Rover 3500 S

A very fast tourer with great refinement

The Rover 3500 was formerly only available with automatic transmission, which is still in demand by town-dwellers and the less energetic drivers. However, those of us who have enjoyed the Rover-powered Morgan are aware how much more vivid the light-alloy V8 becomes when coupled to a manual gearbox. I made so bolt as to suggest, in an AUTOSPORT road test, that the Rover 3500 would be a very fast car if the torque converter and epicyclic box were deleted. Now, in the 3500 S, we have manual Rover V8 at last, with an ever greater increase in speed than I had anticipated.

To design and build a new gearbox from scratch is an appallingly costly undertaking. Rovers have therefore redesigned the existing box of the 2000 to take the considerably greater torque of the bigger engine. A more rigid casing, finned for cooling and with larger oil capacity, carries really hefty taper roller bearings for the layshaft. The most important improvement, however, is the addition of an oil pump for full pressure lubrication. Rover have learnt about gearboxes the hard way, for they had a lot of grief in the early days of the 2000 through underestimating the destructive capacity of their customers. A big 9 1/2-in clutch ensures long-wearing qualities and a rugged 4-star differential can cope for years with the shock-loading of the traffic lights grand prix.

The rest of the car is almost unchanged, though the instrument panel is greatly improved with proper round dials. The body consists of a steel base unit with detachable bolt-on panels. The front suspension is unconventional, having leading links in the form of bellcranks in place of upper wishbones, the coil springs being horizontal; presumably the object is to feed the load into the bulkheld structure.

At the rear, the de Dion tube is teleskopic to permit the use of fixed-length driveshafts which locate the wheels laterally. As the axle is therefore broken torsionally, it is quite permissible to use Wattīs linkage at each end, a type of geometry which should never be employed with a one-piece axle beam, though cynical designers have got away with it by using quantities of rubber. The de Dion axle has the virtue of keeping the wheels upright while eliminating the many vices of the live axle. Compared with popular forms of indipendent rear suspension, however, it does steal a lot of space from the luggage boot and rear passengers.

Though looking a bit slab-sided nowadays, the Rover still has considerable individuality. There is an air of quality about it and the interior treatment is attractive. Some details earn very high marks, such as the air slots in the facia, which convey cool breathing air without making the driverīs hand cold on the way; the booster fan is quiet, too. A modern version of the old reserve petrol tap is something for which the owner may give heartfelt thanks one cold, wet night.

The seats are comfortable and a tall driver has a good all-round view, but there is a buldge in the top of the bonnet which restricts the vision of a shorter person towards the all-important left-front corner. There is excellent interior lighting, including a good map light. The rear seating is curiously restricted for a car of this size, there being less effective space than in the new generation of small cars, such as the Fiat 127 and Renault 5.

Like the rest of the car, the engine has an air of quality and remains smooth throughout its range. The extra space beneath the floor, vacated by the automatic transmission, gives room for an exhaust system with easier contours and greater diameter, which give a small but useful power increase. Without the losses in the automatic box, the maximum speed goes up from 115 mph to 123 mph, with a whole second saved in the standing quarter-mile. Perhaps the most appreciated feature is the splendid third gear, which can be used continuously on winding roads and has a maximum in the region of 90 mph. The 3500 S is one of Britainīs fastest 4-door saloons.

Under normal conditions the car handles well, understeering until really pressed. It gives a great feeling of confidence to all of the occupants and sticks down well over bumps. Driven in almost racing fashion it is less happy, rolling rather a lot and not having particularly high cornering power. Such driving would be quite outside the range of most owners, who will find the handling and roadholding first class. The brakes have a considerable task for the car is far from light, but they are smooth, immensely powerful, and stand up well to hard work.

The ride is an excellent compromise, being very comfortable without feeling too soft. The sound of the engine is never obtrusive and the gearbox, though humming audibly on the three lower gears, is only heard because the engine is quiet. There are road surfaces which provoke tyre noise, but in general these sounds are well subdued and the wind noise is very slight.

Power-assisted steering is an extra and this is worth having, as the standard car is not light to park. For country use and high speed driving, one would not miss the power assistance, but when my lady goes shopping it makes all the difference. All the controls are light to handle except the clutch pedal, which can be tiring to hold down when the rush hour traffic is at its worst. There is a new remote control gearchange, mounted directly on the box, which has a pleasant and easy action.

In everyday driving, the surge of power from the efficient 8-cylinder engine is most welcome, second and third gears giving fierce and rapid acceleration for safe overtaking. The reasonable overall dimensions are appreciated all the time in the ever-worsening traffic situation of today. Excellent lights make night driving pleasant, while the heating and ventilation add to the comfort of the journey.

The Rover 3500 S is a very fast touring car of great refinement. It has all the qualities which one expects from this make and there is nothing sports or GT about it. Easily capable of exceeding 120 mph, it is perhaps at its best over long distances at high cruising speeds, with always plenty of power in reserve. It may be 65 years since Rover won a major race, but the old firm still know a lot about unobtrusive high performance.

AUTOSPORT / UK June 1972