One of Britain's finest cars- The Rover 90

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A compact 90 mph saloon of outstanding luxury and refinement, possessing good performance and very complete equipment. Firstclass construction and high-quality a feature of this well-known British car.

One of the pioneer firms in the Midlands, the Rover Company at first tried its hand at a variety of different models, some some complex, settling down after 1933 to a range of beautifully made and finished cars of notable refinement. This trend is well maintained in the present 60, 75 and 90 Rover models.

The Rover 90, which we had the pleasure of testing for a week in July, if not entirely in the high-performance category, is the version which will interest the majority of our readers, for its luxurious appointments and very complete equipment are allied to a maximum speed exceeding 91 mph, acceleration of the 0-50 mph in under 14 sec order, and brisk general performanee from what is essentially a compact car having a wheelbase of 9 ft 3 in

From observation on British roads the present popularity of the modern Rover is readily apparent and after driving a “90” for 350 varied miles it was easy to see why this is so. Here is a car typically British in its interior appointments, so carefully constructed and finished as to merit the designation “scaled-down Rolls-Royce,” with a six cylinder, 93 bhp F-head 2.6-litre engine able to deal effectively with this Island’s shockingly inadequate roads, yet selling for under £1,552 complete with overdrive, radio, and bucket front seats as on the test car. If the owner forgoes these three extras the price falls to a very modest £1,418 17s 6d.

Technically, this Rover 90 is inspiring. The engine has the special ioe inclined aluminium alloy head, with “downstairs” exhaust valves and push-rod operated oh inlet valves seating on Brimocrome inserts. The camshaft is driven by silent double-roller chain and uses a hydraulic automatic tensioner. The crankshaft is a massive fully-counter-balanced nickel-chrome steel forging, with rubber-mounted harmonic vibration damper, running in copper-lead main bearings. The lubrication system feeds each cam on the camshaft separately and an oil-jet from each connecting-rod spray, the cylinder bores. Cooling is by pressurised radiator, pump, and four-blade fan. The special V-crown pistons, in conjunction with the unusual combustion chamber-shape, both valves inclined, enables the. 73 by 105 mm power unit to develop 93 bhp at 4,500 rpm on a compression ratio of 7.5 to 1, and using a single SU carburetter, so that extreme octane-rated fuels are not required.

The drive passes through a 9 in diameter single-plate clutch, the ball-bearing thrust race of which is completely sealed, so that it is immersed in clean oil and requires no attention throughout the life of the car. The gearbox provides four speeds forward with synchromesh on the three upper ratios and the propeller-shaft is divided, with a rubber-mounted centre bearing to absorb whip and vibration. It is coupled to a semi-floating, spiral-beval back-axle, having a ratio of 4.3 to 1.

The separate chassis frame is of welded box-section steel, the power unit being three-point suspended on floating rubber bushes and the body insulated by special rubber mountings. Front independent suspension is by double wishbones and helical springs, rubber bushes being incorporated at the link-joints, which deadens noise which would otherwise be transmitted via the road wheels and obviates the need for lubrication. At the back. half-elliptic leaf springs carry the axle, each one being enclosed in a sealed, lubricant-packed gaiter. Double-acting hydraulic telescopic shock-absorbers of anti-aeration type are used all round.

Particularly noteworthy is the employment of sealed oil reservoirs which lubricate the steering swivel-pin bushes and need replenishment only once in six months, thus cutting down to a minimum the points on the Rover chassis requiring manual lubrication ; in fact, there are only four points to which the grease-gun should be applied every 3,000 miles. Another feature which indicates that the modern Rover has been designed by practical motorists is the location of the 12-volt Lucas battery under the back seat cushion, where it is unharmed by engine heat.

The braking system again emphasises the individuality of approach employed by the Rover design team. Girling two-trailing-shoe brakes are used at the front, this type of shoe being notably resistant to fade and self-adjusting. The drums measure 11 in by 3 in,  And to overcome the absence of leading-shoe self-servo action, on the Rover 90 a Clayton-Dewandre vacuum-servo is used, with the refinement of a reserve vacuum tank.

The free-wheel, which has long been a Rover item, is retained, with driver control, on the “60” and “75” cars, but is not used on the “90.” Instead, a Laycock-de-Normanville overdrive is an optional extra. Operating in top gear, it raises the final drive ratio from 4.3 to 1 to 3.34 to 1 by a flick of a steering-column lever. Again, you come upon a refinement, for Rover incorporate a relay switch which automatically ensures that the change from overdrive to normal top gear only takes place when the throttle is slightly open, thus eliminating snatch on engagement, special fuses ensuring that the main wiring circuit is protected and that a short circuit in the relay switch will not cause a sudden reversion to direct drive.

On the road.

Early impressions on taking over the Rover 90 are that here is a delightfully luxurious, quiet car and one which gets along faster than it appears to be travelling. The engine is virtually inaudible when idling, so that the presence of the dynamo-charge warning lamp at tick-over suggests that it has stalled, until a little vibration from the gear lever contradicts this impression. Acceleration is smooth and brisk and even in overdrive-top the car pulls away smoothly from 20 mph and when cruising at 70 mph the impression is of running at 45 mph. Bottom gear is noisey, in a vitage manner, but the higher ratios are subdued and in top gear only a whisper from the SU accompanies increases in speed. To this very acceptable silence is allied a smoothness of travel akin to free-wheeling and absence of body rattles. Although the ventilatory/heater fan isn’t particularly noisy, it switching it on mars slightly the ghostly progression of this refined motor car ; it is, of course, required only at low speeds or when stationary.

The character of the suspension and steering may not appeal entirely to those who habitually regard their motoring as a “dice,” but is suited to the majority of Rover owners. By this, we mean that the steering is spongy and heavy in overcoming considerable castor action, and the roll when cornering considerahle. On the other hand, from being very heavy when manoeuvring the steering lightens up appreciably for normal cornering. It is geared 33/4 turns lock-to-lock, and as the lock is generous, no impression of particularly low gearing is imparted, while violent castor action spins the wheel through the driver’s hands after acute corners. This is sensitiye steering, in that a great deal of road-wheel return motion is transmitted over really bad surfaces : in main road travel this is scarcely noticeable and the action becomes rather “elastic” while the firm suspension causes very appreciable column shake and body judder to be transmitted.

The three-spoke spring steering wheel is sensibly small (17 in in diameter) and has excellent finger-holds. Some lost-motion was evident after 17,000 miles’ wear. There is to some degree a sense of driving a heavy “pre-war” style car and the faint understeer characterics are accompanied by rather vague front wheel adhesion when quick steering-wheel movement is made. The ride is generally comfortable, with the exception of the aforesaid judder of bonnet, body and steering when bad potholes or corrugations are met, and the supple suspension is rather sensitive to changes of road surface, while the presence of a rigid back axle is felt at times. On braking the nose dips, but to a subdued degree. Although the tyres on the test car were correctly inflated at the back and were some 3 lb/sq in on the high side at the front, a good deal of scream was occaisioned when cornering quickly or braking sharply.

The driver is comfortably seated in a bucket seat having up and down, front to rear adjustment, as well as the usual fore and aft adjustment, while the squab angle is adjustable by spanner. This seat never became “hard” after long spells at the wheel and even without resort to the numerous arm-rests, offers good support. The treadle accelerator and brake pedal are light to operate, the clutch pedal needing firmer pressure.

The long central gear lever, with small knob, cranked back towards the driver, is a pleasure to use, its rather casual feel when it is waggled with the engine off belying its positive action when used in earnest. It is an unusual lever, hinged ahead of the remote control and it is yet another Rover refinement, as an agent can adjust it to individual requirements. It selects the gears firmly and decisively, there being good synchromesh, and is conveniently to hand. Reverse is selected by pushing the lever quite definitely over beyond the first gear location. The brakes of the Rover 90 call for acclimatisation. They are really extremely powerful with moderate pedal pressures, but there is a delay action, felt as lost motion at the pedal, which renders them sudden rather than fierce. Otherwise they are vice-free in action, although this delay makes progresstive braking a matter of practice, and there is the faintest trace of noise from the shoes, converted into tyre noise in heavy applications. One feature we do wish to criticise, and that is lack of servo assistance, and therefore absence of emergency retardation except for supermen with considerable leg power, should the engine stop. This is due to lack of suction for the servo-booster and was known in vintage times on cars so fitted. True, Rover provides a booster tank, which is supposed to provide for two normal stops. In our experience it only gave one such stop and even steadying the car on the pedal thereafter converted powerful braking to a helpless feeling of having negative control. Should one wish to coast downhill, or should the engine cut as the main fuel supply needs alteration to reserve, the effeet could be unpleasant and might he disastrous. The unusual right-hand brake lever, with “shepherd’s crook” handle is very nice to operate, holds securely, and does not impede entry or egress through the driver’s door.

Overdrive-top selects very smoothly and so silent is the engine that, in the absence of a rev-counter, it is difficult at first to decide which top gear is engaged. 70 mph is a very easy cruising speed for the “90” with 75/80 mph coming up easily time and again on British main roads. In the indirect gears, indicated maxima are 28, 45 and 68 mph, respectively, after which sudden and violent valve bounce sets in. The speedometer is about 5 per cent fast, so that this adjustment should be made for true speeds. The engine possesses no vices and starts very promptly. In the course of a total test mileage of 665 it used about 71/2 pints of oil.

Petrol consumption, using benzoil fuels,came, out at 23.2 mpg over varied types of driving. This represents a range of 266 miles. An excellent feature is the provision of a dash-located switch for bringing in approximately 11/2 gallons as a reserve supply, according to the handbook–alas, this supply lasted less than 20 miles when we resorted to it.

In detail

It is in the common-sense layout and generosity of its detail appointments that the Rover 90 abounds in “static” appeal to supplement its impeceable road manners.

The screen and window sills are of selected walnut, so highly polished that sun-glare from the upper section of the draish is some times troublesome. Alone in this area is the small, noisy Jaeger clock. The instruments and minor controls are on a metal panel, reminiscent of an aircraft control panel, in front of the driver. On the left of this is a 100 mph Jaeger speedometer with trip and total mileage recorders, its balanced transparent needle giving clear steady readings. It is matched, on the right, by a dial incorporating water temperature (normally at a shade over 75 C), ammeter, and petrol-level readings, the last-named also indicating sump oil-level when a small adjacent button is pressed. There is a detachable ignition-key, separate from the boot-lid key, but locking the driver’s door, and a neat small starter button. Above these is a turn-knob for switching on the lamps, after which side or headlamps are selected from a Continental-type lever protruding from the right-hand side of the steering column, although dimming is still done from a floor-switch by the clutch pedal. A longer lever above this lamps-lever controls the self-cancelling direction-flashers. On the left of the steeriug column is the small lever, in a quadrant, for selecting overdrive-top gear when it is moved down. Between the two main dials are bright warning lamps for choke-out and not-needed (this by thermostat control), low oil-pressure and ignition warning, while subdued lamps tell of headlamps main-beam and flashers in use. Between these windows is the petrol-reserve control. Neat white lettering on the black knobs or facia matching the white figures on black instrument dials. There is rheostat control of the instrument lighting, the screen-wipers are self-parking below the screen sill (their motor is rubber-mounted) and screen washers are provided.

A subsidiary panel below the radio, which is a high-quality HMV set with rod aerial, carried the heater and ventilator quadrants for car and screen, fog-lamp button, heater-fan button and toggle-type mixture control which can be locked home, and also a knob which opens to any required degree the scuttle ventilator flap. Without going into detail, it can be said that the heater/ventilator/demisting arrangements are very compreherisive and sensibly laid out. The bonnet lock is a toggle-lever by the driver’s right hand clearly labelled like the other levers, and ths bonnet is very easy to open, but needs propping up.

Before the front-seat passenger is a big and exceedingly deep “cave”-type lined cubby-hole with lockable wooden lid and under this is a slide-out tool tray most comprehensively and nicely fitted out. Near this is a swivelling concealed ash-tray. The steering wheel (which, curiously, had a faint trace of up-and-down play on the column), carries a sensible full-circle horn-ring, of small diameter so that it is not inadvertently operated.

Matching this comprehensive dash layout are armrests on the front doors which are adjustable for height by operating small levers beneath them—an outstanding refinement. There are also armrests on the front bucket seats the latter can be brought together when they are adjusted to accommodate three persons. The back seat has an especially wide central armrest. with side rests on the doors. A good receding-type central mirror is fitted.

Upholstery is in pleated leather and the carpets are of good quality, with heavy felt underlays. Even the legs of the front seats have carpet bags round them. The propeller-shaft tunnel protrudes only slightly into the back compartment. Here, excellent reading lamps are fitted, one on each side, each with its own switch on the appropriate centre door pillar, opening a back door bringing on the lamp on that side. When a front door is opened a useful flood of light is cast downwards from the dash sill. Twin anti-dazzle visors of excellent transparency are provided, the front seat passengers’ incorporating a vanity mirror. Spring-loaded “pulls” are fitted for the back seat passengers and all four doors, of which the front pair trail, have hinged metal pull-handles. The front doors have ventilator windows which close onto the sliding window frames, so that when open, no sense of obstruction is imparted, the door windows wind fully down, those at the front calling for just over two turns of the handles, those at the back just under two-and-a-half turns. Amongst this comprehensive equipment is a reversing lamp operated automatically by the gear lever. Door pockets are not provided, but there is a useful, if shallow, convex shelf behind the back seat.

The luggage boot offers very fair accommodation with the spare wheel in a separate, lockable compartment below, although its floor slopes downwards towards the back. Only the handle of the a wheelbrace intrudes, to the possible detriment of sealskin suitcases. The lid has over-centre hinges and as it opens the interior is automatically illuminated. The handle hinges up unless locked and when locked the petrol supply is rendered tamper-proof because before the flap over the filler-cap in the near-side back wine can be opened a tiny lever, hidden under loose felting has to he operated. Alas, this lever has to be moved again to lock the flap, which can be tiresome if the boot-lid has been inadvertently closed. The fuel filler is small and cannot take a can and even a funnel requires supporting ; its cap is secured to it.

Excellent is the provision of tiny extra safety latches for the back doors to prevent children opening them ; the doors can still be opened from the outside when these are in use. Indeed, all about the Rover you find practical commonsense details which add up to a highly individual quality car. Here is the place to remark on the extellent handbook which comes with the car this is so often an indication of the soundness of the vehicle itself.

ln appearance the Rover is rather portly, but when sitting in the driving seat it gives the impression of being a slim car. Some people may not like the square boxes in which the headlamps are recessed or the small expossed side lamps, but it should be remembered that the Rover makes no concessions to post-war trends, except where these improve its effectiveness in operation. Our preeeding remarks on handling may give an unfavourable impression in some quarters and certainly these characteristics savour to some extent of these possessed by far more expensive vehiclcs of the immediate pre-war and early war-years period. The point is that the Rover 90 is a fast and rapidly-accelerating car, but it is not a sport, or even a high-performance car in the sense a that term.

Rather does it appeal by reason of its quiet air of quality, its refined running, and its ingenious and generous eqipment and appointments while handling and performing more than adequately for long-distance business motorists forced to use our overcrowded roads.

Even now the attractions of this long-established Birmingham built car are not exhausted. There is the elaborate sound-damping by the use of sound-absorbing sprayed-on material and heavy felt floor coverings, the technical feature of a water-heated, thermostatically-regulated inlet manifold: pre-treatment of the body with is phosphoric acid cleaner before five sprayed undercoats of specially checked paint and a final coat are sprayed on, then hand polished and wax-treated: the many light-alloy panels employed, which with corrosion protection, spell Iong life ; and–another sensible minor detail—straps to hold the boot-lid when bulky objeets iii’ssitate it being left unlatched.

Under the bonnet the water and oil orifiees are accessible, the dipstick particularly so. A neat panel depicts the location of wiring fuses and junctions, the firing order is stamped on the exhaust manifold, and brake reservoir and screen-washer bottle are easily topped up.

Finally, it is complementary to the Rover’s high quality that the doors, like those of a certain German people’s car, shut easily only when a window is open :

How the Rover Company manages to sell the car at it basic price of £945 we do not know : if the writer had £1,500 to spare he would certainly want a “90” in his garage beside a smaller, more economical hack and a faster, more “dicable” sports car. The large number of Rovers on the road provides visible proof of their excellence and it is an ideal business man’s car, dignified, restful in which to travel, and being long-wearing, a good investment. With tax officials trying to weed out £3,000 vehicles, Rover sales should increase in future — as they richly deserve to do—for this is one of those hottest British productions you feel instinctively that you can trust and enjoy.

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