US spec. Rover 3500 S

One of the nice cars is made even nicer

This is the Rover 3500 S. It has the same body as the Rover 2000 / 2000 TC but instead of the hard-working 2-liter 4-cyl Rover engine it uses the 3.5-liter aluminium V8 that was designed in Detroit for the small Buick-Olds-Pontiac lines of 1961-63. As an engine swap, it´s one of the happiest hybrids we´ve ever encountered. And as an automobile, taken all in all, it´s just about the nicest sedan we´ve come across this year.

In overall appearance, it is similar to the 2000 and while the 3500 S is still a pleasant looking car, the treatment of the front end is unfortunate. There are three functional hoods scoops tecked on, to start with. These were added for better control of underhood temperatures and were necessary, we are told, to enable Rover to meet the latest emission control requirements. In addition, an expanse of grille was added for additional cooling and there are two turn signal lamps tacked on under the bumper. These things, plus the Icelert sensor (which warns the driver when road conditions approach freezing), the Rover badge, a "3500 S" flash and a chrome "V8" result in an awkwardly busy front end.

Going on with the styling, there´s a chrome strip and an accompanying pin stripe down the side. The 3500 V8 sold in England has neither the excrescences on the hood, the chrome strip not the pin stripe and the tack-on signals are blessedly absent. And it looks much better. We decided that the U.S. trim must represent the Rover version of what the British think Americans like on their cars.

The V8 engine fits neatly under the hood and there is even a tiny bit of space around it to perform minor adjustments. The chunky V8 looks familiar and comfortable to American eyes but giving it away as indubitably British is a pair of semi-sidedraft SU carburetors sitting on top and inhaling through a remote air cleaner. The V8 went into the engine bay with an amazingly small amount of difficulty. The battery was sent to the trunk, the oil filter mount was angled to miss a frame member, the exhaust manifolding revised and the front cross-member moved slightly forward. Then, by tilting the engine about four degrees, it slipped right in and it looks like it belongs there.

The engine itself, in case you´ve forgotten, has a sand-cast aluminium alloy block with wedge-shaped combustion chambers. In the Rover it is putting out 184 bhp at 5250 rpm while in its earlier existence in Detroit it was rated a 200 bhp at 5000 rpm in its strongest unturbocharged form. It weighs just slightly more than the 4-cyl Rover engine so the weight distribution hasn´t deteriorated. In fact, the weight distribution is slightly better than it was previously; probably due to the battery´s relocation and the fuel tank´s capacity being increased from 14.4 to 18 gal.

The engine is mated to a Type 35 Borg-Warner gearbox and while this isn´t the world´s greatest automatic - we say that principally because it has no "torque-demand" downshift; that is, you have to floor the accelerator to command a lower gear - it works all right. The engine and gearbox are well suited to each other, you move off smoothly and without dramatic pauses between shifts. The car responds well to manual manipulation of the automatic and we suspect that many drivers will drive it this way, selecting their gears rather letting it shift for itself.

One of the things Rovers do best is make the driver feel like somebody. The seats are superb - it seems almost unnecessary to explain that they are fully adjustable - and there´s excellent support from the form-fitting seatback. These seats, coupled with a steering wheel that can be moved up and down to suit the driver´s comfort, make it a car that is grand for long-distance touring.

The instrumentation for the 3500 S has been improved by using big, legible white-on-black instruments in place of the ribbon-type speedometer formerly used.

Adding to the touring pleasure potential, there are lots of places to put things. There´s a spacious drop-out bin in front of the passenger, a slightly smaller one in front of the driver, a usefull, full-width tray across the top of the instrument panel (with non-skid surface) and a pair of pullout pockets under the arm rests. We found a couple annoyances even amidst all this splendor, however, as the door handles are awkward to operate, hiding as they do under the arm rests and unyielding, ready to jab the passenger´s left knee when his seat is forward.

Other nices touches include an intermittent wiper feature for the windshield and electric window lifts that rise and drop at a properly rapid pace. There´s a stalk growing out of each side of the steering post, the one on the left for the headlight dimmer / flasher and the one on the right for the turn signal / horn honker. This all works quite well once you´re used to it but we never did get over finding it all too easy to toot the horn when inserting or removing the key from its slot directly ahead of the stalk.

With the 3500 S the suspension remains the same - indipendent at front, De Dion with sliding tube at the rear - but there has been a tightening of spring rates and a slight stiffening of shock settings. This hasn´t hurt the ride a bit, in our opinion; if anything, we like it better. The ride is excellent, it handles dips and humps with equanimity and there´s a nice balance between a soft ride and a controlled ride.

The handling is very good indeed, a characteristic we always have appreciated in Rovers. Pushed very hard, the front end will plow but it is also readily set up with a flick of the wheel to get the tail out and there´s enough power to hold it in a stable cornering attitude. There´s considerable suspension travel, which makes it a good rough-road car, and while this also adds up to a lot of body lean, it isn´t bothersome to the driver although the passengers may feel they´re being tossed about in a series of fast bends.

With a final drive ratio of 3,08:1 (vs. 3,54:1 in the 2000) and 14-in.wheels, it isn´t terribly long-legged (over 3100 rpm at 70 mph) but the engine gives no sign of strain at any speed, including 100 mph. Wind noise begins to intrude upon the consciousness at 70 mph and over, however, and we kept touching the window lift switches (thinking one was down a crack) until we were convinced that the roar was normal.

Power assisted steering and power brakes are standard on the 3500 S and both are in keeping with the car´s character - easy, smooth and responsive. The disc brakes have been increased in size to offer 372 sq. in. of swept area (instead of 350) and they worked very well except that they squealed and grumbled in a most attention-drawing manner when used with medium to light pressure.

All-out performance of the 3500 S is better than adequate. The best quarter-mile times were obtained making handbrake starts. That is, we held the car on the line with the handbrake, elevated the revs to stoke up the torque, then let fly. Using the footbrake, the brake pads were not instantaneous in their release, thereby resulting in a quarter-mile time that was a full second lower.

With the spare tire in place in the trunk, there´s not a lot of storage space, thanks in part to the extra space used up by the larger fuel tank. A trunk-top mounting bracker is included, however, and while this doesn´t improve the car´s looks, it´s a very practical solution to the problem. The trunk is fully carpeted and finished, we might add.

We wish we were able to report on the long-haul durability of the 3500 S but with our short-haul experience with the car doesn´t permit it. The 2000s have had their full share of problems, if the readers we´ve heard from are typical. So about all we can say at this point is that in our test car, which had close to 6000 miles on it at the end of our test, we couldn´t find anything that would indicate that is wasn´t going to keep running just as sweetly as it was then.

All in all, as you can tell, we like Rovers. They´re fine automobiles and have a tradition of doing everything just a little better than they have to do to get by. In these days when most manufactured products seem to be just a little worse than they could be, it´s nice to encounter a car that´s better than it has to be. And while they´re hardly cheap, we don´t know of any car costing less that makes you feel you´ve got more.

0 - 60 mph  11.9 sec

top speed 117 mph

fuel consumption  17.5 mpg

price  $5398

Road & Track USA 11/1969