Rover 3500 S

Having waited to try the manual-gearbox version of Peter Wilksī high-performance Rover V8 since it was introduced at the London Motor Show last October, I went through much the same phases as the boy on the Fryīs chocolate label, who was there when I was a youngster and who is still there today - those of DESPERATION, PACIFICATION, EXPECTATION, ACCLAMATION and REALISATION - ITīS A ROVER.

After five years of excellent service from the Editorial 2000 TC, during which I became a considerably enthusiast for these cars, the acclamation when the 3500 S eventually arrived at the MOTOR SPORT offices was tempered by a degree of disappointment. To me Rover implies dignity and the garish trims on the V8īs bolt-on wheels, intended to make them resemble "boy-racer" magnesium-alloy ones, the trim-line along the body sides, the too-obvious type-badges and ROVER name on body and boot, the substitution of pleated Ambla upholstery for hide (which is available as an extra) and the grained plastic stuck on the steel roof did not seem in keeping with the best Solihull tradition. The last-named is permissible for distinguishing from the common run of little saloons the middle-class models, but a Rover should not require such embellishment. The plated Smiths Radiomobile radio is larger than the one in the 2000 TC and the new nest-of-boxes radiator grille is not altogether acceptable.

There was also the realisation of the obvious, namely that the almost unchanged body shell (now vented through the rear quarters) means that this 120-plus mph 3 1/2-litre saloon will accommodate only four people with elbows-in and legs (for those in the back seat) drawn up and very little luggage in a small boot which is now occupied by the Exide Supreme battery as well as the spare wheel, both covered over, but the latter lying unsecured on the boot floor, horizontally, on the test car. (It can, I know, be mounted on the lid of the boot but this is untidy and in the long run cannot, I imagine, do the lid much good). The bonnet panel now has two unacceptable "power bulges" on it, seemingly to accommodate the cam-covers of the push-rod o.h.v. vee engine but in fact are merely stiffeners, as the underface of the panel is flat; these were not deemed necessary on the four-cylinder cars. The driverīs door tended to try to jump open, perhaps due to a Pyrene fire-exstinguisher on the floor sill.

The dated body design entails front quarter windows, these now being closed by knurled knobs instead of rather undurable catches, which would be an improvement if the new curved door-grips, below which the press-up internal handles are placed, did not impede the hand that seaks to turn the knobs. The compact interior of the body renders door pockets out of the question, so the lockable knee-level bins, the lids of which act as safety pads, are retained, and I have no grumbles about that. The sill internal door locks stick up higher than those on the 2000 TC and the instrumentation has been changed, to eliminate the old ribbon speedometer, which I had come to accept. There is now a set of rather flat-faced but very clearly and finely-calibrated instruments with white digits before the driver, under a common sheer of plastic, consisting of ammeter/oil gauge (40lb./, tachometer, 140-mph speedometer, and fuel/temperature gauge (750C), and the Kienzle clock is retained. Next oblong windows in this intrument panel house the brake-on/low fluid level, oil, high-beam, ignition, choke ready to go off (a nice Rover refinement), and turn-indicator warning lights, and a hazard-warning has been added. All very neat, but the vanity mirrors have been deleted from the vizors. At last, however, that dangerous "vanishing" rear-view mirror has been replaced by a normal one, with neat lever-movement for the anti-dazzle setting.

The minor controls have been revised, neat rotary facia switches, very clearly labelled, for map and roof lamps, side and headlamps-cum-parking and fog lamps (if fitted) and wipers-cum-washers, replacing the old toggle switches. The two-speed wipers have a delay setting and the former heater controls, easy to understand, are still used, as are a manual choke and fuel reserve. However, the layout and appearance of minor controls and instruments is somewhat retrograde, and the change cannot be on safety grounds alone, because flesh-tearing protrusions still exist. Indeed, in all other respects the Rover 3500 S is like the older models, even to openable side rear windows, adjustable steering column rake, stalk controls (dip and flash, l.h., turn-indicators and horn, r.h.), strip facia fresh-air vents, visible sidelamp tell-tales, well-placed ash-trays, pendant pedals with the accelerator rather biased to the o/s, rheostat facia lighting which shows up the aforementioned rotary switches, lockable quick-action fuel filler, quietly shutting boot, friction-lock seat-squab adjustment, accurate speedometer and mileometers, and all the other Rover commendables. Incidentally, an old Rover trait of having a clutch pedal return spring so placed that the toe of the driverīs left foot very occasionally fouls it is part of the 3500 S. More disturbing is the fact that whereas the 2000 TC was almost uncanny in its disinterest in engine oil, the 3500 S consumed lubricant at the rate of about 500 m.p.p. The dip-stick, after the bonnet has been propped open, is supremely easy to withdraw; the oil filler is on the opposite side of the engine, on the o/s rocker cover. There is now a steering lock, a baulk-type starter key with four positions replacing the former nicer 3-position key, and the over-facia shelf has that non-slip matting I was never able to obtain for the 2000 TC.

As to how this very fast and accelerative Rover V8 goes, when it was introduced over six months ago, opinions about it varied, some testers writing of wind noise, yaw and dead brakes, others of low wind noise, stable running and progressive braking etc. My impression was that the wander when driving in side winds was far worse in the V8 than in the 2000 TC, that there was some wind noise, and that the servo, all-disc brakes, typically Rover in feel, were not particularly convincing until used as if for a demonstration stop, when they gather power somewhat better.

The gearbox is that of the 2000 models, always a bit of an Anchillesī heel, but with a finned casing, increased oil capacity, a layshaft-driven pump to lubricate the mainshaft gears and bearings, tapered-roller in place of ball and needle-roller layshaft bearings, shot-peened gear teeth and a lever mounted on a casing extension instead of on the transmission tunnel. There is the same nice little stubby, short-travel lever, with its lift-up slide to mask reverse, but the action, though improved, is baulky, although quite nice if not hurried, and some crirics point out that the lower gears whine slightly on the over-run, as if to remind one that this overdue manual transmission is but a Wilksī adaptation to meet requirements as economically as possible - as is the engine, adapted from an ancient Buick/Oldsmobile light-alloy V8 concept. But the whine is not pronounced, so this is hair-splitting comment.

On the manual gearbox car slightly larger exhaust off-take pipes are possible and power output is up to a net 152 bhp at 5.000 rpm. The SU carburetters are of the more stable HIF6 type. There is no denying the impressiveness of the performance, for a top speed of over 122 mph, a 0-to-60 mph time of 9.2 sec, and a s.s. quarter-mile in 17.1 sec from a car costing Ģ2088.41 with extras as tested, is not to be scorned. Surprisingly, the 3500 S weight only 7 lb. (3 kg) less than the 3500, although the latter has a Borg Warner gearbox with oil-cooler, so the better performance of the manual-gearbox model is due to the slight improvement in power output. On the road, however, I felt no very great improvement over a 2000 TC until the lower gears were stirred about to keep the engine turning at over 4.000 to 4.500 rpm (it gets to the red at 5.200 rpm), when it remains very smooth but hums in a subdued fashion. The high exle-ratio of 3.08 to 1 (24 mph per 1.000 rpm) precludes quite the V8 top-gear crawl away from walking pace which might be expected, although the engine will pull from 500 rpm in the highest ratio and smooths out completely above 1.200 rpm, power beginning at about 36 mph, nor is there any "wuffle-wuffle" from the single exhaust tail-pipe.

This Rover 3500 S is a compact saloon of sporting demeanour, yet very quiet at high cruising speeds. The test car was on (14 in. x 5 1/2J) Dunlop SP Sport radial-ply tyres which gave good grip and did not protest under the sort of roll-around-fast-corners which the race-bred de Dion back-end encourages. The car I tried also had manual steering, low geared at just under four turns, lock-to-lock, plus a lot of sponge. It is heavy, and the understeer remains, changing to oversteer under power. But a quality car of this very competitive prize which could be wound up to 34, 57 and 88 mph in its indirect gears, returned 22.1 mpg (of five-star petrol due to a c.r. of 10.5 to 1 in the alloy heads), against 26 to 27 mpg from the 2000 TC, and ran more than 256 miles on a tankful of fuel before the 2 1/2-gallon reserve supply was required (and this supply took me 54 miles, whereas I never went more than 14 miles on the 2000 TCīs reserve supply) is a good proposition, in spite of the above-emphasised drawbacks. It still comes with a plastic holder containing a good manual, service folder, a reassuringly comprehensive list of Distributors and Dealers, and a sachet of Clearalex windscreen cleaner etc. Servicing intervals are every 6.000 miles; presumably the unusual front suspension will cause the front tyres to wear unevenly, as it did the Dunlops and Pirellis on our 2000 TC. The test car was in a nice shade of green and if I could have one with the old wheel nave plates, which had a suggestion of wire spoking about them instead of the bogus sporty ones of the 3500 S and some of the makerīs embellishments removed, I could be happy in this very fast V8 Rover if it did not yaw so much and had more convincing brakes. The yaw, like that of a small boat in a moderate sea, was sufficiently pronounced to make three people, including the driver, who are not normally car-sick, feel ill and one other to be actually sick. The V8 is a much faster car than the 2000 TC, but whether the yaw is due to the fact that it is driven harder, the suspension rates have been changed, or the weight distribution has altered, only the Rover engineers can know. The new Ambla seats with heavily ribbed cushions hold the driver like a vice but I would demand real leather.