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47 years of the SD1
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SD1 Enthusiast : Lawson Smith, Member of the SD1 Club
The Mechanical Engineer knows what car he likes and builds it..
‘Wildcat’ heads, big trumpets and a big lump under the bonnet, stir in a little nitrous to liven things up!! That’s Lawson’s solution to his aim of achieving well over 600 bhp and his ultimate SD1.

“It must have been the aharmonic burble of the Rover V8 that activated my petrol-head genes – how could anybody who likes cars find a 4 or 5-cylinder engine interesting? The purists may like their straight sixes and twelves, but only the V8 sounds like a wild animal when it’s on–cam”, says Lawson.

He was probably influenced in his formative years when his first girlfriend’s father had an SD1 and he discovered, concurrent with developing his interest in cars, that the SD1 was such a novel and attractive machine “on reflection, I know who to blame”.

Lawson has never found a cure for the SD1 bug. A chartered mechanical engineer, he has experience of aerospace manufacture and industrial lubrication which come in useful for automotive hobbies, and has spent most of his career in the RAF, which continues to keep him busy “if you think maintaining the SD1 can be testing, some aircraft designed in the fifties and built in the seventies can put SD1 woes into perspective”. Being an affirmed and incurable petrol head, his passions after SD1s mostly have two wheels and he enjoys both off-roading up to his ears in mud and ridiculously fast road bikes – preferably with a squirt of nitrous to liven them up a little bit.

Lawson bought his first SD1 as an impoverished student in 1986, a 1981 Arran beige Series 1 3500SE which came with gas conversion and fairly high mileage “shame about the colour, but one of the few series 1 SE’s and in very good condition” Originally a Rover management car – Lawson would be interested to hear from the present owner if it is still around – RHP641W. “It had an LPG conversion where the spare normally sits allowing it to run petrol and gas, which was about as much use as udders on a bull at the time but would make sound economic sense for cruising with today’s fuel prices. It also gave the car an enormous range between fill-ups of both tanks, I only kept the SE for about a year”. Not the cheapest of car to run while still on a student grant – it was 1985 and he really couldn’t afford it. He reflects on his first experience of the V8 “The young learn through their mistakes, like breaking 2 diffs and playing pinball between the Armco barriers on a motorway one day (which took a while to repair), the car served me well and my love for the SD1 was confirmed”. It was a sad day when he had to release that first car to fresh pastures before his bank manager had him assassinated - and ever since he’s missed it.

Life carried on, he qualified as an engineer, worked a while in light engineering then the oil industry and eventually joined the RAF as an engineering officer, a career which keeps him busy to this day. In 1995, ten years and about six boring cars after his first SD1, he bought a Vitesse. He’d developed a habit of tweaking things and perhaps that’s why it all seemed to go wrong from that point on. The car was very tidy, but compression was low so it needed a rebuild. Why rebuild? – “Well, those 4.6 motors that V8 Developments (formally Rovertec) were selling were such a bargain . . .” The car became a 4.6 with twin plenum top end, adjustable ECU, Jag injectors, ported manifold, trumpets, twin airflowmeter inlet rig, full tubular exhaust, nice cam, stage 3 heads, etc and running gear to go with it. It cost a King’s ransom but it was worth it to blow the doors off an old school friend’s TVR 450 (which the TVR aficionado denies to this day).

He has dallied with the affections of a few SD1s and one P6 since his 3500SE, and is now working on his fifth SD1, “my current SD1 is a bit of a mongrel, but rather interesting, special and desirable.

A rather special project on a 130 (yes, one hundred and thirty) mile 2600S which is getting a very, very trick Wildcat-headed V8, modified running gear from head to toe and should be released into the SD1 community in the next year or so. “Wait till this one appears at Billing!! It may well steal the show when it finally makes an appearance”, A similar obsession with bikes, the odd overseas jaunt through work and a house renovation tend to divert attention from the car.

“The car started life in 1985 as a 2600S, though the chassis number is that of an SE so I have to assume it was reallocated at the factory. It's never been registered - I had the chassis number checked by the police - and has been dry stored for almost its entire life.

See pic (right). an example of how mint the underside is – untouched for 19 years but as it left the factory (with a little dust added). Ray Webb at V8 Developments bought the car some years ago and began to build it as a one-off.

Purists will be horrified, but the 6-pot engine and autobox were ditched to prepare the car for a V8, and the bodywork was modified to take wider running gear.

“I bought the car from Ray in 2000 and set about gathering parts to finish it off, including transferring over a lot of bits that were fitted to my last Vitesse. I had been running a 4.6 with Stage 3 heads, twin plenum and modified injection with twin airflow-meters – that engine produced over 300bhp and 367lbft which was approaching adequate.

This time round, the engine has been rebuilt up to 5 litres.

“As for running gear”……

Lawson should start putting it all together by spring, he would like to have it finished for mid-summer but realistically he expects it will not be finished, painted and on the road this year, “still a lot to do and I work away from home. I’ll keep the Club updated when I know what the engine puts out – and I’ll have a good idea how quick the car will be (I put together a PC package which interpolates acceleration through the gears and top speeds very accurately if I have weights, ratios and a dyno printout).”

Lawson admits openly to driving a diesel estate most of the time, and a French one at that, albeit with room for two large dogs in the back and the ability to travel hundreds of miles on a cupful of fuel. He can’t bring himself to use an SD1 as a daily workhorse, so for now keeps pottering away at the project which will be a dry weather weekend toy when completed. When this project is finally on the road it will have taken 6 years – “I will have put my soul into this car. It’s going to be ridiculously fast and virtually the whole car from bumper to bumper is new. I expect I’ll polish it a lot, service it too often, replace things that don’t need replacing, maybe see what it will do down the strip at Santa Pod and throw it round the Nurburgring, but I’ll never, ever sell it”.

While engaged in this project he has found some real stumbling blocks in getting hold of things like headlights, rubbing strips, headlining, the chrome top rail for the front grille, and the fact that women just don’t understand the SD1’s allure, or the importance of spending half of the weekend in the shed modifying a diff cover when decorating needs doing. He’s just completed a mini crusade to find a company that would re-plate the radiator grille rails and when this is done he intends to find solutions to the headlining and binnacle cover problems, but one thing at a time!!

As always Lawson is eager to return to his car ” must get on – about to modify the diff cover to have a drain hole” and that workshop - what more could you ask for!! “A vertical miller, that’s what!” He has a little Myford toolmakers lathe, drill press, parts washer, blasting cabinet, bandsaw, several grinders and sanders, plumbed compressed air, welding gear, a full platform bike lift and enough hand tools to fill a skip, “but if only I had a nice little miller! Some of us are never satisfied.”

Good luck to Lawson and his project -- the car will certainly be a star when it arrives on the scene.

Rover SD1 Club 2005
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