Rover 3500 V8 "Vintrim"

 The Concept - Vintrim´s Limited Edition Rover P6 V8

This car has taken two years in research and development to reach this stage. This Rover was originally designed for classic racing by Steve Whitren, owner of Vintrim, but he soon realised that this car was just too good to thrash on the track. It was then that the idea was born to produce these cars, as a Limited Edition, for sale to classic enthusiast in New Zealand and overseas.


The Procedure

One procures a solid P6 Rover for, say, $3.000-5.000. Vintrim then set about turning a very ordinary – stodgy, even – British classic into a real wolf in sheep´s clothing. Once completed, the only instantly noticeable giveaway to this car´s new pedigree are bonnet vents, modest front valance air scoops, slightly lowered suspension and... an engine sounding the only way a semi race-tuned V8 can – singing!


The Specs

The original specifications of the P6 Rover are such that many of the ingredients for the transformation are already at hand. Body panels bolt on and off for ease of replacement/painting. Koni shocks and uprated springs are fitted. Power steering is already standard, as is the de Dion rear end. Brakes are uprated to racing performance and wheels are especially cast by Geoff Hall at Wire Wheel Services. Although you´d never guess it, the engine´s (by Bygone Autos) brake horse power is only raised by 20 bhp. A slightly-worked cam is fitted, oil cooler and, on this prototype, a Holly carburettor. John Boyd designed the free-flow exhaust system, and Rodney Wreckers supply all the necessary Rover parts.

The interior has footwell lights fitted, and double light fittings newly positioned on the rear pillars. Soft black leather everywhere, with planned options such as CD player, electric windows and air conditiong.

Total Cost, including original car purchase: (depending on options) $20.000-30.000)

The Road Test

Some call it Murphys law, some call it Gremlins. I call it the perversity of inanimate objects (POIO). Whatever you call it, it exists.

The morning dawned overcast despite what our meteorology department had optimistically predicted. No problem! Gabriel was to do another road test, this time on a real car. There it was, sitting in my drive looking purposeful, slightly mean, and gleaming. A Rover 3500 – but somehow not a Rover 3500. This particular example was finished in red, one of, I believe, three optional colours. Body and paint finish was excellent, the bare body shell having been “dealt to” by Andy Culpin, of Heritage Restorations. Minor changes were made at the same time the rear guards were slightly flared (just a half inch). The front “spoiler” area was modified for better road manners and appearance. Paint finish and all exterior trim were virtually faultless and most impressive. Doors opened easily and closed with a firm “clunk”.

Outside mostly Rover, unmistakably Rover, but different. Inside still very Rover, but more so, if you know what I mean. Grey wool headling and Wilton carpets, luxurious black leather seats, wood veneer trim (I personally didn´t like the colour, a bit anaemic, but this can be supplied to customer choice, within reason) all finished to the extremly high standard that I have come to expect of Vintrim. A real gentleman´s office inside, nice to sit in, nice to look at...Nice.

When these Vintrim Rovers go into full “production”, colour options will be available, but only in three fixed combinations, green, blue and red. The interior trim – all black leather upholstery, including dash and door panels – headlining, any colour you like, as long as it´s grey, and wood veneer trim to suit.

When having familiarised oneself with the controls you fire it up! The well known 3.5 litre V8 springs into life, and someone has goosed our poor little neutered domestic pussycat and turned it, if not into a tiger (with apologies to Sunbeam), at least into a fairly stroppy randy tomcat. The idle is lumpy (Steve assured me that future versions will have a less obvious cam).

Snick it into first gear and apply the loud pedal. Things happen, it goes, it goes well all the way up to fifth gear. Hold it a minute, Rover don´t have five-speed gearboxes! This one does, delicacy and my natural diplomacy prevent me from revealing it´s true antecedents, especially when fitted to a British car, but be told, this car has a five speeder and quite good it is, too! I felt that the pressure required on the clutch pedal was quite heavy but this, as I was finding out, certainly is not the car for your delicate maiden aunt to drive. The only concession to a less than macho image once moving was the excellent power steering. I felt that the current cam installed in the car made it more an open road car than a suburban shopping basket, but after all, this is was this exercise was designed to achieve. Down the motorway – yes very quick, up to my favourite back roads in the Waitakeres. Row a bit with the gear lever, ease it gently into a couple of test corners. Very good. Approach the next series of bends with a bit more enthusiasm, still very good, no bad manners, fling it into a series of S-bends – bloody marvellous. This thing handles. I have driven better, but rarely. This chassis wanted to go round corners. Back down to the main road, stop at a Give Way, and the engine stopped. Didn´t want to start again. Facing down-hill so ran it under gravity power and dropped the clutch in second gear. We have noise! Allah be praised! Back into town heading for some intersting “open road” fast sweepers I know of. No problem.

Climb under car to check suspension, all beautifully done, fully adjustable front suspension, uprated springs. Adjustable shock absorbers, again all components beautifully finished, looked thoroughly professional. An excellent feature is the ventilated disc brakes, which give more than adequate stopping power, needed for a car of this capability.

Off to the Shore, up Onewa road, heading for photo spots. Road works on Onewa Rd, Queen Street, Lake Road, Northcote intersection and then... Bloody Murphy! It stops. Into the local diary, borrow phone from very helpful Indian lady, track down Steve, who eventually arrives looking very embarrassed, Malcolm from Bygone Auto Services in tow. More muttering, problem traced to one faulty wire in the distributor. Back to Bygone Autos, wire replaced, and quickly on our way.

I was impressed overall with the car, apart from the above small hiccup.

The original concept for the car came from two experimental models Rover themselves produced, way back when (1970). Unfortunately, only two were ever built before the project was dropped. Speaking of which, one of these cars can be put on the road for between twenty and thirty thousand dollars.

Overall, an interesting project which I hope succeeds, Vintrim plan to produce two to four Rover L.E. a year. I wish them every success, but, Steve, get a new distributor in the next one!



The Best Buy - Get One Before Everyone Else Wakes Up!

The most under-valued car in New Zealand must surely be the Rover 3500 V8 from the late sixties/early seventies. It´s a hell of a lot of car for the samll amount you can get one for it you should shop around with some determination – it´s easily possible to find a really good one (and there are plenty of them around) for three thousand dollars, or less if the vendor is determined to get out....

Steve Whitren, as you´ve just read, is getting into the Rover 3500 V8 in a very big way. Malcolm Clark (Bygone Auto) bought himself a Range Rover at Auction and he got a good one – at a very reasonable price. Another friend modified a Sierra Station Wagon by stuffing a Rover V8 in it (and shortly thereafter nearly stuffed himself as well, by ignoring a corner and trying to garage the car at speed in a concrete block retaining wall).

Two or three other acquaintances have had these cars and swore by them, and one has done some amazing mileage and never touched a head bolt.

I haven´t had a V8 since 1964, and had to spend a lot of time working up a good rationalisation as to why I should have one now to go with the other cars we´ve got. I´m blessed with a wonderful woman who doesn´t give a damn how many cars I´ve got or what I spend on them. She takes the view that if I want another car so be it.

The rationalisation came to me on the matter of towing our caravan on our annual trek to a secret beach on the East Coast. None of our Alfas or Sunbeams are any good for long distance tows. But a Rover V8 would be perfect – so would an old Holden or Falcon or a lot of other cars I didn´t want.

I looked at half a dozen cars or so, and finally bought very very reasonably an excellent, lovingly cared for 1972 model. One hundred and thirty thousand miles on the whole car, no rust, power steering, immaculately cleaned motor, straight body, not a thing wrong with it. There are plenty of these cars around in very good order, and there are plenty around in scuffy order too.

Mostly these cars were bought by good, conservative NZers who are thoroughly trained in looking after property – their houses and gardens are always perfectly cared for, their cars bought new – and they´re excellent buys. Rovers were bought by these people, and many are still owned by them and lovingly cared for. Get one sorted out and buy it. Ignore the bit about being thirsty, yes they are, but petrol is still the least of the expenses in running a car.

When we drove a thousand miles towing our caravan, it turned in about fifteen to sixteen to the gallon. I thought that wasn´t too bad, because towing is always petrol-expensive. Around town we seem to be getting about twenty, and on the open touring bit I´m not sure, but it´s well above that, and a liar I know claims nearly thirty out of this, on a long run. Over the thousand miles, towing, this car didn´t even discolour the oil, and I topped up with much less than a litre. The towing grunt and handling made it a pleasure – and I usually hate towing a caravan.

“Bits!” I hear you say. Well, I´m told that they can be a problem and they can be expensive. I don´t know because I´ve only replaced the petrol pump (a common problem) and that was easy and not expensive. I bought it from Rodney Wreckers in Warkworth.

What about the motor? As everybody knows, its the Buick V8. I don´t know anything about it all, beyond a vague idea that it is a fifties design, presumably built and adapted under license by the Poms, because it has certainly been a widely used motor. For my money it´s a great motor! I´m told by all the knowledgeable that it´s a very good unit, very long-lived. Clearly, if you look after it, it can put up a hell of a mileage. There are plenty of mods and adaptions available in the way of recarbing and so on. The only problem I´ve heard of is that it´s inclined to get vapour locks, but this can be eliminated by rerouting fuel lines and other little tricky bits. The petrol pump can produce problems, and mine was a curse.

They are considered sloppy and soft, but the one I bought is surprisingly good, once we got used to it being quite different to our Alfas and Sunbeams. But I´d still like to put on heavier anti-roll and change to Konis all round. Once you´ve got into a groove on the open road, and found an appropriate speed, they cruise along beautifully.

It´s a funny thing but although these cars have plenty of go, especially when you change to a manual from an auto, you never feel the need to be busy in the engine room. Both Christine and I drive it around sedately, purring away and looking condescendingly at the working classes all round us. They´re that sort of car!

The man I bought it off gave me a copy of his service schedule, and some tips on how to look after this particular car, and because the registration was running out that month he also registered it. Because of the care he gave the car and the more than honest way he dealt with me (unlike me and most of my acquaintances!) I feel impelled to really look after this car. We were going to use it for towing at Xmas and then sell it, but I don´t think that it´s going to go anywhere; we love the old tart. Besides, I reckon that a few of Steve Whitren´s Rover tricks will be good for this car too.

Best value car I´ve ever bought. Get one and use it as a pleasure/work hack and you´ll never part with it.

Penn Mackay 

NZ 1992