in top takes only 8.3 sec. - more than 4 sec. better than the 2000 TC and nearly 2 sec. ahead of the fastest model in the comparison group. Even more impressive is a 10-30 mph time of 10.1 sec. especially when remembering that the lower speed represents a mere 400 rpm! This it achieves without the slightest sign of distress.

Reverting to the modelīs high-speed capabilities, 100 mph represents an entirely realistic cruising speed. There is marked freedom from mechanical fuss, but wind noise is somewhat disappointing above the 80 mph mark.

Such performance has not been achieved at the expense of economy. Over the 1000-mile-plus test period, consumption averaged 20.1 mpg. Driving moderately, we had no difficulty in bettering the calculated (DIN) touring figure of 22.5 mpg. It is, however, necessary to use Super Premium (5-star) quality.

Tank capacity is a useful 15 gal. including a 2.5 gal. reserve which can be brought into play from within the car. This gives a potential range of over 300 miles. A locking filler cap is standard equipment, but we would like to see a larger-diameter neck.

Engine oil had to be replenished at the rate of a pint per 500 miles. The dipstick is very accessible, the oil filler cap a little less so (due to the proximity of a crankcase ventilator flame-trap).

Ride and handling

There have been no changes to the Three-thousand-fiveīs suspension. It provides a high degree of ride comfort, but is inclined to transmit a fair amount of tyre hum over rippled surfaces. There is also some hump-thumping, but not enough to cause concern. Overall, the degree of insulation is in keeping with the carīs air of refinement.

Adwest Variamatic power steering (an optional extra) was fitted to the test car. With it goes a smaler-diameter (16 in.) leather-rimmed wheel. The design features moderately low gearing around straight-ahead with a progressive decrease in velocity ratio towards locks. This avoids undue sensitivity to small steering movements without sacrifice of overall response. It works very well, but the hydraulics are inclined to be a trifle noisy.

Although the Rover rolls appreciably when cornered hard, the Dunlop SP Sport tyres hang on in most impressive fashion. Straight-line traction is also excellent, but over-exuberance on tight corners soon has the inside rear wheel spinning furiously. With this amount of power on tap, a limited-slip differential could be a worthwhile proposition.

Up to a point, the harder the car is pushed, the more it understeers. Beyond this point, roll effects cause a progressive reversal of this situation. Ultimately, the tail slides out in a gentle and controllable manner.

Straight-line behaviour has met with a certain amount of criticism in the past. True, there is a trace of yaw at times, but never enough to cause concern. A relaxed hold on the wheel helps, since any attempt to "fight" the car aggravates the condition.

Transmission and Brakes

The hydraulic clutch-actuating mechanism, with its vertically-disposed master cylinder, suggests that the designerīs hands were tied to a large extent. This may well be the reason for the pedal return spring fouling the driverīs toe at times. Release effort, at 44 lb, is high by modern standards, but the set-up feels mechanically efficient. Although total travel is more than 6 in, the unit "clears" quite early on. This makes gear-changing less of a chore than the figures suggest.

The clutch itself, a 9.5 in. diaphragm-spring unit, coped admirably with the punishment meted out to it. Take-up is smooth and a 1-in-3 restart is treated with contemtous ease.

We have already described the gearbox in some detail. The ratios - identical with those of the smaller box - are well-suited to the Three-thousand-five. Lever movements are crisp and short, especially across the gate. The change is less notchy than on earlier models (2000 and 2000 TC) but still baulks if really hurried. Nevertheless, most owners will find it very much to their taste. Our only real criticism concers gear whine. This is present in all indirect ratios, but is particularly bad on overrun in first.

The same 3.08-to-1 final drive ratio is retained. This is spot-on from the performance viewpoint, the mean top speed virtually coinciding with peak power.

Girling disc brakes are employed on all four wheels. Rover rely on a single hydraulic system with remote acting vacuum assistance. A valuable safety feature is a facia-mounted lamp to warn of low fluid or worn pads. It also serves as a handbrake tell-tale.

The brakes on the test car felt abnormally dead during gentle check braking. A glance at the response figures explains why; an effort of 20 lb produces a deceleration of less than 0.1 g. Behaviour is quite normal at higher pedal efforts. 40 lb sufficing for all normal needs and 60 lb resulting in 1.0 g.

Although spongy to the extent of reaching full travel if applied in determined fashion, the handbrake proved deceptively effective. It easily held the car on MIRAīs 1-in-3 test hill and achieved a deceleration of 0.34 g.

Fade is never a problem, no matter how hard the car is driven. On the contrary, our fade-test results show a progressive build-up in efficiency with rising temperature. This did, however, result in a considerable amount of wirebrushing which persisted for a considerable time afterwards.

Comfort and Convenience

Mention has already been made of the revised seating. Opinions differ concerning the eye-appeal of the box-pleated Ambla, but we thought the seats very comfortable and feel that lateral support is considerably improved. There is ample fore-and-aft adjustment, with an easy-to-find rail for the slide release. The excellent friction-lock rake adjustment is also retained. Because of its smaller diameter, the rim of the steering wheel tends to obscure minor instruments (ammeter and fuel) unless the rake adjustment is at its highest setting. Perhaps we are being hyper-critical, for the instrument and control layout is among the best we have sampled. We particularly like the illuminated rotary switches for lights and wipers, and the useful non-skid oddments shelf. In addition, there are two generously-proportioned glove lockers.

The wiper-pattern is adequate, rather than good, but there is a useful differential between the two speeds, together with a variable pause facility.

The Lucas four-headlamp system has been improved, the inner units now having a rating of 75 watts. They give excellent illumination, comparable with that obtained from some tungsten-halogen set-ups. In line with normal Rover practice, the main lighting switch has a parking and foglight position. Incidentally, the wiring for the latter is already in place.

Rover heating and ventilation is among the best around. The controls are logical and easy to operate. Distribution is excellent and the face-level vents are ideally placed. The two-speed blower is unobstrusive and boosts the flow through the cold-air vents. The only thing we are not convinced about is the effectiveness of the extractor vents, which are concealed in the rear pillars; opening a rear quarter window does seem to result in appreciably brisker flow.

Prospective 3500 S buyers will already be familiar with the limitation of the boot. Although deep and not cursed with an awkward sill, it is rather narrow. There is a conversion enabling the spare wheel to be mounted atop the lid, but this is an awkward and unsightly solution.

A point often criticized on Rovers is the traditional convex rear view mirror. One of our staff broke that on the test car - entirely by accident, we hasten to add! A flat, clip-on-type was subsequently fitted. As a result of our experience with this, we are more than ever convinced that Rover should scrap the existing pattern. While on a critical note, we also think that child-proof devices should be incorporated in the rear locks. We also fail to see the necessity for three separate keys. On the credit side, that for the ignition and steering is now of the double-entry variety.

The 3500 S is soundly constructed and beautifully finished. Door closure is excellent and window regulators particularly light and smooth. All four doors have courtesy switches. A warning lamp glows if the engine reaches working temperature with the choke out. There is a map-reading lamp as standard. We could go on, but is has all been said before. We can best sum it up by saying that we cannot think of a single car we would prefer at the price.

0-60 mph 9.1 sec.

top speed 122 mph

fuel consumption overall 20.1 mpg


Autocar / UK 21.10.1971