Rover 3500 S

From the start there were those who said that the Rover 2000´s impeccable handling deserved more multi-cylindered power, so Rover obliged with the automatic-only V8 3500. It soon became apparent, however, that many potential customers were still not entirely happy; it seemed that they wanted to do their own gear-changing as well! The result: this manual version of the 3500 complete with a revised facia and distinguishing styling features.

Freed from the power-sapping effects of a torque converter and with a revised exhaust system releasing an extra six brake horse power, the 3500 S feels considerably more sporting than its automatic stablemate. A stopwatch confirms this impression: 1 ½ seconds are clipped off the 0-60 mph time and 100 mph is reached in a spanking thirty seconds – six seconds less than the auto version. Despite an awesome 69% increase over the original 2000 the S delivers its instant urge with complete effortlessness and tractability; so much so that exposure to the V8 engine´s easy-going charms for only a short time helps to explain the transatlantic preference for such units. Its amenability is equally evident in starting and idling too, while the car seems just as happy to waffle along city streets at 10 mph as to scorch along the open highway at 100. Nevertheless, the driver remains “in touch” with the engine as it purrs at him in subdued but still audible tones and it must be extended to near maximum power before fan howl becomes rather obtrusive.

The new gearbox for this model isn´t really new, it´s just a beefier version of the one in the 2000 and, indeed, shares the same internal ratios, the axle ratio being the same as the 3500 automatic´s. It is not surprising, therefore, that the gearchange feels very familiar, with the stubby lever – a little too short we thought – feeling rather notchy and heavy-going in constant use. It is a change that won´t be hurried but the synchromesh action and general precision are beyond reproach, with short movements through the well-defined gate. There is no spring bias and reverse is protected by a pull-up trigger on the stick. It´s a pretty noisy box, making itself heard in all three intermediate ratios and being especially audible in reverse.

If the gearchange is not particularly distinguished, neither is the clutch. Although smooth and progressive in take-up, it needs a long and heavy pedal travel to free-off, which is not helped by the unnatural arc of movement. It coped admirably with standing-start acceleration, however, and dealt with a 1-in-3 hill start with comtemptuous ease.

Fuel consumption is very satisfactory for the performance availableon a car which is no leightweight. Our overall figure of 22 ½ mpg (1 ½ mpg better than on the automatic 3500) includes our extravagant performance testing stint, but quiet driving seems to effect only marginal improvements: we never obtained more than 25 mpg on the car´s 100-octane diet even when we are at our most virtuous. The fifteen-gallon tank is a slow and awkward filler but provides an excellent range of over 300 miles between fill-ups, added to which there is a positive reserve of 1 ½ gallons on tap – a great boon too rarely provided on current cars.

In the past, we have praised on the Rover 2000´s unflurried ride and classic cornering behaviour. If we say that we are just a trifle disappointed with the 3500 S it must be clearly understood that it is only on the basis of the natural comparison with a close relative. Even by absolute standards the ride is still extremely good, especially on dips and undulations at cruising speed. In fact one tends to get rather blasé about the Rover´s ride comfort unit one drives along the same road in a lesser car. At a slower pace, the fatter radial-ply tyres feel more knobbly, and the cat´s-eyes bump-thump typifies the 3500 S´ greater low-speed harshness, which is probably heard more than felt. Changed rear suspension mountings and altered spring rates may contribute to this as well.

The use of an aluminium engine casting has limited the V8´s weight increase to a mere 50 lb, which does not seriously upset basic weight distribution or cornering balance. Even so, the steering feels heavier as cornering speeds and angles build up, despite lower gearing. Also the 3500 S´s stronger understeer adds to the amount of wheel movement needed. However, the driver is never in any doubt about the limits of front-wheel grip (unlike some power-assisted rivals) and the car corners with surefooted road-holding and utter predictability spelt out by increasing roll angles as turning speeds increase. The understeer, which never feels excessive, can be turned at will to gentle oversteer as the power is applied, although you have to be trying really hard in the dry to achieve this condition, for the Avon radials and the de Dion rear suspension are reluctant to allow any rear-end wheelspin or waywardness. Neither are they thrown off course or deterred by a bump in mid corner, although a little rear-end squirm, characteristic of this kind of suspension, is just detectable on the straight sometimes. Even at the remote limit in the wet or dry the car feels reassuringly progressive and controllable.

Apart from its extra effort, the steering remains very similar to the 2000´s with about an inch of free movement and plenty of road feel, even to the extent of some kick-back through the massive wheel rim over certain surfaces. Directional stability is excellent along ridges and raised white lines and the car is only midly affected by blustery cross-winds.

The brakes are very powerful and haul the car back from high speed in response to only moderate pedal effort. Imperturbable and virtually fade-free, they quickly instil great confidence, but our drivers did not find the pedal height and arc ideal. Similarly the handbrake is rather too close to the elbow to provide a good pull angle but it had no difficulty in holding the car either way round on a 1-in-3 gradient.

A combination of new seat styling, featuring box-pleated Ambla upholstery, and a completely revised instrument panel similar to the latest 2000 TC´s, distinguishes the interior of the 3500 S from its stablemates. The front seats themselves have vast fore-and-aft and rake adjustment and the rather flat cushion can be tilted back by using spacers provided in the tool kit. In any case, ample legroom ensures good thigh support and the best compliment we can pay to the seat shaping is to say that you remain very comfortable and secure on long, fast journeys without any exaggerated support or an initial impression of sumptuousness.

Vision on the other hand is disappointing by today´s standards. The high bulkhead, thick roof pillars and quarter-light frames are all very conspicuous and the nearside front wing is out of sight. Most drivers will be able to see the rear extremities though. Rearward vision is now improved by a large dipping mirror which finally sees the end of the convex one that used to give a diminished image. The stem is still too short, however, so tall drivers continue to complain that their view is foreshortened by the roof line. Two-speed wipers, with an invaluable delay control giving a pause of up to sixteen seconds, manage to cope with the wrap-round screen edges, but have to leave triangular blind spots at the top and bottom corners on the driver´s side and are not very quiet in operation. A dribble of water coming from under the parked offside blade and blowing up the screen in front of the driver is another irritation.

We rather like the 2000´s clean and neat instrument box with its ribbon speedometer and illuminated warning panel, so we tended to eye the new round dialed dash with some misgivings. We found it grew on us though. The bold and clearly marked speedometer and tachometer (both commendably accurate) are flanked by smaller petrol, water temperature and oil pressure gauges and an ammeter. Inset with rectangular warning lights, this white on black panel is unobstrusively illuminated at night, the light having a variable intensity control, and fronted by a curved plastic “window” to eliminate reflections. Equally important is the fact that the instruments are in clear view through the top half of the steering wheel. An accurate clock nestles up to the instrument panel and has to be removed to be regulated or restarted. Three rotary controls and a pull-out hazard flasher switch replace the familiar “droop-snoot” toggles along the lower facia rail. They are labelled and are illuminated at night but lack the ergonomic efficiency of the trend-setting Triumph 2000/2500 PI controls.

Two stalks, one on each side of the column, work headlamp flashing and dipping (left) and penetrating horns and indicators (right). Heater, radio (when fitted), choke and petrol reserve are placed lower in the facia centre before the gear lever. The 17-inch steering wheel has rake but no reach adjustment and the pendant floor pedals are well aligned directly before the driver with ample stretching room of an idle left foot. The accelerator is smooth and comfortably placed but the brake pedal causes drivers with smaller shoes to lift their heels well off the floor to attach it dead centre. The arrangement is good for heel-and-toe changes however. The four-headlamp lighting system gives a really splendid range and spread to match the car´s performance at night. Reversing lamps are built into the rear light clusters, clear of mud from back wheels, and extra positions on the main lighting switch cater for auxiliary lamps and one-side-only parking lights.

The V8 engine not only propels the car very rapidly but manages to do it with subdued dignity. The power unit and exhaust remain completely unobstrusive until fan-whine intrudes near maximum power and the incorporation of undetectable but effective rear extractors saves one resorting to any of the four hinged quarter lights. Unfortunately the bigger tyres produce a fair amount of road noise over lateral ridges and coarse-dressed surfaces – not that the 2000 is especially quiet in this respect. Despite this, the 3500 S is masterfully dsicreet as you try to hold it down to the legal limit on main-road journeys and body creaks and sizzles are completely absent.

It´s said that the design team responsible for the similar 2000 were told to style the interior like Scandinavian furniture. After several years of familiarity we still think the result is the best compromise we know between contemporary and traditional. Leather seat trim with well-matched simulated material on armrests and non-wearing surfaces is available as an optional extra in place of the Ambla. The facia has a practical black pvc shelf fitted with an anti-skid mat, a padded top rail across its entire width with wood-grained Formica inserts between, which curve round to continue along the top door rails. The headlining is an attractive plastic fleck design and unfussy door trims match the upholstery and lower facia trim. Good-quality bound carpet covers the floor and sides of deep footwells whilst satin-finish stainless steel treadplates handsomely protect door sills. Everywhere there is this clever and unpretentious blend of traditional and modern materials to produce harmonious, well-finished results.

Entry and exit are aided by generous front foot-entry space, with doors held to almost ninety degrees by strong check links. However, there is only just enough rear foot-entry space and deep footwells can complicate exit for the less agile. Once seated one finds that the four armchairs have little too choose between them for comfort, especially if the front ones are set midway which gives everyone of average height just enough leg and headroom. The back seat is meant to cosset two in shaped luxury with padded rear quarter panels designed to support dozing heads but the wide centre armrest will fold away to give a third adult a temporary perch.

Two ashtrays are located at the front and rear of the centre console, a single central roof light obeys courtesy switches on all doors and a rotary map light is fitted to the facia rail on the passenger´s side. Pop-up buttons are depressed to lock passenger doors although there are no separate childproof locks. The rear releases require a lot of effort to operate.

Strip vents in the facia directly ahead of the front occupants have a vertical direction control as well as volume adjusters. They are also linked to the two-speed heater booster. Ram delivery is improved by the rear extractor ducts and the screen-demisting is easily achieved although the quiet, slower fan speed is still needed for town driving. This also applies to the heater which otherwise has a good output with a wide range of instant temperature variation. Distribution at floor level is excellent, reaching both front and rear occupants´ feet. The electrically heated back window fitted to our car rapidly dispelled any condensation.

Safety is a very prominent feature of this Rover design and is not just an added on afterthought. The front and rear of the body are designed to collapse progressively on major impact and the steering box is well out of the way high on the scuttle. Anchorage points for seat belts are built in at front and rear with the standard inertia-reel belts proving very comfortable. The doors are burst-proof and the facia, sunvisors and front seat backs are all generously padded. Similarly front occupants´ legs are protected by parcel compartments made of padded, collapsible material. Even the friction-held rake adjustment for front seats will yield in a violent rear impact, to obviate neck whiplash injury which is becoming a matter for increasing concern. The AA Gold Medal for safety was awarded to the design in 1966 and this impressive list helps to show why. Our only criticisms are that the revised switchgear appears to be less safety conscious than hitherto and the dipping trigger on the framed interior mirror looks rather spiteful too.

The boot would be generous enough but for the width-robbing (or depth-robbing if you lie it flat on the floor) spare wheel location; the optional wheel mounting point on the lid seems an expensive and ugly solution to the problem but is a worthwile extra to make room for holiday luggage. There is no awkward sill and automatic illumination of the lined depths is provided but we noticed a tendency for rain to drip in from the opened lid in wet weather. Inside the car there are useful lipped rear window and facia shelves, while the lower plastic bins swallow sizeable odds and ens and are lockable too.

Apart from the lower “chin” under the front bumpers, new rubber-faced overriders and the appropriate badges, it is not all that easy to distinguish the 3500 S from the 2000. The more observant will spot the vinyl roof covering and the sporty wheel trims but otherwise both models now share the boxy plastic grille treatment, stainless steel side trips and the bonnet power bulges that Rover, in their wisdom, decided to bestow on the marque some eighteen months ago. However, all models in the range have bolted-on body construction over a strong, skeletal base unit which simplifies body repairs as well as providing a secure cocoon in a crash. The underside is effectively spayed with protective sealer in manufacture, but it is a pity that the undersides of the sill panels do not benefit from this treatment. Window surrounds, door treated plates and wheel trims are of stainless steel while concealed drain channels under underbonnet areas are painted with a corrosion-resistant, black bituminous finish. The chrome bumpers stand well clear of the bodywork and their mountings go straight through to the chassis. We found the S is a generally easy car to valet except that the grille is fussy and fiddly to wash and the deep footwells complicate the job of cleaning the floors. On the whole, however, the construction and thoroughly applied paint finish seem to confirm that “a Rover is still a Rover”.

Supported by a crude, hand-placed prop, the raised bonnet reveals a compartment into which everything fits remarkably well. All routine topping-up items are easy to reach with direct access to even the carburettor dashpots without having to disturb the air cleaner first. There are no fewer than twelve fuses and a 45-amp alternator serves the 60-Ahr battery which has had to be relegated to the boot on the 3500 S where it intrudes on space but is easily reached in its acied-resistent plastic cradle. Width-stealing inner wing flanges rather complicate sparking-plug access, but the ditributor and coil are excellently placed, while the fuel pump and oil filter are easily reached too. The filter element together with engine and axle oils are changed every 6000 miles or six months when just one grease point (on the prop shaft) also requires attention. Hydraulic tappets and disc brakes all round are self-adjusting of course.

The screw-pillar jack fits into four sockets, normally occupied by rubber plugs, below the doors. It lives beside the spare wheel together with a useful tool roll which includes spanners, seat spacers and a tyre pressure gauge.

The 3500 S and, of course, its automatic counterpart, add the power and the glory to a model rightly renowned for its outstanding ride and handling qualities. Equally important, it manages to remain amenable and free from all temperament, but to us the manual transmission seems strangely out of character. Some cars are natural automatics and the 3500 with its competent and beautifully smooth shifts is undoubtedly one of them. We would certainly think at least twice before opting for the 3500 S incongruously heavy clutch and notchy gearchange, especially as the automatic is endowed with a full degree of manual override together with automatic change points which are unusually sensitive to accelerator depression. We are willing to bet that even the most manually-minded could be torque-converted to the 3500. No one will be surprised that the 3500 S uses more fuel than the 2000 but it is a pity that its steering, road noise and low-speed ride are not its equal. In other respects it inherits the notable features which make this range so distinctive. An uncompromisingly comfortable four seater with barely adequate boot space, it is both carefully finished and very well constructed, even though certain features of the styling are dated and are in no way improved by the latest “mutton dressing” gimmickry.

Nevertheless, what the car sets out to do, it does very well indeed unlike some modern designs that attempt to attract everybody but don´t really satisfy anybody. We said of the 3500 “With its individualism and strength of character you don´t use this Rover – you take it into partnership”. This remains true of the worthy S, the only thing is that you have to work just that much harder for your profit.

0-60 mph 9.2 seconds

top speed 123 mph 

fuel consumption 22,5 mpg


AA / UK February 1972