Rover 3500 V8
latest model Rover 3500 is a little like settling down to test only a dashboard,
which is really the newest thing about the vehicle apart from the somewhat
patched-up styling of this hybrid from Solihull. Nevertheless, driving the 3500
is invariably something to look forward to since it contrasts so sharply with
the four-cylinder cars which share the same body and basic layout.
is a double-edged sword, though, for whereas the V8 is infinitely smoother and
more pleasant under the bonnet, the lighter front end provided by the less
obtrusive four-banger makes for more precise and responsive handling.
By far the strongest case for the four-cylinder TC, for instance,
is its handling and the fact that it has manual transmission while the 3500 is
restricted to a Borg Warner automatic (which immediately presupposes a different
marketing intention). But the heron-headed four is unfashionably rough in 1971
although its reliability, durability and performance are all well-proven points.
In fact, the TC has marginally more performance in some speed ranges than the
3500 - if the driver is prepared to work his left arm to the bone playing the
gearbox game, that is.
The case with which the 3500 does its job completely vindicates
the no-substitude-for-litres people´s opinion on large-displacement engines. The
Rover does everything it should in this respect: swiftness, silence, comfort,
good economy, no hubbub. Grafting the V8 into what is basically a four-cylinder
engine compartment is no mean achievement, but the general clutter is certainly
no less than it was when the 3500 made its debut back in February 1968. If
anything the test car had more plumbing than the original due to the addition of
the optional Adwest power steering, a device to pacify those buyers who find
that they prefer to lighten their wallers (by £74) and steering at the same time
rather than struggle with heavier steering and a heavier waller.
I have never found the purely manual steering to be objectionably
heavy, even when competing with the Saturday shoppers for parking spaces
recently vacated by Minis, but I can see the attraction, specially when the 3500
has to double-up as a mum´s car. It certainly lightens the load imposed by the
185 radials and the extra front-end weight, although there is a penalty for the
steering is not nearly as positive at speed as it could be - inded, should be. I
found myself sawing away at the wheel, trying to get a steady line through long
bends without a great deal of success in most cases, but on the credit side the
3500 was directionally stable and did not require more than the usual amount of
correction for a Rover when assailed by strong crosswinds. The need for such a
large steering wheel, as traditionally fitted to Rovers, is obviated by the
power steering, but it remains nevertheless. Fitment of power steering does not
preclude the wheel´s rake adjustment.
Steering notwithstanding, the 3500 remains a delightful touring
car capable of steaming along all day in the high nineties with no mechanical
fuss whatsoever and not much wind noise either. The ease with which the Rover
moves about is deceptive but the acceleration in the upper part of the middle
speed ranges - let´s say 60 to 85 mph - is not specially impressive and can, in
fact, be a down-right embarressment under some circumstances. It is roughly this
range that allows the TC to score with its very useful third gear which bridges
the gap left by the jump from second to top in the three-speed, automatic-only
3500. The enterprising driver can, of course, manually lock the automatic in
second and achieve some 85 mph, but this takes the engine down the other side of
the power curve, so there is little to be gained. A four-speed manual gearbox is
what the 3500 needs, but I doubt if we will be seeing one for quite some time.
Probably not even in this model´s lifespan. Despite that more obvious
shortcoming, the Borg Warner is smooth and efficient and couples extremely well
to the V8. Of course, the combination is at its best around town and for taking
the pain out of peak-period commuting; it is very hard to fault the Rover in
Likewise, the car´s comfort is beyond reproach, even if it is
short of legroom in the back. The test car was fitted with the optional (at no
extra cost!) woven nylon trim. A great deal more comfortable and pleasant to sit
upon than leather, it adds unexpected depth and warmth to the appearance of the
passenger compartment, although as yet there is no way of knowing if the
synthetic will be as effective in the long term as plain old-fashioned hide.
However, it would be unlike Rover to act impulsively on a thing like trim
material, the quality of that incorporated in the previous models having
enhanced the marque´s reputation and set the standard as well.
While the use of synthetic trim could hardly be described as a
fashion whim, it is hard to exactly classify the motives behind the change to
such an impressive instrument display after all those years of utilisation of
the simple but appealing strip speedo in a module sitting on the parcel shelf.
Admittedly the old module did not say very much - speedo, distance, fuel and
temperature - compared with the elaborate display now in vogue with the Rover.
All very efficient and quite easy to read but with the hand of conventionalism
heavily upon it. What´s more, to accommodate the large diameter speedo and
matching tachometer in the new binnacle, it has been necessary to raise the top
of the cowl so that the facia is slightly asymmetrical. Not that this is bad to
all people, but short drivers find that it tends to cut off the view of the
frontal extremities of the Rover just when the car is being manoeuvred into a
tight parking spot. Still, it is one of those things to which one adjusts
readily enough - and for which the Rover can be readily forgiven.
The question we keep asking ourselves is simply if the 3500 is
too old fashioned for the 1971 market-place. It is a car that certainly has its
shortcomings, specially in terms of area utilisation; it is really only a four
seater with limited rear-compartment space if the driver and front passenger are
tall, and the luggage boot is small if it is accepted on face value. However,
the fact that the spare wheel can be mounted on the optional extra attachment
point on the boot lid enhances the long-distance touring potential. And, of
course, the 15 gallon fuel tank means a range of around 280 miles between petrol
stops. The answer to the question is that it is probably long in the tooth but
no less desirable for all that. After all, its general roadability is superior
to many of the tin boxes of comparable and price and the comfort and finish are
just about what most people would expect for the money.
What is undeniably satisfactory about the 3500 is its enormously
secure feeling, the all-disc braking system, the suspension that does not get
fussed on secondary French roads at the same time as providing good predictable
handle and reliable - if not sensational - roadholding. Really pressed, the
Rover leans its body quite a lot and finally breaks its back wheels loose in an
easily corrected slide. Although it no doubt happens, the Rover is one of those
cars which should be hard to loose under most circumstances, but not impossible
under extreme conditions or as the result of excessive bravado.
Since CAR first tested the 3500, its price has risen from £1791
to its present £2149 which seems to be the standard upwards spiral these days.
Even so, it still represents good buying in the prestige stakes if that is the
sort of beastie that takes your fancy.
CAR / South