Rover's beastSD1 Vitesse
I n 1980/81 Rover made plans to improve the sales of the SD1 in the more sporting upper market and to give the Rover marque a more sporting image. Due to the 3500's successes in racing the name Rover was already becoming settled among race enthousiasts.
Taking the 3500 as a starting point, Rover's first step was to extract more power from the V-8 unit. This shouldn't be to difficult as the standard engine delivered only a rather lazy 155 bhp. Using it's racing experience, Rover developed an engine equipped with two double weber carburettors. This certainly delivered the power needed, but the extremely heavy fuel consumption required the ownership of a small oil state!.
Furthermore the production and tuning of this complicated carburettor setup would be quite expensive. This is were the fuel injection system came in. For the US market Lucas already had developed an injection system for the 3500 in 1980 to comply with the emission regulations. This injection system was used as a starting point for further development. The Lucas injection system was based on the Bosch L-jetronic system with some minor alterations.
Under the hood of a Vitesse.
The engine itself needed little change. The cylinder heads were improved to provide better flow by enlarging the ports and the inlet and outlet valves. The compression ratio was raised to 9.75:1. Fortunately the hydraulic valve lifters could still be retained. The camshaft was unaltered. All these alterations gave an V-8 delivering 190 bhp with torque up to 220 lbs/ft at a higher 4000 rpm.
The gearbox was strengthened with bigger bearings and shot peened gears to handle the increased power. The gearing ratios were unchanged (the SD-1 V-8 still being one of the lowest geared cars on the worldmarket).
The suspension and brakes were also uprated. The suspension was lowered one inch and the torsion bars were uprated. This eleminated for a part the smooth ride of the SD1 but also gave tremendous cornering stability with little roll. The rear suspension was still the live axle setup. A independent rear suspension was considered but thought to be too expensive.
The front brakes were improved with ventilated discs and four pot calipers. The rear brakes still were the usual drum units. So braking still left something to be desired. Only now with the conversion sets to Jaguar front and rear brakes can a SD1 be made to give good braking.
The interior wasn't changed much. There were some sportier seats with improved side support. Leather wasn't an option with the exception of some Swiss Vitesse's which came with a leather interior. So these Vitesse's come close to Vandenplas EFi specifications! Vitesse owners still had to live with the dreadfull square steering wheel. Not really suited for this ultimate driving machine.....ah well!
Outside the car was equipped with a huge black rear spoiler giving 70lbs of downforce at 100 mph.Furthermore this sporting version could be dishtinguished from it's stablemates by fat 205/60 VR 15" tyres with very handsome aluminium wheels (which are dreadfully difficult to keep clean).
The Vitesse rearspioler (picnicktable).
The name for this sporting model.........?
In the press the Vitesse received rave reviews and the car sold relatively well despite the huge price and the somewhat troublesome fuel injection. But the performance was stunning (0-60 mph in 7,6 sec, top speed 124 mph), making the Vitesse one of the fastests car in its league.
With the Vitesse, Rover took the SD1 one step further into racing and quite succesfull too. Even today Vitesse's are being raced, see the SD1 race page.
The twin plenum injection version was developed by Rover (in cooperation with Lotus) this improved the torque of the engine although top end power was not affected. These twin plenum Vitesse's are very sought after nowadays as it is estimated that only 200 have been built.
© RWP March 2000