Wednesday August 1, 2018
August 1979 – the weather was good, there was no holiday homework to be completed, and Quatermass and the Pit was going to the screened on BBC2. As Saturdays went, this was already a pretty decent one but then, parked outside of the Lankester & Crook supermarket, was not just any SD1 but a Rover with gold alloy wheels and green metallic paintwork that looked as though it would glow in the dark.
In short, a new Rover V8-S was one of the most exciting developments in the history of this small Hampshire village since 1974, when colour television was officially declared not be a form of necromancy.
Essentially this was the 3500, a car that was already a familiar sight as a police traffic patrol vehicle or managerial transport, but now fitted with virtually conceivable extra. It cost £1,693 more than the standard model, but in addition to the already impressive list of fittings, the V8-S featured leather upholstery, head-lamp washers & wipers, a sliding roof, cushioned head restraints fore and aft – and even air-conditioning.
The V8-S served as both a UK market equivalent of the US-spec 3500 and a car that revelled in conscious consumption. After all, if you could afford such a Rover, there was little point in false modesty; black bumpers and velour trimmed upholstery were essential aspects of its appeal.
There were also colour choices other than Triton Green, but that was the ideal shade to make yourself stand out at any social gathering. Imagine the reaction of Terry Scott style neighbours when you took delivery of your new Rover – they would probably be so amazed that they would immediately drive their Princess 1800 into a shed.
When the ultimate SD1 was launched in June 1979, this was a time when British Leyland also offered the Mini City with its fixed backrests for the front seats and a dearth of reversing lamps, fresh air vents and a water temperature gauge.
This level of standard equipment - or lack of it - would have been taken for granted by a motorist of nearly four decades ago, as would the vinyl trimmed cabin of the base model Ford Cortina Mk. IV, which listed ‘boot mat’ among its attractions.
By contrast, an air-conditioned Rover was a mobile Palace of Versailles, and it is hard to explain a generation who are accustomed to modestly-priced cars with this feature, how it made the Rover appear even more exotic.
Naturally, such prestige was not cheap, and at a price of £11,852, the V8-S was more expensive than the Ford Granada Ghia 2.8i, the Saab 900 Turbo, the Opel Senator and the BMW 528i, although it was still cheaper than the Audi 200T.
This list of extremely fine motor cars will give an idea of the fierce competition that faced the range-topping SD1, but Motor magazine referred to it as ‘a great driver’s car’ with ‘superb handling’ and ‘ a ride that’s now a match for most fully independent rivals’.
The V8-S remained in production for only a limited period, but that brief timespan was still more than enough to make an impression on all who saw it. In fact, the only other car to make a similar impact on my younger self back in 1979 was the Granada Ghia Sapphire – but that’s another story…