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Rover SD1 (1977 - 1986)

Last updated 26 April 2015


Buying Guide

The Rover SD1 can be divided neatly into three petrol families: the four cylinder version, the sixes and the V8. The V8 was available in fuel-injected EFi form (reserved for Vitesse and late model Vanden Plas), and all the rest were twin-carburetted.As well as these, 1982 saw the launch of the VM-powered turbodiesel (also shared with the Range Rover).

Neatly, the body style can be divided into Mark One and Mark Two versions. Mark ones can be easily identified by their chrome bumper finish (apart from V8-S and Vanden Plas), round instruments and slightly recessed headlamps. Mark twos came with a deeper rear window (to aid reversing), a glass fibre chin spoiler (except the base 2000 model) and plusher interior trim.

The smaller-engined models deliver surprisingly lively performance given their engine capacity and weight. The O-Series 2000 model rendered the 2300 largely redundant, unless the smoother engine note was essential. 2600 models were almost as quick as the V8s, although not quite as effortless. The 3500 model offered by far the best performance/economy compromise. Ride and handling are best described as average in today’s terms, although on a smooth motorway, all SD1s should feel relaxed and compliantly sprung.

What to look for
Engine and transmission:

The O-Series engine fitted to the 2000 is rugged and generally very reliable.Inline sixes should be closely checked for signs of camshaft wear and top end noise. Most early life problems should have been ironed out by now, but bear in mind that they should come with a full service history, given their past troubles.

V8s are rugged and long-lived, but look carefully for signs of any overheating, and ensure that there is evidence of regular oil changes.The 77mm gearboxes are generally reliable, but it is not unknown for these to break. Autos are less reliable, so it is essential to check that drive and reverse engage without a thump and that all changes are smooth and slurred. Check the automatic gearbox inhibitor works as it should.

Suspension, steering and brakes:

The SD1 suffers from wear and tear like any other car, but carefully check all linkages and joints at the front. These have a tendency to wear quite quickly. The rear axle has been known to fail, so ensure that there are no signs of oil leaking from the differential – when oil gets too low, these can sieze, with disastrous consequences.Rear dampers are also prone to a short life. Bear this in mind when viewing an SD1 – if it is equipped with Boge Nivomat self-levelling suspension, replacement units are well over £100 each.

The steering is of rack-and-pinion design, and in the power assisted versions (nearly all left will be equipped with this), it is exceptionally light and direct. Check that there is no knocking when turning from lock to lock (do this at rest and listen carefully). Also, bear in mind that the steering column is very long, so tug the steering wheel (left and right, up and down) to ensure there are no loose componentry. These are relatively cheap to replace, but factor in the safety issue!

Brakes are a straightforward disc/drum arrangement, but consumption of front pads is heavy, especially on the automatics.

Body and chassis:

The potential enemy of any SD1 is… rust, due to water ingress. Paintwork should be closely checked, and on Mark ones, it is highly unlikely you will find one that has not received some paint later in life.Check everywhere, but pay particular attention to:

  • Front and rear wheel arches.
  • Boot floor.
  • Sunroof mechanisms and drain holes.
  • Outer sills.
  • Door bottoms.
  • Valance panels, front and rear.
  • Bonnet and tailgate – inside and out.
  • Floors – lift carpets to check for signs of water damage.
  • Leaky windscreens – check surrounding panels.


Fragile trim on Mark ones meant that many will be missing parts. Choke levers on mark ones are a favourite. Mark twos much better in this respect, although they are still along way from being a high quality item.Check that the front seats recline as they should (problems with early ones) and – again – make sure that all carpets are dry, including the cubby under the false boot floor. A saggy rooflining will be extremely hard to repair – consider this.

Electrical system:

Electric windows can cause concern, although failures in switches, not motors cause this. Ensure that central locking works as it should – and on mark twos, ensure that the central locking does not unlock itself! Check trip computers in mark two models, and ensure that all warning lights and electrical gauges work as they should.


An ultra-stylish British bruiser of the old school. Most problems (apart from corrosion) are niggling ones, and because of its mechanical simplicity, relatively straightforward to put right. As long as it is not too rusty and it is one piece, an SD1 will prove to be an entertaining ownership proposition – as long as it is garaged and well-serviced.

Mark two models are far better built, and most that survive to this day will be this type, but a cared-for Mark one with its paintwork sorted out should prove little trouble, as long as you’re handy with a screwdriver. Without doubt, it is a future classic, and although the V8s and Vitesse models are the favoured versions right now, all SD1s will follow in time. Definitely a “useable classic”, but one worth ferreting away for the future.

Pick of the range: without doubt, a 3.5-litre manual, although all SD1 models are strong on character.

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