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Spotted: a 1977 Rover 3500

May 17, 2024

The spotted specimen

Along the beautiful canals of Utrecht, we saw this 1977 Rover 3500, which came to the Netherlands at the turn of 2020-2021. By the way, upon import, the car was given an appropriate license plate, given its year of manufacture. We feel that the car has since become a familiar sight in the city, at least among car enthusiasts. Overall, the Rover looks very nice, although two things stand out. For example, it is a bit high on its legs at the rear, and although the headlights are supposed to be somewhat recessed on early examples, they are very deep in the front on this one.

A brown vintage Rover 3500 is parked on a canal, in front of a row of brick buildings and trees. The sky is overcast and a lamppost is visible to the right.

A brown 1977 Rover 3500 vintage car is parked on a street near a canal in an urban area with bicycles and buildings in the background.

A brown, vintage 1977 Rover 3500 four-door car is parked on a brick street next to a canal. The car's license plate reads

The Rover SD1

The Rover 3500 was part of a model line better known overarchingly as the Rover SD1. That was the internal designation for the development project, but was eventually popularly used as a type designation as well. In fact, the SD1 had no official umbrella type name; it depended entirely on the specific version. ‘SD1’ stands for Specialist Division 1, where the number is the project number. So the SD1 was the first model of the new in-house development department.

(Not) revolutionary

The Rover SD1 entered the market in 1976, as the successor to both the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000/2500. As for the design, it is no secret that the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’, among others, served as inspiration. For its time and certainly for a British brand, the SD1 was quite revolutionary, with its streamlined design. The car was also full of clever design details. For example, the dashboard was largely modular, so a left- or right-hand drive version could be built using the same parts. The use of materials was also new, with little to no wood but modern, soft-touch plastics.

In technical terms, then, the Rover SD1 was somewhat less advanced. To simplify production, the De Dion rear axle of the previous P6 was replaced with a simple rigid rear axle, and the car also received rear drum brakes. Instead of an all-new four-cylinder, under the long hood lay redeveloped versions of the existing 2.3- and 2.6-liter six-in-line engines, or the also pre-existing 3.5-liter Rover V8.

A silver 1977 Rover 3500 vintage hatchback is parked on level ground with a bright blue sky in the background. The car, which proudly flaunts its D-TP 105 license plate, features black details on the bumpers and wheel arches: truly a feast for the eyes *spotted*.

A vintage silver 1977 Rover 3500 hatchback is parked with a view of the rear and side. The car, with a European license plate and a sloping roofline, looks timelessly elegant in this nostalgic Spotted moment.

Interior of a 1977 Rover 3500 showing the dashboard, steering wheel, gearshift and center console, with view through the windshield from grass outside. Spotted.

Rover SD1 becomes Car of the Year

The Rover SD1 was received with enthusiasm by the press and public and was even named the 1977 Car of the Year. Also, the SD1 marked Rover’s return to the North American market (albeit with moderate sales). However, the car was soon plagued by mediocre build quality, for it curbed enthusiasm among many. In 1979 the range was expanded with a new top-of-the-line model in the form of the V8-S, although it was already replaced by a luxury Vanden Plas version in 1980.

Facelift for the Rover SD1

A subtle facelift followed in 1983. The headlights were no longer recessed and henceforth framed with chrome. In the interior, the instrumentation was updated and wood did return for a slightly more luxurious look. The model range was also expanded to include a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, aimed primarily at the business market since the smaller engine size brought tax advantages. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder diesel was also added to the lineup as diesel became popular in more and more markets. A new premium model was also added to the lineup in the form of the Rover Vitesse.

Despite not equally successful sales in all countries, the Rover SD1 lasted through 1986, when the model was relieved by the Rover 800. However, the SD1 remained available from stock until well into 1987.

A blue 1977 vintage sedan Rover 3500 with hatchback design is parked in a studio setting against a black background. The car features four doors and alloy wheels.

Rear view of a 1977 blue Rover Vitesse hatchback with a yellow license plate reading

The interior of the 1977 Rover 3500 shows two front seats with gray trim, the steering wheel, dashboard and center console, with the driver's door open.