Rover SD1 Buying Guide

Widely considered to be the last ‘proper’ Rover, the SD1 remains a true staple of the 1970s. However, that means all the British Leyland problems are rife. Here’s how to bag a trouble-free specimen

Prices
• Project: £400-1500 • Good: £1900-3000 • Concours: £5000-7000 •
• Most Expensive at Auction - £11,505 (Grampian Police Car from
For The Love of Cars*)

Practicality ★★★★
Running Costs ★★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★
Investment ★★★
Desirability ★★★

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They say that the aluminium Rover V8 found its greatest ever home in the Rover SD1, and while it initially sold by the bucket load, tales of build quality and reliability woe soon cut the celebrations short. Launched in 1976 with daring fastback styling, apparently based on the Ferrari Daytona, early cars were plagued with Cadbury’s Flake-like build quality, severe corrosion problems, electrical gremlins and extensive running issues.

To counteract this reputation, Rover constantly improved the SD1 throughout the vehicle’s nine-year production run, leaving late examples as the ones to find - the very last SD1s remain fast and genuinely desirable. However, while build quality and persona were addressed, that BL connection continued to tarnish the SD1’s already damaged public image. Nowadays, the SD1 makes for the perfect classic car, with affordable asking prices and excellent parts availability.

As a driver’s car, with such an unstressed V8 to tackle modern day traffic, the SD1 strikes the perfect balance between relaxed commuter and sideways-trackday maniac. Other engines were offered, but regardless of whichever option you chose you’ll have a classic with great handling, feasibility, aesthetics and heritage. Attractive enough for John Steed, Roger Moore and Concorde test pilot Brian Trubshawe - this is a proper British brute with DIY practicality.

Your AutoClassics Rover SD1 inspection checklist

Engine

The Rover SD1 was powered by four-cylinder, six-cylinder and V8 options, with the V8 available in fuel-injected EFi spec for late model Vanden Plas and the Vitesse special edition. A diesel option was available from 1982, shared with the Range Rover, and goes far better than you would think – capable of over 100mph (if you are brave enough). The O-Series engine fitted to the 2000 is well refined and reliable if serviced properly, as is the 2300, whereas 2600 models give the V8 a good run for its money.

The early teething problems should be ironed out with higher mileage examples, but check for signs of stress or poor maintenance – dirty filters, frayed pipes or excessive fluid leaks. The larger the service history the better, with regular oil changes being essential. V8s weather well and can cover galactic mileage, but check for signs of overheating or coolant leak. Some early six-cylinder models enjoy destroying their own camshafts if oil changes aren’t regular, due to a design flaw that can cause the timing belt to fail.

Vehicles with a patchy history can be a hotbed for mechanical problems, so check the top end for unsavoury noises. V8s should be inspected for low oil pressure, as they tend to be driven harder than other models. Hot running or smoke from the exhaust indicates running issues deep within.

Gearbox

Gearboxes on the SD1 are usually strong and reliable, but it is not unknown for there to be issues if sat unused. Manual transmission is generally stronger than autoboxes, but listen out for crunchy gear selections, as synchromesh can perish – especially from second to third. Bearings are also classed as consumables. Automatic gearboxes suit the engine range well, especially the V8, but failed starter inhibitor switches on later models are common. This will cause the Rover to stall when selecting ‘drive’ or prevent the engine from starting altogether. Ensure that the gearboxes aren’t ‘running dry’ with a lack of fluid, as this can cause extensive damage to the internals. Substantial oil leaks from the rear of the vehicle point to a failing axle and differential, with a lack of oil the diff can seize – with horrendous consequences.

Suspension and brakes

Unloved and sub-standard examples with failed shock absorbers will offer a harsh ride, which can be costly to repair. The Boge Nivomat shock absorbers used on the self-levelling SD1 suspension are incredibly rare, and can command upwards of £600 for an entire set. However, not all SD1s were fitted with this system, so inspect the suspension thoroughaly. Excessive noise from the front suspension when swinging from lock to lock is usually a result of worn lower balljoints, although the entire steering rack has been known to collapse. As the steering rack is rather lengthy, pull the steering wheel up and down, to ensure there is no play in the box. Wayward handling can indicate that rear axle bushes are in need of replacement.
The braking system employs a straightforward and conventional disc/drum set-up, which offers little in the way of headaches, although front pads don’t last long due to the weight of the car, especially on the automatics.

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Bodywork

If it’s made of metal on the SD1, you’ll need to scrutinise every corner. Having suffered so many quality-related issues during production of early MkI examples, it’s highly likely you will find bodged repairs and various flavours of paintwork over shoe-string maintenance work. One of the biggest problems is leakage, opening propensity to rusting from the inside out. Replacing the bonded windscreen is enough to leave the strong-willed broken, not to mention costly. It is the same story with the rear screen, too. Check the sunroof for blocked drain holes, if clogged the water ingress becomes tidal.

Elsewhere, check the outer sills and door bottoms alongside the valance panels, front and rear. Bonnet and tailgate can explode with corrosion, so check both inner and outer skins. Lift the carpets to hunt down signs of water damage in the footwells, too. Windscreens can also allow Mother Nature to seep through – check the surrounding panels for tin worm, especially the bulkhead which can rot badly. Another rot spot is the boot floor, poke around for filler to avoid purchasing a money pit.

Interior

Early SD1s utilised fragile trim within the cabin, which has fallen foul to time and use – meaning that most will be missing original parts. Choke levers almost always snap. The MkII offered various improvements, but still far from resilient. Check the seat mechanisms work, as they can be sticky or jammed. Ensure carpets are dry, especially the boot cubby. Saggy rooflining is incredibly difficult to repair, although full replacement is possible - if not tricky.

The instrument binnacle surround is prone to warping, and finding a replacement takes time and patience. Minor switchgear and trim is becoming hard to find, while electronics are notoriously unpredictable. Electric windows can develop a life of their own, as can the sunroof. The central locking system can appear possessed, but can be tamed by Rover specialists.

History

  • 1976: Rover SD1 3500 launched. Scoops 1977 European Car of the Year award.
  • 1977: Straight-six 2600 available. 2300 follows in January 1978.
  • 1979: V8-S arrives in showrooms.
  • 1981: Production shifts to Cowley, before the 1982 facelift models arrive.
  • 1982: The first SD1 diesel rolls off the production line. Vitesse launched.
  • 1986: Last SD1 built, although remains on 1987 pricelists.

• Famous Owner: Roger Moore

AutoClassics say…

The Rover SD1 looks as elegant today as it ever did. Offering a spacious interior and rampant acceleration – in V8 and 2600 form, at least – the SD1 makes for a compelling long-distance cruiser, or daily commuter for the financially brave.

Early models are well documented as trouble makers, with Mark II examples far superior in terms of quality. Most problems are small, but corrosion can kill a Rover at twenty paces.

The most sought after is the V8 Vanden Plas or Vitesse and can command top whack asking prices. However, the 2600 is the better choice for those searching for similar power with acceptable economy. Whichever SD1 you are looking for, ownership will be enjoyable and entertaining, so long as it has been cared for, well-serviced and garaged properly. Found a 3.5-litre with manual transmission? You’re onto a solid investment for the future.

Parts availability and club support is also second to none.

Specifications

2300
  Power 123bhp
  Top speed 109mph
  0-60mph 12.0 seconds
  Economy 28 – 33 mpg

2600
  Power 136bhp
  Top speed 117mph
  0-60mph 10.0 seconds
  Economy 24 – 30 mpg

3500
  Power 153bhp
  Top speed 126mph
  0-60mph 8.6 seconds
  Economy 18 - 24 mpg

Vitesse
  Power 187bhp
  Top speed 135mph
  0-60mph 7.1 seconds
  Economy 12 - 19 mpg

Turbo Diesel
  Power 88bhp
  Top speed 102mph
  0-60mph 16.5 seconds
  Economy 30-33 mpg

Vanden Plas EFI
  Power 187bhp
  Top speed 130mph
  0-60mph 7.5 seconds
  Economy 14-22 mpg

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