Rover 3500 S

In the 3 1/2 years since the Rover 3500 was first introduced many potential customers have marked it down as the car they would buy if only it had manual transmission. Roverīs answer to the appeals of these prospective customers - enthusiasts or merely those with a firm preference for diy gear selection - is the manual-gearbox 3500 S announced earlier this month. In addition to manual transmission the 3500 S differs from the automatic model in having a slightly more powerful engine which raises the maximum speed significantly and gives a small improvement in top-end acceleration. The new gearbox is an uprated version of the four-speed 2000 unit, quite pleasant to use, but rather too notchy to compare well with the slickest changes.

The 3500 S costs Ģ1977 - Ģ81 less than the automatic model - and at this price it is a real bargain. With a top speed in the region of 120 mph it offers an unrivalled combination of high performance with reasonable economy, good handling and roadholding, an excellent ride, refinement with much luxury and, perhaps most important of all, quality. Though quality is abstract, not easily verified from our short-duration tests, it was nevertheless the characteristic of the Rover with which we were most impressed and which we have every reason to believe is matched by an appropriate longevity and reliability.

On the debit side, most of this Roverīs faults were minor. The very low wind and engine noise levels, for example, reveal a rather higher level of road noise. And if four adults are being carried the relatively modest overall legroom has to be carefully shared between them. The boot is also rather small, though an attachment for increasing its capacity by mounting the spare wheel on its lid is available as an optional extra.

Performance and economy

The Rover engineers have taken advantage of the extra space made available through the replacement of an automatic gearbox with a smaller manual one by fitting large-diameter exhaust pipes from each bank of cylinders which meet just behind it instead of at the rear of the engine. In consequence back-pressure is reduced and maximum power slightly increased from 147 bhp to 152,5 bhp, both at 5000 rpm. Maximum torque has also been raised slightly from 201 lb ft at 2750 rpm to 203.5 lb ft at the same engine speed.

In conjuction with the reduced transmission losses the increased power makes this manual version of the 3500 quicker than the automatic, though the differences are rather academic and only apparent in the upper speed ranges, the 0-100 mph acceleration time for example, being 29.2 sec. compared to the 32.7 sec. taken by the ordinary 3500. But whereas the standard 3500 achieved a maximum speed of 117.0 mph, the mean of runs in opposite directions on a motorway, the 3500 S covered a flying lap of MIRAīs high-speed circuit at 119,0 mph, a speed at which there are considerable power losses through the tyres in the banked turns. So the true, motorway-measured maximum speed could be even higher than our fastest one-way quarter-mile speed of 121.5 mph. Either way, the 3500 S is a very quick car indeed, easily the quickest in its price class.

Cold starting was always reliable with the manual choke which is retained with the new annular-float HIF 6 SU carburetters, and the engine pulled without hesitation at once. The pull from very low speeds may prove an initial disappointment to those who are used to the automatic version, for the high gearing means that at 20 mph in top the engine is revolving at no more than 850 rpm at which it cannot be expected to develop much torque. But once in its stride at a little over 1000 rpm the engine whooshes this rather heavy car effortlessly forwards, successive 20 mph increments in top taking a little more than eight seconds each until the acceleration begins to tail off a little around 80 mph. Without the slight aural camouflage offered by the automatic transmission, the engine is revealed as being smooth, though not outstandingly so for a V8, but retains this smoothness through its official 5200 rpm rev-limit to the little more we used for our standing start acceleration tests. Similarly, it is notable for maintaining its exemplary quietness under all conditions by not raising its voice at high revs.

Another virtue of the 3500 S is reasonable economy in relation to its performance. As might be expected the 17.5 mpg overall and 21.3 mpg touring fuel consumptions recorded for our automatic 3500 were beaten by the S which achieved 19.3 mpg and 23.6 mpg respectively. Most owners will probably be able to better 20 mpg, giving a range of 300 miles or more from the 15-gallon tank.


The essential feature of the 3500 S is its new manual gearbox which is a strengthened version of the 2000 unit. Briefly, the modifications involved  include improved heat dissipation through a new finned casing increased in capacity by about two pints and containing an oil pump driven off the layshaft to give positive lubrication of the mainshaft gears and bearings. The casing has also been considerably strengthened to give more support to these bearings, and the needle roller and ball bearings of the layshaft have been replaced with the tapered roller sort which give better location and a large bearing area. But the gears themselves - though shot-peered for increased fatigue life - are essentially the same as in the 2000 and give the same internal ratios. In conjunction with with the 3.08:1 final drives - the same as for the 3500 automatic - these gearbox ratios work as well with the big V8 engine as they do with the 2000 unit, the maxima in the gears being 80 mph, 57 mph and 34 mph. Thus with nearly 90 mph on tap in third, few drivers are likely to complain about difficulty in overtaking. Similarly, first gear does not feel unduly low, yet allowed the car to romp away from a stand-still up the 1-in-3 slope, thanks also to the powerful bite of the new 90 in. diameter clutch. Smooth and progressive in action, this component coped equally well with the violence of our standing-start acceleration tests. Although its 32 lb. operating force is higher than is usual nowadays, no-one felt that it was too heavy.

Another feature of the new gearbox - to be shared with the ordinary 2000 - is the direct attachment of the gearlever to a gearbox extension rather than the transmission tunnel. Despite this, the change feels very similar to that of the old 2000, though perhaps a little more precise. It is a little heavy and ponderous in action with rather obstructive synchromesh which does not encourage snatched changes upwards or rapid changes downwards, especially from third to second. Smooth changes are easy, however, if the gearbox is not rushed.

Moderate whine was evident in the indirects, particularly third, and a little final drive whine was noticeable at high speeds in top.

Handling and brakes

Our test car was fitted with the new power assisted steering system - a useful option (costing Ģ88.75 extra) which takes most of the work out of the Roverīs basic understeer. Like most such systems this one gives little real feel of what is happening to the front tyres but offers enough resistance at the steering wheel rim for good driving comfort. Like many power steering systems, too, it is also variable in ratio - being most indirect about the straight-ahead position - but not enough to give an appreciable sensation of vagueness when motoring in a straight line. In fact 3.1 turns are needed to displace the front wheels from lock to lock, just over one turn to circumnavigate a 50 ft. circle. By comparison four turns and 1.2 turns are needed for the ordinary steering system which, incidentally - and this time like many manual steering systems - also varies in ratio, but in the opposite sense, becoming more indirect on lock. Greater directness, therefore, is an advantage of the new power-assisted system, as well as reduced load - which is as it should be, of course.

Feel or no feel, it was quite easy to detect when the front tyres were beginning to lose their grip, partly because the car is so well balanced, partly because the fat 185-14 Cinturatos fitted began to transmit a vibratory warning to the driver. Unusually in our experience, the wet-road adhesion of these tyres matched their excellent grip in the dry, suggesting that Pirelli have at last improved their rubber mix. However, with so much power available - and no automatic transmission to cushion it - skilled drivers will find it possible to balance any understeer in the wet with power-induced oversteer, especially as tail-end breakaway is so predictable and controllable. But for more ordinary purposes, such as a smart getaway from a T-junction, the deDion axle keeps the two rear wheels firmly glued to the ground.

In the dry the Rover corners well and its strong understeer is largely masked by the power steering. But there is a good deal of roll which builds up rapidly into a lurch and finally induces a change to a gentle oversteer. Our car felt completely stable at high speeds in a straight line, and lacked the slight wander that we have experienced in some previous examples of the 2000/3500 breed, although we found no side-winds to provoke it during the period of our test.

Although the servo-assisted all-disc braking system was unusually light, requiring a pedal force of only 50 lb. for a best deceleration of over 1 g., it was very progressive in action. The brakes also proved immune to a thorough soaking in the water splash as well as to our standard fade test, and survived the more exacting trial constituted by a few fast laps of MIRAīs triangular circuit with no increase in pedalforce, though smoke from the region of the front wheels and a strong smell of hot pads testified to their ordeal. The handbrake held the car securely on the 1-in-3 slope and gave a good 0.36 g maximum deceleration on the flat.

Comfort and controls

Long-travel suspension and well-chosen spring rates give the 3500 a high standard of ride. Long-travel undulations are absorbed with smooth vertical movements completely free of pitch, though there is a trace of it over shorter humps and small irregularities are felt a little more. Most of our test staff thought that the ride comfort was fully matched by seat comfort, but as usual with the Rover 2000/3500 seats there were some dissenters. These found the cushion too short and too flat, and the backrest lacking in lumbar support and complained that the two faults combined to allow one to slide down in the seat. They did admit, however, that the tendency was now very small with the new box-pleated upholstery in ambla which is less slippery than leather, while everyone agreed on the excellence of the lateral support.

There was agreement, too, about the excellence of the driving position. With well-placed major controls - including the pedals which are well laid out for heeling and toeing - an adjustable steering column and a tremendous range of fore-and-aft movement in the reclining seat (a standard fitting) it could hardly be otherwise. But often this comfort is obtained at the expense of the passengers behind, for when the driverīs seat is in its rearmost position there is very little clearance between it and and the rear seat. Even when the front seats are near the forward end of their travel, legroom in the back is still rather modest for adults of above average height. The rear set itself is contoured to give comfort for two, and there is a pull-down centre armrest to give additional support.

By comparison with the best of its rivals the 3500 S also lags behind in the layout of its minor controls. Indicators, horn and headlamps are under the control of fingertip stalks (the right-hand one cranked upwards at about 20 deg to the horizontal for reasons not apparent to us) but the lights, wipers and washers - all of which may also be needed in a hurry - are controlled by rotary switches mounted in the centre of the facia. By moving the horn switch to the steering wheel all these facilities could be put under fingertip control using the existing stalks.

The Roverīs heating and ventilation system - first introduced with the 2000 in 1963 - still compares well with the best modern systems to be found in more recently introduced rivals. Its principal virtues are the two long fresh-air slots in the facia directly in front of the driver and front passenger - the best possible positions for the admission of cool air. The two levers governing the heater also give unusually fine control of temperature and warm air distribution. The main defect of the system in its latest form is the poor throughput of air without the booster fan, though this runs so quietly that the fault is not a serious one.

Even at high speeds the engine does not emit more than a discreet hum and wind noise does not rise above a faint hiss from the windows. On certain surfaces the level of road noise, too, is impressively low, but on others - usually coarse ones - there is noticeable tyre roar. There is also some radial ply thump on cats eyes and the like, generally muffled, but large surface discontinuities elicit crashing noises as if all the suspension compliance had been used up.

Though the front pillars are slim, the windscreen is low and forward visibility is a little reduced by the quarterlights. But the ingenious and most helpful front sidelights tell-tales do serve as aiming marks when passing through small gaps. The thickish rear pillars and the small convex mirror which Rover insist on using do not help to give a good rearward view, and the tip of the boot is not visible from the driverīs seat. The four halogen lights give a tremendous blaze of light, but one which is poorly controlled and liable to dazzle on the dipped beam.

Fittings and furniture

A very full equipment specification contributes to the Roverīs air of quality and luxury. It begins with the attractive circular instruments fitted since last yearīs revision of the range to the 2000 TC as well as the 3500. These consist of a rev-counter with a matching speedometer - containing trip and total mileometers - flanked by two smaller dials: a combined ammeter and oil pressure gauge on the left and a combined fuel and temperature gauge on the right. These circular instruments, which take the place of the older-style rectangular nacelle still used on the 2000, are mostly easy to see, though the two outer dials are partially obscured by the thin wheel rim.

With typical Rover thoroughness the instrument lightning includes the marking of the switches which are mounted lower down in the centre of the facia. Similarly, a two-position interior lamp switch energizes first a maplight on the passengerīs side, then the normal roof-mounted interior light itself. Reversing lights and a boot light are a standard fitting, as are hazard warning flashers and a cigarette lighter, while the main lights switch can be set to a parking position in which the offside sidelights alone are illuminated. But the heated rear window is an optional extra (costing Ģ14.06) and there is no bonnet light, nor are the famous "shin-bins" illuminated, though the one on the passengerīs side does receive some light from the back of the instrument panel.

These bottom-hinged, fold-down bins under the facia provide most of the oddments space, the driverīs bin being smaller than the passengerīs but usefully compartmented. Above is a small parcel shelf and there is another parcel behind the rear seats, also rather small. There are no pockets in the doors, but the front ones now have armrests integrated with the handles. Stainless steel lidded ashtrays are set into the propshaft tunnel at front and rear.

Because the deDion tube has to be cranked rearwards to clear the final drive unit, the boot is rather short, and its already limited size is further restricted nby the presence of the spare wheel inside it. In consequence we could only get 9.3 cu.ft. of our suitcases into it, though more space can be found when the spare wheel is mounted on the boot lid; the necessary fitting costs Ģ15.99 extra.

Servicing and accessibility

Despite being crammed into an engine compartment originally intended for a small four-cylinder engine, most parts of the big V8 are quite accessable, particularly the carburetters, distributor, coil, brake reservoir. Although the alternator is also easy to get at, the power steering pump is buried at the bottom of the front of the engine.

Servicing involves some chassis lubrication and is required at 6000-mile intervals.

0-60 mph 9.3 sec.

top speed 119.0 mph

fuel consumption overall 19.3 mpg


Motor / UK 16.10.1971