V8/5-Speed: 1982 Rover Vanden Plas

When Rover unveiled its iconic SD1 in 1976, the car was met with universal praise from the motoring press. It represented a bold styling step for Rover, with many journalists comparing its appearance to the Ferrari Daytona. While the initial response was good, early cars were plagued with significant quality control issues. However, by the time our 1982 Vanden Plas rolled off the production line, these issues were nothing but a fading memory. This car presents beautifully and is hard to fault. It features the most desirable drivetrain combination and should make a luxurious and comfortable open-road tourer. Located in Miami, Florida, you will find the Vanden Plas listed for sale here on eBay. The owner has said a BIN of $28,000, although he will entertain offers.

When you look at its styling, it is easy to see how this Rover made such an impact when it was first launched. Adding to its attraction, it featured a drivetrain that offered impressive performance with better than average fuel consumption. The car garnered the 1977 European Car of The Year Award, but the early examples were plagued with problems. One of those revolved around the rear hatch. The early seals failed to do their job, and water flowed liberally into the cargo area. Running changes eliminated that problem, and by the time our feature car rolled off the line, they were a thing of the past. It presents superbly in Racing Green Metallic, and it is difficult to find flaws with the paint. It covers laser-straight panels, with gaps that are impressively tight for anything that rolled out of a British Leyland factory at that time. While Rover marketed the Vanden Plas as a “gentleman’s express,” the deep front and rear spoilers, combined with the alloy wheels, give the car a sense of purpose. It appears that this classic has no rust issues, with clean panels and an underside that looks spotless. The external trim is in excellent condition, and there are no issues with the glass. The owner states that it is difficult to locate a Vanden Plas in this sort of condition, and a brief romp through the online listings seems to confirm this.

Early examples of the SD1 received criticism for an interior that felt spartan. By the time our Vanden Plas rolled off the line, things had changed markedly. It brought timber interior trim to the table, a feature considered a hallmark of British luxury classics. The seats were upholstered in cloth, although buyers could specify leather. The interior of this Rover is in exceptional condition for its age. There is no evidence of crumbling or discolored plastic, while the timber trim is perfect. The markings on the gauges are crisp, and the lenses are crystal clear. Nobody has sullied the interior by installing aftermarket items, with everything as it was the day this Rover rolled off the line. It doesn’t appear that the original owner loaded this classic with optional extras. I can see no evidence of items like air conditioning, but the buyer will welcome the AM/FM radio/cassette player and power windows.

By American standards, the V8 that occupies this Rover’s engine bay is a small capacity unit. At 3.5-liters, it is hardly huge, but it still packs a respectable punch. In the Vanden Plas, it pumps out 155hp. It wasn’t the most potent version available, with the Vitesse boosting that figure to 190hp. Adding to this car’s desirability, it features a five-speed manual transmission. Put that combination together, and it should allow this luxury car to storm through the ¼ mile in 16.7 seconds. Considering that it tips the scales at 4,464lbs, that figure looks mighty impressive. The owner located this Rover in Belgium and imported it to its current location. It has 38,000 genuine miles on the clock, and the engine bay presents beautifully. Thankfully, it doesn’t flatter to deceive. It runs and drives extremely well and is a turnkey proposition for its next owner. He says that the little V8 sounds excellent, and having heard these in full song in the past, it’s a claim that I find easy to believe.

After a spluttering start fraught with faults and failings, the SD1 eventually morphed into cars like this 1982 Rover Vanden Plas. In this form, the vehicle realized the potential that Rover had envisaged from the start. I have had the good fortune to drive many classic cars during my life, and some are firmly on my Bucket List that I intend to sample before I shuffle off the planet. One of those is a Vanden Plas because I can’t help thinking that the luxury appointments and that syrupy smooth V8 would make them a pleasure to drive. I won’t be buying this one, but I will openly envy the person that does.


  1. Bob Member

    I sold these new at McGinnis Imported Cars in Horsham, PA. They were a wonderful car to drive but sadly not many folks were interested in buying them.

    Like 6
    • Matt in L.A. Member

      I must agree Bob. I never saw these on the street when they were new and only have discovered them from British car reviewers on Youtube! They are indeed wonderful…just don’t let them get in the snow/salt!

      Like 1
  2. alphasud Member

    I tend to agree this is probably the nicest one with left hand drive. I think the original induction system has been replaced with a 4bbl intake and carb setup. Also the car had A/C as I can see the receiver/dryer but the compressor might have been removed. Probably had one of those square York compressors which could be converted to a Sanden unit. Nice looking car. Deceptively longer than it looks from the front. Would make a nice riding car for crappy roads.

    Like 2
  3. ClassicCarFan

    Yes, seems like a really nice example – though as Bob says I’d imagine there’s a very limited market for this car, few people would even know what it was – so I suspect that price is pure fantasy.

    I agree, these really were superb cars to drive. and for the European market, the concept was excellent, a relatively fast, good handling, good looking, near luxury 5-door. They were killed in the early years by terrible build quality and reliability issues and never recovered. Same story as so many British cars of that era, they did iron out many for the glitches in time, but by then it was too late.

    I remember my uncle who was a senior company executive and entitled to a luxury company car saying that many of his peers opted for the top trim Rovers and loved to drive them, but they “spent as much time in the shop as on the road” and people gave up on them. He ended up going over to BMWs as his company car choice and never looked back.

    I was actually working for the Austin-Rover Group around the time these were bowing out to be replaced by the Rover 800 ( “Sterling” in the US). The Vitesse version of the SD1, especially the twin-plenum one, was a really good fast tourer. The Vitesse did well in “Touring Car” racing on the tack too.

    I agree, that this car would have had EFI from new ( or at least all the UK models did) so maybe this one has been converted later, as suggested above. The Rover 3.5 V8 (based on the old 215 Buick design, licensed from GM many years before) was available in carbureted form for many years so finding the parts to swap back to carbs would not be too hard. The factory used “SU” carbs but there were kits out there to convert them to Holley and other alternatives.

    Like 4
  4. ClassicCarFan

    also, odd to note that this is a “Vanden Plas” spec with a 5-speed. The Vanden Plas version of this car in the UK was always equipped with automatics trans I remember? maybe that was not always true of export market cars…

    Like 1
  5. Slomoogee

    I owned a 1980 SD1 back in the 90s. It was fuel injected. The better set up was a 4 bbl with headers and duals. With the long wheel base and hatchback it was a nice interstate cruiser. 80 mph in 5th felt like it’s sweet spot. Unfortunately it had lots of little electrical problems. Power windows, seats, and ac are the ones that come to mind. There were few people that knew what these even were. When you said Rover they thought Land Rover. When they saw it Chevy Citation was mentioned. When they heard you going through the gears with the V8 they wanted to to know more.

    Like 5
  6. Steve

    If the seller thinks this Rover is worth anywhere near $28k, he must be smoking some real good stuff down there in Miami

    Like 3
    • Gerard Frederick

      He is dreaming to recoup his investment. All I can say to that is – good luck. It’s cars like this which tanked the reputation of British cars and correctly so.

      Like 3
  7. Matt in L.A. Member

    One was pulled out of a garage by You-tuber Jonny Smith on the Late Brake Show a couple of months ago. I fell in love with the thing right then and there!!

    Like 2
  8. chrlsful

    I guess its (bent8) that alu buick 215? near two hundred HP? must be up near 5k?We thought they were bloated at the time, not too bad but should B more. I’m with the “supercharge it” (or small turbo w/blow thru)..

  9. MitchRoss Member

    This is one of my dream cars. I guess at 28 large I’m going to keep dreaming

  10. Lester

    Parts I would think is a problem As I owned one in the 80’s and suspect their acquisition has not improved. I actually would be interested in trying it out again as I did enjoy driving the car

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