June 18, 2024

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European-spec 1983 Rover SD1 is the luxury sedan you’ve never heard of

3 min read
European-spec 1983 Rover SD1 is the luxury sedan you've never heard of

England has made several significant and high-profile contributions to the automotive industry; the original Mini and the first Land Rover both had a major impact on car design. And yet, there are numerous great British cars that are as unknown as if they had never existed. One is the Rover SD1, a big luxury sedan sold in small numbers on our shores. An example of this rare Brit is currently listed on Cars & Bids.

British Leyland-owned Rover released the SD1 in its home country in 1976 to replace the aging P6 at the top of its range, but the two cars couldn’t have been more different. While the P6 featured a fairly classic three-box design, the SD1 was characterized by a sleek, fastback-like silhouette that would likely earn the contentious “four-door coupe” label in 2022. In some ways it was reminiscent of the Citroën CX, though it offered a more practical hatch, and its front end borrowed a handful of styling cues from none other than the Ferrari 365 GTB/4.

Comfortable and relatively spacious, the SD1’s five-seater cabin featured several eccentricities. Rover tried making the sedan cost-efficient to build and came up with creative solutions such as designing a dashboard that fit both left- and right-hand-drive cars. The gauges and several switches were integrated into a rectangular pod that could be bolted to either side of the dashboard on the production line, and an air vent directly in front of the passenger filled one of the holes for the steering column. It’s an odd layout, but to Rover’s credit, it worked.

At launch, the only engine offered was the tried-and-true 3.5-liter V8 also found in numerous other British cars. Six-cylinder engines joined the European range in 1977 and buyers could choose an automatic or a manual transmission. Regardless, the SD1 was rear-wheel-drive.

Rover left the United States after the 1971 model year but hadn’t said its last word. It made a comeback for 1980 with a V8-powered SD1 that wore sealed-beam headlights and the huge bumpers that were common in that era. Rated at 133 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque, the eight-cylinder was available with a five-speed manual transmission or a three-speed automatic. Pricing started at $15,900, which represents about $57,600 in 2022. In comparison, that same year Mercedes-Benz charged $15,068 (around $54,500 in 2022) for a 240D.

Americans showed a tremendous amount of disinterest in Rover’s second act: some historians claim that 481 units of the SD1 were sold here in 1980, which was its first, last and only model year in the U.S. Production carried on abroad until 1986 and the SD1 received several updates.

Put another way, finding an SD1 to add to your collection of oddballs is easier said than done. The example listed on Cars & Bids was imported from France earlier in 2022, according to the description, and it’s titled in Florida. It stands out for several reasons. First, it’s a 2600 model with a 2.6-liter straight-six that develops around 136 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. These figures are almost on par with the V8’s, and this is a version that was never sold in the United States. Second, its odometer displays around 37,000 miles, which represents an annual average of less than 1,000 miles. Third, it’s unmodified beyond a Blaupunkt cassette player that looks like it’s from the 1980s.

Bidding stands at $2,600 as of writing with two days left in the auction. If there’s an SD1-sized hole in your garage, you know what to do.

As a side note, Rover teamed up with Honda for its third American act. It replaced the SD1 with the 800 Series offered as a two- and a three-box sedan. Americans knew it as the Sterling 825 (and, later, the 827) and its Japanese counterpart was the original Acura Legend.

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