1980 Land Rover 3500 - Land Rover SD1 History

Regis Lefebure

However, things immediately went downhill from there. Chief among the new Rover's many enemies was the diabolical build quality that only Britain's centrally cast cadres of uniquely inept managers, ludicrously militant trade unionists, and shoddy suppliers could guarantee. Suffice it to say, the SD1 was not the car for Rover, which had left the American market in 1974, to return here with. But relaunch they did in 1980, bringing us back around again to my car.

In any one of a million particulars, my eBay "red-light" special instantly explains why Rover had to quit America but one year after it returned-at the close of the 1980 selling season. (That is, if you can call it a selling season; Rover failed to shift even the modest first allotment of about 500 cars that it sent us Yankees, many remaining unsold for years.)

At least my car, built to the ultra-rare, ultra-undesirable California-smog/auto-gearbox specification, is not rusty. Typically, rust, borne of steel without peer for low-quality composition and inadequate preparation, was the first thing to lay SD1s low. So you can readily see how a lack of rust closed this deal for me. Right?

But with my blessedly rust-free example (which wound up in sunny Reno, Nevada, by way of Sacramento, after an initial extended period of mellow seasoning on a California dealership's lot), one is forced to confront the fact that in the absence of rust, the rest of a Rover's systems-fuel, braking, and electrical, among others-will each be given a chance to conspire with its cheap switchgear and less-than-robust materials to let the side down completely. In this sense, the component parts truly join together to rise up and defeat the sum.

From the paperwork I've pieced together, it seems an elderly couple finally took a shine to this SD1 in 1982. I'm thinking they were blind, although they could have been bighearted drunks or unspeakable vulgarians, as they must have been one of the three to overlook this car's screaming yellow paint job and its hideous brown velour interior. In the online auction, the pictures appeared to indicate a delightful shade of primrose with stone leather seats. I was looking instead at a car that had been ravaged by the sun, one whose paint had the depth and appeal of an ancient cheese pizza. The interior-casually recovered in soiled white vinyl, with brown carpet that looked like it had been repatriated from a '70s hippie van-not only looked like cheese, it smelled like it, too.

The upside for this car that needs lots of parts is that those parts are shockingly cheap -if you're in Britain. The Buick V-8 is ubiquitous, and because so many Rovers have rusted off the road in England, where they once sold well, used parts are plentiful. For example, I just bought a pair of good front seats on eBay for 1 (less than $2). If only I could figure out how to get them back from England for less than the price of another Rover, I'd go so far as to say that this is indisputably a practical classic.

So you'll have to excuse me. I'm thinking it's time to crack a beer and start looking online for new old stock Rover parts. For every Rover, there must be a problem, and for every rule-such as no tippling while logged on to eBay-there must be an exception.

2 of 2

New Car Research

our instagram

get Automobile Magazine

Subscribe to the magazine and save up to 84% off the newsstand price


new cars

Read Related Articles