Rover 3500 V8

The Rover 2000 established new standards of ride comfort and refinement when it was introduced, but from the first there were those who said that its impeccable handling deserved more multi-cylindered power. Temporary appeasement came with the TC version but the 3500 should now silence them, even if a mere 160 bhp from a 3 ½ litre V8 indicates plenty of untapped potential.

Exposure to the V8 power unit´s easy-going charms for just a few days helps to explain trans-Atlantic preference for the arrangement. Despite an awesome 78% power increase over the original 2000 SC, the 3500 delivers its instant urge with complete effortlessness and tractability, at whatever speed you prod the accelerator. This amenability is evident in starting and idling too, whilst the car seems just as happy to waffle along city streets as it is to sear along the open highway. Nevertheless, the driver remains “in touch” with the power unit as it purrs at him, in subdued but still audible tones, and it must be stretched to near maximum power before fan whine becomes a little intrusive.

The car´s soft responsiveness is enhanced, of course, by the standard Borg Warner 35 automatic transmission. Since last autumn this has been doctored to suit Rover´s own preference for the model. The results were especially pleasing to those of our test team who normally are not automatically-minded, for the rearrangements provide a full degree of manual override together with automatic change points which are unusually sensitive to accelerator depression. For example, gentle acceleration prompts an upward change into top at 20 mph, half throttle extends it to 40 and full pedal movement without kick-down delays it past 60 mph. Similarly, moving the selector to 1 will find low ratio at any speed from rest to 35 mph, depending on accelerator depression. The practical value of these settings is demonstrated by the similarity in our acceleration times using kick-down and manual hold. Understandably, automatic upchanges are not always as silky as on some Borg Warner applications, yet response to kick-down comes smoothly enough with only a couple of seconds delay.

Perhaps the nicest feature of this transmission is the delightful selector action which clickety-clicks its way through 1, 2, D, N, R and P with no nasty notches and gates to circumvent. Just a handily placed button inset in the top of its knob avoids unwitting engagement. This need not to be depressed for the half inch movement between D and 2 or when using the 1, 2, D progression on a standing start and we got almost juveline pleasure in playing with the thing in these ways.

Fuel consumption seems very satisfactory for the performance available on a car which is no featherweight. Our figures include our expensive performance testing stint but quiet driving seems to effect only marginal improvement – we never obtained more than 23 mpg even when we were at our most virtous. The 15 gallon tank includes 1 ¼ gallons held in reserve by a facia control, so effective range is just under 300 miles. We are pleased to note that the oil consumption matches the 2000´s moderation in this respect.

In the past we have praised the Rover 2000´s unflurried ride and classic cornering behaviour. If we say that we are just a trifle disappointed with the 3500 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. At a slower pace the fatter radials feel more knobbly and cat´s-eyes thump typifies the 3500´s greater low-speed harshness which is probably heard more than felt. Changed rear suspension mountings and altered spring ratinga may contribute to this as well.

The use of aluminium engine castings 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 stronger understeer adds to the amount of wheel movement needed, whilst Avon radials and the de Dion rear suspension permit no rear-end wheelspin or deviation, even under power, in the dry. This insistent grip is almost too much of a good thing sometimes and robs the car of that delightful throttle-induced steering balance which the 2000 possesses. It takes a wet surface to produce any oversteer on the 3500 but it is then as controllable and progressive as ever. Brisk cornering produces quite a lot of roll but excellent seat support prevents this from causing serious passenger discomfort.

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” over certain ruts. The directional stability is excellent along ridges and white lines and the car is only mildly affected by blustery cross-winds.

The brakes are very powerful and fade resistant. Our drivers did not find the pedal height and arc ideal, though, and similarly the efficient handbrake was too close for most drivers to get a comfortable pull angle. It had no difficulty in holding the car up or down a 1 in 3 gradient.

From behind the wheel nearly everything has that functional feel and appearance which makes the driving position seem more like the cockpit of a stratocruiser. The seat itself has 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 nicest 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 and headroom are satisfactory without being exceptional. A rather high screen rail and thickish pillars with quarter-lights are noticeable and the near-side front wing is out of sight, so it is difficult to see the side-lamp marker on that wing at night. Most drivers will see the rear extremities, though, and there is good rear vision. We weren´t too happy about the convex interior mirror, for its diminished image is disconcerting and tall drivers complained that their view was chopped off at the top by the roof line. The whole rear glass is spanned by it, however.

Variable-speed wipers manage to cope with the wrap-around screen edges but have to leave a triangular blind spot at the top and bottom corners on the driver´s side. Electric washers are conveniently worked by the same control. Instruments and controls are located with regard to function before style, and the designers have provided a layout which works well yet remains in good taste. The main rectangular instrument has an accurate ribbon speedometer with trip and total mileage recorders and is flanked by fuel contents and water-temperature gauges. Above are illuminated warning panels for handbrake, ignition, oil pressure, high beam, flashers and excess choke.

The rev counter which is standard on the 2000 TC is an extra on the 3500, but discreet speedometer markings indicate maximum speeds in first and second which correspond to a realistic 5000 rpm. An accurate clock is suspended in full view in the centre of the top screen rail, but must be removed to regulate or restart it.

Controls are widely spaced at steering column level along the facia and are named as well as symbol marked and shape coded. Two stalks on either side of the column work headlamp flashing and dipping (left) and penetrating horns and indicators (right). Heater, radio, 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 almost too much stretching room for an idle left foot. The accelerator is smooth and comfortably placed but the double-width brake pedal causes drivers with smaller shoes to lift their heel well off the floor to attack it dead centre. Instruments are illuminated by rheostat control which also includes the gear selector and the four headlamps give a splendid spread to match the car´s performance at night. Reversing lamps are built into the rear clusters, clear of mud from the back wheels, and extra positions on the headlamp and sidelamp (separate) switches cater for auxiliary lamps and one-side-only parking lamps.

It´s said that the design team responsible for the idetical 2000 were told to style the interior like Scandinavian furniture. After five years of familiarity we still think the result is the best compromise we know between contemporary and traditional. Leather seat trim is well matched with simulated material on armrests and non-wearing surfaces. The facia has a tasteful and practical black pvc shelf fitted with an anti-skid mat, a padded top rail across its entire width with formica wood-grained inserts between which curve around to continue along top door rails. The headling 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 the sides of deep footwells whilst satin-finish stainless steel tread-plates handsomely protect door sills. Everywhere there is this clever and unpretentious blend of traditional and modern materials to produce a harmonious, well-finished result.

Entry and exit is aided by generous front-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 foot-wells can complicate exit for the less agile. Once seated, you will find four armchairs with little to choose between them for comfort, especially if the front seats are set well forward which gives everyone of average height sufificient legroom and headroom. The rear 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 and a single central roof lights obeys courtesy switches on all doors, although it is distracting to drive with it on. Pop-up buttons are depressed to lock passenger doors although there are no separate childproof locks.

The 35ßß´s V8 power plant not only propels the car very rapidly but also manages to do it with subdued dignity. The engine and exhaust remain completely unobstrusive until fan whine intrudes near maximum power and the addition of proper air extractors saves one resorting to noisy front quarter windows – the quarter rear ones we preferred to use on the extractorless 2000 are now fixed on the 3500.

Unfortunately the bigger tyres have introduced a certain amount of road noise over lateral ridges and coarse-dressed surfaces, which is a pity because the 2000´s are beyond criticism in this respect. Despite this, the 3500 is masterfully discreet as you try to hold it down to the legal limit on main road journeys and it goes without saying that body creaks and sizzles are completely absent.

Strip vents in the facia directly before front occupants have a vertical direction control as well as volume adjusters. They are linked to the two-speed heater booster (which is sensibly wired to operate also when the ignition key is turned to the “accessory” position). Ram delivery is improved by the incorporation of rear extractor ducts and rear window demisting is now achieved quite easily, although the quiet lower fan speed is still needed at town speeds. This applies also to the heater which has reasonable output with a wide range of instant temperature variation. Windscreen ducts span the entire glass width and there is also excellent distribution at floor level, reaching both front and rear occupants´ feet. Our car had the nasty habbit of blowing cold air at one´s feet when the direction lever was set for face level ventilation only, an annoyance we have not experienced before.

Safety is a very prominent feature of this Rover design and is not just a tacked-on afterthought. The front and the rear of the body skeleton is designed to collapse progessively on major impact and the steering box is well out of the way, high on the scuttle. Anchorage points for safety belts are built in at front and rear whilst our car was fitted with the standard front belts which incorporate adjustment for the shoulder strap. Doors are burstproof and the facia, sunvisors and front seat backs are all generously padded; front occupants´ legs are protected by rounded control shaping and 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 Metal for Safety was awarded to the design in 1966 and this impressive list helps to show why. One solitary criticism is that the door controls look a bit hard and spiteful compared with some later designs.

The luggage boot would be generous but for the width-robbing spare wheel location and the presence of the battery on the opposite side, although the latter is well shielded by its plastic cover. The optional wheel mounting point on the lid seems expensive but is a worthwhile extra to make room for holiday luggage. There is no 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, whilst the lower plastic “bins” swallow sizeable bric-a-brac and are lockable too.

Apart from a lower “chin” below the front bumper, new rubber faced overriders and appropiate badges, it is impossible to distinguish the 3500 from 2000 models, and even the rear ventilation extractors are undetectable from outside. It shares with them the bolted-on body construction over a strong skeleton base unit and the underside is effectively sprayed with protective compound in manufacture, although it is a pity that the underside of the sill panels do not share this treatment. Front grille, nave plates, window surrounds and door tread plates are all of stainless steel. Arden green paintwork on our test car was thoroughly applied in both the obvious and less obvious places, whilst concealed drain channels under bonnet and boot are painted with a corrosion-resistant black bituminous finish. The chrome bumpers stand well clear of the bodywork and their mountings go straight through the chassis. Construction and finish seem to justify the advertisement which boasts “A Rover is still a Rover”.

Supported by a crude prop, everything under the bonnet seems to fit in remakably well. All routine topping-up items are easy to reach with even direct access to the carburettor dashpots without having to disturb the air cleaner first. A spate of carburettor flooding made us appreciate this virtue half way through our test. There are four fuses and a 45 amp alternator serves the 60 amp hour battery which has had to be relegated to the boot on the 3500 where it intrudes on space but is easily reached in its acid resistant plastic cradle. Width-robbing inner wing flanges rather complicate spark plug access but the distributor 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 5000 miles, when just one grease point also requires attention. Hydraulic tappets and disc brakes all round are self-adjusting, of course. The screw pillar jack fits into four points below the doors normally occupied by rubber grommets. It lives beside the spare wheel, together with a useful tool which includes spanners, seat spacers and a tyre pressure gauge.

This latest addition to Rover´s P6 range offers exciting performance to fully exploit the design´s stable handling qualities. It also manages to stay amenable and free from all temperament which is important to people contemplating long term ownership and mixed conditions of use. No one will be surprised that it uses more fuel that the 2000 but it is a pity that its steering, road noise and low-speed ride comfort are not their equal.

In other respects the 3500 inherits those notable features which makes the range so distinctive. An uncompromisingly comfortable four seater with barely adequate boot space, it is both refreshingly styled and well constructed. What ot sets out to do, it does very well, unlike some modern designs that attempt to attract everybody and finish up satisfying nobody.

With its individualism and strength of character, you don´t use this Rover – you take it into partnership.

0 – 60 mph 10,8 sec.

top speed 112 mph

fuel consumption 21 mpg  

AA / UK 1969