US spec. Rover 3500 S

They spell it swop

When last we saw the Rover, it was a sleek little English sedan, with pleasant lines, a superior suspension system, comfortable interior and not enough power to tip an Englishmanīs hat in the presence of Her Majesty.

The British donīt know how to spell, but theyīve been performing swops for generations and they do it well. Rover proudly presents the 3500 S, with the 121-cid 4-cyl engine replaced by a 215-cid V8. And itīs not just any V8. Rover now has the manufacturing rights for the General Motorsī alloy-block engine used first in the compact Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs, then revised in Australia into the engine that made Jack Brabham the Grand Prix Champion.

Quite a heritage, and itīs still going strong. Rover has made some changes, and itīs fair to say the Rover V8 is a Rover engine, developed from the B-O-P unit. The lightweight, mid-range (by European standards) engine fills a need in England, and Rover is selling the V8s to the other small manufacturers, such as Morgan and Marcos.

With the V8 comes an automatic transmission, as standard equipment. Itīs also familiar; the Borg-Warner 35 developed for use with small European engines, and nicely matched to the 3500.

The specifications are most impressive. Rated power goes from 115 bhp to 184, and torque from 126 ft./ln to 226. Nor did Rover stop at the engine and transmission. The suspension has been strengthened, wheels widened half an inch and power assisted steering is standard. The V8 engine by itself doesnīt weigh any more than the 4-cyl unit, and the transmission, power accessoires, optional air conditioning etc. add only 265 lb. to the curb weight. Distribution is changed less than 1% from 52/48 front/rear to 51.7/48.3.

What we should have, then, is a high-performance Rover. We donīt. Under our test conditions, the 3500 S and the 2000 cover the standard quarter-mile in a dead heat, a not-very-quick 18.9 sec. Trap speed gain is barely measurable, from 73.9 to a flat 76. Top speed drops from 116 to 114.

How can this be? Gearing, at both ends of the performance scale. The 2000 had a four-speed, so it could be revved and popped off the line. And it had a 3.54:1 final drive, so the engine could wind. And the engine would wind, to well past peak power through the gears and in high. The V8 isnīt a winder, and it has a 3.08:1 gear to keep the revs down and use the extra torque. First gear is relatively, and stall speed, that point at which either the driveshaft must turn or the engine stop, is not far above idle. So the 3500 S moves from rest at a leisurely pace, about the way a stick-shift car would if you left the gas pedal alone and dropped the clutch home. The usual dragstrip ploy of running the engine up against brakes wonīt work either. The front brakes back off slowly, and the car still trickles off the line. There is a way to overcome this. The English magazines got better figures than we did. (They always do with British cars.) Spies in our neighborhood tell us that the technique is to apply the hand brake at the start and rev the engine against that. For some reason, the back brakes donīt hold on as hard, and the car will leap forward on cue. This is an interesting gambit, and we donīt doubt it would cut a second or so off the E.T. It wasnīt done during the test because the Rover isnīt sold as a boy-racer car, or even an old-man-racer car; and we canīt imagine any Rover owner behaving like this in real life. Even when underway, the 3500 S isnīt much faster than little brother. The 0-60 time drops from 12.6 to 12.5 sec., for example, and 0-80 is 22.3 for the four and 21.0 for the V8. At the top end, the V8 just runs out of breath. It will pull 4700 rpm in high, or 114 mph. Top speed is an academic point, of course. More useful is the gain im mph/rpm. The V8 would last much longer at 100 mph (and 4100 rpm) than the older engine would.

To be fair: not much more performance doesnīt take much more fuel. The older car returned 21.3 mpg. The 3500 S toured our new mileage circuit at 18.5 mpg.

The transmission suits the car very well. Itīs quiet and shifts quickly. The shift pattern has been matched to the engine and it grabs the next higher gear at the earliest opportunity. The only complaint is, once again, in the performance field. It will not shift down until the driver gets the transmissionīs attention by stomping down on the accelerator pedal.

The net effect is quiet and calm. The Rover 3500 S is very quiet, with about the same inside decibel rating as, say, a GM Intermediate with mid-range V8 and economy gears. That is a compliment: The domestic family car is much quieter than its imported price-range equivalent. The Rover has a subdued sporting V8 rap, but thatīs all you hear.

Pity itīs not so quiet to the eye. The 3500 S has what must be the busiest front end since Texans stopped replacing radiator caps with steer horns. (They have stopped, havenīt they?)

The orginal grille jars with the auxiliary grille for extra cooling, and there are various badges, emblems, symbols etc., tacked here and there, and signal, parking, turn, warning and so forth lights clumped about on the corners.

And those scoops. Three in number, theyīre tacked on. An afterthought? No, theyīre part of the emission control system, and thus in the works for some time. The engine gets a pair of SU carburetors, one-throat jobs with but one jet, and a piston that slides up and down depending on the requirements the engine is making for fuel and air. The engine must have air at 1000 F, and the middle scoop takes air in and feeds it through an exhaust-heated stove. The outer scoops are for summer only and make sure the engine can get cooler air if the heated air is too hot, if you can follow that.

The smog stuff is needed and the lights are required by the dreaded safety laws. But other European manufacturers manage to make their cars meet the rules without all that clutter. Either Rover canīt, or wonīt bother. Our vote is for the latter.

Because when Rover wants to do something right, itīs done right. The suspension is wizard. One might not think so from looking at the test pictures. Here comes another helpless sedan, being thrashed by Car Life, the staff of which will not bleat about body lean, right? Not at all. The 3500 S does lean, but itīs not a drawback.

The front suspension is merely unique. The lower A-arm mounts and pivots in the usual way, but the upper arm pivots on the firewall, and goes forward to the hub. The front spring is a coil, mounted horizontally and feeding into the firewall.

The rear suspension is a modified DeDion, with the differential bolted solidly to the body/frame. The rear brakes are inboard, and the axles only handle driving and braking loads. A lightweight tube joins the rear hubs and locates them laterally. The rear wheels arenīt independent of each other, but the springs need only control the wheels, not the axle, brakes, differential etc. Longitudinal control is via trailing arms below the axle, and leading links on top. Both sets of arms fasten to a collar that rotates around the hubs. Yes, Trans-Am fans, a Watt link, keeping the wheels from going back and forth.

So wheel travel and suspension geometry are carefully controlled. Because of this, Rover can allow the wheels to travel a long way without causing drastic changes in wheel adhesion. That means the springs can be soft, for s smooth ride, and the car can sail over bumps without crashing into the stops, and it can still corner with vigor.

The 3500 S is nicely balanced, and it retains its neutral feel at any speed the driver chooses. The rear can be pushed out just a bit with the extra power, but not much. There isnīt that much extra power, remember. The power-assisted steering is heavy, but thereīs more road feel than with most systems. Itīs quick, too.

The engineering editor said the Rover 3500 S is the best handling boulevard-ride car heīs driven, and that we could quote him. Done.

The brake tests revealed an old problem. The tires slid before the brakes really began to work. Once again, heating the brakes improved them. The first stop showed deceleration of 27 ft./sec. and stopping distance of 335 ft. from 80 mph. By the eighth stop the rate was up to 30, and the distance down to 275. The brakes doing too much work (fronts, usually) heat up, fade and share the load.

Inside the Rover is good and bad. Legible instruments, well-shaped seats front and back. Adjustable rake in front, too. And the steering can be raised and lowered. The wheel is just a bit too far away for the long of leg, but we canīt have everything, can we? (No, we are never satisfied.) And there are neat little things like a reserve fuel tank, unfortunately labeled Pet.Res. When all else fails, rememberr that pet. stands for petrol, which is english-English for gasoline.

And mercy, all those knobs. Proper operation requires both the ownerīs manual and membership in the Battle of Britain Alumni Assn. Knurled, round, toggle and push-pull knobs all over the place, some labeled, some not. The electric window buttons are on the console, and the lock-out switch for same is at upper left. A man could freeze to death before he found it.

There are lockable storage bins below the dash. Guess whatīs looked inside the lefthand one! Give up? The hood latch. Gas station attendants, too, are liable to freeze to death.

The trunk space is big, but Rover provides extra. One removes the medaillon on the boot lid, er, trunk lid, and the spare tire bolts onto the top. Even comes in its own cover. Rear vision is no problem. Simply glance in the rear view mirror and you can see the spare tire perfectly.

And the crowning blow, coming as it does from an outfit that lectures we Colonials about ergonomics and how seriously that science is taken over. There is a stalk to blow the horn. How you do it is to try to remove the ignition key, cleverly placed an inch in front of said stalk. And itīs a nice, loud horn, too, the better to drown out the curses and screams of rage.

Harshly put, perhaps. Familiarity will breed at least acceptance. The Rover 3500 S is expensive, but itīs also well assembled and well mannered. More sedan than sporting, it still has its quiet and road-holding to recommend it.

A person of taste could consider the frontal aspects the way to introvert thinks of his hat. How it looks doesnīt count. Heīll never see it.

Car Life / USA 12/1969