Rover 3500 S
Power to the People
nomenclature has often confused people, so letīs begin by defining exactly what
it is weīre talking about here.
3500 S was built between 1971 and ī76, and was a manual-transmission version of
the 3500 saloon. It is not to be confused with the Federal 3500 S (a specially
equipped automatic made for the US market between ī69 and ī71) or with the V8-S
(a completely different car which was based on the later Rover SD1).
OK? Letīs go
on then - or rather - letīs go back. The 3500 S was a member of the Rover P6
family, which has first been seen in four-cylinder 2000 form at the 1963 Earls
Court Motor Show. The 2000 was a sensation - both because it broke new ground
for Rover and because it incorporated an astonishing selection of new and
sensible engineering features. Rover was deluged with orders, and was simply
never able to keep up with demand until the fuel scare of the early ī70s which
encouraged customers to turn to smaller-engined cars.
customers who did get their hands an a Rover 2000 generally had one main
criticism, which was that the car wasnīt fast enough, in fact it was quick for
the time, but its superb chassis could clearly handle much more power than the
2-litre engineīs 90 bhp. So Rover introduced a more powerful twin-carburettor
engine in 1966 and then, in 1968, added a Three Thousand Five model with its
new, ex-Buick, 3.5-litre V8 under the bonnet.
It was from
this car that the 3500 S was descended, albeit via the Series 2 or New Look 3500
introduction in 1970. The 3500 was already a quick car but many owners thought
that the all-alloy V8 really needed a manual transmission behind it. Rover
thought so, too, but it didnīt have a manual gearbox strong enough to take the
V8īs torque in 1968, which was why all the early V8 cars came with automatic
transmission. By 1971, however, they had redeveloped the 2000īs four-speed box
to handle the V8īs torque, and it was this which appeared in the 3500 S.
When the car
was launched, it received ecstatic reviews. In cold figures, performance wasnīt
actually all that much better than from an automatic 3500, but the 3500 S felt
much quicker and could manage an extra 5 mph or so at the top end. It wasnīt
until much later, when the first cars began to rack up high mileages in the
hands of unsympathetic owners, that the gearboxīs marginal ability to deal with
the V8īs torque became apparent.
Check out a
random sample of half a dozen 3500 S models offered for sales today, and you can
bet that at least four will have, or will have had, gearbox problems. If the
problems are still there, then there will be assorted rattles and graunching
noises from the gearbox, and the odds are that it will jump out of reverse and
maybe out or third as well.
be rebuilt, and new "police-specification" gearboxes still turn up from time to
time. These are rather stronger than the standard type, but they are also
noisier. And they donīt offer any performance increases, no matter what their
vendors might say.
leaping ahead here. You must check the gearbox on a 3500 S, but the really
expensive problems on one of these cars all sterm from the bodywork.
Like all P6
Rovers, the 3500 S is built on a steel skeleton, known as a base-unit, to which
the running gear and the unstressed body panels are bolted. It is only too easy
to remove rusty body panels and replace them with sound ones, and many owners
will do this before selling a car. The problem is that the new panels might well
be covering serious structural rust in the base-unit, and this will only become
apparent during a thorough investigation. More than with almost any other car,
therefore, do not allow shiny paintwork and new panels to seduce you into buying
a P6 until you have checked the car over carefully.
Rust in the
external panels will be pretty obvious. Look at the rear of the four wings, the
front of the rear wings, and the bottoms of the doors. You might also find that
the big under-bumper air intake panel is damaged - itīs no longer available, so
youīll have to settle for a remade steel panel (mostly not so good) or a glass
reinforced plastic replacement. You wonīt find rust in the bonnet or boot lid,
as both are made of aluminium alloy. Worth remembering is that the paint on the
final (mostly P-registered) cars was prone to flaking, and that this tended to
make these examples more prone to rust than earlier ones.
looking more closely. Open the bonnet and examine the tops of the inner front
wings. Open the doors and bang the carpeted inside surfaces of the box-like
sills with your fist: you might hear metal crumbling or rust falling off and
dropping into the sill. Check the bottoms of the D-posts (the forward edge of
the rear wheelarch, visible when the door is open), and then lift the rear seat
cushions and check the condition of the "wells" at each outboard end. On bad
cars, you can see the road through them.
along the inner surfaces of the sills under the car and, if you canīt find
jacking points under the rubber bungs in the outer sill panel, then you know
youīve got trouble! Watch out, too, for outer sill panels which have been welded
to the inners: they should be screwed on, but bodgers often plate over the area.
At the back
end, feel up inside the rear wheelarches, checking for flaking metal in the
panel at the front to which the wing is bolted. Open the boot and lift the
carpet to check for holes or dampness at its front edge. Feel carefully along
the sides of the boot well, too: the suspension arms bolt to these, and have a
nasty habit of pulling out under load if the surrounding metal has been weakened
If all that
is sound, youīve either missed something or found an exceptional car! Look now
at the interior.
wear very well, but you might find the black dashboard has gone grey in the sun
and that the seats have split. The latter isnīt likely with the later cloth
type, but it is fairly common with the vinyl and leather types. Remember that
leather is very expensive to repair properly or to replace.
impressed? Take the car out for a road test. The seats are astonishingly
comfortable, and itīs immediately obvious that the whole interior was designed
around the driverīs environment (that may be why Rover forgot to include any
legroom for the rear passengers). You canīt fail to admire that magnificent
instrument panel - still one of the clearest around - and youīll soon come to
appreciate the benefits of the centrally-placed switchgear, too. What you wonīt
like is the steering at low speeds if the car youīre testing doesnīt have PAS.
If it does have power steering you might find the car a bit twitchy and in need
of constant correction at high speeds.
The 3500 has
long-travel, coil-spring suspension all round, with a De Dion rear axle and
horizontal springs at the front which act against the bulkhead. Itīs an unusual
set-up, which gives a very comfortable and flexible ride at the expense of a lot
of cornering roll. Handling and roadholding are both pretty good, but you need
to be familiar with the car to get the best out of it. On the move, that front
suspension feeds a fair amount of road rumble into the bulkhead, so donīt assume
thereīs a problem when you hear it, but if you hear a clonk from the front end,
the odds are that thereīs a ball joint on the way out. The lower one is a real
pig to replace, and some specialists offer replacement suspension legs with the
new lower joint already installed.
If you hear a
clonk from the back end, or if the car seems to lurch or skip sideways under
cornering, then suspect De Dion trouble. The sliding joint needs to be
lubricated from time to time, but most owners forget, with the result that it
seizes up. Problems can also be caused if the rubber gaiter splits and allows
water and road debris into the sliding joint. Have a look underneath to check,
and while youīre at it, try to get a good look at the inboard rear brakes. The
pads are a real pain to change and are often allowed to wear down to bare metal
as a result.
the engine until last, simply because itīs such a robust piece of kit. It does
like regular oil changes, though. Top end noise from a worn camshaft is a common
problem which results from infrequent servicing; many cars also "tick" when one
of the self-adjusting tappets gets gummed up with sludge. Watch out for
overheating, caused either by a blocked radiator (curable) or by corroded
waterways (expensive - these engines need coolant inhibitor or anti-freeze all
the year round). Check for oil leaks, particularly from the back of the engine
on early cars, where the main seal can sometimes go.
enjoy! The 3500 S is a superb package, combining luxury saloon with sporting
Weekly / UK 30 September 1992