Mention that you drive a Rover in the US, and you’re bound to get a few looks, along with the requisite, “you mean a Land Rover?” But pull up most anywhere stateside in one of these and those looks will be less of wonder, and more of envy. This is a Rover SD1.
When it was being developed, the Rover designers actually lined up full scale models of the SD1 with exotic supercars of the day, including Maseratis and Ferraris, which explains the avant-garde wedge shape and dramatic rear lines.
While that might sound like a recipe for success, it didn’t exactly pan out that way, notably on US shores where just over 1,100 were ever sold. That makes this US-market SD1, which recently surfaced online, quite the rare find, especially considering its remarkably clean appearance.
The SD1, which stood for “Specialist Division,” was the product of the British Leyland Motor Corporation, which at the time had merged both the Rover and Triumph car companies. When it came to replacing each marque’s executive car (P6 and 2000, respectively), British Leyland held an internal competition to crown the sole successor. Rover, as it happens, won out with its purposeful SD1 shape, and in 1976 the five-door liftback went into production.
Over its lifespan the SD1 would be housed with a number of different engines, of both four, six, and eight cylinder varieties, but the staid 3.5-liter Rover V8 (an ex-Buick mill) is undoubtedly the most famous… and best performing.
In 1980, America got its first taste of the Rover SD1, the result of a rather costly federal approval process that British Leyland endured in order to get its saloon stateside. The process did add some blemishes however, including big crash safety bumpers, circular headlights, and emissions gear which strangled the V8 down to just 133 horsepower.
Without much of a dealer presence in the US, British Leyland allegedly only managed to sell 500 Rover SD1s in 1980. The rest of the SD1’s US allotment was then slowly sold-off in 1981 and ’82. Because of that short one-year run, you just don’t find many SD1s stateside, and rarely of this nick.
This US-market 1980 SD1 is claimed to have 72,702 miles to its name. Better still, its current owner was also once a Rover parts dealer, and writes they have a few new-old-stock spares handy. Inside and out, the car presents unusually well… it is however quite brown.
All Rover SD1s swam stateside in largely the same “3500” trim configuration, and this one comes paired with the standard five-speed gearbox (a three-speed automatic was optional).
Of course, British Leyland’s build quality wasn’t exactly peerless in the ’70s and ’80s. But looking beyond that, these svelte saloons truly do tell a unique tale.