Rover 3500 V8 Series 1
- Jaguar XJ6
Earls Court Motor Show was the first opportunity most people had to see two
sensational new saloons from the newly-created British Leyland combine. On the
one hand there was Jaguarīs long-awaited new XJ6; on the other there was Roverīs
Three Thousand Five, created from the five-year-old 2000 bodyshell by means of a
V8 engine transplant.
launched after the British Leyland merger, neither car could be described as a
real British Leyland product because both had been developed when their
manufacturers were independent. Jaguar had started serious work on the XJ6 in
1964, and with it the company hoped to rationalise its complicated 1960s range
of sporting saloons into a single-basic model.
started work on the Three Thousand Five in 1964, too, when the firmīs managing
director had brought back a redundant Buick V8 engine from a trip to the USA and
persuaded the Rover Competitions Department to squeeze it into a 2000 to see
what would happen.
were shaped quite extensively by the demands of the
US market. Jaguar already had an excellent reputation there; Roverīs was less
good, although its 2000 had received enormous critical acclaim.
the challenge was to build on its strengths as a maker of refined sporting
saloons, and so the XJ6 had to be quieter and smoother than previous Jaguars, as
well as faster. Roverīs challenge was to build a car with the performance to
match the 2000īs superb chassis.
But here the
similarities ended. The Jaguar would always be a larger and more expensive car
than the Rover, even though both appealed to very much the same type of wealthy
buyer in Britain. At Earls Court that year the 4.2-litre XJ6 with automatic
transmission was posted at Ģ1875 plus Purchase Tax, while the Rover (with auto
transmission als standard) was just Ģ1400 plus PT.
were widely seen as bargains. To see how they measure up today, we borrowed a
1973 XJ6 (which differs only in minor respects from the 1966 original) and a
1970 Three Thousand Five. Both were very late cars from the "Series 1"
production runs. 1974 XJ6s were further-refined Series 2 models and 1971 Rovers
were restyled and renamed 3500s.
Both of these
cars are pretty impressive in the handling department, thanks to unusually
sophisticated suspension systems. The Jaguarīs coil-and-wishbone front end is
perhaps unremarkable as a design, but not many other coil-and-wishbone front
suspensions work this effectively.
bell-crank IFS, with the loads fed into the bulkhead via horizontal coil
springs, is technically more interesting, but itīs probably best described as
Itīs at the
rear where most of the interest in these two cars lies. The Jaguarīs immensely
complicated independent rear end was used on the E-Type as well, and so adds a
high-class sporting pedigree to the sophistication and refinement which careful
rubber bushing brings about. Nevertheless, a certain amount of "bump-thump" does
intrude when the car is travelling over poor surfaces.
back end uses a de Dion tube - another system with a racing pedigree, which
Rover probably picked up from the big Lancia saloons of the 1950s. Itīs
remarkably effective at keeping the rear wheels on the ground when cornering,
and seems not to lack any of the Jaguar systemīs sophistication. If anything,
itīs actually quieter over poor surfaces.
handling characteristics of these two cars are very different. On bends, the
taller Rover readily rolls out beyond its narrower track, while the XJ6 adopts a
much flatter stance, even under provocation. Nevertheless, the Rover never lets
you worry that things may be getting out of hand. The back end stays firmly
attached to the road, even though the body leans over at quite alarming angles.
speeds, however, the absence of power-assisted steering counts against it.
Trying to turn those beefy 185-section radials to manoeuvre the car into a tight
parking spot can be a real chore. Power assistance on the XJ6 means that parking
is no problem at all.
also loses out when travelling at speed in a side wind. While it doesnīt
actually deviate much from the driverīs chosen path, it does feel a little
unstable. Here, the Jaguarīs extra weight helps. It just bores on down the road
On paper, the
cars are fairly evenly matched. Contemporary road tests showed the Rover to be
quicker from 0-60 mph (9.5 secs as against the Jaguarīs 10.1) though the Jaguar
had better high-speed acceleration and attained a higher top speed of 120 mph as
compared to the Roverīs 117 mph.
We didnīt try
to emulate these figures in our test. But we can say that we entirely agree with
the general picture they suggest. Both cars feel pretty quick, even by modern
standards, and both will out-drag a lot of much more modern machinery.
travelling at main road cruising speeds in the Jaguar, you can still get a hefty
shove in the back when you floor the throttle for overtaking. In the Rover,
though, you begin to run out of steam much sooner. Safe main road overtaking is
still a doddle, but you need to be just that little bit more certain that all
the space youīll need is available.
impressive about the Jaguar is the manner in which it delivers all that
performance. Thereīs instant acceleration available all the time: a gentle
caress of the throttle pedal brings an appreciable increase in speed, but itīs
all done without drama and without fuss. And if you really want to fly, a stab
on the pedal provokes really rapid acceleration, preceded when necessary by the
automatic ībox kicking down a gear.
getting away from the fact that the Jaguar is an extraordinarly refined car.
transmission - a Borg Warner model 12 three-speeder - tales all those 230lb ft
of torque in its stride and gives smooth and quiet changes upwards and
the Borg Warner ībox in the Rover thumps in and out of the ratios at all speeds
and whines merrily away to itself at low speeds in bottom gear. It never lets
you forget that it was designed originally for medium-capacity family saloons,
or that the Roverīs 197lb ft of torque is close to the upper limit of its
capacity. Smooth and refined it definitely isnīt.
not knock the Rover. It was designed as fast executive-class transport, not as a
luxury sports saloon in the Jaguar mould. At speed itīs noisier (thereīs an
awful lot of road noise transmitted through the body at high speeds) and the
combination of this noise with the roughness of the kickdown actually helps the
car to feel rather more sporting than the Jaguar XJ6.
In spite of
the Jaguarīs great reputation for comfort, itīs actually quite a disappointment
for rear seat passengers. The seats are comfortable enough, and quite wide
enough for three people, itīs just that there isnīt an awful lot of legroom
available when there is a tall occupant in the front seat. Nor is there enough
headroom available for tall passengers at any time, unless they are prepared to
slouch and risk backache on a long journey.
It isnīt at
all surprising that Jaguar offered an alternative, long-wheelbase version of the
car by the time our test XJ6 was built, or that the longer wheelbase became
standard a year after the Series 2 models arrived in 1973.
Not that the
Roverīs rear-seat space is anything to boast about. If anything, itīs rather
worse. Legroom is non-existent, though headroom is rather better than in the
Jaguar. And, of course, the Roverīs rear seat is designed to accommodate no more
Both cars are
also horribly disappointing when it comes to boot space. The Roverīs boot is a
joke. The vertically-mounted spare wheel takes up an enormous amount of space,
and whatīs left is just about adequate for a couple of big suitcases and a few
squasky bags. Rover did offer a kit to mount the spare wheel externally on the
bootlid, and that freed a useful amount of space.
boot looks vast by comparison, but itīs a rather impractical shape. Although it
extends forwards a long way over the back axle, itīs very shallow. You simply
canīt put a big suitcase upright in it and, once you start laying big cases on
their sides, the apparent space shrinks very quickly. As far as boot space was
concerned, both Rover and Jaguar had a lot to learn from manufacturers like
Mercedes Benz in the 1960s.
luggage capacities apart, however, both these cars make eminently practical
vehicles for todayīs classic owner. Both are fully capable of keeping up with
As far as
maintenance is concerned, there are few problems: Jaguar and Rover specialists
enjoyed both of these big-engined, high-performance saloons and, given the
opportunity, weīd have taken both of them home! The Rover has bags of sporting
appeal, in spite of its automatic transmission, and it also feels much more
compact than the Jaguar.
When you get
into it, you immediately feel at home. Itīs the kind of car youīd be happy to
use every day, though youīd have to think seriously about regular work-outs to
cope with that unassisted steering.
The Jaguar is
much more of a high-days-and-holidays car. Its luxurious interior is partly to
blame, as it cries out "special occasion" every time you get into it. But it
also feels too big and heavy to use every day. What in the late 1960s seemed a
little and agile car seems by todayīs standards to be oversized and overweight.
have a lot of bearing on the issue. About Ģ3500 buys a Series 1 4.3-litre XJ6 in
good condition, and the extensively restored Rover we tested was actually up for
sale at Ģ3500, though good examples can be had more cheaply than that.
the choice between these two cars must be based on the same criteria as it would
have been for those who bought them when they were new in the early 1970s.
wanted a fast ans luxurious saloon went for the Jaguar; those who were prepared
to sacrifice a little of the luxury bought the Rover.
Classics / UK March 1992