Rover 3500 V8

Maturity makes its mark

Can old concepts survive in this technologically-advanced world of ours? They can if theyīre designed well in the first place – take the Rover 3500 for example. The current version must represent one of the best luxury personal car bargains available on the Australian market. Despite its age, the car competes admirably with its competition – it doesnīt wear a GT tag, but it might as well. Itīs safe, stable and comfortable, offering a high degree of luxury – and that intangible personal image of the top-level executive saloon.

At its introduction the original Rover 2000 was hailed as a major step forward for a British manufacturer. Much the same comment heralded the 3500 V8 and that other unique Rover – the Range Rover. The companyīs approach is a purely self-indulgent one. The engineers and designers appear to do whatever they please, regardless of what the major mass producers would see as limits of economic practicality.

Rovers have always been exclusive cars and the 3500 is no exception. Yes, itīs definitely showing its age, around the edges, but like the Queen Mother the 3500 carries its age well.

The exterior dimensions are compact and it offers four doors and four individual seats. The cabin is well-appointed and the insulation is superb. The finish is good, the traditional trim design gives the car dignity – and on top of that it carries the name Rover, which in itself is probably the carīs best advertisement.

The mechanical arrangement is and isnīt fairly conventional. For instance the engine is at the front, together with the transmission, thereīs a prop shaft and the differential is at the rear. It has four-wheel disc brakes and power steering. But there are many unique and individual touches which make the 3500 what it is.

It has a De Dion rear suspension system, with inboard rear discs, and horizontally-mounted front coil springs which are part of a very different type of front suspension system.

The body/chassis construction is similarly interesting. The base unit (floorplan) carries all the mechanical units and acts as a skeleton to which all the body panels are fitted as separate, painted units. The base unit and panels are interchangeable in the event of damage. The bonnet and boot lid are made of aluminium alloy.

Resonances in the body are not apparent and the insulation of the cabin from road noise and suspension movement is very good. The doors, although heavy, open easily and allow clear entry and exit. They close with a resounding clunk. The 3500 is definitely a four-seater car, make no mistake. Three in the back is not on – in fact with the front seats extended to accomodate a “normal” driver there is quite a restriction on rear seat legroom. Headroom and shoulder room are adequate and vision is very good. The windows are of the tinted “Sundym” type.

The Rover 2000/3500 was possibly the first “production-ESV” – many of the safety concepts which were introduced at the outset were copied by other carmakers and the Rover is generally regarded today as an extremely safe vehicle, in the Volvo, Mercedes, Saab mould. Part of the new VW passive restraint system incorporating the automatic sash belt is a knee bolster, to protect the legs and stop the occupant sliding under the dash in the event of a collision. Rover already had that idea incorporated in the 2000/3500 body, using padded glovebox doors positioned at the knee height.

The Rover 3500 imparts a strong image as an effective safety capsule. All of the points raised here relate to passive safety features, however we believe the Rover 3500 has many efficient active safety features in addition. The handling and braking is impressive, as is the smooth transmission of available power and the driverīs controls. All this adds up to a car which gives the feeling of being safe, even before you turn the engine over. Thereīs a very comforting quality about driving a car that has been around for long enough (in one form) to have any bugs ironed-out and to gain the benefit of continuing development and research.

All of those qualities obviously help sell Rovers, but the price/value aspect is probably the most important. Considering the Roverīs ability to compete with the current crop of luxury/personal cars and its specification the 3500 is very good value for your highly-taxed dollar. At $8706 there isnīt much around which offers tradition, quality, handling and braking, V8 power and high-speed stability and comfort. Not, that is, in a package as compact and well-sorted as the 3500.

The engine is the well-proven (ex-Buick) 3.5 litre V8 fitted with twin HIF60 SU carburettors, in current form it develops 107 kW, giving an efficiency rating of 30.04 kw/litre. Itīs a pushrod OHV 90 degree V8 which is quiet in operation and will willingly rev up to the 5400 rpm limit.

The transmission is the Borg Warner Type 65 three-speed automatic with a centre console shift lever. The transmission is typically BW and is smooth and silent. Up and down-changes are almost imperceptible and response is immdediate telative to the chosen gear.

The lever is mounted quite a long way forward of what we believe is the optimum position and due to the rather small and awkward release-button mechanism the selection is not as easy as it is with the accepted T-bar system. The ratios are well-spaced, giving maximums in first and second (lever in Drive) of 58 and 115 km/h respectively and when held the maximums are 80 and 132 km/h. Top speed, according to Rover, is 186 km/h.

The suspension is independent at the front by an unusual system. The front coils are mounted longitudinally and horizontally. They are acted on by transverse bottom links and leading top links. The coils are mounted off the firewall. There is adequate spring travel to soak up bumps and roll is restricted by a sway bar mounted to the top links. The system gives good location and adhesion, with positive feel. The rear suspension is by De Dion sliding tube and Watts linkage and coil springs fitted to the forward links. The suspension system is well-designed and offers a near-perfect compromise between ride comfort and handling.

The brakes are Girling discs all round, mounted inboard at the rear. Dimensions are 26 cm and 27 cm front/rear and they handle maximum stops quite well. There is a power assisted unit fitted and this gives good feel, although it takes some getting used to as there seems little initial activity to accompany initial pedal travel.

As a four-place, high performance, luxury touring car the Rover 3500 offers most of what the market wants. The mechanical layout of the car is commendable and about the only thing Rover buyers might want is updated styling. That will come with the soon-to-be-released Rover SD1, although it will be a very much different car to the current model.

The seats are reasonably comfortable, but certainly arenīt the best available in some similar $8000 luxury cars. The test carīs seats were covered in leather, but we would have preferred the optional cloth trim. The seats are too firm and do not locate the body well enough. On the road the 3500 generates quite high cornering forces and this is where good seats (from a location viewpoint) are required. They offer adequate adjustment, although we felt their forward travel was not quite sufficient for shorter drivers. Legroom in the front compartment was reasonable without being excessive however rear seat legroom is quite restricted.

The driving position is average and visibility is quite good, but the design, with its high sill lines, does tend to give a slightly claustraphobic effect at times – although, as we said before, one tends to feel well-protected in the 3500. The controls are easy to reach and the dash-mounted switches are all clearly illuminated for easy location at night. The new instrument layout is excellent and those carmakers and designers who go in for clever, over-designed dash layouts could take a leaf out of Roverīs book. It has managed to come up with a dash/instrument layout thatīs functional, up-to-the-minute, clear and attractive – and all this achieved with fairly conventional round dial gauges.

The column stalks are very easy to locate and use. They are quite long enough and the specially shaped plastic knobs at the end facilitate easy operation. The thin-rimmed, large diameter, leather-covered steering wheel is good to hold and its proximity to the stalks is such that just a slight movement of the fingers brings the stalks into reach and their movement is easy and positive. Commendably, the steering column is adjustable for rake as well. The remainder of the dash layout is good, with two large gloveboxes, a wallet slot in the centre console and a handy (rubber-faced) shelf just below the windscreen and in front of the passenger. The brake pedal is quite big and easy to stab at in an emergency. The handbrake (centre-console mounted) proved very effective and was well located.

The heating and ventilation was adequate and typically British. We canīt hope for European carmakers to include big volumes of fresh air in their specifications and thus we must judge on relative levels of effectiveness. Here the Rover 3500 is better than most with dash-mounted air slots which are individually adjustable and can be aimed at driver or passengerīs faces, plus a decent floor vent and damister slots at the base of the windscreen. These are supplemented by quarter vent windows in both front and rear doors.

The comfort levels in the 3500 are high, no doubt about it. It is an enjoyable car and is very easy to live with. Itīs few design foibles can be forgiven in the light of its age and it does represent good value for money.

As a touring car it performs efficiently, but under test, not very economically. The V8 would haul it up to 100 km/h in under 11 seconds, and cover the standing 400 m in less than 18 seconds, but the fuel economy figures we recorded ranged between 16.5 mpg and 18.4 mpg. Still, thatīs about what youīd expect from a V8 lugging 1303 kg around. Using the BW 65 auto manually produced enjoyable motoring, the shifts being easy and response to lever movement was immediate. The power steering unit was efficient and yet still allowed much-needed road feel. The handling is understeer-oriented and is accentuated by the heavy front weight bias. Rover engineers did an excellent job of locating the V8 engine in the chassis originally designed around the two-litre four cylinder engine, and in fact it isnīt until you push the 3500 a little hard through tight stuff that the understeer becomes harder to bear.

The suspension handles just about any condition our miserable Australian roads can offer and we were impressed by the isolation of suspension noise and movement from the cabin. The brakes locked-up on test initially, but after warming them up with a few 100 km/h to zero stops they performed efficiently pulling the car up in about 46 m from 100 km/h.

None of the driving efforts (brakes, steering, throttle) are high and the car is quite comfortable buzzing along an expressway at 110 km/h to 150 km/h as it is tooling around the city and suburbs. Itīs not an exciting car to drive, but it performs with dignity and surprising dash and agility. We liked the 3500 – itīs refined, comfortable and offers very good value for money. It has a lot going for it in terms of reputation, quality and comfort levels and its inherent safety qualities.

AUS 1976