Rover 3500 V8

A 144 bhp per ton Rover

Dropping a big engine into a small oder moderate sized car is one of the oldest and best formulae for exhilarating performance, although it may have its pitfalls. You can pay too steep a price for a high power/weight ratio, such as marred balance of the car as a whole, loss of accessibility, unpleasant acoustic effects, overstressing of the brakes, suspension and other parts. The best people, in fact, donīt drop an oversize engine into anything - they engineer it in, using scrupulous care to adapt the structure and running gear to the power unit.

In the case of Rovers, however, there was more in it than that, because it had always been their intention to introduce a more powerful engine into the 2000 hull. The result of this combination is staggering, and after covering many thousands of miles in a pre-production but standard Three Thousand Five, this, I say flatly, is all-timeīs finest Rover, and I should know, having owned 17 examples of the marque - 1 14, a 16, a 10, a 12, a 75, a 90, two 105s, four 3-litres, two normal 2000s and three 2000 TCs.

Among the many factors which added together make roadability, I have always considered balance the most important. I couldnīt define this quality - either itīs self-explanatory or it isnīt. The 2000 in its two versions possesses it in excelsis and the Three Thousand Five does too. This is not surprising when you consider that, thanks to the V8 engineīs aluminium alloy construction, the whole car only weighs about 3lb more than the 2000 TC. Due partly to the transfer of the battery from the engine bay to the boot, the Three Thousand Five carries slightly more of its weight on the rear wheels - 48.6 per cent compared with the 2000 TCīs 46 per cent. In view of the fact that the V8, with its output of 184 bhp gross, is 47 per cent more powerful than the TC, this redistribution of weight is probably an advantage, particularly on wet or icy roads.

Viually, the differences between the 2000s and the Three Thousand Five are few... "3500" and "V8" badges front, back and sides, a deeper front valance, larger section tyres on wider rimmed wheels, an anodised aluminium finisher at the front end of the bonnet, and rubber-faced overriders on both bumpers. Indoor distinguishing features include a 140 mph speedometer and a new petrol gauge calibrated to suit the tankīs increased capacity, which is up from 12 to 15 gallons.

The first comment made by a knowledgeable passenger in my Three Thousand Five was: "General Motors must have been mad." I knew what he meant. This V8 engine, of which something like three-quarters of a million were made in its alloy form, was designed for and originally installed in two GM cars, a Buick and an Oldsmobile compact. After a short production life, these engines became casualties of the size escalation and power race that had developed in the US compact class, and were increased to 5 litres in cast-iron form, of which a further three-quarter of a million were manufactured. Moreover, it is this engine which formed the basis of that in the 1966 Brabham Formula 1 World Championship-winning car.

After several visits from William Martin-Hurst (Managing Director of the Rover Company Limited) to the USA, a deal was struck and following an exhaustive job of redevelopment and adaptation, the V8 became standard last October in the quondam 3 litres, now redesignated 3.5. (In its Anglicised form the engine is macchined and assembled at Solihull.)

Quite early in these proceedings it had occurred to certain performance addicts - mostly Rover people, although I was among them - that by installing the bigger engine in a smaller car one would have the best of both worlds: the compact vehicle dimensions that are such a boon under modern traffic conditions plus a brilliant power/weight ratio. And there, much telescoped, you have the story behind the Three Thousand Five.

What my fellow traveller meant, with his aspersion on General Motorsī sanity, was that theyīd been mad to part with such a captivating engine as the V8. Well, driving is believing and I can only agree with him. There arenīt many cars of which you can say, in absolute honesty, that youīd prefer them in anything costing over twice their price, but this is so with the Three Thousand Five, so far as I am concerned.

Mechanically and structurally, apart from the engine swop itself, the Three Thousand Five doesnīt differ much from the 2000s. It has a separate cross member, mounted to the body in rubber bushes, which carries the forward end of the final drive unit and also the forward attachment points of the lower suspension links. Front and rear road springs have a higher rate and the damper settings are adjusted accordingly. Heavy-duty dampers - 1 3/8 in as against 1 in - are fitted at the rear. The front brakes are slightly larger to deal with the increased performance of the vehicle.

The Three Thousand Five is just another proof of the saying that the more things change the more they stay the same. On the one hand this car is un-Rover-like in having a top speed not far short of two miles a minute (118 mph is claimed but I have had no opportunity to check this against a stopwatch) and powers of acceleration that today are better than most sports cars. On the other hand, measurable performance apart, almost every characteristic is triple-distilled Rover: fineness of finish inside and out, the all-pervading air of quality and integrity, the comfort of the seats and range of driving positions, all-round visibility, lightness of controls, the almost uncanny insulation of the driver and passengers from noise of every kind, general restfulness regardless of speeds maintained and distances covered at a stretch, comprehensiveness and readability of instrumentation, predictability of handling, braking power allied with low pedal effort, cornerability, and above all of course this elusive thing that I call balance.

In fact, quite literally, it is difficult to say in what way, by my own personal standard of judgment, Rovers or any other maker could improve on the Three Thousand Five. They will, of course, but weīre writing in the present tense! Not being an up-Jonesman, it doesnīt matter to me that the sheer size of the car is not awe-inspiring, or that at a hundred paces it could be mistaken for one of the less expensive 2000s. In an article published elsewhere about the single carburettor 2000 I did suggest that for male drivers who put more store by quick steering response at high speeds than feather-touch parkability, slightly higher geared steering would be preferable, and the same applies to the Three Thousand Five. Surprisingly, the latterīs gearing, calling for 4 1/2 turns from lock to lock, is actually lower than the 2000s, in spite of the rearward shift in weight distribution. This may of course have been prompted by the wider section tyres.

For almost 20 years, General Motorsī engine production has been concentrated mainly on V8 similar in almost everything except basic material to this carīs unit, so its total maturity comes as no surprise. Apart from the momentary resonance which is characteristic of aluminium engines immediately following cold starts, I cannot fault it on any single count. Not all V8s, even today, are completely devoid of "period" throughout their rev range, but this one is velvet-smooth from tickover to the 5200 rpm corresponding with the peak of the power curve. Having driven all types of turbine-powered Rover and also the Rover-BRM, I can say from actual experience that this V8īs performance is genuinely turbine-like. Itīs difficult to realise that discontinuos combustion and reciprocating motion plays any part in its operation.

As wilth all the cars I own or that pass through my hands, a large part of the mileage is covered on continental roads. With the 70 limit shackles off, a car like this comes into its own. It cruises happily, smoothly and for ad lib distances and durations at 100 mph and over, making guesswork allowance for what-ever speedometer "flatter" there may be. It has never mis-fired a single beat or failed in start immediately.

I think if I were responsible for Rover engineering policy I would offer a manual gearbox as an option to the admittedly excellent Borg Warner Model 35 automatic, which is the only available transmission on the Three Thousand Five. However, this is not to deny that probably a large majority of buyers would choose automatic even if the alternative were open to them. Knowing Roverīs traditional conservatism in performance claims, we can assume that their own acceleration figures for this car, eg. 0 to 60 in 9.5 sec, standing quarter-mile in 17.5 sec, will stand up when independent press testers get their hands on it. So whatever extra power absorbtion the automatic gearbox and torque converter entails, it doesnīt prevent the car from being among the most accelerative in its price and type class.

This seems to me one of the happier applications of the Model 35 Borg Warner, a transmission which is itself at its happiest when coupled to a high-torque engine pulling a relatively light car. In towns, and generally under conditions where one in unlikely to be able to use optimum acceleration from a standing start, the D2 range, cutting out bottom gear and precluding kick-downs to low, makes for very restful and unfussy driving. On the open road, on the other hand, frequent use of L (lock) to select and hold second gear, particularly on the entry to and through fastish corners, gives a very acceptable substitute for manual motoring. The position and action for the 35īs short and stumpy control lever - itīs mounted sports car fashion, of course, down on the transmission hump - is everything one could ask for.

More as a matter of ingrained habit than anything else, one does tend, or rather I tend, to miss a close-to-top third ratio when going from a sporting manual box to this combination of three speeds and a torque converter. To be fair, in theory certainly and up to an advanced point in practice, the converter gives infinite gradings of gearing within its fixed limits.

In my self-appointed tester capacity, I have never considered it part of my responsability to prevent a car from failing to bits - if itīs going to - by adjusting speed to road surfaces. On the contrary, how can one assess this coming-asunder potential except by pressing on regardless? With the Three Thousand Five, as with the similarly constructed 2000s before it, I have wallopped the car over atrocious roads, deliberately sought-out, in efforts to provoke rattles and creaks of protest from the body and running gear. But all in vain. On the score of sheer strength and resistance in progressive local debilitations in hard service, Old World cars are often compared unfavourably with their American rivals, but the charge simply does not hold up in this Roverīs case.

The main credit here, I think, must go to two factors; one, the great inherent rigidity and capacity for punishment of the unique base structure; and two, the favourable ratio of sprung to unsprung weight which is the reward of de Dion suspension combined with inboard mounting for the rear brakes. The value of the latter is often, but shouldnīt be, underrated. Brakes, and especially discs of the size fitted to the Three Thousand Five (10.69 in diameter at the back) are heavy items, and itīs easy to imagine their kick-transmitting potential if they were unsprung in the manner common to the great majority of rival designs.

I have said it before of the 2000s seats and I say it again of the Three Thousand Fiveīs - you wonīt find anything to beat them anywhere at any price. They didnīt just happen; prolonged research and experimentation went into their design. Under high cornering forces they restrain you without giving the slightest feeling of confinement. Their squabs and the steering column being adjustable for rake, drivers of widely varying shapes, sizes and tastes are able to make themselves comfortable. The upholstery, a credit to Connollyīs visible leather and Pirelliīs invisible moulded diaphragm, does a superlative shock-absorbing job without going to the feather-bed extremes of resiliency that personally I dislike.

Driven as I drive a car, the Three Thousand Five averages about 19 mpg, which makes Roverīs claim of a touring consumption of 21.6 mpg quite credible. If youīre thinking of buying a Three Thousand Five, however, donīt delude yourself that touring speeds will satisfy you when driving outside this benighted, 70-blighted country. If ever a car beckoned you to have fun, this is it. If youīre too old for fun, like Byron when he vowed to "go no more a-Roving", youīre too old for a Three Thousand Five. Donīt say I didnīt warn you!

Raymond Mays

Speedworld International / UK 4.5.1968