Rover 3500 V8

The most significant changes to the Rover saloon car range for 1974 are centred on the 2200 models, but the V8 powered 3500´s (manual and automatic) have also come in for certain revisions. These include engine modifications to suit exhaust emission requirements, a change in automatic transmission and minor trim differences. Fortunately the test car was fitted with Dunlop´s new Denovo tyres, and so gave us the opportunity of assessing these interesting “fail-safe” covers under everyday conditions.

While Rover have made the 2200 a notably smoother and quieter performer than the old 2000 it is still no match for the big 3500 when it comes to a combination of performance and refinement. But in order to enable the engine to run on 98 octane fuel, new pistons have been fitted which reduce the compression ratio from 10.5 to 9.25:1 and lower the power output by some 10 bhp. Torque is barely effected. The overall weight has gone up by over a hundredweight too, so it is surprising to discover that the latest 3500 Automatic is only tenths of a second slower in acceleration through the gears than the original model we tried 4 ½ years ago. But performance figures don´t tell of the way that the engine delivers its multi-cylindered urge with complete effortlessness and tractability – it seems to be equally at home waffling along in a city snart-up as it does when cruising along a motorway. This amenability is evident in starting and idling too, although the manual choke seems rather incongruous.

Borg Warner´s type 65 automatic transmission replaces the former 35 unit in the latest 3500. While it lives up to its claims of providing smoother shifts, we were disappointed at its lack of part-throttle kickdown below 20 mph. This means that most fast overtaking manoeuvres demand either a sudden full-throttle kickdown change or a manual shift into intermediate - neither of which one should have to tolerate having paid an extra ₤90 for the benefits of automaticity. We see little advantage in the “2” position either, which enables one, sometimes inadvertently to pull away from rest in intermediate with chauffeur-like decorum. Nevertheless the practical value of the change settings is demonstrated by the similarity in our acceleration times using kickdown and manual hold. One of the nicest features of the transmission is still the pleasing selector action which clickety-clicks its way up through 1 2 D N R and P with no tricky notches or slots to circumvent: there is just a neat push-button recessed in the tulip-shaped knob which prevents unwitting engagements. This need not be worked when making manual upshifts, but when changing down, low is automatically protected until the button is depressed.

Considering the car´s weight and performance, our overall consumption of 20 ½ mpg is reasonable. The normal range is between 18 and 23 mpg of four star fuel and we never managed to better the upper figure even with careful driving. The 15-gallon tank gives a range of about 280 miles before there is need to call on the 1 1/4 –gallon reserve which is held on tap; what a reassuring feature that is too! The filler pipe will accept full flow from a pump and has a locking cap. Half a pint of oil was used in 700 miles.

There is not doubt that the 3500´s stiffened suspension, which is now standardised throughout the range, has added an element of firmness to the ride which is disappointing when one recalls the level, unflurried progress of the earlier 2000 – an object lesson to practically all the opposition. Its deminished resilience is particularly obvious in town but fortunately by 40 mph the ride improves significantly and one can again enjoy the easy bump absorption which flatters many a B-class road. One result of the firmer springing is that cornering roll is reduced but the all-alloy V8 engine does not seriously spoil the weight distribution so the car still understeers quite strongly. Even when the tail begins to ease out on the cornering limit, closing the throttle pulls the nose in tidily without any drama and the car is neither thrown off course nor deterred by a bump in mid bend. In fact our comments concerning this Rover´s ride are based on our recent experience with a 2200 SC because the Denovo tyres further compromise the car´s comfort. Four of these “units” (the wheels are special too) cost an extra ₤48 and are available only with power-assisted steering. Because they can be driven dflated for 100 miles at speeds up to 50 mph, a spare is considered unnecessary; but you are probably well aware of the tyres “fail-safe” principles: how do they behave on the road? First the bad news. At low speed they introduce a harshness and “bump-thump” to the ride which we think is unacceptable for a car in the Rover´s class and similarly the loud hum given off by their coarse tread pattern at suburban speeds would be better suited to a Land Rover. They also twitch at raised white lines. On the credit side, their ultra-low profile construction and extraordinary width give excellent road grip in all weathers, together with progessive breakaway characteristics. Our controlled deflation tests proved that the car remains remarkably stable in straight line running with either a front or a rear tyre “blown”, and driven normally there are no handling or braking problems. When hard pressed with a front tyre let down, the car understeers considerably more and there is some tug on the steering when braking abruptly. Conversely the tail is more ready to slither sideways on fast corners with a back tyre deflated. But we deliberarely went to extremes. With the car driven sensibly the Denovos´ “get-you-home” facility should prove as safe as it is unique.

Power steering is considered essential with the Denovos in order to cope with the extra steering effort which would result from a punctured front tyre. We guess that it would be unacceptably heavy without it anyway, considering the size of the “footprint” those tyres put on the road. Actually they probably help to reduce the lightness of the steering and provide some welcome resistance and feel to the mechanism, even though it is artificial.

The brakes are nicely progressive but feel heavier than our Pressometer revealed; perhaps this is because one´s angle of attack on the pedal is far from ideal. Fade-free and generally imperturable, they quickly instil confidence and one couldn´t ask for a much better stop than 0,97 g. The handbrake is rather too close to the driver´s elbow to provide a good pull, but it has no difficulty in holding the car facing either way on a 1-in-3 hill.

The front seats have a very wide range of fore and aft adjustment together with infinite squab rake settings, and cushion tilt can be varied by means of spacers provided in the tool-kit. Not many car makers cater successfully for drivers of varying stature but Rover seem to have the knack, for all our team commented favourably on the support they got for their shoulders, back and thighs. Headroom is satisfactory too but all-round vision is poor but current standards. The high scuttle, thick roof pillars and quarter light frames are all very conspicuous and the nearside front wing is out of sight so it is difficult to see the sidelamp marker on that wing at night. Most drivers will be able to see the tail fins when reversing though. The new convex dipping mirror gives a panoramic, if slightly diminished view through the electrically-heated back window, while a door mirror, similarly glazed, eliminates offside blind spots. Two-speed wipers with a finely variable delay control giving a pause of up to sixteen seconds manage to cope with the wrapround screen edges but leave triangular blind spots at the top and bottom of the driver´s side of the glass. All windows are “Sundym”, tinted incidentally.

The large and clearly marked speedometer and tachometer are flanked by two smaller combination dials and an accurate clock. Incorporating rectangular warning lights, the instrument panel is under rheostat illumination at night and has a concave platic “window” to eliminate reflections. The dials are clearly visible through the slim-rimmed, leather trimmed steering wheel which, as ever, is adjustable for rake and on power steering models is 1 ¾ in smaller in diameter. The ignition/starter keyhole in the lower fascia rail is particularly easy to locate but although the three rotary controls and pull-out hazard switch are clearly labelled and illuminated at night they lack the ergonomic efficiency of the Triumph 2000/2.5 PI´s controls. Heater, choke and petrol reserve controls are placed lower on the centre console in front of the gearlever while two slender column stalks work headlamp dipping and flashing (on the left) and indicators and strident horns (on the right). The four headlamp lighting system gives a splendid range and spread to match the car´s performance. Reversing lamps are built into the rear light clusters and an extra position on the main lighting switch caters for any additional lamps.

Ventilation slots in the fascia are placed directly ahead of the front occupants and provide fresh air to the face without freezing your fingers. They have vertical direction control flaps as well as volume adjusters which diffuse the flow well and while their ram delivery is normally good, it can be boosted if necessary by the two-speed fan. Further ventilation is provided by the noisy front quarter lights operated by awkward but thief-proof handwheels and there are also quaint quarter panes at the rear, but so effective is the ventilation that such old fashioned luxuries are something of an anachronism. Windscreen demisting is both prompt and thorough and any back window consideration is rapidly dispelled by the efficient, electrically-heated glass.

“Masterfully discreet” is the way we described the original 3500´s progress at touring speeds and nothing, except the tyres, has made us change our opinion on this latest version. It lopes along a motorway sounding and feeling completely relaxed and devoid of resonance periods, but wouldn´t an electric or viscous-coupled cooling fan add even further refinement at high revs? Wind sealing, on the other hand, is not particularly impressive (there were hisses from our front window frames at speed) and some of the fascia fittings were not as chatter-free as one has to expect from a Rover.

Once having fumbled with three keys and eventually got the doors unlocked you find they open wide. Strong check links hold them in place and access to the front seats presents no problems. Entry and exit for rear passengers is made more difficult by restricted foot entry space and the deep footwells, even if you are young and agile. Our tape measure didn´t support Rover´s claim that the reshaping of the front seats squabs has increased rear passenger´s kneeroom. Certainly the individual armchairs cosset two in luxury, with padded rear quarter panels just a head loll away, but anyone sitting behind a tall driver will find both knee and legroom intolerably cramped, and certainly no match for a Peugeot 504 or a Volvo 144. Except for the box-pleated leather upholstery (brushed nylon is available as a no-cost option), re-styled sun visors and a bigger mirror, the attractive interior remains virtually unchanged. The fascia has a sensible moulded shelf fitted with a grippy rubber mat and a padded top rail across its entire width, with dark simulated wood inserts between, which curve round to continue along the top door rails. The vinyl headling is in an attractive fleck design and the heavy-pile bound carpeting carefully fits the floor to be clamped along the sills by handsome stainless steel tread plates.

Two ashtrays are located at the front and rear of the centre console, a single centre roof light obeys courtesy switches on all dorrs and a rotary map light is fitted to the passenger´s side of the fascia rail. Sill buttons lock for the passenger´s doors but strangely there are no separrate childproof locks and it still takes excessive effort to work the exterior pushbuttons. Even after ten years the Rover´s heater is an object lesson to most other car makers. We found that the almost inaudible slow fan speed was needed quite frequently in town but its distribution of warmth at floor level is excellent, reaching the feet of both front and rear occupants. The temperature control slide also has an exemplarly action, instantly providing a wide range of settings without guesswork. The controls would benefit from some form of illumination after dark, however.

Apart from the fascia switchgear which could be more effectively recessed, the 3500 is designed around a host of safety features. The two ends of the body are designed to crumple progerssively on major impact and the steering box is mounted high on the scuttle. The fascia top is crushable and the detachable interior mirror is flanked by soft sun visors. Similarly, front occupants´ legs are protected by storage compartments at shin level made of padded collapsible material. Even the friction-held rake adjustment for the front seats will yield in a violent rear impact to obviate whiplash injury and slim slot-in-head restaints are available as an optional extra. The standard inertia-reel seat belts plug into their centre stalk sockets with an easy one-handed action and prove comfortable to wear; anchorage points are also provided for rear belts.

With the 3500 on standard tyres the illuminated and fully lined boot would be roomy enough but for the space-robbing spare wheel. In this case, with no spare to worry about a set of golf clubs can now be accommodated and so too can the hold-all that frequently had to be squeezed onto the back seat. There is no awkward sill but rain drips in from the opened lid in wet weather. Useful lipped shelves front and rear cope with interior addments, wheile the invaluble lockable shin-bins swallow handbags, maps and so on.

Vinyl roof trim and appropriate badges are the only means of identifying these latest big-engined Rovers, although when Denovo tyres are specified, special plastic wheel trims are provided. Personally we much prefer the standard hub caps which not only look handsome but also make tyre pressure checking easier. In other respects it is very much the construction and finish as before with separate painted body panels bolted to a skeleton base unit which makes for simpler accident repairs. The bonnet and boot lid are of aluminium incidentally – perhaps that is why one is urged in four languages to close the lid with only a light downward press. There is a good deal of brightwork adorning the body, the majority of it being high quality stainless steel. Having been mildly disappointed with the paintwork on some recent Rovers we have sampled, our 3500 gave us new heart, for it had an almost flawless finish which was marred only by an excess of ugly filler in certain body joints. The fit of the panelwork was excellent. There is a black, corrosion resistant finish under the bonnet and the complete underside is comprehensively coated with a protective sealant, while box sections and body members are sprayed internally with rust-inhibiting wax. Small mudflaps protect the lower sides of the rear wings from gravel attack and the sturdy chromium plated bumpers with rubber faced overriders stand well clear of the panelwork and are soundly bolted on the chassis.

The 3500 proves fairly straightforward to valet, except that the radiator grille is fiddly to wash and the deep footwells complicate the job of cleaning the floors – the carpets can be removed with a tussle though. The box-pleated leather upholstery isn´t as easy to wipe clean as the more conventional kind of trim and the optional brushed nylon finish tends to attract and trap dust and hairs. Both respond well to a stiff brushing, however.

Like it or not, the 3500 owner has to prop open the heavy, lined bonnet with a crude rod. Nevertheless, anyone interested in carrying out his own servicing and maintenance will find that the big V8 fits quite comfortably into the engine compartment and allows access to the two carburettors, the distributor and the petrol filler. Even the sparking plugs are easy to tackle compared with most V layouts we´ve met, and of course there are no problems with the tappets or the brakes – they adjust automatically. The various fillers are easy to check and top-up, although it is tricky to get a grip on the low-mounted oil filter canister. Servicing is based on a 3000-mile (or 3-monthly schedule) and the thick, comprehensive owner´s manual is particularly helpful. Many spares prices are reasonable compared with those of several imported Continentals.

As well as a 60 AH battery, the electrical system boasts an alternator and a pre-engaging starter and there are twelve fuses (which are none too handily placed under the passenger´s side of the fascia). Genuine Jubilee clips give a pleasing Rover-ish touch to the water hoses but it is surprising to find that the cooling system isn´t fully sealed and that a fixed-pulley fan is still employed. The laboriously low-geared jack slides easily into any of the four rubber-plugged sockets adjacent to the wheels. It is stowed behind the spare wheel together with a useful tool roll but it doesn´t match the kit one got in earlier Rovers – even the screwdriver is made in Germany!

It is said that there is no substitute for cc´s and this is certainly true in the 3500´s case where multi-cylindered power brings a smoothness and refinement to the model which even the much improved 2200 unit can´t hope to match. Automatic transmission seems naturally to complement it, and it works well, though not as well as the best, its lack of part-throttle kickdown below 20 mph, for example, being a disappointing feature. As to the Denovo tyres: one pays dearly for their remarkably safe “run flat” capability and the extra boot width they provide in terms of cost, weight, noise and harshness. We strongly recommend the prospective buyer to sample the car on conventional tyres before opting for these specials.

Ten years of production have seen few changes to the Rover´s basic design, but revisions to the suspension have, we think, tended to detract from the splendid ride of the 2000. However, its steady unruffled progress on most roads is still an object lesson to many manufacturers on both sides of the channel. On the mechanical side Rover have wisely left well alone where it makes sense; the front seats are excellent, the heating and ventilation superb and with one or two exceptions the construction and finish maintain the high Solihull standards. Yet the 3500 remains an uncompromising four seater with hardly adequate space for luggage and a spare wheel together, and as has already been proved, no amount of cosmetics can disguise the middle aged looks. The stylists just won´t let her grow old gracefully. Ultimately these limitations of styling and space will hasten the fall from favour but until then its individualism and strength of character will continue to please and impress.


Top speed 115 mph



0-60 mph 11.1 seconds


Fuel consumption

20.5 mpg



UK 1974