Rover 3500 V8

extract of comparison test

 with Ford Granada 3.0 GXL, Opel Commodore 2.8 GS, Toyota Crown and Vauxhall Ventora

Not so long ago a £2500 car would have been out of the reach of all but the better-off section of the community. But now that we are told the national average wage is £40 a week, one of these cars costs little more than a year´s wages. With the traditional helpfulness of the hire purchase companies a £2500 car can be yours in 38 painless instalments. Naturally, factors like insurance, fuel costs, repairs and maintenance must come into the decision but one of the semi-luxury cars in this group test is by no means outside the reach of the man in the street. It no longer causes raised eyebrows to see blue collar workers arriving at the factory or building size in an XJ6 or Mercedes 220. Money squeezes and fuel shortages not-withstanding people seem prepared to indulge their fancies whatever the cost. The bulging order books for quality cars indicates only too well that there are plenty of people waiting to join the serried ranks of the Jones.


The cars in this comparison test are, with one exeption, luxury versions of cheaper models in the range. The exception is the Toyota Crown which is a separate model from the remainder of the Toyota range. The Rover 3500 is, of course, basically the Rover 2000 fitted with a 3 1/2-litre V8 engine, the Ford Granada is bodily the same as the cheaper Consul models but fitted with a 3-litre V6 engine instead of the V4 and 2.5-litre V6, the Vauxhall Ventora has a bigger engine than the Victor models lower down the line and the Opel Commodore is bodily similar to the Opel Rekord which is sold with much smaller engines.


This is of course a potential weakness of any improved version of a cheaper car, for a good many people do not like having a £2500 car sitting in their driveway when a man two doors away has an identical looking car which cost maybe £800 less. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who recognise the special attributes of the ameliorated versions of fairly mundane saloons.


Rover 3500

Technically the Rover 3500 is the most interesting of our five-car group. When it was first announced as the Rover 2000 in 1963, the car was a real technical advance on the majority of other British cars. Even today, although other cars have cut down the leeway, it is still an outstanding car. The chassis/body unit is unique in that a large number of body panels are bolted on so that repairs are easier to undertake than on most other unitary chassis.


The suspension, too, is unusual: the coil springs of the front suspension are mounted horizontally, acting against the front bulkhead, the loads being fed into the springs via a complicated series of links. The aim of this system is to feed suspension loads into the very strong bulkhead.


The rear suspension is by a de Dion axle which allows the wheels to remain vertical without suffering the severe camber changes of some independent suspension systems.


The 3500 is powered by the all-aluminium V8 engine which Rover devised from the American Buick V8. When originally announced the 3528 cc engine gave 160 bhp but the demands of pollution regulations have gradually reduced this and at the time of the London Motor Show the engine was fitted with new pistons in order to reduce the compression ratio to 9.25:1 from 10:1. This reduced maximum power to 143 bhp, allowing the engine to operate on lower octane lead-free fuel which reduces emissions. The 3500 drives through a Borg Warner three-speed gearbox, the type 65 model having been adopted for 1974; this is claimed to offer smoother gear changes. The Rover 3500 S model uses a four-speed manual gearbox.


Our test car was fitted with the optional Dunlop Denovo fail-safe tyres; these tyres have the capability of being able to run for up to 100 miles at 50 mph in the deflated condition before repairs are made. These tyres are only available if the optional power steering is also specified as the steering effort would be too great with the manual steering. The Minister for Transport Industries has recently changed the law on tyres to cover the Denovo as it was previously illegal to drive on a flat or partially flat tyre.


The price of the Rover 3500 without extras is £2531.


The Rover, which has the largest engine of the group, is the second fastest. It accelerates to 60 mph in 11.1 sec and to 80 mph in 19.2 sec with the standing quarter mile coming up in 17.2 sec - slightly faster than the Opel. The Rover´s engine is considerably noisier than that of the Opel - but noise suppressiom is a perennial problem with aluminium engines. At peak revs the engine sounds quite harsh and slightly rough but it too has hydraulic tappets to prevent over-revving. Lower down the rev range the Rover V8 is impressively smooth and if the gearbox is left to its own devices, upward changes are made at 4500 rpm, at which engine speed the car just whispers along. Upward changes occur at 35 and 68 mph but if the gears are held manually, these increase to 47 and 78 mph respectively. Top speed has reduced slightly from that of the previous model due to the drop in power but the car is still good for 111 mph. The Borg Warner type 65 gearbox is a distinct improvement on the type 35 as upward changes are extremely smooth, but the kickdown changes are more jerky than on the GM unit. There is some gear whine in low gear but generally the box is quiet.


To sum up the performance characteristics of the cars, the Opel and the Rover are by far the most eager, the Opel is particular being crisp and sporty in feel. These two cars could fairly claim to be sports saloons, whereas the other three are less accelerative and more stately in their progress.


None of the cars is very economical for they all have to be driven slowly to exceed 20 mpg. Our overall consumption figures naturally reflect a higher degree of hard usage than most people would require. The Rover used the most petrol, giving 17.5 mpg, with the Opel and Granada close behind at 18. The Toyota (19 mpg) was little better and the Vauxhall was best at 21 mpg. Although private owners ought to get over 20 mph they will certainly not exceed it by much unless they creep around at under 60 mph and use the throttle sparingly. All the cars require four-star 98 octane fuel. The Commodore has a 15.3 gallon fuel tank, the Granada 13.6, the Toyota 15.4, the Rover 15 and the Ventora 14.25 gallons. This gives the Granada a fairly modest cruising range for a large family car of under 250 miles.


Nothing startling can normally be expected from large cars weighing 1.5 tons but the Opel and the Rover are quite outstanding in their handling for cars of this size and weight, although they both achieve their handling by different methods.


The Rover rolls more than the Opel, but it too can be whipped through bends very rapidly and is not at all upset by bumps as the supple suspension absorbs it all without protest. The Rover has the added advantage for the skilled driver that the power can be used to break the rear wheels loose on bends to turn the natural understeering tendency into oversteer. The Dunlop Denovo tyres behave in exactly the same way as any other radial ply tyre although they seemed to squeal without much provocation. The driver is at least safe in the knowledge that should a tyre deflate while he is oversteering round a bend he ought to be able to retain control.


All the cars have power steering, which tends to remove the natural feel of the road. Most keen drivers resent this as they can feel from the messages passed back through the steering wheel what the car is doing. With a power steering system the driver is invariably aware when the car has done it and it´s too late to make appropriate corrections. However, without power steering all of these heavy cars would be almost impossible to drive.


Although the Rover has a fairly poor 4 1/2 turns lock to lock its steering retains a good deal of feel, which results in some heaviness at parking speeds and a tendency for the wheel to self-centre when cornering hard. This became a little tiring after a while.


The brakes of all the cars work very well under heavy braking although the Toyota´s began to fade under repeated stops, then to grab, and the car would slew to a stop at an undignified angle. The others stopped all square with no problems at all. The handbrakes all held easily on a 1 in 3 test hill.


All the five test cars are four-door saloons with excellent seating. The Toyota, Ventora, Granada and Opel all offer very similar accommodation, allowing room for two on the separate front seats and three at a pinch on the rear bench. The odd car out is the Rover which is really designed as a four-seater, for the rear bench is sculptured into a shape which leaves little doubt that only two are to be accommodated. Leg room in the rear of the Rover is also at a premium if the driver is to be at all comfortable. It does compensate for this in having the most sumptuous seating of the group. The cushions are deep and well shaped and the reclining backrests of the front seats have ample side bolsters to give good lateral location. The rear seats, too, are well shaped to give occupants good support. The standard material for seats is brushed nylon but leather is an option and head restraints for all four seats are another option.


All five cars are comfortable to ride in, but they each have their own character. For those who like a soft, well damped ride which will cope well with bumps, the Granada is undoubtedly best, but it will not corner as well as the Opel which has a firm - some might say hard - ride. It will become a bit skittish on bad bumps, but the ride smooths out as speed rises. The Rover has a fairly firm, but well damped ride which copes well with bumps yet gives a feeling of reassurance, allowing the driver to travel fast over poor surfaces.


The Rover and the Opel are equipped with almost ideal instrumentation and minor controls. The circular instruments of both cars are nicely laid out and completely legible while the fingertip column controls leave one in no doubt as to their function. The tastefully restrained interior layout of both cars gives the drivers and passengers a feeling that engineers who care have developed and driven these cars for many miles.




Again, no clear cut winner emerges from this group, although a couple stood above the others. The Opel appealed immediately to those of the test team who value sure-footed handling, a firm ride and good performance above all else. It was not so popular with those whose paunches take unkindly to the sharp vertical motions over bad bumps.


The Rover was admired because of its sheer quality, both in terms of engineering and interior layout. It fell down in our eyes on its relative lack of interior room and the high noise level from the engine, tyres and the wind. If not pressed hard, the engine was wonderfully smooth and powerful.


The Granada impressed as a roomy maid-of-work which would probably go on for years with no problems. Its combination of interior room and performance was liked by most drivers but the gaudy interior was not. If the badge had read Jaguar instead of Ford more people might have been impressed - such is snobbishness.


The Toyota Crown should have been impressive but even its vast array of equipment did not endear it to many of us. It seemed to be like a latter-day Eliza Doolottle attempting to crash into high society before it was quite ready. If the garishness and tinsel can be eliminated, the Crown could be a real threat.


The Ventora is under a handicap because it is a fair bit cheaper than the others and therefore cannot hope to have the same amount of equipment. But it impressed with its good if unexceptional standard of handling and steering and its interior room. It should be something elase with that rumoured V8 installed.


Probably, if we were feeling in a sporty mood when the cheque book was out, we would go for the Opel or the Rover, but if common sense prevailed, and the bank manager was looking over our shoulder, we would have to pick the Ford.


  Ford Opel Rover Toyota Vauxhall
0-60 mph 11.9 sec 9.4 sec 11.1 sec 12.5 sec 13.0 sec
top speed 109 mph 117 mph 112 mph 100 mph 101 mph
fuel consumption 18 mpg 18 mpg 17.5 mpg 19 mpg 21 mpg

What Car? / UK January 1974