Oh-so British marque discovers American power

While styling may change every couple years, engine designs can last for a quarter of a century. Many of today´s vehicles are motivated by engines that first appeared in the 1960s. The Ford 302-cid V8, Chrysler´s 318-cid V8 and the venerable Buick V6, for example, have been around for decades. Of course, they have undergone many modifications, improvements and influsions of modern technology. The US-bred, British-raised Buick/Rover V8 rightfully should be included on this list.

In 1961, Buick, Olds and Pontiac joined the attack on the growing import threat. Not only did the three divisions share a platform, they also used a common V8 engine: the Buick designed and built, all-aluminium V8. While it produced a respectable 155 hp in base tune, it wasn´t long before GM was getting even more ponies out of this rather small (only 215-cid) V8. Tweaking with a four-barrel carb and a 10.25:1 compression boosted output to 185 hp.

Olds took a pioneering step when it added a turbocharger to reach 215 horses, and installed this “Turbo-Rocket V8” in the limited-edition 1962-63 Olds F-85 Jetfire.

Hoewever, buyers of Detroit Iron in the 1960s wanted their muscle from lots of cubic inches, so the 215-cid V8 was gone from the GM catalog by 1964. But GM quickly found an eager buyer for rights to the Buick V8 as well as the tooling to produce it: British Leyland.

The little V8 was reborn as the 3.5-liter (3528cc) engine that first appeared in the 1967 Rovers. It replaced Rover´s venerable F-head, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder and turned the company´s P5 platform into the so-called P5B. Rover, which came under the BL umbrella in 1967, built cars known for their Rolls-Royce build quality, but also for dowdy looks and performance. In fact, the 1950-64 P4-series earned the nickname “Aunty Rover” because of the type of driver often seated behind the wheel.

The P5/P5B featured staid styling dominated by a large, upright grille. Besides a conventional four-door sedan, there was a “Coupe”. But that was a bit of a misnomer since it, too, had four doors. However, the Coupe featured a lower roof profile and seating for only four. Thanks to the new 161-hp Rover V8, the P5B´s performance was far less anermic than previous models.

And the next application was a lot more exciting as the Buick/Rover V8 was installed in the radically restyled (at least by british standards) Rover P6 series. Besides contemporary looks, the P6 that debuted in 1963 became more of an enthusiast´s car. When the P6 first appeared it was designated the Rover 2000 to note its 2.0-liter (1978cc) sohc, inline four-cylinder, producing 90 hp. In 1966, the 2000 was joined by the 2000 TC that used twin carburettors and higher compression to crank out 114-124 hp.

But when complaints of lackluster performance with the 2.0-liter persisted, Rover installed the V8 for 1968, producing two models – the Rover 3500 and 3500 S.

In the 3500, the little V8 put out 143 hp; when tweaked for the 3500 S it was rated at 184. The Rovers used twin SU carburettors in lieu of the American Rochesters that the engine had when it wore a GM label.

Because the all-aluminium weighed about the same as the Rover four, the excellent handling characteristics of the 2000/2000 TC were retained. Introduced with a Borg-Warner three-speed automatic, a more sporting, beefed-up manual from the 2000/2000 TC was added a bit later, further enhancing performance.

The P6 sedan was rather advanced with a monocoque structure on which the outer skin panels were bolted. This made for easier and less-expensive body repairs.

Rear suspension was a De Dion setup, while coil springs and twin control arms were used in front. It also had four-wheel disc brakes, the rears mounted inboard.

The “Three Thousand Five”, as it was called in England, was sold in the United States through 1971, although styling of the cars sent Stateside was marred somewhat by triple hood scoops and some not-too-handsome wheels. While they were excellent performing sports sedans overall, the Rovers suffered from the same basic quality control problems that plagued the entire British auto industry of the period. Also, with a price tag of $5400 in 1969, Rover´s 3500 S was almost as expensive as a 1969 Cadillac. Few were sold in the States and sales were halted by 1971. The Three Thousand Five continued to be marketed in Britain until 1975.

The 3500/3500 S was replaced in 1976 by the wedge-profiled SD1, which also used the Buick/Rover V8. A SD1 four-door fastback spreadheaded Rover´s brief return to the US car market in early 1980s, but with even less success than its predecessors.

But the Buick/Rover V8 went on long after the 3500/3500 S. Indeed, it is still in production today: Americans can find it in late-model Range Rovers, albeit with displacement increases first to 3.9, then 4.2 liters and now with electronic fuel injection.

British sports cars producers also used the Buick/Rover V8. The 3.5-liter found itself in the 1974 MGB GT V8 fastback coupes and was also called upon to power the archaic mechanicals and bodystyle of the Morgan Plus 8, a model still being produced at Malvern Link. It also made its way into the Triumph TR 7 from 1978-81 to create, appropriately, the TR 8.

But it was TVR that pushed the engine to its full potential. For its 420 SEAC (Special Equipment Aramad Composite), a 150-plus mph roadster, the company increased the engine´s displacement to 4.45 liters and obtained some 320 horses, a long way from its 155 hp beginnings. 

USA 1994