Rover 3500 V8

The Rover is the car that colonial Englishmen dream of and foreigners expect the English to drive. It is somehow synonymous with all that used to be regarded as the best of this country; sturdy, dependable, rather conservative and admirable. The English may have changed a little, the Rover has changed its shape, but has contrived to maintain these virtues to which must today be added another: performance. This last factor has never been part of the Rover image, except to the racing fraternity who see Frank Lockhart campaign his famous 1948 Rover Special single seater at Silverstone vintage meetings: even there the Rover dependability shines through.

Being Rover, the company never changes for change“s sake. Each body shape has a long run, though it may be developed and modified over the years; when it does change it is always for a sound reason. So it was when the Rover 2000 first appeared some years ago. Here was a radically new shape with new thinking on interior layout to go with it. Here too was a large engine compartment crying out for a bigger inmate, and so in due course the Buick-based Rover 3-litre V8 was installed and the result was soon acclaimed. Even after several years, the body still looks completely up-to-date, whether it clothes two or three litres of engine.

However, even Rover felt the need to update their 2000 and 3500 at the last Earls Court Show and these are now being seen on the roads. Basically the car is the same and so is the body. Most important for the 3500 is the revised instrumentation with circular black dials and white digits replacing strip speedometers; also important is the added option of power-assisted steering to make life even more easy for the Rover owner. Externally, the new grille looks like a stylist“s attempt at making a ventilated brick wall in metal and has also been dubbed the "chip-cutter". Oddly enough, it looks horrific to those who have come to like the Rover“s discreet front end when seen is a photograph, but somehow looks better in the solid metal. There is a polished metal trim rubbing strake down the side of the body at its widest point and this will save the damage that afflicts some 2000/3500s. The rear quarter panels are now vinyl covered and bear the famous Viking badge of the marque, while the curved sill panel beneath the doors is now matt black and the wheel trims have been restyled. With new colours such as the mustard of the test car, this all adds up to a more aggressive looking vehicle even if the performance is the same.

Inside, apart from the revised instruments, the switches are now all rotary, seat squabs can now take detachable headrests, inertia-reel seat belts are allowed for (though not fitted to the test car), door and window handles have softer and saver knobs, there is a hazard warning light system and the quarter lights have the admirable knurled knob control as on Jaguars. All these refinements cost money to implement and with generally increased costs the price has been put up, but at little over £2000 the Rover represents really first-rate value for money by today“s motoring standards.

From the safety viewpoint, the Rover is extremely functional with its rigid steel frame to which are fitted the jig drilled body panels, all in steel except for the aluminium alloy bonnet and boot lid. The layout is conventional insofar as the engine is water-cooled, front-mounted and drives the rear wheels. However, the rear disc brakes are mounted inboard and the suspension is of interest, being completely independent with coil springs all round allied to double wishbones and an anti-roll bar in front and a de Dion axle in the rear with Watts linkage and rubber mountings. The engine compartment is businesslike and the main routine points for attention, including the spark plugs, are quite accessible. The big alternator is also noticeable, whereas the battery is not, having been banished to the boot where it lives a sensibly cool life under a rigid cover and beneath the carpet. The eight fuses are mounted under the bonnet on the nearside wing. The boot lid sweeps down to bumper level for ease of loading and has a sensible non-slam lock. It is carpeted and of a practical shape, added to which the spare wheel, which also has a carpeted cover, can be mounted vertically on the left, laid flat on the floor, or bolted to the lid.

The interior is uncompromisingly for a maximum of four occupants, with rear seats shaped accordingly and with a centre armrest. The front seats are very well shaped for comfort and support and have reclining squabs with friction-lock handles on the inner edges. The trim is in hide with matching door panels, deep pile floor carpeting and a very pleasant light patterned headlining. Other surfaces are matt black plastic with discreet use of rosewood coloured matt veneer reliefs. The result is a comfortable, yet fairly compact compartment for four adults.

Controls are dominated by the slim two-spoke wheel, which is rather larger in diameter than necessary with power assistance. The new instruments are an example of clarity, with large rev counter and matching speedometer incorporating a trip recorder. Other dials include fuel, water temperature and oil pressure gauges, an ammeter and a Kienzle electric clock. Lights warn of handbrake left on and choke in use. Switches fall well to hand with central controls of individual shape for interior lights, exterior lamps including optional fog lights, and screen washers and wipers, these having two speeds and an intermittent wipe; an inch longer on each blade to give a larger swept area would have been an improvement. There is a cigar lighter and pull out controls for the choke and the 2.5 gallon fuel reserve. Oddments can be stored in two commodious locking compartments and the heating and ventilation unit is remarkably efficient, once the fairly complex controls are mastered. I particularly liked the variable opening fresh air slots in front of the driver and his consort, a big improvement on the accepted type which also make the hands cold.

Starting in cold weather is instantaneous, but needs plenty of choke. The optional heated rear window also proves a worthwhile investment at this time of year. The door skills are fairly high for the less agile, but after a while one is inclined to forget them. The Rover may be a docile, almost sybaritic town car, but it can certainly move on the open road. The engine remains quite throughout and with "drive" engaged, the maxima in 1st and 2nd are 48 and 80 mph respectively. The Rover is remarkable for its unobstrusive rate of travel, for it accelerates without fuss or apparent effort and will cruise all day in the nineties, while the stated maximum is a very respectable 118 mph.

The radial ply tyres are part of the design and contribute to the excellent roadholding. Avon or Pirelli are specified in the handbook, but Dunlop SP“s were fitted to the test car and proved very satisfactory. The roadholding was really fine and the ride was equally comfortable over main highways and country lanes. The power steering eliminates one of the main points of criticism of the 3500, which was noted for heavy steering and a strong understeer. Now it is very light and could almost do with a little more feel, though it will suit all but the most fastidious. Lighting from the double headlamps is very effective, but they were set too high on the test car. Braking from the four Girling discs was efficient and without judder or harshness.

John Taylor

Country Life / UK 14.1.1971