By the time I was getting involved with British cars, the British car industry was withdrawing from the American market. The early 80’s were a tough time for all auto manufactures – with assaults from the economy and insults from new pollution controls and safety devices. Poor quality control among many British models were the last straw. One of the last attempts to maintain an American toehold was the Rover 3500 sedan. In England this car was used as a police car – painted white with a red stripe at the car’s waist, it was known as the “jam sandwich.”
Ironically, the car’s muscle came from the Colonies. The Rover’s 3.5 liter engine began in the 1960’s as a revolutionary aluminum engine GM created for Buick and Oldsmobile sedans. It was the lightest V8 engine produced and had the guts for its block to be used in stock configuration at the Indianapolis 500. More recently, this engine powered most Range Rover’s favored by yuppies of the 90’s. But the British first used it in sedans – in the 70’s, and later in a new 80’s model. The Rover 3500 had 4 doors and a hatchback – and was available with a 5-speed manual transmission. I had to have one.
As a young man just out of college, I wouldn’t have been able to afford such a fine car if it weren’t for the fact that dealers were dying to get rid of them and selling them at fire sale prices. I don’t remember how much I paid for mine – but after selling the Europa and mortgaging my soul, I had enough. My girlfriend (the one who didn’t approve of my driving technique in the Europa) had two young children – and was as delighted at my purchase as if I had just bought a new mini-van.
Driving the Rover gave me the “you’ve arrived” feeling advertisers suggest luxury goods will provide. And of all the car’s I’ve owned – this is the one I most often look for on eBay hoping that there might be one shining example available to re-live the optimistic outlook of my youth. The car was perfect – in form and function. It never complained or let me down. I’m not sure other people were quite as impressed with it as I was – yuppies were buying BMW sedans instead. But for a short while – it was driving nirvana. A very short while as it turned out. Two months after buying it I spotted an Aston Martin DB6 in the Chronicle’s classifieds. My Rover lasted about as long as it takes to eat a jam sandwich.