Rover 3500 V8 Series 1 - Jaguar XJ6

Spoilt for choice

The 1968 Earls Court Motor Show was the first opportunity most people had to see two sensational new saloons from the newly-created British Leyland combine. On the one hand there was Jaguarīs long-awaited new XJ6; on the other there was Roverīs Three Thousand Five, created from the five-year-old 2000 bodyshell by means of a V8 engine transplant.

Although launched after the British Leyland merger, neither car could be described as a real British Leyland product because both had been developed when their manufacturers were independent. Jaguar had started serious work on the XJ6 in 1964, and with it the company hoped to rationalise its complicated 1960s range of sporting saloons into a single-basic model.

Rover had started work on the Three Thousand Five in 1964, too, when the firmīs managing director had brought back a redundant Buick V8 engine from a trip to the USA and persuaded the Rover Competitions Department to squeeze it into a 2000 to see what would happen.

Both cars were shaped quite extensively by the demands of the US market. Jaguar already had an excellent reputation there; Roverīs was less good, although its 2000 had received enormous critical acclaim.

For Jaguar, the challenge was to build on its strengths as a maker of refined sporting saloons, and so the XJ6 had to be quieter and smoother than previous Jaguars, as well as faster. Roverīs challenge was to build a car with the performance to match the 2000īs superb chassis.

But here the similarities ended. The Jaguar would always be a larger and more expensive car than the Rover, even though both appealed to very much the same type of wealthy buyer in Britain. At Earls Court that year the 4.2-litre XJ6 with automatic transmission was posted at Ģ1875 plus Purchase Tax, while the Rover (with auto transmission als standard) was just Ģ1400 plus PT.

Both cars were widely seen as bargains. To see how they measure up today, we borrowed a 1973 XJ6 (which differs only in minor respects from the 1966 original) and a 1970 Three Thousand Five. Both were very late cars from the "Series 1" production runs. 1974 XJ6s were further-refined Series 2 models and 1971 Rovers were restyled and renamed 3500s.


Both of these cars are pretty impressive in the handling department, thanks to unusually sophisticated suspension systems. The Jaguarīs coil-and-wishbone front end is perhaps unremarkable as a design, but not many other coil-and-wishbone front suspensions work this effectively.

The Roverīs bell-crank IFS, with the loads fed into the bulkhead via horizontal coil springs, is technically more interesting, but itīs probably best described as supremely competent.

Itīs at the rear where most of the interest in these two cars lies. The Jaguarīs immensely complicated independent rear end was used on the E-Type as well, and so adds a high-class sporting pedigree to the sophistication and refinement which careful rubber bushing brings about. Nevertheless, a certain amount of "bump-thump" does intrude when the car is travelling over poor surfaces.

The Roverīs back end uses a de Dion tube - another system with a racing pedigree, which Rover probably picked up from the big Lancia saloons of the 1950s. Itīs remarkably effective at keeping the rear wheels on the ground when cornering, and seems not to lack any of the Jaguar systemīs sophistication. If anything, itīs actually quieter over poor surfaces.

Still, the handling characteristics of these two cars are very different. On bends, the taller Rover readily rolls out beyond its narrower track, while the XJ6 adopts a much flatter stance, even under provocation. Nevertheless, the Rover never lets you worry that things may be getting out of hand. The back end stays firmly attached to the road, even though the body leans over at quite alarming angles.

At low speeds, however, the absence of power-assisted steering counts against it. Trying to turn those beefy 185-section radials to manoeuvre the car into a tight parking spot can be a real chore. Power assistance on the XJ6 means that parking is no problem at all.

The Rover also loses out when travelling at speed in a side wind. While it doesnīt actually deviate much from the driverīs chosen path, it does feel a little unstable. Here, the Jaguarīs extra weight helps. It just bores on down the road regardless.


On paper, the cars are fairly evenly matched. Contemporary road tests showed the Rover to be quicker from 0-60 mph (9.5 secs as against the Jaguarīs 10.1) though the Jaguar had better high-speed acceleration and attained a higher top speed of 120 mph as compared to the Roverīs 117 mph.

We didnīt try to emulate these figures in our test. But we can say that we entirely agree with the general picture they suggest. Both cars feel pretty quick, even by modern standards, and both will out-drag a lot of much more modern machinery.

Once travelling at main road cruising speeds in the Jaguar, you can still get a hefty shove in the back when you floor the throttle for overtaking. In the Rover, though, you begin to run out of steam much sooner. Safe main road overtaking is still a doddle, but you need to be just that little bit more certain that all the space youīll need is available.

Whatīs still impressive about the Jaguar is the manner in which it delivers all that performance. Thereīs instant acceleration available all the time: a gentle caress of the throttle pedal brings an appreciable increase in speed, but itīs all done without drama and without fuss. And if you really want to fly, a stab on the pedal provokes really rapid acceleration, preceded when necessary by the automatic ībox kicking down a gear.

Thereīs no getting away from the fact that the Jaguar is an extraordinarly refined car.

Its transmission - a Borg Warner model 12 three-speeder - tales all those 230lb ft of torque in its stride and gives smooth and quiet changes upwards and downwards.

By contrast, the Borg Warner ībox in the Rover thumps in and out of the ratios at all speeds and whines merrily away to itself at low speeds in bottom gear. It never lets you forget that it was designed originally for medium-capacity family saloons, or that the Roverīs 197lb ft of torque is close to the upper limit of its capacity. Smooth and refined it definitely isnīt.

Still, letīs not knock the Rover. It was designed as fast executive-class transport, not as a luxury sports saloon in the Jaguar mould. At speed itīs noisier (thereīs an awful lot of road noise transmitted through the body at high speeds) and the combination of this noise with the roughness of the kickdown actually helps the car to feel rather more sporting than the Jaguar XJ6.


In spite of the Jaguarīs great reputation for comfort, itīs actually quite a disappointment for rear seat passengers. The seats are comfortable enough, and quite wide enough for three people, itīs just that there isnīt an awful lot of legroom available when there is a tall occupant in the front seat. Nor is there enough headroom available for tall passengers at any time, unless they are prepared to slouch and risk backache on a long journey.

It isnīt at all surprising that Jaguar offered an alternative, long-wheelbase version of the car by the time our test XJ6 was built, or that the longer wheelbase became standard a year after the Series 2 models arrived in 1973.

Not that the Roverīs rear-seat space is anything to boast about. If anything, itīs rather worse. Legroom is non-existent, though headroom is rather better than in the Jaguar. And, of course, the Roverīs rear seat is designed to accommodate no more than two.

Both cars are also horribly disappointing when it comes to boot space. The Roverīs boot is a joke. The vertically-mounted spare wheel takes up an enormous amount of space, and whatīs left is just about adequate for a couple of big suitcases and a few squasky bags. Rover did offer a kit to mount the spare wheel externally on the bootlid, and that freed a useful amount of space.

The Jaguarīs boot looks vast by comparison, but itīs a rather impractical shape. Although it extends forwards a long way over the back axle, itīs very shallow. You simply canīt put a big suitcase upright in it and, once you start laying big cases on their sides, the apparent space shrinks very quickly. As far as boot space was concerned, both Rover and Jaguar had a lot to learn from manufacturers like Mercedes Benz in the 1960s.

Passenger and luggage capacities apart, however, both these cars make eminently practical vehicles for todayīs classic owner. Both are fully capable of keeping up with modern traffic.

As far as maintenance is concerned, there are few problems: Jaguar and Rover specialists abound.


We thoroughly enjoyed both of these big-engined, high-performance saloons and, given the opportunity, weīd have taken both of them home! The Rover has bags of sporting appeal, in spite of its automatic transmission, and it also feels much more compact than the Jaguar.

When you get into it, you immediately feel at home. Itīs the kind of car youīd be happy to use every day, though youīd have to think seriously about regular work-outs to cope with that unassisted steering.

The Jaguar is much more of a high-days-and-holidays car. Its luxurious interior is partly to blame, as it cries out "special occasion" every time you get into it. But it also feels too big and heavy to use every day. What in the late 1960s seemed a little and agile car seems by todayīs standards to be oversized and overweight.

Price doesnīt have a lot of bearing on the issue. About Ģ3500 buys a Series 1 4.3-litre XJ6 in good condition, and the extensively restored Rover we tested was actually up for sale at Ģ3500, though good examples can be had more cheaply than that.

Ultimately, the choice between these two cars must be based on the same criteria as it would have been for those who bought them when they were new in the early 1970s.

Buyers who wanted a fast ans luxurious saloon went for the Jaguar; those who were prepared to sacrifice a little of the luxury bought the Rover.

James Taylor

Popular Classics / UK March 1992