Old Rover logo

Rover's beast

SD1 Vitesse
Old Rover logo


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.

Vitesse interior (13,2 kB)

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.........?
First the name Rapide was proposed but Aston Martin had the rights to this name and refused to give permission for this name to be used. So the name Vitesse was chosen (already a common name in the Triumph line-up).

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.

Vitesse 6,3 kB
Vitesse adverthisment

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.

The Vitesse compared

0-60 mph
top speed


3528 cc
192 hp
7,1 sec
130 mph
3136 lb
1424 kg

2144 cc
182 hp
8,3 sec
125 mph
2856 lb
1297 kg

Citroen CX
25 GTI Turbo

2420 cc
168 hp
7,8 sec
137 mph
3013 lb
1368 kg


2788 cc
184 hp
7.2 sec
130 mph
2845 lb
1292 kg

Monza 3.0E

2968 cc
180 bhp
8,5 sec
133 mph
3268 lb
1484 kg

High performance competitors

The SD1 line-up in 2000/2300 2600/3500 form already found themselves competing with the Citroen CX, Renault 20/30, Audi 100, Opel Senator and Volvo 240.

Moving into the more sportive territory the new car would find itself pitched against competitors like the BMW 528i, Opel Monza, Audi 200 and Citroen CX 2400 GTI.

Citroen CX 2400 GTI

GTI....Gran Tourismo Injection. If one car deserves that name it should be the SD1 or.....the Citroen CX 2400 GTI.

The CX was the successor of the famous DS. It was introduced in 1976 and like it's forebear featured many revolutionary... or maybe idiosyncratic features. It still had that marvellous hydropneumatic suspension coupled to an excellent and sensitive steering and braking system.

Citroen CX 25 GTI Turbo 7,7 kB

The standard 2.0 2.2 and 2.4 litre four cylinders weren't real powerhouses but provided reasonable performance for such a big car. However people demanded more and Citroen introduced the injected GTI version of the 2.4 litre in 1980. This certainly gave the car good performance.

With 128 hp it had the same engine as used in the 2400 Pallas This gave the car a top speed of 192km/h. Later versions were enlarged to 2.5 litre with 138hp and capable of around 200 km/h.

The fastest CX was the CX 25 GTI Turbo introduced in 1985. It was capable of 220 km/h with 168hp on tap and took 7.8 seconds to catapult its passengers to 60mph. The turbo gave 294 Nm at 3250 rpm.... almost like Rover's V8. The earlier GTI versions could not compete with the SD1 Vitesse on performance. Finally Citroen came close.....very close!

The rotating speedometer of the CX 25 GTI was now finally replaced by a normal round speedometer. A sign that Citroen's became more down to earth. In 1988 The end for the CX had come when it was replaced by the more conservative XM.

BMW 528i

The car with which the Vitesse was compared the most is undoubtedly the BMW 528i. To say the Vitesse was designed to compete with this car is also not far from the truth.

BMW535i  11,4 kB

This Bavarian powerhouse extracted 184 hp out of its sweet running 6-cylinder and gave a top speed of 215 km/h. Compared to the Rover however it needed to be revved a lot and was a more nervous car to drive. The roadholding was excellent off course and it certainly did brake better than a Vitesse!

With the introduction of the M535i and the M5, the Vitesse lost ground to BMW's 5-series. The V8 could simply not compete with these sixes. The M535i boasted 218 hp and the M5 a massive 286 hp!

Audi 200

Audi 200 Turbo  7,0 kB

It's the early 80's and turbo's are in fashion. Audi was one of the front runners in this area and had a powerful competitor with the 200 Turbo.

The 200 Turbo had a 5-cylinder 2,2 litre engine delivering 182 hp. It was also possible to buy a 200 Quattro Turbo, yes....with permanent four wheel drive.

The 200 Turbo suffered from "turbo-lag" which made it less pleasant to drive than it could have been. The road holding was reasonably good, certainly with the Quattro. The front wheel driven versions also suffered from a lot of wheelspin. With a powerful engine the easiest way to get the power down on the road is still with a rear wheel drive.


SD1 race page.

© RWP March 2000