A fine British sports saloon: the Rover 2000

The Rover Company have a reputation for building beautifully made but rather uninspiring motor cars. This reputation began to crumble with their successful entry into International rallying with the 3-litre model, and now with the 2000, or P6 as it is known at the factory, which was introduced on October 9th. Rover must be regarded as one of the most technically advanced motor manufacturers in the world, for the new model bristles with technical innovations.

The design studies for this car started out over five years ago when there was every intention to fit a gas turbine engine, but development of this unit was slower than expected and the design was easily converted to take a conventional engine. As can be seen from the photographs the car is almost identical bodily to the T4 experimental gas turbine car with the exception that the bonnet line is lower due to the fitting of the less bulky internal combustion engine.

The chassis is of unitary construction but on the Rover none of the body panels are stressed at all. The strength of the chassis lies in the platform which has a very strong bulkhead, high door sills, like the E-type Jaguar, and a stiff rear bulkhead. The four doors, bonnet and boot lids, the four wings and the roof panel are not added until the last stages of construction, thus avoiding unnecessary damage on the production line. As these are simply bolted-on items the advantage of repairing accident damage is immediately apparent. As both the chassis and body panels are jig drilled there should be no problems with the fit of panels in repair work.

The suspension system is highly unorthodox. The front suspension is described as double wishbone by Rovers but it is rather more than that. The lower arms are indeed wide-based wishbones of very sturdy construction which are attached to very tall king-posts but the upper arm is a leading link projecting forward from the bulkhead which is well located by a transverse bearing on the bulkhead. These are joined across the car by an anti-roll bar. The coil-springs are mounted almost horizontally, bearing against the bulkhead and being operated by an extension piece on the upper leading link, thus transferring stresses to the strong bulkhead. The telescopic shock-absorbers are anchored to the body at their lower ends instead of the more normal method of locating the lower end on the suspension, so that on bump the dampers open up and on rebound they close. The worm and roller steering box is mounted on the bulkhead and operates a three-piece track rod, the centre part of which is attached to an hydraulic steering damper.

The suspension and steering have been specifically designed for the use of braced tread tyres and Rover engineers warn that use of any other type causes a serious deterioration in the handling qualities. The two types sold as standard equipment are the Dunlop SP and the Pirelli Cintura: The Michelin "X" is not recommended and, in fact, Rover Engineers have said in conversation that they have found the Pirelli to give the best all round results.

The rear suspension utilises the de Dion principle. Although this is a method of suspension which has rapidly lost favour in recent years, Rover engineers defend their choice most vigorously. They were determined not to use a swing axle system and they felt that the de Dion system, which keeps the wheels upright, would be a better compromise than i.r.s. systems which allow large camber changes. There is a penalty in the sprung to unsprung mass ratio but Rover felt it was entirely worth while. In addition they already had considerable experience with the de Dion layout on the T3 gas turbine car which first appeared in 1956. The layout is similar to that of the T3, the de Dion tube having a sliding joint and fixed length universally jointed half-shafts, thus eliminating the difficulty of using splined drive shafts. Location is by Watt linkage with the coil-spring/damper units being mounted along the leading link. The differential housing is of course chassis mounted and the 10 1/4-in. Dunlop disc brakes are attached to it, thus aiding a little more in reducing unsprung weight. As all cornering loads are taken by the differential it is transversely located by a short panhard rod. The front brakes are 10 3/4-in. discs and assistance is provided by a Lockheed vacuum servo.

The engine of the 2000 is a departure from previous Rover practice in that an overhead camshaft is used. This engine has a cast iron block with an aluminium cylinder head. The engine is "square" with identical bore and stroke measurements of 85.7 mm., giving a capacity of 1,978 C.C. for this 4-cylinder unit. The crankshaft has five main bearings and the camshaft, which is driven by a double roller chain, runs in six bearings. An unusual feature is the adoption of a concave piston crown which acts as the combustion chamber, the cylinder head face being virtually flat except for valve and spark plug apertures. This is, of course, similar to diesel engine practice. The valves are vertical, being operated by inverted tappets which have shim adjustment.

Power output is 90 b.h.p. net at 5,000 r.p.m. and maximum torque is 113.5 lb. ft. at 2,750 r.p.m. This is achieved on a compression ratio of 9 : 1 with a single S.U. HS6 1 3/4-in. carburetter. There is considerable scope for development and Rover have various modified engines on test and power outputs of 140 b.h.p. are spoken of. It is, of course, to be expected that Rover will use the 2000 in rallies and although no official news is available yet there will almost certainly be a high-performance version available in a few months' time. A new gearbox has been designed for the 2000 having four forward speeds with baulk-ring synchromesh on all gears. The clutch is a Borg and Beck diaphragm type.

The Factory

The expenditure on the 2000 exceeds £10,000,000, much of this being spent on a new factory which stands alongside the old plant at Solihull. This has been designed to cope with several new techniques in motor-car production. The chassis platform, or base unit as it is called by Rover, is built by Pressed Steel at Oxford and then transported to the new factory. Here it is checked in a jig, then drilled for the fitting of suspension components and so on. The base unit is then turned over onto its roof and proceeds along the production line in this state while the front and rear suspensions, steering, final drive, brakes, electrical equipment and so on are dropped in from above. This is of course a much better method than offering the parts up from below the car. The rear suspension is built in a jig and it remains in this jig until it is fitted to the car. The car is then turned over and the engine and transmission dropped in from above while various other accessories and the wheels are added. All wheels are balanced before fitting. The car is then driveable and is tested on a roller dynamometer mainly to check for engine and transmission noise, after which the body panels are fitted. The car is then driven on to a machine which shakes the car violently for about five minutes. An operative notes any body rattles or squeaks and rectification is made. The next step is the water test booth where water is sprayed on all parts of the car at an equivalent speed of 70 m.p.h. Any leaks are rectified. After this the car is given any further rectification work, then handed over to the quality control department who road-test the car on the Rover test track, and when it is passed it is polished and prepared for the dealer.

Another interesting feature of the new factory is the paint shop. This uses the electro-static spray principle instead of the normal spray gun method. With this method the paint is discharged into the air by centrifugal action after being positively charged with 120,000 volts. The paint, invisible to the naked eye, is then attracted to the panels rather like iron filings to a magnet. This method gives a paint wastage of only 2% compared with the normal loss of 60%.

On the Road

Having studied the advanced engineering of the 2000, we were anxious to see if this had resulted in advanced road manners, for this is regrettably not always the case and some theoretically advanced cars have proved to he very inferior to conventional cars when on the road. Happily this is not the case with the Rover and it is pleasing to be able to report that it is one of the most satisfying cars we have come across for a very long time.

Our experience of the car on two different models is unfortunately less lengthy than we would like and it was confined to pre-production prototypes which differed in some respects from the cars which will be available to the public. The test cars were devoid of all badges, insignia, etc., as we drove the car before its release date but it surprisingly attracted little attention, except when stationary, evidence that the restrained styling is effective. But judging by the response when the Editor slipped in a picture of the car in our September issue there are several hundred readers who were fully aware of the essential details of the 2000 well before the release date!

It is essentially a 4-seater car as the rear seat is contoured to take two people, having a large central armrest. However a third passenger could be accommodated if necessary. The front seats are well padded bucket seats with a good range of fore and aft adjustment and reclining backrests operated by a friction lock, so that many intermediate positions can be obtained. An optional extra which will be introduced shortly is a specially designed adjustable headrest. The steering wheel has a single spoke and is adjustable up-and-down over a range of just over an inch by means of a wheel on the right of the column. Instrumentation has been reduced to a minimum leaving much of the facia free as a parcels shelf. The speedometer is a rectangular housing in front of the driver, the Jaeger strip-type speedometer reading to 110 m.p.h. and 180 k.p.h. Trip and total mileometers are fitted and knobs protruding from the glass allow for resetting the trip and adjustment of the panel lighting. To the left of the speedometer is the water temperature gauge marked in degrees Centigrade. During our test the needle remained on 73° irrespective of how the car was being treated. To the right of the speedometer is the fuel gauge, marked 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 with two blobs showing the empty and full marks. Underneath the fuel capacity is written as 12 gallons or 55 litres. A fuel reserve knob located on the central console, traps about 1 1/2 gallons of fuel. Above the speedometer are a series of warning lights. These are the choke warning light, oil pressure, direction indicator repeaters, dynamo charge and brake light. This brake light has a dual purpose, illuminating if the handbrake is left on or if the reservoir fluid level drops too low. The only other instrument is a Motometer clock in the centre of the facia.

On the leading edge of the padded upper facia panel are two grilles which allow fresh air from a bonnet located intake into the interior. A flap can be set to deflect the air in the desired direction and a knob can be set to direct the air into the windscreen demister slots. The hearer fan can also be used to blow this air if desired, which results in an almost gale force wind. The heater controls are sensible and well planned and give a reasonable but not outstanding amount of warm air.

On the lower facia rail are a number of knobs and switches. From left to right they are cigar lighter, interior light switch (the light is on the roof between the rear seats), side light and parking light switch (the latter allowing just the two offside lights to be switched on), ignition and key operated starter switch, fog and headlamp switch, variable speed wipers switch. Protruding from the left of the steering column is the lights lever which is used for dip and main beam when raised or lowered or for flashing when pulled towards the driver. Unfortunately both the side and headlamp facia switches must be on before the lights lever can be used—an unnecessary complication. On the right of the column is the direction indicators switch which also sounds the horn when it is pulled towards the driver. Our test car had a Radiomobile radio fitted in the central console, this being and optional extra. On the loudspeaker grille the petrol reserve and choke knobs are fitted. Below the facia on each side of the car are two large pockets which take a tremendous amount of odds and ends. Ash trays are fitted on the tunnel for front and rear seat occupants. Two soft sun vizors are supplied both of them having vanity mirrors, and the small rear view mirror is of the non-dip type. All four doors have lockable quarter lights and push-button interior door catches. The test car was also fitted with front seat safety belts of a new design carried out between Rover and Irvin.

This detailed inventory of the interior shows that although this Rover is not quite so lavishly equipped, as its elder brothers in the Rover stable, it lacks for none of the essentials and is undoubtedly far better equipped than most of its competitors at similar prices. The amount of woodwork has been kept to a minimum with a strip of African walnut running along the facia and round the four doors. On production cars this is likely to be changed to Formica.

On the road the Rover is 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. The performance is good without being startling as the power has obviously been kept down to keep fuel consumption within reasonable bounds. However, with two occupants, 10 gallons of fuel and various items of test equipment the car repeatedly did 0-60 m.p.h. in 14.2 seconds, 0-70 m.p.h. in 20 seconds and covered the standing start 1/4-mile in 19.5 seconds. It is interesting to note that our figures coincided with those claimed by Rover, something which seldom happens in our experience. The speedometer is marked with gear change points of 30, 55 and 85 m.p.h. which represents 6,000 r.p.m. At these speeds there was a tremendous amount of noise coming from the engine which sounded like valve crash, but as this is an overhead camshaft engine we could not believe this and we later found that it was possible to pass through this period and reach speeds of 35, 62 and 91 m.p.h. in the gears without any valve gear noise. In subsequent discussion with a Rover engineer it was discovered that the noise was caused by a heat shield fitted over the exhaust system, a fault peculiar to the prototypes. Maximum speed is purely a question of gradient and wind conditions. Undoubtedly it will achieve the magic 100 m.p.h., but more important is its effortless 90 m.p.h. cruising at which speed the car is commendably quiet both as to engine, transmission and tyre noise as well as to wind noise. The traditional type of Rover owner need not be frightened by this engine for it will accelerate quite happily, if not very rapidly, from low speeds in high gears. We felt that third was a trifle too high leaving some situations where one was undecided whether to use second or third.

Any comments on the gearbox must be prefaced by the remark that our test car was not fitted with the production gearbox. During prototype testing some serious deficiencies were found in the gearboxes mainly in poor synchromesh and gear noise, and a number of modifications have been made for production gearboxes. So many early gearboxes were rejected that this re-design work became necessary. This is not to say that the gearbox is bad, for by most standards it is quite acceptable, our particular example being quite quiet. However, hurried changes beat the synchromesh quite easily, producing some horrid noises. Accurate double de-clutching of downward changes completely eliminated this problem and we would certainly not condemn the car on the gearbox fitted to the test car. We look forward to trying a production car with the new gearbox. The external sleeve which has to be lifted to engage reverse gear works extremely well and is very positive. The diaphragm clutch is light and progressive. The ride of the 2000 is soft without becoming sickly as fore and aft pitching is reduced to a minimum. Bumps can be felt but they are transmitted to the body shell in a very reduced form so that a sharp bump reaches the car as a slow lifting of the body. When traversing really rough roads the suspension can be heard at work quite audibly and the car is also affected quite noticeably but the driver soon learns to let the car ripple over the bumps for it remains directionally stable and fully controllable. In this respect it can be rated third to the Citroën DS and the Morris 1100 in its ability to cover rough ground. When hitting really serious undulations like hump back bridges it is better than either of these cars, for there is no bottoming of the suspension. The seats remained comfortable for long periods at a time and most drivers quickly found a suitable driving position, the only criticism being that heel-and-toe gear changes are difficult to make. Rear seat passengers had no complaints at all except that if the front seats were right back there was not quite enough room to stretch out their legs. In respect of ride comfort it was felt that the back seat was more comfortable than the front.

The handling of the 2000 rated rave reviews from all our staff who drove it both on the road and on the test track. We took the car to the test track one wet morning and after the sun had dried out the road except under the trees we threw it around to see if we could lose control and found it to be an almost impossible task. Cornering hard on a dry road and running onto a wet patch gave only a slight feeling of insecurity but no sign of breakaway at the rear. Once the initial roll has been taken up the car corners as if on the proverbial rails, the standard tyre pressures allowing a gradual increase in the understeer tendency as speed builds up. Adjustments in tyre pressure can give oversteer for those who wish to practice more advanced manoeuvres. Hard cornering on dry roads provokes a fair amount of tyre squeal, a fault which Pirelli tyres are prone to irrespective of the car to which they are fitted. Altogether the handling can be summed up as among the very finest on any car irrespective of price.

The steering can be bracketed with the handling for it is also of a high standard. Study of the design leads one to imagine that it would be heavy but apart from a slight heaviness at parking speeds it is light and accurate, seeming to be much higher geared than its 3 3/4 turns lock to lock. A slight tremor is transmitted to the wheel on most roads but this does not deteriorate on badly surfaced roads.

The Dunlop brakes are no different to many other installations but they give the impression of being outstanding in every respect. The Servo gives instant response and fantastic stopping power in return for light pedal pressures on both wet and dry roads, the Pirelli tyres no doubt assisting in this respect. The handbrake also held on a 1 in 3 slope which is unusual for disc brakes.

Our overall fuel consumption which covered all types of driving from flat out Motorway use to town poodling and performance testing worked out to 23.8 m.p.g. which is quite outstanding for the size and weight of the car. Certainly it will be a very hard driving owner who reduces his fuel consumption below 25 m.p.g. With a 12-gallon tank this gives a range not far off 300 miles.

It is not often that Motor Sport is almost unreservedly enthusiastic about a new car but we feel that Rover have produced a significant new model which will more than repay their vast outlay. At a total price of £1,264 9s. 7d. it is astonishingly fine value and we shall be very surprised if Rover do not have to rapidly increase their production from the planned 550 a week.—M.L.T.

The Rover 2000
Engine: 4 cylinders, 85.7 x 85.7 mm. (1,978 c.c.). Overhead valves operated by a single overhead camshaft. 90 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m.

Gear ratio: 1st, 12.8 to 1; 2nd, 7.5 to 1; 3rd, 4.9 to 1; top, 3.5 to 1.

Steering ratio: 3 3/4 turns, lock to lock.

Fuel capacity: 12 gallons (Range: approximately 280 miles).

Tyres: 165 x 14 in. Pirelli Cintura or 6.50 x 14 in. Dunlop S.P. on bolt-on disc wheels.

Weight: (Ready for road with five gallons of petrol) 2,767 lb.

Wheelbase: 8 ft. 7 1/2 in.

Track: Front, 4 ft. 5 1/2 in. Rear, 4 ft. 4 1/2 in.

Dimensions: 14 ft. 10 1/2 in. x 5 ft. 6 1/2 in. x 4 ft. 6 3/4 in. (high).

Price: £1,046 (£1,264 9s. 7d. inclusive of p.t.)

Makers: The Rover Co. Ltd., Solihull, Warwicks. England.

Performance figures

0-30 m.p.h. - 4.2 sec. (4.0)
0-40 m.p.h. - 7.2 (7.1)
0-50 m.p.h. - 10.0 (9.9)
0-60 m.p.h. - 14.2 (14.1)
0-70 m.p.h. - 20.0 (20.0)
0-80 m.p.h. - 27.2 (27.1)
(best figures in brackets)
Standing start 1.4-mile: 19.5 seconds.
Speeds in gears: 1st, 35 m.p.h.; 2nd, 60 m.p.h.; 3rd, 91 m.p.h.; top, 102 m.p.h.