A truly excellent motor car

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The Editor has his stint in the Rover new 3500

Last July Motor Sport published a full road-test report by C.R. on the Rover New 3500, Britain’s highly-competitive 3i litre light-alloy-V8 £4,750 luxury five-door saloon with self-levelling suspension and electronic ignition. It was a report which should have sent all who read it, and who were in the market for a car in this category, rushing out to place their orders without further delay. Through the co-operation of British Leyland’s Publicity Department we had been able to publish this early report on this exciting and important new British car, at a time when other journals were apparently being forced to purchase New 3500s in order to write about them. Being anxious to make my own assessment of the car which Spen King and his able Design and Development Team have created with the express intention of stemming the inflow of foreign quality cars to this country, I drove recently to the new Leyland headquarters at Grosvenor House in Redditch in the Editorial BMW 520i and departed in Pre-Production Vehicle No. 27, to rediscover the joys of driving behind that compact vee-eight-cylinder power pack which Rover adopted from Oldsmobile/ Buick many years back, and to enjoy the many outstanding features of the entirely different Rover New 3500.

I was not at first sure that I quite liked the car’s styling. It is eye-catching rather than “executive”. Perhaps it is that the bulky rear-end of this long saloon contrasts somewhat unhappily with the very attractive and clever low nose-line. The indent along the sides of this white Rover, not continued into the wheel-arches, I also thought rather off-putting. But this is probably the outcome of stodgy thinking; the sort of “poor man’s Ferrari” look as you approach the New Rover from the front is actually rather nice.

Inside the car I was delighted to find the same twin lockable scuttle-bins that I had found so useful in the one-time Editorial Rover 2000TC. There is much less space in the foot-wells of the Rover 3500 than in the BMW but this is of no moment unless, like my wife, you are sometimes in the habit of stowing a shopping-basket adjacent to your feet. The battery of big press-buttons on the right of the instrument panel soon make sense but later, with lamps alight, I was to find some of the ten warning-lights, notably those telling me to belt-up (which I didn’t) and that the fuel supply was running low, too bright, although in daylight the latter might well he brighter. The compact-size seats are comfortable, but I would prefer leather upholstery in a Rover. [This will become an option—C.R.] and I would have liked a rather finer adjustment-range for fore-and-aft and squab adjustment of the driving seat. The handles controlling squabangle are, anyway, too close to the body sides. However, this is all niggling criticism, because once the seat is set, it ceases to apply. This is so with many of the smaller items which a writer often feels he should condemn, hut which to the owner of the car are of very little concern. Like my dislikes about the Rover’s instruments. The driver’s left-hand blanks a view of the smaller dials and these are not too easy to read anyway. There has long been an impression that the instruments of expensive modern motor cars must live in deep chasms, from which they coyly peep, and although I know David Bache has buried the 3500’s four little instruments to prevent dazzle in the big windscreen, the fact remains that for some time BMW and Others have shown that you can have an instantly-readable non-dazzle panel without recourse to “pot-holing”. However, if all is well the white needles of three of these Rover dials hang down vertically, indicating 30 lb. sq. in. oil-pressure, a battery health expressed as “13”, and water-heat of 90 deg. C, and so, as there is that low-fuel-level light (which is supposed to show that you have a couple of gallons in hand hut which seems to leave about 30 miles supply before you are stranded), there is little need to peep at these dials.

The speedometer you look at almost all the time, together with frequent glances in the rear view mirror, when driving a car as long-legged as this Rover 3500 in this country. The tachometer is a delight to cast an eye over, because it reminds you of how very high-geared the New 3500 is, and thus how long-wearing should be its oversquare five-bearing engine and how relatively economical, for the car is geared to give 28 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in the fifth speed. When being legal on our Motorways it reads as low as 2,500 r.p.m. High-geared indeed! This makes the Rover a very pleasantly-restful car to drive on long journeys, for it is essentially quiet and very comfortable. It does, however, kill rapid acceleration from low speeds unless the gear lever is made reasonable use of. This is no hardship, because the new Leyland five-speed gearbox has _a nice -action. In my opinion it does not match the silky seductiveness of a good Ford gearbox (not five-speed, I know) and the lever has fairly long movements, can baulk going into bottom, and is topped by 4 very beefy knob. But this is nevertheless a very good gearbox, with the advantage that reverse is away to the left, clear of the 1st gear position, with fifth to the right, out beyond the 3rd gear slot. Mark you, I still think it even nicer to be able to thrust the left arm away from one, when getting into the highest ratio of a five-speed gearbox . . .

Economy then. This big Rover gave 23.2 m.p.g. of 4-star petrol over a varied and considerable mileage, the range on the first tankful being 330 miles. After the warning light glows and has ceased to flicker there seems to be about 14-gallons left in the fuel tank but as owners no longer fill up from small eallS they are unlikely to run-out, especially as the fuel-gauge reads vaguely at low levels. In making these checks I discovered that the immersed electric-pump would not prime on a mere gallon and had to call out the local “Supercover”, in the form of a cranecarrying Land-Rover, which, however; had no spare petrol aboard! Surge on a corner as the tank dried up had induced air into the pipeline to the twin SUs, but later I primed on this quantity of petrol satisfactorily. While on the subject of fluids, scarcely half-a-pint of oil was consumed in 1,235 miles. The Rover’s power steering allows a convenient 2.7 turns, lock-to-lock, and is very good in feel, if not quite in the Mercedes-Benz category, but I didn’t like the non-circular wheel when spinning it through the fingers. The disc/drum brakes felt spongy, in contrast to the over-servo-ed BMW brakes I am used to but were, in fact, excellent both in action and power, once one had become acclimatised. The handbrake is over to the passenger’s side but is very conveniently located. The central door-locking system, with its internal button, is a very worthwhile luxury. The knob-adjustable external mirrors make the car very wide and they look vulnerable, but represent another luxury one does not expect to find in a car of this price. The fold-down back-seat squab provides an enormous luggage-swallowing capacity, especially when Dunlop Denovos tyres make a spare wheel unnecessary, and the stowage arrangements here work well, even if the detachable shelf is rather crude and the keys not quite of BMW quality. The electric window-lifts are an extra I would certainly order with a personal Rover. With their console and door-located controls, the driver’s over-ride switch, etc. these windows are well worth their price, even though you cannot operate them when the ignition-key is away unlocking the fuel-filler flap and the fine-adjustment leaves a little to be desired—again, finicky criticism. But so very good is this New 3500 that one tends to notice small imperfections that wouldn’t even be mentioned on lesser cars. Thus the headlamps could have given a rather more penetrating beam and without the n is mirror I would have required my own Parking-Warden to wave me into tight spaces, rearward vision being limited. The minor controls are extremely well arranged, with flush-fitting choke lever, etc., and what other under-£5,000 car is equipped with radio, mud-flaps, under-bonnet and boot lighting, those ingenious side-window demisting ducts, tinted glass, an adjustable steering column, front and rear fog-lamps, childproof door locks and the foregoing items as statidard equipment? Add to this the major factors of simple but effective self-levelling suspension and the V8 5-speed power pack, and the value-for-outlay is incredible . . . It is also definitely a car of much character. The heating/ventilation system, with its ten separate ducts, is well contrived, but I was not altogether happy with the permanent fan action. As to the New 3500’s performance, over 120 m.p.h. and 0-60 m.p.h. acceleration in less than 8i sec. with the manual transmission makes this Rover a very fast, as well as an admirably effortless, motor car. The road-holding and cornering are likewise entirely admirable, whether you are pouring this splendid British car round a long open bend or hustling it along narrow country lanes—and I did much of both! The ride is unexpectedly harsh but by no means uncomfortable, a harshness which the Denovos no doubt emphasised. Entry front and back. through big doors endowed with good “keeps” (and red extremity lamps) is notably easy and the rear foot-room is excellent. The back seat takes three people, with a wide arm-rest which stows away easily, for use if only two are carried. In the front, the visors go flush into the roof, a one-time luxury hallmark, and contain mirror and note-case stowages.

Overall, I can extend the very highest praise to the Rover New 3500, which should be welcomed as just the car Britain needs to stem the imports race. With the electric windows I would order it costs under £4,850. Compare this with £6,471 charged for the 6-cylinder 2.8-litre BMW 528, which would be one personal alternative. Good on you, Solihull, and Great Britain!

I had intended to conclude this warm appraisal of a very fine and important new British car with a description of how it is made, in that £31-million new factory (those millions again!) at Solihull. But my suggested visit was discouraged on the grounds that nothing much was happening there, when I returned the test-car at the end of September . . .! And I have one final regret. The Rover New 3500 is such a great advance on previous Rovers, and so different, that I wish the old name had been dropped and the car called simply a Leyland Eight, thereby cementing a 55-year link between two brilliant Leyland engineers, Parry Thomas and Spen King.—W.B.

Brighton Speed Trials

This year’s Brighton Speed Trials, sponsored by Fribourg & Treyer and run over the traditional s.s. kilometre on September 11th, commenced in fine weather that later deteriorated. FTD was made by Render’s Lotus 76, in 18.77 sec., 0.15 sec. below Purley’s 1974 course-record. Runner-up was Johnty Williamson (Surtees TS11), in 19.64 sec. The fastest motorcycle was Weedon’s s/c Triumph, with a run in 19.62 sec., which beat Keys’ Nor/Jap by 1.92 sec. (it was in a different class, but second fastest twowheeler). Ring’s Yamaha was quickest combo., in 24.01 sec. Fastest lady (taking the Chater Lea Trophy of nostalgic title) was Susan Scott, whose Scott Special clocked 25.72 sec. The BDC class was won by John Goddard (26.3 sec.) and the Bentley-Napier did 27.7 sec. New class records were set up by the Powell Speed Cooper-S (27.5 sec.) and the Brown’s MG TC (29.72 sec.). Best sports car time was 23.3 sec., by Oram’s Jaguar E-type.

The Arab that Bill Meredith Owens has acquired is a 1925 chassis with the small radiator and Meadows gearbox. It is on display at the Stratford Motor Museum prior to being restored. A programme about the motor racing career of Raymond Mays will be shown in Yorkshire, Anglia and TyneTees ITV regions at 10.30 p.m. on Monday, November 1st.

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