Considered by many to be the last of the "real" rovers, the sd1 (this stands for specialist division 1, it was the first model of what was to be new range of BL luxury cars. its not an sdi as some call it, (usually the same grunting thickos who think all 3 wheelers are "robin reliants". the term sdi refers only to later rover 400/600 type diesels)remains a practical classic car if you get hold of a good one to start with. I have owned at least one of every variant (except the ultra rare diesel)over the years and still run a V8 example today. my findings follow.
most people looking to buy will be considering the V8 engined cars. The vehicles were designed from the start for this engine, and its a nice torquey lump with a myriad of tuning options available. be warned, they are prone to sludging up if infrequent oil changes have been carried out which can lead to premature camshaft wear, often as early as 60,000 miles. overheating is a big no-no, as the engine is of all alloy construction and warping is likely. aside from this the V8 is a reliable engine with the added bonus that unlike many cars of its era its quite happy on unleaded petrol. lucky, as you'll get through lots of it. economical they are not.
straight six engined versions, in either 2300 or 2600 forms had well documented design flaws relating to cylinder head lubrication, whereby the oilways to the overhead camshaft would become blocked leading to catastophic cam seizure and timing belt breakeage. These versions are now quite rare, but the 2600 gives a good account of itself performance wise particularly with a manual gearbox and has a useful economy advantage over the V8, with over 30mpg possible if driven gently. the 2300 does not offer enough performance to justify its fuel consumption- identical to the 2600-and is noticeably lacking in torque through the gears. Its worth noting that both the six cylinder cars I ran were totally reliable. regular oil and timing belt changes are a must.
the 2000 engined versions were desireable to few when launched, but they were not the disaster you would expect. yes, the engine really is a bit small for such a big car, but thanks to lower gearing it gives a good account of itself. not a performance car but nevertheless not embaressingly slow. across the range, fuel economy is so broadly similar (typically anywhere between 18-30mpg) that you may as well go for the V8. The 2000 is a good reliable engine, but tended to suffer from having to lug that heavy bodyshell around. normal signs of tiredness apply, like camshaft clatter, oil burning etc.
The main priority whatever car you look at will be bodywork. Paint standards were not that good when new, and with the newest examples now 20 years old some rusting is inevitable. although structural rusting is not that common, areas such as door bottoms, wheelarches, leading edge of the bonnet, tailgate, rear inner sills etc are all problem areas.
Next, check all the electrics. these were also of dubious quality when new, and non-functioning central locking, electric mirrors, windows, trip computer, dash gauges etc are all common.
later fuel injected V8s have their own set of electrical problems to worry about relating to the engine management system, also wear in the throttle spindles on vittesse versions can be a real headache as replacements are not available. carb'd versions if still running with the original FASD (autochoke) are also likely to suffer from poor/inconsistant idling and a manual choke conversion would be the ideal solution as the FASD design is pretty poor.
as the cars get into old age gearboxes are starting to become a weak point, with whining bearings becoming a problem. replacement with a good used example is less easy than it was a few years back as supplies start to dry up, regular oil changes and keeping the box topped up with the reccomended fluid is essential. be warned, manual gearboxes do not use ordinary EP gearbox oil. when new the use of ATF was advised, but now a semi-synthetic seems to be the reccomended lubricant. personally I dont like the automatics, they were of the old school with plenty of power and fuel sapping churning of the torque converter before things actually start moving, but the gearbox itself tends to be reliable.
Interiors are not very hard wearing. I have never come across one example that didnt have a warped instrument cluster cover. its made of cheap hardboard covered in plastic and is not fixed down very well. they warp in the sun and look unsightly. headlinings tend to sag, and also the foam backed material covering the rear side window pillars in the boot compartment tend to get ripped to shreds by the parcel shelf as the boot is opened. replacement of the headlining is not an easy job. The bonding around the windscreen breaks down over time and leads to water leaks in the rain, filling the gloveboxes up with water and promoting rust in the bulkhead. I go round the screen with sillicone sealant as a matter of course. Leaking sunroofs are common also.
Listen for clonks from the front suspension. the front lower balljoints are prone to wear and the whole lower arm has to be replaced. wear in the rear axle locating bushes is also common, shown by wayward handling. the car should feel taught and sure footed, they were after all noteable for suprisingly good handling when new. this can be improved by lowering the car. although you will lose the ride quality. lowering any more than 30mm from standard is going to start causing ground clearance problems, by the way.
The brakes are typical front discs, rear drums. they work but are not particularly confidence inspiring, with a hefty shove needed to slow things down. like most aspects of the car, this can be improved upon, and a number of specialists exist to supply original and uprated parts for the sd1. in this respect it is better served for spare parts than other vehicles from its time, but in my opinion it pays to shop around. dont just automatically go the obvious and biggest parts supplier- sd1 owners will know who \I mean- there are others who are cheaper out there.
So not without its problems then- but what the hell, just look at it! it's gorgeous! that styling...so dramatic and mean. combine this with a burbling V8 soundtrack and its one fine motor car. buying mine made driving a pleasure again. just be prepared to lavish attention on it. no sd1 is a "drive and forget" car.