Rover SD1

Rover SD1

Infobox Automobile
name = Rover SD1

manufacturer = British Leyland
designer = David Bache & Spen King
production = 1976–1986
303,345 produced
predecessor = Rover P6
Triumph 2000
successor = Rover 800
class = Full-size car
layout=FR layout
body_style = 5-door liftback
engine = 2.0L I4
2.4L Diesel I4
2.3L I6
2.6 L I6
3.5L "Rover" V8
similar = Citroën CX
Lancia Gamma

Rover SD1 is the code name given to a series of large executive cars made by British Leyland and its successor Austin Rover from 1976 until 1986.

In "SD1", the "SD" refers to "Specialist Division" and "1" is the first car to come from the in-house design team. The range is sometimes wrongly referred to as "SDi"Fact|date=April 2008 ("i" is commonly used in car nomenclature to identify fuel injection).



In 1971, Rover, at that time a part of the British Leyland (BL) group, began developing a new car to replace the P6 and the Triumph 2000/2500. The designers of both Triumph and Rover submitted plans for the new car, of which the latter was chosen. David Bache was to head the design team, inspired by exotic machinery such as the Ferrari Daytona and the late 1960s design study by Pininfarina for the BMC 1800, which study also guided the design of the Citroën CX. Spen King was responsible for the engineering. The two had previously collaborated on the Range Rover. The project was first code-named "RT1" (for Rover Triumph Number 1) but then soon changed to SD1 (for Specialist Division Number 1) as Rover and Triumph were "put" in the new "Specialist Division" of BL.


The new car's design was done with simplicity of manufacture in mind, in contrast to the P6, whose design was rather complicated in areas such as the De Dion-type rear suspension. The SD1 used a well known live rear axle instead. This different approach was chosen because surveys showed that while the automotive press was impressed by sophisticated and revolutionary designs the general buying public was not, unless the results were good. However, with the live rear axle came another retrograde step — the car only used drum brakes at the rear.

Rover's plans to use its then fairly new 2.2 L four-cylinder engine was soon abandoned because BL management ruled that substantially redesigned versions of Triumph's six-cylinder engine were to power the car instead. Rover's legendary V8 was fitted in the engine bay.

The dashboard of the SD1 features an air vent, unusually, directly facing the passenger. The display binnacle sits on top of the dashboard in front of the driver. This was to aid production in left hand drive markets, the air vent doubled as a passage for the steering wheel column and the display binnacle easily sat on top of the dashboard on the left or right hand side of the car. [Top Gear, Series 4 Episode 8 18 July 2004]

While an estate body had been envisaged, it did not get past prototype stage. A prototype estate (which was used by BL chairman Sir Michael Edwardes as personal transport in the late 1970s) survives to this day.

The SD1 was intended to be produced in a state-of-the-art extension to Rover's historic Solihull factory alongside the TR7. This was largely funded by the Government, who had baled BL out from bankruptcy in 1975. Unfortunately this did not do anything to improve the spotty build quality that plagued all of British Leyland of the time. That, along with quick-wearing interior materials and poor detailing ensured that initial enthusiasm soon turned to disappointment.

Initial model and first additions to range

This car was launched in June 1976 in liftback form only, as the V8 engined Rover 3500: SOHC 2.3 L and 2.6 L sixes followed a year later. The car was warmly received by the press and even received the European Car of the Year award for 1977. It was only offered as a Rover, as the TR7 was to continue the Triumph line.

Cosmetic tweaks and range expansion

Between 1976 and 1981 there were some very minor updates to the car including new badging (front and rear) and chrome wing mirrors. 1979 saw the introduction of the well-equipped V8-S model with no mechanical alterations, available in metallic green with gold-coloured alloy wheels.

United States

In 1980, Rover obtained the very expensive US type approval for the SD1 and re-entered the US market, after a ten year absence, but only 800 units were sold. Under US legislation (that first applied to the Citroen DS), the headlamps could not be enclosed in glass [] .

Production shift

Major restructuring of BL following the infamous Ryder Report saw the SD1 production line being moved to the former Morris plant in Cowley in 1981. The Solihull plant was turned over to produce Land Rover models, following on from that marque's separation from Rover in 1978. The hugely expensive extension to Solihull – that had been built specifically for the SD1 and Triumph TR7 – was closed, and only in recent times, with Ford's takeover of the plant, have there been discussions of it re-opening.

Major mid-life facelift

Early in 1982, Rover unveiled the Cowley-built, facelifted line to the public. These cars benefited mostly from small cosmetic changes on the exterior as well as a quite extensively redesigned interior. Beginning car-spotters can distinguish the two series by the headlights, which were chrome-rimmed and flush fitting on the later, recessed on the earlier series, the deeper rear window, and by the C-posts, which were flat on later, ribbed on earlier cars. Other details, which are not as easy to assign include the rear wiper, the trim strip under the tail lights, engine size badges on front wings, amended Viking badges, etc.

Further range expansion

It was also the year when SD1 buyers could finally opt for a four-cylinder engine, since the two-litre BL O-Series engine of the Morris Ital was offered. It was definitely not a "shoehorn" job: the engine looked almost as if it could get lost in the huge engine bay designed to accept the V8. The engine was particularly aimed at company-car fleets where its size enabled it to beat a taxation threshold.

Another four-cylinder engine became available in the 2400 SD Turbo. This was the only diesel-engined SD1, utilising a motor from Italian VM Motori chosen for its petrol-like smoothness, and similar to that used in the Range Rover Turbo D model.

The crown of the SD1 model line-up was created when Rover introduced a convert|190|bhp|kW PS|0|abbr=on fuel injected version of its V8. At first it was only offered in the Vitesse model (which was effectively the successor to the previous sports model, the V8-S), however it featured in standard American and Australian SD1 vehicles, to meet stricter emission control legislation. The injected V8 was later also offered in the luxury Vanden Plas, making it the Vanden Plas EFi. To meet the demands of the luxury executive car market, where automatic transmission tended to be preferred, Rover first offered an auto box as an option in the Vitesse, but later withdrew that check-box on the order form and lured the customers to the Vanden Plas EFi instead. This car had all the standard comforts of the Vitesse, such as electric mirrors, windows and locks, a trip computer, an adjustable steering column and a four-speaker stereo (something special at that time). Additionally it added leather seats, an electrically operated sunroof and cruise control. Very rare indeed are the "Twin Plenum" Vitesses (210bhp); These had two throttle bodies mounted on the plenum chamber instead of one, and were produced in very small numbers as homologation for the twin plenum racers. Today they command quite a premium over the standard Vitesse.

List of model names

:"This list may be incomplete."

The car was never marketed as the "SD1". The models produced (throughout the life of the range, not all at once) included:
* Rover 2000
* Rover 2300
* Rover 2300 S
* Rover 2400 SD Turbo
* Rover 2600
* Rover 2600 S
* Rover 2600 SE
* Rover 2600 Vanden Plas
* Rover 3500
* Rover 3500 SE
* Rover 3500 Vanden Plas
* Rover 3500 Vanden Plas EFi
* Rover V8-S
* Rover Vitesse

The initial May 1976 launch was for the 3500 only. A little over a year later the 2300 and 2600 were added; the V8-S was a short-lived model introduced later, and dropped before the first mild face-lift, after which the range was 2300, 2300 S, 2600 S, 3500 SE and 3500 Vanden Plas. The 2000 appeared at the time of the major facelift, with 2400 SD Turbo, 2600 SE, 2600 Vanden Plas, Vitesse and 3500 Vanden Plas EFi appearing at various times afterwards. At the very end of the life of the car the range was briefly reduced to 2300, 2600 Vanden Plas, and Phase 2 Vitesse (flush chin spoiler, convert|210|bhp|kW PS|0|abbr=on and deleted side graphics).

Foreign production: the Standard 2000

After its cancellation in the UK, the SD1 emerged very briefly in India as the Standard 2000. It was assembled at the now-defunct Standard Motor Products of India factory at Chennai in the mid-80s. However, the Indian version of the SD1 – powered by an elderly 2.0 L engine, and with raised suspension – was a failure and Standard ceased car manufacture soon after.

British police use

The SD1 was popular with the British police, particularly in V8 form. When SD1 production was ceasing, the police stockpiled a number of the cars for later use in national police fleet, to be introduced to the force over the late 1980s. [Top Gear, Series 4 Episode 8 18 July 2004 "Hammond: The police loved the SD1 so much, that when they heard it was going out of production in 1986, they stockpiled cars, so they could use them after they died off."]


External links

* [ Rover SD1 World]
* [ Rover SD1 club]
* [ Rover SD1 timeline]
* [ Rover SD1 Forum]

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