The following article was originally published in the Rover Owners Club magazine ‘Freewheeling’ in 1987 & the Rover Car Club of the A.C.T. magazine ‘Roverview’ in the early 1990’s. The content was jointly compiled by Rob Turner and Tony Cope.
THE ROVER SD1 IN AUSTRALIA – 1978 TO 1987
This guide is intended to outline a brief history of the Rover SD1 3500 constructed and sold specifically for the Australian Market. It has been compiled from Sales Brochures, personal observation and personal experience of the model during its period of existence.
Although released in the United Kingdom in 1976, the first examples did not appear in Australia until August 1978, with serious sales commencing in 1979. As originally introduced, it had a de-tuned version of the all-alloy Rover V8 engine with twin Zenith-Stromberg 175 CD-SET carburettors. The handbook gives the compression ratio as 8.13:1 nominal, but interestingly does not quote the power output. However, the 1978 sales brochure gives 102 KW = 136 BHP. Owing to anti-pollution requirements, the engine possessed an Air Injection system, driven by a pump off the fan belt, and an Exhaust Gas Recirculation Valve, these features not being required on Home Market vehicles.
The trim level was an improvement on the Home Market SD1 of the same year, with some of the options being standard, i.e., Power Windows, Air Conditioning and Alloy Wheels with 195/70 HR 14 tyres. The air conditioning equipment was installed by the then Leyland Australia and badged as an Alpinair unit. Unlike the Home Market and 1981 & later cars, the controls and air ducts were mounted on a raised panel in the centre of the facia.
Most of the 1979-sold SD1’s had an AWA Clarion Stereo Radio/Cassette Tape Player, and the seats were box-pleated with plain velour material. All of the 1979-sold SD1’s had the Borg Warner Type 65 Automatic Transmission with a square-handled gear selector moving through a Triumph-style zig-zag gate.
Externally the car was identified on the rear panel by two badges with lettering ‘Rover’ and ‘3500’, and had a small skeletal Viking Ship badge on the bonnet.
The first change in the Australian specification occurred in late 1979 when a small number of these cars were imported with a 5-Speed Manual Transmission. Mechanically, they were identical to the previous cars, but externally, an additional air intake was provided in the panel below the bonnet, above the bumper bar. Badge work on the rear panel had larger characters, and the right-hand badge now read ‘3500 V8’. The 1980 Automatics at first did not share the new badge script on the rear panel. An improved Rover Viking Ship Badge appeared on the bonnet, similar to 1971 and later P6 bonnet badges. Aluminium P6-type ‘V8’ badges were added to the front wings, behind the wheel arches.
The 1981 model introduced a vastly improved trim level and re-classification as 3500 SE. Externally, the cars may be identified by neat rubber facings on the front and rear stainless steel bumper bars, and re-designed door mirrors with attractive stainless steel bodies, distinct from the previous model’s black plastic housing. The badging on the rear right-hand side now read ‘3500 SE’. Additionally, there appeared on each front wing above the V8 badge, an additional badge reading ‘Fuel Injection’. The additional air intake for the radiator was standardised and alloy wheels continued as before.
The engine specification had been changed to a Lucas/Bosch Fuel Injection system, first introduced on the North American Specification 3500 SD1 to cope with the ever stricter Australian exhaust emission laws. The air pump was, however, deleted. Power output was quoted as 106 KW = 142 BHP. Personal experience for 4 years revealed sluggish performance (RT). While the 5-Speed Manual gearbox was listed as being available in the Sales Brochures and Owner’s Handbook, it is believed that only ten of the Manual gearbox 1981 Variants were imported.
Internally the improvements continued. The instrument panel was colour keyed to the interior of the car in lieu of the previous standard black. The push button switches on the instrument panel were illuminated for the first time. The air conditioning unit was changed to an SU-Butec, installed at the factory, and the air outlets were now flush with the facia, as had always been the case with Home Market cars. Three vertical sliding levers controlled the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system in lieu of the previous arrangement of four levers and two knobs.
The Automatic Transmission selector lever was new – being taller – with a bright finish button, and moving through a straight path. Box pleating was abandoned for the seat trim and attractive plain-and pin stripe velour provided. New rotary front seat backrest adjusters were provided, facing inwards on each seat. Finally, grilles appeared on the front ventilating ducts of the front doors, the door locking buttons and ash trays gained chromed surrounds, and the door kick-plates were of stainless steel in lieu of grey plastic, and the legend ‘Rover’ appeared on the front kick-plates. A Pioneer KE 1000 stereo radio/cassette player was now provided, with four speakers.
1982 Facelift Model
1982 saw the only major facelift of the SD1. The body panels remained unchanged except for the rear tailgate, which now incorporated a deeper rear window with a washer/wiper. Trim and specifications were further upgraded, and build quality and finish were vastly improved. The front of the car gained new flush/contoured headlights incorporating the parking lamps. There were now also chrome surrounds for the headlights and side lamps, as well as a chrome strip below the bonnet leading edge. A full width air-intake grille was provided above the bumper bar, and a body coloured spoiler appeared. The bumper bars were of a polyurethane material and wrapped around the front and rear wings further than the original SD1. On the front wings, a new small badge was provided reading ‘3500’. On the rear panel, a new full width plinth appeared, at first in silver and later black, with ‘Rover’ and ‘3500 SE’ in raised characters.
• Above: 1983 Rover 3500SE & Vanden Plas 3500 publicity Side Show. Source: JRA Limited.
Reproduced with permission.
The alloy wheels were of a new, less fussy pattern, with a stove enamel finish. The appearance of the black panel between the second and third side windows was changed from fluted to plain, with the legend ‘Rover’ appearing in silver.
In 1983, the Rover Vanden Plas model finally appeared in Australia, giving a choice of two models.
Internally, a brand new instrument panel was provided. It was wider and lower and no longer incorporated an ammeter. In its place, the clock, previously analogue, moved from the facia to the instrument panel and became digital with stopwatch facility on the 3500 SE. In the Vanden Plas, the clock was also the display for the trip computer.
The steering wheel spokes were altered from vertical to horizontal and the turn signal and windscreen wiper levers changed sides to conform to the European Standard. New air conditioning, heating and ventilation controls were provided in a re-designed centre panel, which also now incorporated a cassette box. Cruise Control was standard on the Vanden Plas, and supplied at random on the 3500 SE.
New door panels were provided incorporating timber garnishing, with the window lift switches incorporated therein. The Vanden Plas also had a timber facing across the facia (and also the 1985 3500 SE), and both models had electronically adjustable door mirrors. Seat facings in the 3500 SE continued initially the plain and pin stripe velour, and later changed to hairline velvet without pin striping. All Australian Vanden Plas had Connolly leather upholstery, an electric sunroof and body side mouldings. Stereo radio/cassette units were now a digital AWA Clarion model.
Mechanically, the fuel injected engine continued in Australian SD1 cars and the Vanden Plas in the writer’s family (RT) appeared to be in a much sweeter state of tune, with crisper performance and a very different exhaust note. The ride quality, especially in the rear seats, was vastly improved.
A small number of 5-speed Manual Transmission 3500 SE cars were imported between 1982 and 1985, but the Vanden Plas was only available with Automatic Transmission. Changes since 1984 were only of a minor nature. The Vanden Plas always had overriders on the front bumper bars, incorporating a headlamp spray wash as standard. This was a listed option for the 3500 SE, however most 1985 3500 SE cars had this facility.
Both 1985 models had an additional air outlet on the facia, on the right hand side of the steering wheel. The 3500 SE was deleted in Great Britain in mid-1984, but continued as an Australian only derivative for 1985.
Additional Notes – Australian Market Rover 3500SE & Vanden Plas 3500 Series 2
In June 2013 John Lindsay gave a presentation to the Rover Owners Club about his time as an apprentice at BMC Australia from circa 1959, and subsequent employment at dealerships such as Jaguar Rover Australia (JRA), Trivetts and MG Rover Australia. In respect of the SD1, John recalled that prior to the introduction to Australia in 1982 of the Series 2 SD1, there was an extensive re-evaluation of the vehicles for export to Australia, especially in relation to the quality of materials in the cabin. It is understood that vehicles destined for Australia had their own specific trim, which differed from the UK market vehicles, and that the trim destined for Australia was marked with a kangaroo stamp. Examples below show the rear of the door trim timber from an Australian market 1985 Vanden Plas.
No Rover SD1 cars were imported into Australia during 1986. With the imminent arrival of the Rover 825i Saloon, Austin Rover did not consider it worthwhile to alter the V8 engine in saloon car specification to burn the low octane unleaded petrol demanded for 1986 and later Australian market cars.
The last new SD1 3500 SE and Vanden Plas – 1985 built models – were reported to have been sold to the public in early 1987. The model was replaced during 1987 by the Rover 825i and Rover Sterling saloons.
Surviving records from Leyland Australia, latterly JRA Limited indicate that at least 5,288 Rover SD1’s were imported and sold in Australia.
Only the V8-engined version of the Rover SD1 was commercially marketed in Australia. A handful of 2300 and 2600 6-cylinder-engined SD1 cars were privately imported. Additionally, there were a few Home Market 3500 cars with SU Carburettors and high-compression engines privately imported. A handful of privately imported Rover Vitesse are also known.
© Rob Turner & Tony Cope 2013, updated August 2020