The 3-Litre Rover

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A Fine Car in the Solihull Tradition, providing Notable Comfort and Silence at High Cruising Speeds

The 3-litre Rover has a good deal in common with a pair of shoes or a favourite cap—it improves on long acquaintance. When the Solihull Company brought out their 3-litre they took their biggest step since the war, in breaking away from their well-established but somewhat old-fashioned cars. Of unitary construction, the biggest of the current range of Rovers at first seems to be merely a quite pleasant rather bulky, softly sprung car. It takes a couple of hundred miles or so before the true worth, and a few minor shortcomings, of the 3-litre are revealed.

To die-hard Rover addicts—and who shall gainsay the very great worth of the longer-established 80 and 100 models ?—there may be initial disappointment in finding that the neat black instrument panel and the r.h. brake lever with its individual “shepherd’s crook” handle have gone, while the external appearance of this big 3-litre is very different from that of the other Rover models.

On longer acquaintance one finds many of the well-liked Rover features continued in the 3-litre, which very soon emerges as a particularly spacious, comfortable saloon, very nicely appointed, of ample performance, and a car capable of covering the ground unobstrusively, largely because of the notably low level of mechanical, road and wind noise and also because the Girling disc front brakes give confidence in “press-on” driving.

It has been said that the post-war Rover is the poor-man’s Rolls-Royce and the aforesaid silent running is certainly complimentary to this sentiment, while under the bonnet of the 3-litre the 77.8 x 105 mm. 115 b.h.p. six-cylinder engine has in common with those six-cylinder Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars made before the introduction of the new V8 engine, overhead inlet and side exhaust valves, a valve arrangement found also in the Rover too, whereas normal o,h.v. are used for the four cylinder Rover 80. It is also true of both Rolls-Royce and Rover that the noisiest item (at low speeds) is the clock!

The 3-litre is a spacious car, which will seat three in comfort on its broad back seat if the central arm-rest is folded and which can accommodate the same number on its bench front seat, although a broad transmission tunnel and the central gear lever make the Rover a five-seater for the longer journeys. The back compartment floor is also bisected by the prop. shaft tunnel. All occupants, however, have plenty of leg, head and elbow room and although the seats do not appear to be specially shaped, they are comfortable and well-sprung even when occupied for many hours at a stretch. Height and rake of the front seat can be varied by repositioning the securing bolts and a lever provides easy fore and aft adjustment. The front seat, too, has a broad folding centre arm-rest and there are useful side arm-rests cum pulls, those at the front easily adjustable for height by operating a press-button. Separate front seats are available as an extra. Upholstery is in high-quality hide and good floor carpets over felt underlays enable the Rover’s owner to feel as at-home in his car as in the board room. A very pleasing item is the provision of neat interior lights, two on each side, each with its own sliding switch and courtesy action from the adjacent door, so that individual passengers can have light by which to read without involving the others. The Rover has heavy doors which, if they do not shut with the double-action “clonk” beloved by vintage-car enthusiasts, at least shut very nicely as modern doors go. They have good-quality handles, lever type with safety locks for those on the rear doors, push-button external locks, and window winders with rotating finger-grips calling for just under three turns to lower the front, two turns to lower the back windows. Visibility is good on account of a semi-wrap-round windscreen with slender pillars, which does not intrude on ease of entry but does have the shortcoming that the wipers leave unswept areas at the extreme sides of this wide screen.

Reference has already been made to the quiet running of the 3-litre Rover and this is due in no small measure to the fact that such efficient ventilation is provided that the car can be occupied comfortably, even in hot weather, with every window shut. On each side of the facia simple fresh-air vents, in the form of holes normally covered by pivotted flaps, direct a stream of cool air into the car past the faces of the front-seat occupants, and knobs on the scuttle sides, with four settings, send cool air along the floor of the car. Thus the windows do not need to be opened and, indeed, the usual openable ¼-lights are dispensed with. Instead, rain gutters are provided over each window. Very neat vertical quadrant levers, one each side of the radio panel, control the efficient Smiths heater/demister/defroster unit, these simple controls having their functions clearly labelled. A knob on the extremity of the l.h. lever brings in a quiet booster fan. Except for a little disturbance round the windows, wind-noise is extremely low, even at an 80 m.p.h. cruising speed, and the liberal use of rubber and other sound-deadening expedients has brought roadnoise to a very low level. As the engine runs extremely quietly (being inaudible when idling, incidentally) and as only bottom gear emits any appreciable hum, motoring in the 3-litre Rover is a very restful means of fast travel. The Avon tyres contribute to this peaceful progression, protesting hardly at all and then only mildly under considerable provocation, although we ran them at somewhat higher pressures than the handbook recommends. This is all the more creditable as two tyre sizes are available and the smaller Avons were on the test-car.

Reverting to interior details, Rover owners are endowed with very generous parcels stowage. There is not only a deep, lipped full-width under-facia shelf, into which only the steering column intrudes, giving the driver his separate section, but each front door has a big pull-out pocket, which normally lies flush. Then the back shelf is wide and the lockable cubby hole, its lid of polished wood to match the rest of the decor, is of fairly generous dimensions, although only just deep enough to take a Rolleiflex camera placed on its side. The cubby lid drops down to make a shelf but is locked with the ignition key, not the best arrangement if the car is left in a public garage. To lock the car another key is needed but the ignition key opens the boot which, again, is an arrangement that could be improved. The doors can be locked from inside the car so that they cannot be opened from outside or, alternatively, it is possible to lock the doors from outside the car without recourse to a key; in fact, the Rover has something in common with a combination safe and it is possible to get locked out unless a spare key is carried. Locks in both front doors enable the final locking to be done at the kerbside, no matter at which side of the road the Rover is parked. The back door handles incorporate safety locks to prevent all but very observant children opening them from inside and the handles pull backwards to open the doors.

Convenience seems to have been the aim of whoever planned the equipment of this fine car. Thus twin pull-out ash-trays are fitted to the back of the front seat squab, the front-seat occupants have a drawer-type ash-tray on the driver’s side of the gear lever with a lighter on the other side under the centre of the facia, and the twin smoked-glass vizors swivel sideways, the passenger’s having a vanity mirror. The stowage of small tools and touching-up paint, etc., in a rubber-lined pull-out shelf over the front passenger’s knees, is retained, larger tools and jacking equipment are carried beneath a trimmed flap in the side of he boot, and here the battery is kept where it is cool, under a metal cover.

A driver of average height can just see the nearside front wing and each front wing incorporates a side lamp tell-tale. The steering wheel, which has good finger grips on the underside of its rim, is set sensibly low and close to it is the raised, hooded instrument panel. This has a 100 m.p.h. speedometer, with a steady, white-tipped needle, calibrated every 10 m.p.h. It incorporates trip with decimal and total milometers and is matched by a dial showing dynamo charge, water temperature (normally about 80 deg. C.) and fuel contents, but a separate oil pressure dial would be appreciated. All the instruments carry the snob Jaeger label. Down each side of this square panel are tapered flickswitches. On the left the top switch controls panel lighting with rheostat action, a job done better by a rotatable switch, although this is a very trivial criticism. Below it is a switch that causes the fuel gauge to indicate sump oil level—a welcome refinement— while the bottom switch looks after the screen wipers. These are efficient but before self-parking the blades do a frenzied jig, which can leave a strip of water in the line of vision, especially if the washers have just been used. These very powerful Lucas electric “screenjet” washers are controlled by a tiny press-button on the left side of the steering-column. Two matching switches to those on the left occupy the right of the panel, the top one selecting the lamps, that beneath bringing in the reserve petrol supply.

It takes some time to become accustomed to the location of these identical switches at different levels and although each is labelled, the lettering is not easily read while driving. A further complication is seen in the lights controls, for after switching on with the aforesaid flick-switch a short stalk-lever on the r.h. side of the steering column, which tends to be masked by the longer flashers-control stalk lever above it, has to be moved downwards to select headlamps, yet to dip the headlamps a foot control is involved. There is no means of flashing full-beam warnings without recourse to the foot dipper and only the tell-tales on the wings remind the driver to switch off the sidelamps when leaving the car. However, this cluster of switches leaves the facia clear for a second lidded cubby hole or a radio installation—the latter a good H.M.V. on the test car, with roof aerial.

Below the r.h. flick-switches is the ignition-key aperture, the key turning to work the starter. There is only one position, as the radio is wired separately. Crash-padding along the top of the facia is broken for an electric clock, lit from the instrument lighting, to be incorporated. There is also crash-padding along the lower edge of the facia but this safeguard is offset by many jagged handles and controls about the driving compartment. The Rover has well-placed pedals, with plenty of room for the left foot to rest on the floor between the clutch pedal and a small treadle-pedal that depresses the dipper button. The accelerator is also of treadle type. The steering wheel has a small diameter horn ring which is convenient without getting in the way and provides full instrument visibility, but which blasts a rather blatant horn. The hand-brake lever has become one of the cheap pull out variety set rather far forward above the facia shelf, for operation by the right hand. Somewhat difficult to release if fully applied, it is quite well placed and held the car on steep hills.

Under the facia is a toggle lever actuating the S.U. cold-start control; another, functioning very easily, opens the bonnet lid. The instrument panel contains a lower cluster of three warning lamps telling of low oil pressure, ignition on or cold-start left out—the last-named being inoperative on the test car. Two smaller lights at the top of the panel are for flashers and mainbeam in use, respectively, the latter rather embarrassingly at eye level. There is a good quality, useful rear-view mirror, of the diminishing variety, however, which can be dangerous.

That about concludes a survey of the Rover’s interior layout, except to remark that “pulls” are fitted to aid back-seat occupants, and that coat-hooks are provided, four in all, on each side of the car.

The gear-lever is the long, cranked, central lever used for some years by Rover. It selects the ratios with more precision than its shape, curving upwards from beneath the facia shelf to a small, lettered knob, would suggest but can swing past bottom-gear position and select reverse inadvertently. A short remote lever would be a welcome refinement to a refined motor car. However, the action is quite pleasant, the lever can be adjusted to left or right, and the clutch is smooth and light. But if gear changes are hurried the synchromesh can be beaten and bottom gear sometimes engages somewhat brutally.

On the test-car a left-hand stalk lever operated overdrive and the Rover has such ample power that it can be regarded very largely as a top-gear car, overdrive being frequently employed and direct top being resorted to for extra acceleration. In bottom gear an indicated 30 m.p.h. is the limit, with 48 m.p.h. possible in second and 70 m.p.h. in third gear before sudden valve crash intrudes. In overdrive top gear 80 is a silent, effortless cruising speed and, given its head, the 3-litre Rover will go on to a genuine 97 m.p.h. Acceleration is smooth rather than vivid, although the smooth silent flow of power can be deceptive and high average speeds are returned without the driver being conscious of having been trying at all hard. From rest 60 m.p.h. is reached in 16 seconds, for example. The Girling brakes, disc on the front wheels, aided by a vacuum servo, give powerful retardation for extremely low pedal pressures, and in every way these brakes proved entirely acceptable.

In respect of suspension, which is by square-section torsionbars (as on a VW) and wishbones in conjunction with an anti-roll bar at the front and by ½-elliptic leaf-springs (with check leaves) at the back, the Rover shows that it is intended primarily as a sedate rather than a very fast car, for there is some roll when cornering and rather too much up-and-down motion over all but the smoothest roads. Sudden bumps remind one that a rigid back axle is used and the body shell transmits some of the wheel movement, in the form of mild shake and some minor body rattles. Over unmade roads the Rover becomes very lively but remains comfortable. This somewhat supple and casually damped suspension is all the greater pity because the power steering functions so well, being light as soon as the wheel is turned, providing the engine is running, and still enabling the driver to enjoy a fair degree of “feel” through the front wheels, while it is geared as high as just over 2½ turns, lock-to-lock, and transmits slight vibration but no kick-back if the road is rough. There is mild castor-return action and one is only conscious that this is power steering when it becomes very light on making a sudden swerve. The once-pronounced Rover understeer has been largely eliminated and for all practical purposes the car takes corners on a nearly neutral line.

The Rover engine ” pinked” very faintly on super-grade fuels but does not normally require 100-octane petrol. Tested under arduous conditions varying from long-distance fast motoring fully loaded to a great deal of pottering about congested towns (such as Barnstaple!) and up Devon hills, petrol consumption was 19.7 m.p.g. It would be normal to refuel as soon as the reserve supply has been switched in; this represents a range of 241 miles. The reserve supply sufficed for a further 30 miles. The filler is under a lockable flap (released by a press-button so that pump attendants sometimes call for the key when, in fact, it isn’t locked) on the near side, replenishable from a can with a spout. In a total of 820 miles a pint of Castrol was sufficient to restore the sumplevel.

A key is required to open the luggage boot, the lid of which stays open automatically. On the test-car it tended to stick. The luggage space is best described as vast and the boot floor is flat, the only obstruction being the battery box. The spare wheel is under the floor and a refinement, typical of Rover, is a valve extension enabling pressure to be checked with the wheel in situ.

The bonnet lid, which carries sound-damping material on its underside, is also self-propping and opens to reveal the impressive power unit, with its big S.U. carburetter and six-branch exhaust manifold on which is cast the firing order. There is a big A.C. air-cleaner along the off-side but dip-stick, plugs, coil, hydraulic reservoirs, in fact all under-bonnet services are readily accessible, although the dip-stick is rather awkward to replace, and the spring-clipped lid to the oil filler orifice difficult to remove. This is a fine engine, with 7-bearing crankshaft, copper/lead-lined steel shell bearings and alloy cylinder head, which develops maximum power at the modest speed of 4,500 r.p.m., giving maximum torque of 164 lb./ft. at 1,500 r.p.m. and a b.m.e.p. of 136 lb./ft. at the same speed. Cooling is by pump and 4-blade fan, the system holding 22½ pints and the lubrication system incorporates an A.C.-Delco full-flow filter and circulates 10 pints of oil. In overdrive form the gearbox holds 5 pints of lubricant and the drive goes via a 2-piece propeller shaft with centre bearing to a semifloating spiral-bevel back axle containing 3 pints of oil.

It is a significant selling point that the Rover chassis requires no lubrication except for the propeller shaft joints and inspection of the steering-box oil level every 3,000 miles. Rover claim a high degree of rust-prevention and dust exclusion, and from what I saw of their manufacturing methods some years ago I have every reason to regard the 3-litre as extremely durable and thoroughly sound and dust-proofed.. The carpet felting for instance, is laid over a bitumen sealing compound and the external finish is faultless.

For night driving the Lucas lamps give excellent illumination.

In conclusion, the 3-litre Rover is a very fine car. Its weak points are flexible suspension giving too much up-and-down motion and some roll on corners, while the unitary construction is not entirely free from shake over bad roads. Otherwise this is a beautifully appointed and fully-equipped car, capable of truly quiet and effortless cruising in the very high top and overdrive gears. The lower gears are so quiet that it is possible to stay in third gear under the impression that top gear has been selected. It competes with a certain twin-cam Coventry-built car in price but offers more spacious accommodation and will undoubtedly appeal to connoisseurs of good cars, particularly those who have had a long line of Rovers.

Overdrive is included in the price but two-tone finish, power steering and radio inflate the £1,783 5s. 10d. to a total of £1,920 2s. 10d. inclusive of purchase tax. At this price the 3-litre Rover, a car very much in the best English tradition, cannot be regarded as an expensive luxury.—W.B.

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