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.
The contrast 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
attention). But the heron-headed four is unfashionably rough in 1971 although
its reliability, durabillity und performance are 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 ease with
which the 3500 does its job completely vindicates the no-substitute-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 April 1968. If anything the test car had more
plumbing then 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 wallets (by ₤74) and steering at the same time rather than struggle with
heavier steering and a heavier wallet.
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 – indeed, 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
notwithstanding, the 3500 remains a delightfil 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
embarrassment 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 these roles.
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 geat 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 those days of utilisation of the simple but appealing strip speedo
in a modul 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 assymetrical. Not that this is bad to all people, but short divers
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 price and the comfort and finish are just about what most people
would expect for the money.
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 handling and – 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
Top speed 114
0-60 mph 10,1
consumption 18,3 mpg