Rover SD1 1979

Do you want a family car that seats five in comfort? One that has a large hatchback for easy loading? Lots of cubby holes and good storage? A family or small executive model that was designed with Ferrari’s and Maserati’s in mind? How about one that comes with a 3.5L V8 for the sporty driver or maybe a 2.6L straight six for the economy minded or if you really just want it for its looks a 2L or 2.4L Diesel?

No I’m not talking about a luxury exotic here, or indeed some sort of modern Chinese rip off, I’m talking about my Rover SD1. Many people are familiar with the Rover story. A luxury high quality brand that ultimately ended up as a cheap and out of date car manufacturer with questionable reliability. The SD in SD1 stands for ‘Specialist Division’. The SD1 was the first car designed in a new department created by British Leyland to help promote and better the fortunes of its premium brands, Rover and Triumph. Mine is a Series 1, 2600 ‘S’ and is special in that it is the only one of its kind known to have a leather interior from new. And what’s more special than that I ask you? Well everything works for a start and works perfectly, not something you can say often about a 31 year old car which came with a poor reputation for breaking from new!

So what’s a classic car like as everyday transport? I’ve used it a number of times for the daily commute in Dublin and on a number of long trips but not as an everyday mode of transport……its a little thirsty. Nothing too bad, about 23mpg in town and 34 mpg on the open road. However it comes with a number of benefits for this consumption, the engine sounds great and has a roar that my Corolla just couldn’t match. It has masses of torque also and feels like it could hit top speed in no time, although if you block out the noise and watch the speedo the reality is a little disappointing. However a classic isn’t for blasting around, its for enjoying how it makes you feel about motoring.

Ride comfort in the SD1 is superb; the seats are excellent and very soft and supportive. Only a Citroen can match the seats for comfort in my biased opinion. As for the ride itself, well the quadratic steering wheel is more like a rudder on a fishing boat and is used mainly to guide the big car around turns. It grips well but the body roll would worry even the driver of a Citroen 2CV. The suspension jumps and knocks over bumps on the road but the big tyres soften the blows. Speed bumps can be an obstacle however for the low slung car. I have been known to match the local boy racers with their body kits for low speeds over them. Like them I love my baby and would hate to hear a dreaded crunch noise from beneath.

So in comparison to modern cars how does it fair? Well the fuel consumption isn’t excessive; it’s about average compared to similarly sized cars. Having said that it is a bit slow off the mark but it can keep up once moving. Interior space? Its huge, enough said but don’t expect isofix or anything of the sort. Safety? Well it’s got a long bonnet, seat belts and a collapsible steering column so it’s not all bad.

The main difference is driver appeal. It’s great, you can be almost sure you won’t come across another one and very little else on the road feels the same to drive. People give way far easier and often let you out quicker at junctions just to get a look…..but there in lies the main problem for people driving a classic car. Its not for the shy driver who wishes to go unnoticed. Everyone looks, everyone stares and many, many people have an ‘interesting’ story to tell. I love all that though so I’m happy.

The biggest problem with keeping a classic car, and you can ask anyone this, is that you will have to get your hands dirty. When did you last service your car? When did you last have your carbs balanced? When did you last weld on a new wing or waxoyl your car……when did you last meet a mechanic who could do all of that? Not as easy as it seems but its all part of the fun, as is finding the parts when the inevitable happens, and it will so don’t be fooled. Its all fun though and the sense of joy, relief and pride when its all back together and working again can’t be measured. It makes me happy to of done something myself and to of spent time working on something worth while.

In fact I’m very happy with my faithful dog Rover! It’s just a pity the recession is doing all it can to separate us

John O’Sullivan

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