A Mostly British Obsession

1977 Car of the Year…

1980 Rover SD1

…and yet, well, see for yourself. It’s an interesting period piece, but I don’t think the car is in any danger of being called “beautiful.” Driving it home today people guessed “Peugeot” twice and “Citation” once, but mostly they didn’t guess at all.

I bought this 1980 model for the oddly exact sum of $1,480. The interior, an exercise in earth-tone velour, carpet and plastic, is in decent condition; the bodywork, while not pristine, is OK, and the car has the rare 5-speed transmission (which was the tipping point for me). It also has a freshly rebuilt engine (the infamous “215” aluminum V8), which must be said runs very nicely–converted to a Holley (or similar) carburetor instead of fuel injection. Throw in new tires and nice original alloys, and you end up with Rusty Heaps saying “sure I’ll take it–what could possibly go wrong?”

The story behind the genesis of the SD1’s styling: it was inspired by both the Ferrari Daytona and the Pininfarina BMC 1800 show car. (I cannot really see either except in the most general sense…a slanty nose and a slight up-tick to the rear do not a Daytona make.) Perhaps back in the day it was much fresher, cutting-edge design, but it really is anonymous now, especially from the back. In its defense, white is not a great color on this car and certainly helps it blend into the scenery; some of the other factory colors were much more appealing (and would really cement it as a monument to 1970’s Britain): mustard yellow, aqua green, maroon.

There are two things that have to be addressed before it can be driven daily: It is not charging (the seller claims it is the regulator) and the handbrake does nothing. In addition, there are some pretty good oil leaks from both the engine and transmission, the steering wheel is off-center and the car pulls to the left a wee bit, so an alignment would probably help.

It’s a nice driving car, and handles well. The engine on this one (the seller claims) is putting out about 200 horses, it pulls like it is, and sounds nice when asked to go. The car is also practical, with the four doors plus hatch; with the rear seat folded the car can swallow a lot of gear. The 85 MPH speedometer (remember those?) is laughable, though.

Rover had a lot riding on this car, but it essentially put the nail in their US-sales operation. Rover only sold 800 in the US before giving up (all 1980 model year cars). The car was very popular in Britain, though, where there were several variants and later a hot version called the Vitesse made a name for itself. (All US cars, incidentally, had quad headlights; someone has converted the headlights on this machine to the European version which makes it look a lot better.)

The Miata is going to go to make room, I think I’ll be selling it to a friend here on the island–for roughly $1,480.


  1. Rodney

    All in all, a bargain buy. The SD1 was indecently quick and very comfortable. Lucky you to find a 5 speed model.

  2. chuck goolsbee

    If there was ever any doubt concerning the common diagnosis of the state of your mental health this purchase removes it all.

    You are completely bonkers.

  3. Roger

    I think these two contrasting comments sum up the general public’s reaction to the SD1 quite nicely. ;)

  4. Simon

    I loved reading about this. The few SD1s that are left in the UK are now mostly in good condition and are becoming increasingly sought after. A favourite of our traffic police well into the 1980s.

  5. Simon

    Sorry, the link to my site didn’t work in my comment because I typed it incorrectly. :(

  6. Kevin Teabag

    Perfect car to rundown to the coffehouses in Oak Harbor to listen to a graybeard beatnick reciting poetry with bongo drums in the backround.

  7. Roger

    You know, those side-molding-strips from the local parts store need to go. Like, tomorrow. And Having looked at this some more, I think prefer the bumpers without the attempt to “white them out.”

    I don’t suppose it’s possible to fit home-market bumpers to a federal car…

  8. j.groves

    great purchase! you are bonkers,but not because of this.I think, regardless of colour, one of Great Britains great cars. she has her issues, but she’ll be fine!….cheers!

  9. RobGT

    Just FYI the handbrakes on SD1s are legendary for not working. I’m also pretty confident that there must be more done to the engine than a Holley conversion to put out 200BHP. The factory injected Vitesse only put out 190BHP from memory.

    I love SD1s ever since an uncle of mine bought one back in ’76 when they first came out.

    Also, if you put a side elevation picture of a Daytona up with a side elevation of the SD1 you may see more resemblance.

  10. Allie

    When we go out to dinner, we’ll take my car. ;)

  11. PF

    In the love-it-or-hate-it vote, put me in the love-it column.

  12. Don

    You are nuts! It’s a nice enough car, but it’s just too hard to keep a car like this running, especially now that it’s 30 years old. A Japanese car of this vintage is equally complex, but the electronics will be much more likely to withstand the passage of time. I had a Rover just like yours for a brief time (white w/ 5-speed) which was a mechanic’s special when I bought it, and was a mechanic’s special when I sold it.

  13. automobiliac

    I give you big ups for buying this car. But I think you need to start dressing the part when you drive it. For guidance, check out the original video for Human League’s “Don’t you want me.” which prominently features your car in the early part of the video (in RHD, naturally)! :-)

  14. DOUG

    I somehow ended up with 3 of these: a running auto with NO interior, a engineless 5-speed with nice interior, and a complete but non-running 5-speed to part out for the other two. Just keeping the auto on the road has been quite a challenge – but I love the way it drives.



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