Willie's Rides


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Willie has accumulated an assortment of automobiles over the years. Some of them actually run.

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The last all British Rover


Rover’s SD1 project was a ‘first’ and a ‘last’ for the Solihull based company. It was the first-ever Rover to have a hatchback body style. and it was the last new all-British Rover model to carry that famous badge. It was also the first to be assembled in a large new factory building at Solihull, known as the East Block, then (from 1982) the first Rover to he assembled at Cowley.
But what does ‘SD1’ mean? In fact it was conceived in 1972 by the newly-merged Rover and Triumph businesses, both of which were controlled by British Leyland. Because the planners looked on this as a rather specialised business and this was the first project they had tackled together, it was logical that it should carry the SDI code name, which stood for ‘Specialist Division No.1’. Although it never appeared in any company badging. or advertising, this was a name which stuck, and by which everyone remembers it today.
Before they both became part of Leyland in 1966-1967 (and of British Leyland in 1968). Rover and Triumph were direct rivals. Both produced fine ranges of saloon cars - Rover and Triumph 2000s - and both hoped to develop replacements for those cars in the 1970s. Work had actually started on such projects when British Leyland merged Rover with Triumph into a ‘Specialist Division’, taking the decision to combine their strengths. The result was the birth of a brand-new range of ears, coded SDI. This was intended to replace all the medium and large-size Rovcrs and Triumphs - PSs. P6s. 2tX)Os and 2.5 PIs - though with a larger cabin and a greater choice of engines.

Except for the use of Rover’s fine light-alloy V8 engine in sonic versions. the SDI was a brand new design - a new body shell. new engines, transmissions, steering, and styling. It was intended to sell in large numbers, to world markets..for a number of years.
Spen King was in overall control of this car’s design and development. Gordon Bashford of Rover worked up the overall layout, and David Bache’s department produced the styling. As a true co-operative effort, styling, body engineering and most ‘chassis’ design was entrusted to Rover at Solihull. while a brand new six-cylinder overhead-camshaft engine. new four or five-speed
in Coventry. Much effort also went into making the new transmission suitable for the Triumph TR7/TR8 sports cars, which w’ere being designed at the same time.

Rover always planned to use one style, a smart fasthack/hatchback five-door layout which had nothing in common with any previous Rover or Triumph shapes. Although the plushy seats took away some of the extra space for passengers. this new car had a bigger cabin than the Rover 2000 and Triumph models which it replaced.

The engine bay was made deliberately roomy (which makes it that much easier for maintenance work today). so that engines as diverse as the existing light-alloy V8. and an all-new in-line overhead-cam ‘six’ could he installed. There would he a four-speed gearbox for the original 2300 at first, but all other types used a five-speeder. while Borg Warner automatic transmission was optional.

Compared with previous Rovers and Triumphs, the new car had a simple ‘chassis’, with MacPherson strut front suspension and power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, and a live rear axle with coil spring, torque tube, trailing arm and Watts linkage location. Front wheel disc brakes and radial-ply tyres were standard on all mode Is.

The l55 bhp 3.5-litre V8 3500 was the first car to he launched in mid-1976 (when it cost 4,750). this being joined by the l23 bhp 2.3-litre and 136 bhp 2.6~litre ‘six’ varieties at the end of 1977 (their prices starting at 5,350 - Britain’s price inflation was high at this time).

These were all fast cars - the 2600 being capable of 121mph. the original 3500 reaching about 125 mph (though fuel consumption was often little better than 20mpg). because of the high performance of the V8-engined car, and the good carrying capacity. many Rover 3500s were bought by British police forces in the next decade.