Rover 3500 V8

Long Term Assessment / 14.000 miles

First registered at the end of May 1968, the month after the vee-8 3 1/2-litre-engine was offered  in the Rover P6 body, our 3500 has topped 14.000 miles. In its 15-month life so far it has proved entirely reliable and exceptionally trouble-free, giving us much less to report than is usual after this initial "breaking-in" spell of service.

Nearly 10.000 miles were covered without any attention or replacements at all, apart from two minor accident repairs - of which more later - and normal routine service at the recommended 5.000 mile intervals. This is a particularly good record since most of the mileage has been covered in London traffic.

Just short of 10.000 miles, at the third service, the front disc brake pads were replaced, a front door lock was replaced, and the engine was noticeably smoother after fitting new sparking plugs. Later on, at 11.000 miles, engine power fell off body and there was a loud tapping from the engine, diagnosed correctly as a sticking tappet. On this engine the tappets are hydraulically operated. The car war returned to the Rover service department for attention to this, and at the same time our maintenance unit asked for comment about a faint whine noticed from the transmission in neutral, at about 1000 rpm.

It was reported that this transmission whistle was caused by the front pump of the automatic transmission, for which a modification had been introduced. As it was seldom present while the car was on the move with Drive selected, it seemed reasonable to ignore this detail. The faulty tappet was replaced, restoring the normal exceptionally smooth and quiet engine performance.

An unobtrusive improvement introduced on the 3500 at last year´s Earls Court Show is the adoption of D,2,1 selector control positions for the Borg Warner 35 automatic, in place of the earlier and much more familiar D1,D2,L control. Our car, of course, has the earlier set-up, but we feel the later one is a valuable improvement. The main differences are that one can change down to low when needed, which is less easily done with the ordinary Lock-up selector, and that second gear can be held without a lock-up change to low at very low speeds. The D2 position on the old control (giving starts in intermediate) has always seemed rather pointless, and it obviously makes better sense for the driver to be able to choose which gear he wants if he decides to override the automatic transmission.

The sixth of the month seems to have been the Rover´s unlucky day, because on this date in August last year came the first minor accident, when an articulated lorry cut the lane at a junction where there was a filter light, and damaged the right side. The second mishap followed on the sixth of November when a Triumph Herald skidded on a wet and slippery road and collided with the back of the Rover. The driver was not to blame in either cases.

The first damage was all fixed at £40 including a new front bumper (£6), but the second accident was more substantial. Although the main damage was on the left rear corner, the engine was pushed forward on its mountings, and the huge curled-over fan blades hit the radiator and had to be bent back for clearance to enable the car to continue its journey. Labour alone was £46 on this occasion, and parts totalled about £30 including a new rear bumper (£8), and lower valance at £3 2s 4d. These charges for parts on a quality car seem very reasonable. On both occasions there was no difficulty in obtaining full remission of repair costs from the all too obviously blameworthy third parties.

When the car came to Autocar six months later the closest examination, including a careful check underneath, revealed scarcely any trace at all of any accident repairs, showing that it can be almost impossible to detect that any car has been damaged when viewed some month afterwards, if repairs have been carried out well. As is this case, there is nothing for even the most thorough inspection to reveal, particularly as there was not even the sometimes give-away pointer of one bumper much newer than the other, since both had been replaced in quick succession. A few traces of paint spray on areas which would not normally have received paint are about the only clues.

Immediately after the car was taken over, some right dipping yellow lamps, giving almost dangerously ineffective light output, were fitted and the car was used as transport to Stuttgart to collect a Mercedes Benz 6.3 for Road Test. On the round trip it returned a remarkably good fuel consumption figure of 18.2 mpg overall, in spite of being cruised for long spells at about 105 mph. On a later trip including performance testing and more traffic work consumption fell to 16.8 mpg, but 20 mpg is always available as a target for a run on which the full performance is not used too much. Oil consumption is small and the level dropped only one pint over the 1200-mile distance.

Two faults were at once apparent in conditions of fast driving. First was severe vibration from 80 to about 95 mph, and the car was still riding rather roughly even at 100. Every enforced drop in speed through the vibration period was reminiscent of the shake set up by the washboard test surface at MIRA, and made the image in the rear mirror a vague blur. We avoided the critical speed as much as possible, and on return to England the unused and balanced spare wheel was fitted at the front on the left side. Because of uneven wear varying from 1 to 5 mm tread depth, a new Avon radial was fitted and balanced on the right front. The track was checked and found slightly out, and adjusted.

Sadly the new tyres made no difference to the vibration, which seemed if anything worse, so the rear wheels were rebalanced in situ. A slight improvement was noticed. But there was still quite bad vibration. Major changes to the rear suspension assembly were then carried out by Rover, including fitting a new rear cross member, replacing rubber mounts and propellor shaft, fitting an extension of the final drive unit with two additional rear suspension dampers, new rear springs, hubs and drive shafts. Rover state that these modifications are available for owners of very early 3500s if considered necessary. Afterwards, the vibration was reduced to a barely discernible tremor at 85 mph.

The other problem concerned the brakes, which developed a lot of noise during prolonged stops, amounting to a quite alarming roar. On autobahnen and the fast return through Holland we tried to avoid braking at speed as much as possible, even using Lock-up to change down to intermediate, and maximum anticipation, because it was feared that some form of brake trouble was developing. However, on return to England it was learned that pads of soft material had been fitted to give better low-speed responses. New pads of correct grade cured this moise problem.

It was a surprise to find how small the Rover´s boot is, and one realizes why many owners take advantage of the optional occasional mounting for the spare wheel on top of the boot lid, since the space runs away with much valuable space when carried in the usual position in the boot. Inside the car the excellent under-facia pockets absorb a lot of maps and the sort of odds and ends for which so many cars seem to lack the necessary space, and the shelf along the top of the facia proves useful for such items as passports and insurance papers when frontiers are approaching.

The key to the 3500, of course, is its superb vee-8 engine which wafts the car along with so little effort and has such ample reserves of power for overtaking. The acceleration from rest to 100 mph in only 37.7 sec. is exactly the same as the time we measured in the original Road Test. Particularly impressive and useful on the road is the sweeping acceleration in intermediate from 40 to 80 mph in just over 20 sec. A little figure 2 in a yellow blob on the speedometer at just over 80 mph marks the recommended change-up point, and although the ultimate maximum for intermediate is nearly 100 mph, acceleration is appreciably slower by over-revving in this way than if an earlier change is made to top gear. So to use more than 80 mph in intermediate is wasteful.

Even at maximum speed the engine is scarcely audible, though there is then a high level of wind noise to drown it.

On the corners the Rover grips the road extremely well, and although it leans over in rather exaggerated fashion and understeers markedly, the driver feels very safe when cornering fast. Adhesion in the wet on the Avon radials is extremely good.

A weakness of the car is its rather vague steering. On the fairly narrow motorway lane widths in Germany one is often uneasy when passing heavy lorries because of the way the car tends to wander as it gets buffetted by the slipstream.

Both inside and out, the bodywork has lasted well, though the carpets show quite a lot of wear and the pvc trim is of the kind which picks up a lot of dirt and soon looks grubby. Underneath there is excellent absence of rust and oil leaks.

The 3500 certainly upholds the Rover traditions of longevity and freedom from irritating troubles; it will remain for a further spell "in the pool" as chauffeur driven directors´ transport. It is an extremely good car, with a magnificent engine.

Autocar / UK 28.8.1969