Rover SD1 Logo early

All photos and text provided by Don Williams with grateful acknowledgement.
Click on the thumbnail images to view larger on-screen photos.

About the car:

January 1979 Rover 3500 SD1. Originally Deep Red, re-sprayed white in 2008, originally automatic, now manual.

DSC_0001 1979 Rover 3500 SD1 Gutted

Purchased as a driveable vehicle in 1994 and stripped to a bare body shell, seam welded and strengthened, sill filled with marine foam, roll cage and 150 litre alloy foam filled petrol tank fitted. Rear axle modified to take disc brakes, and different springs fitted to raise ride height. The motor was stripped and rebuilt using 10.5:1 CR pistons, balanced, high lift cam fitted and lots of hours gas flowing heads. The inlet manifold was machined out to take 2in SU carbs (for reliability in long distance rallies). The diff was modified to take a Toyota Land Cruiser limited slip mechanism. This turned out to be a bad choice as the heat treatment involved in re-splining to take Rover axles almost certainly was not done properly and the mechanism broke outside Mt Isa. It was replaced with a standard diff and we couldn’t tell the difference.

In 1998 I designed new rear springs (based on Koni conversions with 1 extra coil in centre). This setup was superb on the dirt, and the long travel rear end allowed the Rover to get through sections where all other 2WD cars were bogged or stuck. We had lots of trouble with broken engine mounts and the bush in the diff extension chewing out on a daily basis. For 2008 we changed the engine mount setup and replaced the diff extension bush with with a custom bracket and spherical joint which fixed  both problems.

1995 Mobil Round Australia Rally

The rally effectively carried on the tradition of the early Redex Trials – there hadn’t been a round Australia rally since 1979. The event was really for historic rally cars built before 1975 and production rally cars built before 1980 (from memory), although there was a category for vehicles that either did not meet these criteria, or for people who wanted to take part but did not want to do the full on event. The event covered approximately 20,000 kilometres in 19 days, and included sections that lasted up to around 38 hours. A couple of particular interest were the Alice Springs to Kalgoorlie section that travelled the entire length of the Gunbarrel Highway (from the Olgas to Leonora via Warburton Mission), and the Broome to Darwin section which included the entire length of the Gibb River road in the Kimberly.

It was interesting driving in the night at 140 – 150 kph in the dust of other cars with poor visibility !!

Photos from the 1995 Mobil Round Australia Rally

1998 Playstation Round Australia Rally

The organisers allowed 4wd’s into this event, much to the detriment of the event in many people’s opinion. The SD1 finished 10th in the 2wd section and 19th outright against opposition which included big money factory backed entries driven by the likes of Peter Brock.

The event was much rougher than the 1995 event and favoured 4wd’s for this reason. Rough (dry) creek crossings claimed the hopes of several 2wd entries, and for this reason we had made a deliberate decision to back off anywhere we did not have clear visibility.

Parts of some of the sections were very fast, and we regularly saw the speedo at 150 – 180 Kph on the dirt, and on one section where we had a flat, crossed the timing point at around 200 Kph.

In another section in WA with deep ruts full of bulldust and sharp limestone we puntured the sidewalls of 2 tyres and put a dint in the front passenger rim deep enough for it to hit the brake caliper – we had anticipated this sort of thing and were carrying 4 spares. We believe the Rover was the only 2wd vehicle to get through this section without a tow of some kind, due to its long travel rear suspension, which is within a millimetre or 2 of that of the Range Rover, as we use Range Rover front shock absorbers for the rear of the SD1.

Photos from the 1998 Playstation Round Australia Rally

2008 Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial

When Bob Watson announced he was organising another rally similar to the 1995 and 1998 events, although shorter in length and time, David and myself couldn’t help ourselves and entered.

The rally started in the Central Australian town of Alice Springs and finished on the Queensland Gold Coast.

Initially we were going to enter a Rover P6B that David was preparing as an historic rally car, but it eventually became apparent that it would not be finished in time, so the decision was made to use my Rover SD1 which competed in the 1995 and 1998 Round Australia events.

This late decision meant that we did not have as much time as we would have liked for preparation, and it ended up costing us dearly.

The car was re-sprayed white, and we put a lot of effort into solving two consistent problems from 1995 and 1998 that prevented us from being fully competitive – breaking engine mounts and the differential extension mounting bush, which in 1998 typically lasted less than half a day before disintegrating.

The engine mounting brackets were modified to take large tubular bushes which could not break under shear, and I had made at an engineering works a custom fitting that allowed the diff extension housing bush to be replaced with a spherical (rose) joint. We figured that there would be sufficient compliance in the trailing arm bushes to prevent anything breaking due to the modification.

We did replace the clutch plate and release bearing, but did not have time to rebuild the gearbox.

On the way up, and running behind schedule, about 50km north of Coober Pedy, and in the dark, we hit a kangaroo (first time ever) and did a lot of damage to the drivers side lights, bonnet and radiator. We took the bonnet off and onto the support trailer, replace the radiator, and continued on, eventually camping in the desert for the night. Next day we drove on into Alice Springs to spend the next three days repairing the car sufficiently to pass scrutineering and thus be able to compete.

We were lucky that with us was my friend Les, a panel beater who had re-sprayed the car. He did a fantastic job of repairing the bonnet, and bashing out bent metal at the front where the headlights fitted.

David drove the first day of the event, which was a big loop out and back to Alice Springs using parts of the Finke Desert Rally course, which was totally chewed up by the 4wd’s from the event only a week or two earlier. We managed to get bogged on one particularly nasty corner, and eventually had to use the Turfor hand winch to get out.

The next day the stage was from Alice Springs to Mt Isa and it was my day to drive. The first competitive section started out in the desert about 250 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. The car immediately behind us was a full on rally specification Porsche 911, and I though it would be all over us by halfway through the section. They didn’t catch us, and we clean sheeted the section, showing that our modified engine and extension mounts were allowing us to be extremely competitive.

Unfortunately, while waiting at the control point at the end of the section we could hear this odd noise, and trying to move off on the transport section to the Plenty Highway, I realised I could only select 4th gear, which I had to use to get going. Once going, and without thinking I changed up into 5th and everything seemed to be working again. Big mistake. Approaching the junction with the Plenty Highway, which was the service area, I slowed down and selected 2nd gear to drive about 30 metres to our service crew.

About halfway, lots of loud noises from the gearbox. Turned out later a small bearing had broken, and the noise was one of the pieces getting caught between the teeth of a gear and breaking them.

We pulled the gearbox out by the side of the road, just in case it was something else, but in the end we had to trailer the car more than 800 km over the Plenty highway to Mt. Isa, where we managed to get a replacement bearing and repair the gearbox enough to be able to drive it back to Melbourne in 4th gear. The annoying thing in all this was that the spare gearbox had been left in Melbourne for various reasons. If we had it with us, another hour or so by the side of the road would have seen us back in the event.

For additional information and background to this event, click on to this Link:
Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial

Photos from the 2008 Red Centre to Gold Coast Trial