THE Rover 2000, which has been affectionately dubbed the “Solihull Sitroen,” had a wildly enthusiastic reception when it was announced in 1963. Motor Sport roadtested it in November of that year, the then-Assistant Editor being extremely fulsome in his praise of the new car, saying, for instance, that on the road it was a revelation, “for in the matter of ride, handling, steering and braking it can have few equals in its class and precious few betters even among sports cars.” This was qualified by the remark that “performance is good without being startling as the power has obviously been kept down to keep fuel consumption within reasonable bounds.” Even so, he got a top speed of 102 m.p.h. and covered a s.s. 1/4 mile in 19.5 sec.
I reserved judgement until I had tried the car and had to confess disappointment over the lack of acceleration (the smaller-engined Ford Cortina GT was quicker up to 70 m.p.h.), the pronounced understeer, the very heavy and notchy gear-change, and other, minor, matters. These views were published in January 1964. Since then much development work has gone into the Rover 2000 and when the twin-carburetter TC version was announced I felt the time had come to try this extremely interesting car again. As those who read the October Motor Sport will know, it proved elusive and I had to make do with an old gentleman’s Rover 3-litre coupe! Another date was named and, clear of eye, steady of hand, I duly presented myself at Rover’s Seagrave Road depot. Again, some mechanical malilise had kept the car in Solihull, but a couple of days later this had been cured and the test of the 2000TC commenced.
Let me say right away that the Rover 2000 is a very remarkable car, with a character entirely its own. A 2-litre overhead camshaft 4-cylinder engine of exactly “square” dimensions with combustion chambers formed in the piston crowns as Herr Uhlenhaut, the talented Daimler-Benz Chief Engineer, advocates, a body of individual lines possessing quickly-replaceable panels, a la Citroen, and a de Dion back-axle (a form of suspension the Rover 2000 shares with the Lancia Flaminia and the Isos, Grilo and Rivolta) obviously put the car in a class of its own. Thus the Rover has an air of individuality, but, in addition, it bristles with ingenious items relating to controls and equipment. In a few instances the designers have, perhaps, been almost too clever, but the overall effect is of a highly-practical, well-contrived and entirely unique four-seater luxury saloon of moderate size.
One of the criticisms of the car in its original form was a lack of “steam.” This has now been put right by the 2-carburetter engine, which increases the urge by 24 b.h.p. It has been said in some quarters that the resulting higher top speed and considerably improved acceleration have been obtained at the expense of roughness and a noticeable loss of refinement. With this I do not entirely agree. There is considerably increased engine noise when accelerating hard, with the power unit running towards 6,000 r.p.m., which might be objectionable to those who have intimate knowledge of how the single-carburetter 2000 runs, and the engine in the test car idled very lumpily, at 700/800 r.p.m. But. in spite of a 10-to-1 c.r., calling for 100-octane petrol, the power unit remains outstandingly docile, pulling away from less than 2,000 r.p.m. in the 3.5-to-1 top gear, is very quiet at cruising speeds, and as smooth as can be expected from a 2-litre 4-cylinder power unit—see final comments in this report, however. It always started promptly with a minimum of choke, did not run-on after switching off. and was free from temperament. This is highly satisfactory, especially as the performance improvement is considerable, as the following table indicates :—
To achieve this performance it is not necessary to exceed 6,000 r.p.m. or 4,000/5,000 r.p.m. in normal motoring and, in fact, maximum power (114 net b.h.p.) is delivered at 5,500 r.p.m. and peak torque (126 lb. ft.) at 3,500 r.p.m. This enables a very adequate rate of progress to be maintained in what is clearly intended as a small luxury car rather than a sports saloon—I concede that the B.M.W. 1800TI accelerates considerably better, but it is not quite so fast. Incidentally, Rovers improve as mileage grows and it should be noted that the test car came to me with less than 3,000 miles on the odometer. The makers give the maxima in the gears on the speedometer as 30, 55 and 85 M.p.h., respectively. At a legal 70 m.p.h. the engine is running at a mere 3,500 r.p.m.
The Rover is high-geared and good use of the gear-lever is desirable to maintain performance as acceleration in 2nd gear is not impressive below 4,000 r.p.m.; 3rd gear is so quiet that it is no hardship to use this ratio for prolonged periods in traffic or secondary road motoring.
The ride and handling of the Rover 2000 can be confirmed as exceptional. Although there is some rocking motion at times, the effect of which is felt by the steering, the suspension is well damped and any road shocks that can be felt at the steering wheel or body structure do not transmit themselves to the seats. The ride is of a very high standard. The suspension was designed for radial-ply tyres and it proved virtually impossible to make the Pirelli Cinturatos break away at either end of the car, on wet roads or dry, but there is, of course, some tyre hum over certain road surfaces. This is the sort of handling that gives the driver great confidence, especially as the steering, which is accurate, is free from all but very minor sponge and lost motion, and fairly light once on the move, but tends to heaviness on lock, and feels higher geared than the 3 5/8 turns it takes the steering wheel to go from one full lock to full opposite lock. It transmits shock at times rather than kick-back, and has quick return action, somewhat lethargic just before it centres. The angle of roll under fast cornering is tiornthvhat pronounced but the general impression is of fairly hard suspension and good stability conferred by the de Dion back-end, which, however, discloses lost motion in the joints as the drive takes up. The steering wheel at first feels unnecessarily large (it has a diameter of 17 1/2 in.) but this is soon forgotten. It can be raised or lowered over an inch by means of a knob on the right of the nacelle, which enables it to be kept out of the driver’s line of vision. The 32 1/2-ft. turning circle is small for this size of car. There is a good deal of general steering-wheel shake, but cnly of a mild nature.
The Girling 10 3/4-in/10 1/4-in. disc brakes all round work very well for moderate effort but their “feel” deteriorated slightly as mileage increased, as if the servo was lagging, with consequent loss of progressiveness. They still remained reasonably good brakes, however, only occasionally prone to rubbing noises. The Rover engineers have so obviously tried to make the interior of the car 100% convenient that the 2000 is well-nigh irresistible to those who like uncommon and beautifully-finished cars. The “ergonomics” may not entirely justify themselves but the thing that really counts is that the controls are so sensibly located. The oblong British Jaeger 120-m.p.h. speedometer is of (red) ribbon-type but reasonably easy to read. It is calibrated in m.p.h. and k.p.h. and contains warning lights with clearly labelled windows for low oil-pressure (there is no oil gauge), dynamo charge, hand-brake on/brake fluid level too low, and choke in use, the latter being thermostatically controlled so that the light does not intrude unless the engine is too warm to need choking—another clever Rover item. The speedometer has trip with coloured decimal and total mileage recorders, anci incorporates a water thermometer reading normally 85 C. and a fuel gauge labelled with the tank content; (12 gallons). From its long oblong face protrude neat black knobs for setting the trip or controlling the rheostat illumination. Slightly angled towards the driver, a plain Smiths electronic tachometer reading to 7,000 r.p.m. (red sector from 6,000 r.p.m.), with a small-dial Kienzle self-winding electric clock (rather noisy as to tick and rewind, but as accurate as my Brietling wrist-watch) inboard of it, occupies the hooded centre of the matt-black facia.
Rover only go in for grained decor along the door sills and behind the facia shelf; to their shame this is no longer real wood, but Formica! Stowage space is truly commendable, for there is a great deal of shelf space, with, additionally, a Itttle recessed compartment above the excellent Radiomobile radio set, although the shelf needs the mat which is sold as an extra if the contents are to be prevented from sliding wildly from one side to the other as the Rover is cornered in characteristic 2000 fashion.
Apart from this useful facia shelf, there are those unique lockable pockets in front of the driver’s and front-seat passenger’s knees, which open to reveal ample cavities, the driver’s pocket being provided with divided compartments to take bottles and glasses—for “soft” drinks, of course! Even if these pockets were put here instead of conventionally in the doors because there is all too little elbow room as it is, they are an excellent feature of the Rover 2000. It is, maybe, an exaggeration to say that a briefcase can be lost in the l.h. one, but a Rolleiflex camera certainly can, and even should one forget to lock them, the casual sneak-thief would be unlikely to know that these areas of padding contain pockets.
Reverting to the Rover’s control arrangements, whether the careful shaping of the minor controls will enable them to be instantly identified is debatable, nor do the symbols necessarily help. But the locations are commendable. The ignition key inserts centrally and is flanked by the long flick-type lights’ switches. It is necessary to realise that to put off the car’s lamps these have to be set centrally, but they stay satisfactorily in this position. Pushed down, the I. h. switch brings in the sidelights, pushed up, the parking lights. The corresponding switch goes down for headlamps, up for fog-lamps, if these are fitted. Headlamp dipping is controlled from a long I.h. steering-column stalk lever, which also provides for daylight flashing, a corresponding r.h. stalk lever working the turn-indicators or, if pulled upwards, sounding the horn. It sometimes sounds the horn inadvertently when the driver merely intends to signal the intention to turn, and sensitive sounding of the horn note is difficult with this system. Close to the steering wheel on this central below-facia panel is the turn-switch for the screen-wipers, which controls their speed, but scarcely noticeably, or, pressed, brings in powerful electric screen-washers. Its opposite number on the left is turned, also clockwise, to select, first the interior-lamp behind the central rear-view mirror, then the rear compartment lighting, these two lamps also being controlled when the appropriate doors are opened. Two curved handles lower down on the console are, respectively, the petrol-reserve and choke controls, the former an excellent item but stiff to cancel, the latter locking in any desired position. To the left of the petrol-control is a cigar-lighter, on its right side the knob for front/rear radio loud-speaker selection.
The Rover 2000 has truly commendable heating and fresh-air ventilation arrangements, with the proviso that the interior of the body is prone to misting up and to clear this either more heat than the driver wishes or more cool air than the passengers, especially in the back, can tolerate, is required to disperse it. Possibly longer acquaintance of the car under varying atmospheric conditions would have provided a solution. A vertical-quadrant lever on the console, close to the driver’s right hand, has three settings for fresh air, its two lowest settings bringing in the powerful fan, which is silent on the low-speed setting and not unduly noisy on the fast setting. Two similar controls at the other side of the console look after volume of heat and upward/downward direction of the flow. Cold air is admitted through vents in the facia sill in front of driver and passenger, these having tiny levers to control the rate of flow, and horizontal flaps for deflecting the cold air upwards. As there are quarter-lights in the front doors and good vents in the back doors, Rover owners need seldom be unduly hot or cold and adequate ventilation is possible without opening the main windows. The screen misted over badly until the fresh-air control was operated, when it cleared quite quickly.
The Rover’s pedals are all of the same shape and size and at the same level. The hand-brake pulls up from the propeller-shaft tunnel, being somewhat high-set but quite convenient to use, although coat tails and safety-belts sometimes get beneath it. It is gaitered like the gear-lever, and there are lidded ash-trays behind and ahead of it. In front of the brake-lever is the splendid little gear-lever, as stumpy and rigid as any sports-car driver could desire, and having a cross-piece that guards reverse until it is lifted. This should be a most delightful gear-change but unfortunately, after three years’ development of the 2000, it remains notchy and heavy. Unhurried, the action is quite good but the aforesaid shortcomings spoil this for fast operation and at times the change from top to 3rd gear baulks quite badly. A pity, especially as the gears are now commendably quiet….
The interior of the 2000 is definitely of high quality. The pile carpets and loose mats are beautifully fitted, the side area by the rear passengers’ heads is padded, as on B.M.C. 1100s, and there is crash-padding along the facia sill and at the back of the front seats. The seats are another Rover 2000 characteristic. They are deliberately shaped to accommodate comfortably just two adults in the back, with a folding arm-rest between them. The separate front seats are extremely comfortable, with deep reclining squabs, the angle of which is controlled by friction levers, allowing an infinite range of adjustment which a ratchet-arrangement does not provide. Black levers inboard of the cushions lock the squabs at the selected angle. These squabs are shaped for good support and although the seat cushions are a bit short, special packings enable the driver to set them up to suit personal requirements. You step down into a Rover 2000, over metal sills, as you do into a Citroen DS, and sit naturally with legs and back nearly upright, comfort being the keynote of this car. Upholstery is in real leather, whereas Jaguar have recently discarded this for their models in the Rover 2000 priceclass. . . .
The rather old-fashioned internal door handles pull back to open the doors, which have arm-rests, and the window glasses of which fold out of sight, under 2 1/3 turns of the front handles, 2 1/2 of the rear ones. There are sill interior door locks and two keys serve to lock the Rover up. The doors close nicely and have extremely effective “keeps.” Coat-hooks are fitted in the back compartment. A vanity mirror was provided on each vizor, although I do not really admire myself that much! The single-spoke steering wheel carries the rather odd, symbolic Rover motif. There is a fixed roof radio aerial.
Visibility is reasonable, with fairly thick pillars but a low bonnet line The n/s front wing is, however, invisible, the o/s one picked out by the sidelamp tell-tale which is another endearing 2000 feature. The appearance of the car is an acquired taste which some people may never acquire. Redolent of Rover’s gas-turbine pioneering and aerodynamically functional, it is as “different” as so many of the items on this refreshingly individualistic motor car. The Lucas four-headlamp system gives excellent full-beam illumination, except when the boot is heavily laden, when the lights are excellent for studying topography (top branches) but not the road ahead. The big “BEAM” blue-warning light shines right into the driver’s eyes. Powerful reversing illumination is provided. The “TC” insignia is found on the top and side of the bonnet, inside the car on the console and on the boot lid.
The heavy aluminium bonnet has to be propped up; the dipstick within its tube is reasonably accessible. The aluminium boot lid is self-supporting and shuts with the merest push, there being no need to slam it, as a warning in five languages pointed out—the action is akin to closing the front-bonnet of a VW and equally pleasing. The boot itself is deep but the covered spare wheel standing upright on the nis restricts its capacity to 8.5 Cu. ft. ; the wheel can, however, be mounted on the boot lid if more space is required. The boot is automatically illuminated.
The unusual disc wheels with indents suggestive of spokes are yet another characteristic feature of the car (the back ones had mud-flaps) but can be replaced by wire wheels (an extra) if their appearance isn’t acceptable. The framed rear-view mirror is of the highly dangerous “vanishing” variety.
I came to regard the Rover with ever-increasing affection. It is essentially well contrived. It is comfortable, solid, yet amply endowed with performance in the new twin-S.U. form. Its general handling is impeccable and obviously the Solihull engineers have tried so very hard to provide a highly practical and desirable car, in the Rover tradition. Just as Jaguar offers unrivalled value-for-money in the luxury 2.4 to 4.2-litre categories, so does the Rover 2000 in the 2-litre field. Over and above that, there is no other car like it built anywhere in the World. For sheer individuality alone it is a highly covetable proposition, apart from its excellently blended qualities of ride, handling, braking, performance and dignified comfort. No wonder that the demand for this unique British car is ahead of supplies, although it is being built at the rate of approximately 600 a week. The TC version sells at the highly competitive price of £1,415 5s 2d. It is rather a thirsty car, for I never obtained better than 22.3 m.p.g. on long runs, and this feII in traffic conditions, averaging out at 21.9 m.p.g., of fuel costing nearly 6s. a gallon. The dip-stick is accessible and screw-down oil filler cap and A.C. oil-filter likewise, on the valve cover of the impressive alloy-head o.h.c. engine. The bonnet release is within the o/s facia stowage pocket. In a distance of 1,378 miles only fractionally over a pint of Castrolite was consumed. There is a well-placed lockable quick-action filler but petrol fumes were smelt when the tank was full, or nearly empty. The test car bad a Junior Pyretic fire-extinguisher by the driver’s door.
There was one depressing evening in the walking-pace traffic snarl of London’s Piccadilly at going-home time, when the engine idled more lumpily than ever, sounding like a diesel taxi, stalling unless revved up, emphasising imperfections of throttle-linkage, clutch take-up and play in the transmission by the Rover’s, erratic progress. However. once clear of the congestion, the trouble cleared up. and did not re-occur, and I formed a very high opinion of this outstanding British car, which is safe, comfortable, convenient and “different.” – W.B.