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41 years of the SD1
 
 
 
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For a long time, Rover had watched the rise and rise of BMW in Europe with some envy. They had built a solid reputation for building cars with sporting appeal – something that the 3500 also had, but as market researchers attested, customers were unaware of. Rover wanted a piece of this action, reasoning correctly that if they could create a “High Image” flagship, this “halo effect” would trickle its way down the range and give sales a useful fillip. So, in the lead-up to the launch of the revised range, Rover started work on a higher-powered version of the SD1, which would be unashamedly marketed at as a sports model. Development was centred on incorporating Lucas fuel injection, freer breathing and most importantly, a handy hike in power (up to 190BHP from 155BHP). Of course this increase in power was easily achieved, due to the almost infinitely tuneable nature of the ex-Buick V8 engine. In December 1982 the car was launched in a blaze of sporting fervour (along with the MG Metro Turbo) using the former Triumph go faster moniker, “Vitesse”, signifying BL’s renewed interest in fast cars.

It was, indeed, pitched as an overtly sporting 3500, with body stripes, lowered suspension, bigger wheels and extra aerodynamic spoilers creating a very favourable impression. The advent of the Vitesse signalled a new confidence at Rover and in a short period of time, it was developed to run in the British and European Touring Car cups, with a great degree of success. As a road car, it also proved popular, being favourably compared with rivals such as the BMW 528i and Saab 900 Turbo, being described by Motor Magazine in April 1983 as a, “Poor man’s Aston Martin”.Autocar magazine came way impressed by the Vitesse and gave the car an enthusiastic review, summing up the car thus, “Enthusiastic drivers are likely to relish the stiffly sprung Rover’s handling and acceleration response, if not some slightly agricultural aspects of its ride. It may lack the overall sophistication of some of its peers, yet we ended up liking the car almost for this very reason. It has a distinctly “animal” character all of its own.”

The image of the SD1 took a mild recovery, but age slowly took its toll as new and sophisticated rivals such as the Audi 100, Saab 9000 and Mercedes-Benz W124 started to appear. Austin Rover continued to fight the SD1's cause, by introducing new variants, which is unusual so late into a model's cycle: the Vanden Plas trim level became a range of cars with the introduction of the 2600 Vanden Plas and Vanden Plas EFi. The introduction of further Vanden Plas versions opened up the pleasures of leather and wood to a far wider audience. The Efi model, particularly, was an excellent piece of "parts bin" model creation, marrying up the 190bhp Vitesse engine with the automatic transmission and leather interior expected of the Vanden Plas model... This would prove to be an effective (if pricey) luxo-cruiser aimed directly at the Audi/BMW/Jaguar market. Because of the attention paid to it by Austin Rover, SD1 sales did hold up well all the way through to the car’s demise and in June 1986, the Rover 800 replaced it

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