The Great Escape Classic Car Hire Rover SD1 Vitesse has been a bit of a star this year. It's featured in three classic car magazines so far, including a weekend tour of Suffolk organised by our sister company The Getaway Driver.
So we thought it was about time we put some miles on the car ourselves. At Great Escape we generally use a selection of the cars as our daily drivers, partly to keep them active (particularly during the winter) and also to help us keep track of how well they are running.
The Rover was therefore pressed into service when we needed to collect some bulky parts for our project Alfa Romeo Spider. The parts - a new set of wheels and a leather interior - were down in deepest darkest Kent, 160 miles from our Worcestershire base. To complicate matters a little we also need to pick up some office furniture in Kingswinford near Dudley.
On a -6 degree Monday morning we fired up the lusty V8, warmed it through and hit the road. The Rover is fitted with the rare homologation special Twin Plenum version of the venerable Rover 3500 V8 and is fitted with fuel injection, so it pushes out a very healthy 190 bhp. This is mated to a five speed manual gearbox, that stirs the torquey motor along nicely.
We left rural Worcestershire, jostled with the traffic up the M5 then nudged along through endless traffic lights to Kingswinford. With the back seat folded the capacious Rover swallowed the big cabinet. Then it was back down to our Worcestershire base to drop the cabinet and hit the road south.
The Rover SD1 was designed to munch miles under the tutelage of senior executives who wanted comfort as well as pace. And 25 years after this example was made it still does the job admirably. The sports suspension is a little too bouncy but the big seats - which really are like an armchair - and light steering make long distances effortless. But it really is all about that sonrous V8 - it rumbles silently at 75, barely above tickover, with plenty of power available instantly. Only the slightly odd driving position - knees up, arms stretched - and the non-standard big bore exhaust fitted by a previous owner (which rumbles a little too much for our aging ears) detract from the overall experience. Oh, and the shockingly bad build quality - this is a car that feels like it could easily just collapse if the wind gets up too much. But you forget all that when you exercise the V8. It's a peach of an engine, smooth and very torquey, pulling from low revs right round to the red line in a seamless flow of power. Every gearchange is a joy as it brings the motor back to the start of the slope. The Rover V8 was so ubiquitous for so long that it is easy to forget just how good it was - good enough to power everything from Land Rovers to TVRs.
The rumbling Rover drew plenty of admiring glances from fellow road users and during our service station breaks. It really is a great looking car, possibly the best looking saloon car of the last 30 years. Sure, it's a pastiche of the Ferrari Daytona but what better inspiration can there be?
We circuited the M25, collected the parts (4 wheels and tyres, 2 seats and 2 door cards) with space to spare and headed back, fortunately avoiding the late afternoon snarl. The only hold up along the journey was an accident near the M23 - despite stop start driving the 25 year old car behaved itself and the temperature guage remained resolutely at 90.
In all we spent over 8 hours driving the big Rover and covered 370 miles at 30 mpg. Not bad for a brutish, big-horsepower supersaloon.