SECOND COMING ROVER SD1 / #Rover-SD1
Who doesn’t love a V8 SD1? We certainly do, especially when it’s led as chequered a life as this fantastic example. Austin Rover enthusiast, Michael Kitt, has brushed aside his MG Metro 6R4 in order to allow his championship-winning ex-works Rover SD1 to reacquaint itself with rallying... Words: Dan Furr. Photos: Chris Frosin.
For a sizeable number of rally fans, the Group B extravaganza of the 1980s represents a golden era for one of the planet’s most exciting forms of motorsport. The 6R4 stands out as one of the more memorable machines that competed in the short-lived series, but Austin Rover’s reputation for producing impressive rally cars had been established prior to the creation of the mighty MG thanks to the Group 2 SD1 that the works team of star driver, Ken Wood, and his navigator, Peter Brown, piloted to victory in the 1984 Scottish Rally Championship.
58-year-old petrolhead, Michael Kitt, is lucky enough to own a genuine ‘International’ 6R4 (that’s the 410bhp model used for Group B rallying, not to be confused with the reduced power ‘Clubman’ edition produced for homologation purposes) and the very same SD1 that Wood and Brown used to bag silverware in Scotland. What’s more, he’s also in possession of Austin Rover itself, the title to its motorsport division and the original technical drawings for every incarnation of the mental Metro!
“The Austin Rover deal came about after a spot of bother that I experienced after buying my 6R4,” he explains. “I acquired the vehicle close to two decades ago following a motorcycle accident that stopped me from racing on two wheels. I was thrilled to be in charge of my very own Group B Metro, particularly as the MG in question was dressed in classic Computervision livery, but lawyers representing the tech company wrote to me with an instruction to remove their branding from my new car,” he frowns.
The firm’s demands had come about as a consequence of a name change that had been introduced in accordance with a restructure of the business. Obviously, Michael was less than happy about being asked to lose his car’s iconic decoration – and the potential beating that his 6R4’s financial value may have suffered as a direct result of obeying unexpected orders – but frustration soon turned to relief when one of the company’s directors contacted him to confirm that he could leave Computervision’s graphics in place irrespective of correspondence from legal big-wigs that had suggested to the contrary. Phew!
Fast-forward a few years, and Michael found himself pulling up a pew in a boardroom at MG’s Longbridge headquarters while his 6R4 waited patiently outside. “I’d been asked to take the car to the factory for a photo shoot,” he recalls. “MG’s new owners wanted to bolster their apparently limited collection of archive material relating to the marque’s impressive motorsport history. Conscious of what I’d experienced with regard to the car’s use of Computervision graphics, I took the opportunity to ask for assurances that the continued display of Austin Rover branding on my Metro would remain unchallenged. To my relief, I was given written confirmation that gave me exclusive rights to use the company’s name and logos for as long as I owned the car. A few years later, I ended up buying Austin Rover outright following the collapse of MG Rover Group!” he smiles.
Yup, Mr Kitt is now the proud owner of an automotive brand that he has adored for decades! “To say that I’m pleased would be an understatement,” he beams, safe in the knowledge that both of his retro racers can keep their classic cosmetic conditions without concern.
Built as the 1970s drew to a close, Michael’s Group 2 SD1 is thought to be the first competition car constructed at Cowley under the Austin Rover Group Motorsport banner. Rigorous testing and continual fine-tuning of the humungous hatchback followed its construction until it was announced that the heavily modified monster was ready for participation in a planned Peking to Paris rally. Sadly, the event was called off, but the car was ready for action, resulting in its use by works driver, Tony Pond, in the Century Oils and Pace Petroleum rally programmes of the early 1980s.
“The car was overhauled during the summer of 1983 before Ken Wood was invited to test drive it in advance of his taking part in the Scottish Rally Championship,” continues Michael. “In later years, he admitted to me that he didn’t hold out much hope of being wowed by whatever four-wheeler Austin Rover were planning to present to him, but he was all ears following the demise of the V8-powered Triumph TR7 that he’d been campaigning up until that point,” he adds.
Surprised at the raw power delivered by the SD1’s forged 4.6-litre V8, its handling abilities at speed (helped in no small part by a Bilstein suspension system comprising adjustable front uprights and dual twin-rear dampers) and a striking exterior decked out in Golden Wonder logos, Ken wasted no time in securing a deal that provided him with the car and a collection of spares that amounted to “three of everything.” Furthermore, he was offered the use of Austin Rover personnel and service centres whenever the Rover needed a spruce-up after a heavy dose of off-road rallying. A few months later, he was the winner of the 1984 Scottish Rally Championship.
Media reports highlighting Wood and Brown’s success in Scotland were a big deal for Austin Rover, helping to boost sales of the SD1 in dealer showrooms across the UK. Of course, the works rally version would soon be cast aside due to the arrival of the utterly bonkers 6R4, but not before Ken’s car received a facelift that saw its appearance reflect that of the newly arrived flagship ‘Vitesse’ production model.
“Eventually, Ken was given a 6R4 that he used to win the 1985 Sprint Tyres Trossachs Rally. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his SD1 fell into the hands of privateers. It was only when I was involved in the process of restoring Tony Pond’s Computervision-liveried example many years later that I was alerted to the whereabouts of the original Cowley car,” Michael tells us.
Sure enough, the Golden Wonder SD1 had been squirreled away at the Oldham residence of former Austin Rover mechanic, Mike Wood. Once responsible for servicing many of the classic Minis that Paddy Hopkirk raced to great effect, Mike had reached old age and had decided to hang up his driving gloves. More importantly, he was open to the idea of parting with the once-famous SD1 that was collecting dust in his garage. Needless to say, Michael wasted no time in ferrying the classic rally machine across the Irish Sea to his own home on the Isle of Man.
“There had been a significant amount of metal cut out of the car’s chassis in an attempt to reduce its overall length,” he sighs. Indeed, one of his new toy’s previous owners had literally chopped its rear floor to pieces in an experiment to see if the car could be made to handle as well as a modified Mk2 Escort! Michael was appalled at the quality of the job, and he vowed to return his rallied Rover to its original shape as soon as his name appeared on its logbook.
A donor SD1 was sourced accordingly, and one of Mr Kitt’s talented spanner-wielding associates transferred the ‘missing’ metal from the parts car into the rally machine. A full strip and restoration of the latter’s shell followed thereafter, with replacement doors joining the car’s aluminium bonnet, lightweight tailgate, polycarbonate windows and factory roll cage. Meanwhile, replica sponsor graphics were produced with the help of Peter Brown. “Peter had masses of photos of the car that were taken during time that he’d spent with it in his role as a works team navigator. His stockpile of pictures was instrumental in ensuring that the various advertiser logos were sized and positioned in line with their appearance in period,” stresses Michael.
Sadly, photographs of his SD1’s interior from the same era have been notable by their absence, leaving him to wonder if his car’s dashboard is an original factory part. Either way, its nearby custom switch panels, Motordrive racing seats, six-point safety harnesses, MOMO three-spoke steering wheel and aluminium door cards scream ‘functional race car office’!
Looking through this sensational SD1’s rear windows, we’re struck by the sight of a 12-gallon alloy fuel cell that occupies most of what was once intended to be a spacious luggage area. In fact, we find ourselves staring at high-flow fuelling apparatus that is joined by a neighbouring dry sump engine lubrication system that makes use of a trio of Facet oil pumps and braided fluid transfer hoses equipped with AN10 fittings. Fuel and oil is sent the length of the car towards the eight-cylinder lump at its nose; the 4.6- litre unit has been completely rebuilt and incorporates Omega forged pistons, forged rods, Stage 4 ported and polished big valve cylinder heads and a quartet of Weber 45 DCOE carburettors that contribute to an estimated power output of 345bhp.
Michael was supplied with two Getrag dog-engagement gearboxes and a matching number of modified Atlas rear axles when he bought his SD1. He is pleased to report that he hasn’t had to call upon these valuable spare parts during or after putting the pedal to the metal at any of the historic rally events that he’s attended with his pride and joy, although he does admit that its side-exit exhaust system was producing a puff of smoke every time he tackled a sharp left hand bend. “Extensive investigation revealed that one of the cylinder heads had been machined too aggressively during its restoration. Consequently, oil was being allowed to seep into a valve chamber whenever I hit a left turn. Remedial work cured the issue, but not after every one of the engine’s new gaskets and seals was checked or replaced in pursuance of the problem!” he chuckles.
Appearances at Rallyday, Goodwood, Birmingham NEC’s Classic Motor Show, numerous events in Wales and a promotional stint with Playboy model and professional rally driver, Inessa Tushkanova, sat behind its steering wheel have seen Michael’s restored Rover gain a huge number of new admirers in recent months. Forthcoming outings that include the North West Rally Stages in February also promise to boost the profile of this retro ride. That’s no bad thing, especially now that its owner has confessed that he plans to rest his 6R4 for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the time has finally come for the Group 2 SD1 to step out of the mighty Metro’s shadow?!
TECH DATA Specification
ENGINE: John Eales 4.6-litre #V8
forged pistons, forged con rods, Stage 4 ported and polished cylinder head, big valves, dry sump oil system, three #Facet
oil pumps, #Weber
fuel pressure regulator, braided fuel lines with AN10 fittings, custom 12-gallon fuel tank, enlarged alloy radiator with twin slimline electric fans, four #Weber-45-DCOE
carburettors, foam air filters, factory inlet manifold, 3.5in side-exit stainless steel exhaust system (with optional 112 dB silencer).
PERFORMANCE: 345bhp (estimated)
TRANSMISSION: Rear-wheel drive, all-steel five-speed #Getrag
dog box, 4.89 #Atlas
adjustable front struts, Bilstein twin rear dampers, adjustable top mounts, polybushes throughout, quick steering rack.
BRAKES: Factory calipers, #AP-Racing
grooved discs, performance pads.
WHEELS: 18in Speedline multi-spokes painted silver with polished lips, Kumho Ecsta 220/640/18 competition tyres.
EXTERIOR: Restored and seam-welded shell chassis, full respray in factory white paint, replacement doors, aluminium bonnet and tailgate, polycarbonate windows, Austin Rover ‘Golden Wonder’ racing livery, rally mud flaps, kill switches.
INTERIOR: Motordrive racing seats with embroidered Austin Rover logo, TRS six-point safety harnesses, #MOMO
three-spoke steering wheel, aluminium door cards, custom switch panel, kill switches, navigator foot rest, factory roll cage.
THANKS: The lads in my workshop for looking after the car, and a big thanks to Ian Clark (a man who navigates brilliantly) for helping me to piece the ol’ girl together.
It’s fair to say this SD1 has had an eventful life – it was even ‘shortened’ by a previous owner!
No images of the original ‘works’ interior remain, so it’s uncertain whether this arrangement is contemporary, or retro fitted by a subsequent owner.
“His stockpile of pictures was instrumental in ensuring that the various logos were sized and positioned in line with their appearance in period”
4.6 litres of trusty V8 delivers an estimated 345bhp.
If cars could talk, this Rover would have a fair few tales to tell!