Rover 3500 V8

Compact Power Pack

A whole nation - currently the richest and most powerful on earth - has for more than 30 years been enslaved (automotively speaking) by the large V8 engine. The muffled syncopation of its beat is as much a part of the American way of life as skyscrapers at the White House. But if in the past Europeans have found this addiction puzzling, regarding it as propulsion by brute force without finesse or sublety, there are signs that we are about to become converted: several British and Continental manufacturers of luxury or performance cars are on the brink of adopting a V type of engine, while some have already done so. The latest to take this action are Rover, who introduced last October for their bigger cars a 3 1/2-litre light-alloy V8 developed from the famous GM unit. Now the same company has carried the process one stage further by making this power unit available (with its Borg Warner automatic transmission) for their 2000 model, thus achieving the classic union between a large (by our standards) American (by parentage) power unit and a sophisticated European chassis. Outwardly, a larger below-bumper air intake, different light-work and overriders, fatter tyres and "V8 3500" badges at front and rear are the only features which distinguish the car from the 2000, but as our description shows, the detail differences are numerous.

In almost every way this powerful new Rover combines the best features of Transatlantic and Old World design with none of the drawbacks. Performance, of course, is tremendous: although the maximum speed of 117 mph, recorded on a French autoroute is rather lower than anticipated, the mean 0-60 mph acceleration time achieved was 9.5 s., which puts the car securely in the high-performance sports car bracket. On the long Continental trip which formed part of our test mileage this performance made us masters of the road against all but such ultimate machinery as Maseratis and Ferraris. It also enabled us to cruise at more than 100 mph for long periods on autoroute and autostrada and to put 60 miles into each hour when driving on fast French roads in the wet.

The penalty of such exuberance ought surely to be a rapidly emptying tank, but in fact the overall fuel consumption for our mileage abroad (approaching 3000) worked out at 17.7 mpg of super grade. A combination of more sedate British open-road driving and (rather thirsty) in-town work made little difference - the consumption remains very modest for such a fast car.

But the virtues of the new power unit - in its new home - do not quite end there. Beneath the quiet humming which accompanies the onward surges of acceleration we often became aware of the uneven throb created by the irregular firing intervals from the two banks of cylinders (despite the shared exhaust pipe): when pulling 95 up a long motorway gradient, for example, reflected off the walls of a tunnel, perhaps, or when waffling slowly along a village street. This hint of power underneath the smoothness has its undoubted charm and a day or so of driving the Rover V8 explains the Transatlanctic addiction fully.

One big difference between the Rover and its American counterpart, however, is the great improvement in adhesion provided by a de Dion rear suspension compared to the live axle. Whereas a typical Detroit car with the same power and torque-to-weight ratio will spin its wheels uselessly in the dry, and spread a significant proportion of its journey time trying to go sideways in the wet, the Avon radials fitted to the Roverīs rear wheels remained glued to the road under nearly all conditions: provocation on a greasy roundabout was the only thing that could occasionally make the tail break away. Even in Alpine snow, the car retained surprisingly good traction although it naturally became outclassed by the studded or bechained local traffic on the more slippery gradients. Although the car is superbly safe and predictable with a high cornering power, its minor handling deficiencies become more apparent at the higher speeds now possible with the bigger engine. These are mainly a susceptibility to side-winds, a rapid, rather lurching build-up of roll, and excessive understeer when cornering really hard. Nevertheless the Rover remains a have-your-cake-and-eat-it package which is worth every penny of the Ģ1.791 asked.

Performance and economy

The manual choke needs to be pulled right out for a prompt cold start and to be kept out for the first mile or two if the engine is to run without hesitation - a warning light tells the driver when it should be returned. Admirably smooth and quiet, though pleasantly less remote than in the bigger car, the V8 gives deceptively easy performance. Even with the transmission set to its leisurely D2 mode which uses only intermediate and high gear, the V8 is much faster than the ordinary automatic 2000 is in D1 when accelerating from a standstill up to 60 mph, and not far behind the TC, from 60 onwards it is quicker.

But by doing no more than selecting D1, and putting his right foot hard down the V8 owner can comfortably dust off a TC in any traffic-light drag race, the 3500 being 1.6s. quicker to 60 mph and nearly 6s. faster to 90. And by using the position to hold low to 50 mph and intermediate to 80 mph, the superiority is crushing.

But the real benefit of the big engine comes from the improvement in the top gear acceleration, and you have to get away from Britainīs speed-limited shores to experience this properly since on full throttle (and kick-down) the transmission remains in intermediate up to 66 mph. The 70-90 mph acceleration time, for example, is 11.7s. compared with the 18.1s. of the 2000 TC, which means effortless overtaking on Continental motorways. Only in its 117.0 mph maximum speed was the performance of the Rover a triffle disappointing - using the cube root rule to compare its performance with the standard 2000 and the TC it ought to have managed more than 120 mph. To compensate for this rather academic failure, the fuel consumption is, as already discussed, excellent: as our touring fuel consumption was 21.3 mpg, most owners will probably be able to better 20 mpg.


A standard Borg Warner Model 35 torque converter/epicyclic gearbox type of automatic transmission is fitted which gives the driver a fair degree of control over his coggery. In D2 the gearbox starts in intermediate which it holds on kick-down to about 66 mph - we found the more gentle application of power which this model provides useful in the snow. In D1 first is included and held to 42 mph. Those who are concerned with ultimate performance would be prefer the transmission to be set for much higher change-up speeds. By selecting L there is an automatic change-down to intermediate as soon as the speed falls to about 60 mph and the gear can then be held until the 80 mph change-up point marked on the speedometer (corresponding to 4800 rpm) is reached when the driver must push the lever forward into D1 or D2; similarly if the speed falls below about 20 mph after Lockup has been selected, the gearbox goes into low and can be held thus until the 50 mph change-up mark has been attained.

Automatic changes were only moderately smooth - not as good as are achieved by the best American installations. Kick-down always engaged after about a secondīs delay and with a violent thump, but the box dropped smoothly and progessively down into intermediate when L was used.

Handling and brakes

With a very high cornering power, strong (and final) understeer and considerable roll the Rover has a limit which is not easily reached in the dry and rarely overstepped in the wet. It takes a good deal of effort to provoke a thin howl of protest from the Avon radials (185-14 size on 5-1/2-in. rims instead of 165-14 on 5-in. rims on the standard 2000) which gave outstanding adhesion on a wide variety of surfaces. Bumps and holes in the road surface are felt through the steering - which is slightly lower-geared than in the 2000 - but do not put the car off its chosen path.

But these virtues do not entirely compensate for a certain discomfort when driving fast. The considerable understeer means that a good deal of lock is frequently necessary, especially in the sort of 180 degree tornante mountain hairpin which calls for an additional armful when it suddenly tightens up. On a succession of the very fast bends to be found on French main roads or Italian mountain-traversing autostrada the rapid initial build up of roll led to a series of unpleasant lurches as one curve was left behind and the car lined up for the next.

As originally supplied, the car (which was a pre-production model) had two faults in its steering: excessive friction in the steering box and an error in its vertical position. The first accentuated a tendency to wander on the straight and the second caused bump and camber steering; there was a marked sensitivity to sidewinds, particularly at high speeds. After these faults - which we have encountered in other examples of the 2000 breed - were cured by the factory, there was a great improvement in the lightness and precision of the steering and a great improvement in high speed stability so that one was no longer conscious of having to hold the car on a straight course.

Although the brakes (slightly enlarged for the 3500) showed an exemplary freedom from fade - both during our tests and on real mountain descents - and sent the dial of our Tapley meter off the end of its scale to record a maximum retardation of more than 1g, they proved to be rather spongy with a slightly unprogressive action, and they made a loud grating noise when used hard. This unprogressive characteristics, together with a good deal of nose-dive during braking, called for concentration to achieve smooth stops in traffic. But the brakes were unaffected by a thorough soaking in the MIRA watersplash, and the handbrake produced a good 0.37g stop although it would only just hold the car on a 1-in-3 slope.

Comfort and controls

The Rover 2000 has acquired a most enviable reputation as one of the best sprung cars on the market and the 3500, of course, differs in no important way. It is notably free of pitch, such bounce movement as remains is slow and heavily damped and this is one of the very few cars which gives as good a ride in the back seats as in the front. There is no float on long undulations and the car is equally - but modestly - disturbed by sharper irregularities.

Most of our test staff complained bitterly about the lack of lumbar support in the front seats - or the presence of it in the wrong place - and the general design which caused the occupants to slide forward, but from experience with our staff 2000 we know that these faults can be completely eliminated by tilting the whole seat back about 100 by using the longer bolts and distance pieces available.

The Rover is one of the all-too-few cars with a proper range of fore-and-after adjustment: a man 7 ft. tall should have no difficulty in driving in comfort - at any rate our 6 ft. 4 in. staff member expressed himself as having ample legroom. The backrests are reclinable, too, by an admirable infinitely variable friction lock arrangement which is fine so long as you remember to push the locking lever down hard enough. There is rake adjustability in the steering column and all the major controls are well located. It is uncomfortable, however, to be obliged to rest the left foot on a flat surface and an angled footrest would be useful fitment.

Minor controls are also generally well arranged in the famous Rover 2000 ergonomic system with a flasher/headlamp control stalk on the left and an indicator/horn stalk on the right, giving a system which requires a little learning but has the advantage that when you instinctively "pull everything" you sound the horn and flash the headlamps. But we can see no sense in having a separate facia "park/side" and "fog/head" switches. True, the head and sidelamp switches are wired in series so that you can get the headlamps just by operating the sidelamp switch, when you have previously closed the headlamp switch, but then why have two switches? And what if you want the foglamps and the headlamps?

Despite the absence of the fashionable extractor vents the Roverīs heating and ventilating system is superb. With controls for temperature and distribution of heated air, and a separate lever for air volume (which also governs the flow to the fresh air vents) it is easy to control. The powerful but not unduly noisy blower cleared a heavily misted screen in a matter of seconds, and the fresh air vents with their individual flaps and levers allow the ideal combination of warm feet and legs with a cool breeze over the face.

So rapid have been recent advances in body design that the Rover seems almost old-fashioned in some respects. There is the clutter - from a visibility point of view - of front quarterlights, rather thick and not ideally placed pillars, a somewhat shallow screen and the inability to see the corners of the boot from the driverīs seat when reversing. On the other hand the four headlamp system - which was set to a compromise between the British and European system for our trip abroad - gave excellent illumination both when dipped and on main beam. And of course the system lends itself to even further improvement through the use of quartz-iodine bulbs.

If the engine seldom made itself apparent by more than a discreet humming, the same reticence cannot be attributed to the other sources of noise. On almost all road surfaces abroad - and many at home as well - there was a good deal of humming and singing from the tyres plus rumblings on rough patches. Also wind noise built up rapidly above about 60 mph so that it is difficult to listen in comfort to music from the radio at the 100 mph of which the car is easily capable.

Fittings and furniture

There is much to be said for the Roverīs recognition of the fact that facias are essentially rectangular while instruments need not be round. This approach results in a neat instrument cluster with choke, oil pressure, main beam and charge warning lights in which a ribbon speedometer is flanked by fuel and temperature gauges. Such compactness leaves room for a full length parcel shelf along the top of the heavily padded facia in addition to the well-known glove boxes, the one on the passengerīs side continuing to accomodate even more impedimenta, even when, as one of our staff said "...youīre quite convinced that it canīt possibly close". For those whose neuroses are sublimated by smoking rather than the collection of junk, there is one ashtray on the central console in the front and two others at the back.

Larger luggage is less easily accomodated, because the combination of a rearward cranked de Dion tube and the presence of a spare wheel make the boot unusually small for a car of this kind: the overspill from our accumulation of test gear, suitcase and grips had to be accomodated on the back seat when we drove the car to Italy.

Servicing and accessibility

When a large V8 engine is slotted into the space normally occupied by a moderate-sized four, some straining at the seams is to be expected, but for the 3500 the new power unit fits in with room to spare and all the service points are easy to get at. Unlike most V8s, for example, the air cleaner does not cover the carburetters. Servicing is required every 5000 miles and involves some engine jobs and checks of the various rubber boots protecting the transmission and suspension. The jack was easy to use.

Motor / UK 17/1968