As reviled early on as its predecessor was lauded, the Rover SD1 certainly caused a stir at its 1976 launch. With styling reputedly inspired by Ferrari’s 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’, the new car’s swooping hatchback shape and modular, blocky interior divide opinion. Ongoing build quality issues did it no favours, though it made a great – if rather unlikely – track and rally car.
Rover SD1 2600
Power (bhp@rpm) 136bhp@5000rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 152lb ft@3750rpm
Top speed 118mph
Gearbox 5-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The SD1 suffered various quality-related issues early on, but chief among them was its propensity to leak. The bonded windscreen is a particular nuisance – and expensive to replace – but the rear screen is little better. Check the sunroof too – blocked drain holes will soon cause water ingress.
Elsewhere, sub-standard paintwork was an issue on early cars, but most will have been resprayed by now. Rust appears in all the usual places, but check in particular the boot floor and the area where the inner sill joins the inner rear wheelarch. Check the bulkhead, too – a leaky windscreen will instigate rampant rot here over time.
Some early 2300 and 2600 six-cylinder models suffered from premature wear to their camshafts if oil changes were not rigorously adhered to – an inherent design flaw meant the camshaft oilways got easily blocked, starving the cam of oil and causing the timing belt to fail. Cars with patchy history are more likely to demonstrate a noisy top end, but diesels that are reluctant to start likely just need new glow plugs. V8s should be checked for low oil pressure, cam wear, smoky exhausts and hot running – as the range-topping high performance model, they tend to get thrashed more than other SD1s. Be wary of pricey Vitesses listed as a ‘Twin Plenum’ car. They are rare and only an expert eye can distinguish between a TP and a standard car.
Manuals are generally tougher than autos, but excessive noise and crunchy shifts – especially from third to second – means the synchromesh is on its way out. Listen for whining bearings, too – replacement with a recon unit is the most cost-effective solution. Autos suit the V8 well, but a failed starter inhibitor switch on later cars will either cause it to stall when ‘drive’ is selected, or actually prevent it from starting.
Excessive oil from the back of the car points to a failing axle (the leak will be coming from the differential). Loud noises from the front suspension when turning from lock to lock are usually down to worn lower balljoints (although the rack itself is known to fail), while errant handling means the rear axle bushes are probably done for.
A sub-standard hard ride on cars with self-levelling rear suspension means the rare Boge Nivomat shock absorbers have likely failed. Reconditioned or NOS replacements rarely come up for sale, and can command up to £600.
The instrument binnacle surround is known for warping and/or cracking and droopy headlinings are common – and tricky to repair or replace. Minor trim and switchgear is getting hard to source, especially on earlier cars, so common failings such as a rattly steering column or broken choke pull can be frustratingly difficult to sort out. Electrics are notoriously hit and miss, with non-functioning windows, sunroof and central locking chief among the culprits.
All Rover SD1s are elegant, spacious and – in 2600 and V8 guise at least – potent long-distance cruisers. Everyone wants a V8 Vanden Plas or Vitesse, but the 2600 is actually the better bet, offering similar performance but with much more palatable fuel economy.