Living with a Rover P6
The first time I had a good look at a Rover 2000 was in June
1965, in the unlikely settings of Liverpool Docks. My parents had just returned
by sea from West Africa and waiting for them on the quay was the new car they
had promised themselves on their return to the UK. It was painted City Grey with
a red leather interior and I remember thinking how small and how low it was
compared with the Austin Cambridge my father had been driving before he went to
Africa and the Peugeot 404 he run while we were there.
I have to admit that it wasnīt until eight years later that I
took a real interest in the car. I learned to drive in it and spent most of the
summer of 1973 repairing the ravages of rost in the four wings and the inner
sills, finding it quite a shock to see that even Rovers rusted. Since then I
have lost count of the number of P6s I have driven and my enthusiasm for the
marque is undiminished - although that hasnīt blinded me to its faults...
There is no need to go into great detail about the modelīs
history, suffice to say that it was launched in 2000 single-carburettor form at
the 1963 Earls Court Motor Show. The 2000 TC was introduced in 1966 (the extra
carburettor and better cylinder-head porting giving a very useful power
increase), then in 1968 came the 3500, powered by a Rover-developed version of
an American Buick V8 engine. Initially this was available only with automatic
transmission (for the very good reason that Rover didnīt make a strong enough
manual box) and it wasnīt until 1971 that the 3500 S was announced with a
four-speed gearbox developed from the 2200 unit. 1973 saw the advent of the 2200
in both single- and twin-carburettor versions and production finally halted in
mid-1976 with the arrival of the new SD1, by which time close on half a million
P6s had been built.
Bodywork first, since that will probably be the most urgent
demand on the resources of any P6 owner. One of the great advantages of owning a
P6 is that literally every body panel, even the roof, can be unbolted from the
carīs internal skeleton, or "base unit" to give it its proper title. The
disadvantage is that both the exterior panels and the base unit itself can rust
like there is no tomorrow, attributable to the many mud traps in the wheelarches
and the underseal that was applied by the factory. The problem with this stuff
is that as it ages it dries out and cracks, allowing water to creep between it
and the metal and rust to spread unseen beneath what looks like a perfect
surface. The only real answer is to chip it all off (not as difficult as it
sounds) and, after dealing with the rust, to rely on a coat of Hammerite or
The place to look are the inner and outer sills, the four wings,
and the bottoms of the doors and, if you are at all serious about your
commitment to the car, the only way to check is with a stout screwdriver. The
chances are that the flat floor of the inner sill (to which is attached the
bottom edge of the outer sill and a small bracket bolted to the lower edge of
each front wing) will crumble to the touch and a stab at the vertical panel
behind the front wheel and in front of the rear wheel will probably produce a
similarly depressing result.
Pulling off the outer panel will probably reveal a horrific sight
beneath, with most of the inner sill coming away in your hand, but donīt lose
heart. All this is quite repairable with time, effort and a little ingenuity.
You might be lucky and find a genuine Rover inner sill amongst the specialist
dealersī stocks but people like Melbros market a quite acceptable pattern inner
sill; and because only the outer sill is actually cosmetic it is easy enough to
fabricate small repair sections yourself.
Slightly harder to repair is the boot floor (which, if water has
been allowed to collect in the corners, could well be non-existent) and the
joints between the inner rear wheelarches and the sides of the boot. The chances
are that the inner front wings will also be showing signs of tinworn; one of the
commonest spots is above and behind the headlights, visible when you open the
bonnet, and some cars seem to suffer from rotted front-wing mounting flanges.
Again, you may be lucky enough to find a genuine Rover inner wing but some
dexterous metalworking can probably produce a DIY repair panel that is just as
Prevention is obviously better than cure, though, so if you do
find a good car, try to keep it that way. Regular washing of the underside with
a high-pressure hose is a must, and itīs vital to keep clear the many drain
holes provided in the doors and the outer sills. There are also drain holes in
the inner sills and it isnīt a bad idea periodically to remove the outers, both
to check for rust and to give the inner drain holes a prod with a piece of wire.
Lastly, donīt underestimate the value of Waxoyl or the many similar products now
available for DIY rust proofing: an annual spray will keep any P6 rust-free for
a good few years to come.
The engine fitted to the 2000 and the later 2200 is a
four-cylinder overhead-camshaft unit. Bore wear tends to be heavy even at
mileages as low as 50.000 but this seems to have little effect on the engineīs
health until about 100.000. Timing chains were quite quickly and give themselves
away by making a hollow ringing sound at about 1000 rpm but before condemning
the chains it is worth making sure that the tensioners are doing their job: the
top one, in particular, is prone to blockage of the filter in its oil supply and
this can allow enough slack in the chain to produce the noise. That said, donīt
ignore chain noise indefinitely; the car we borrowed for the colour photos was
making just such a noise ("itīs always done that", said the owner) and on the
way back from our photo session contrived to snap its bottom timing chain. At
the time of writing we havenīt stripped the engine to see what damage it has
done but we donīt expect to find anything to smile about...
Valve clearances are tedious to set up properly, but the good
news is that, once done properly, they should run for many thousands of miles
before they require attention again. The problem is that the camshaft has to be
removed and, if you do the job without the set of special spacers for the
retaining bolts (which also happen to be the cylinder-head bolts) you will
slacken the pressure on the head gasket and should, in theory, renew that too.
Camshaft bearing caps have been known to crack, particularly
those fitted with studs for the cam-cover retaining nuts. Symptous are a loud
rattling from the top end even though the valve clearances are correctly set and
the cause would appear to be over-tightening of the domed nuts. Theoretically
cure means renewing the entire camshaft carrier complete with all seven bearing
caps but in practice fitting just one new (secondhand?) cap seems to work quite
On single-carburettor engines you may also hear a loud banging
from the general area of the inlet manifold which sounds like the engineīs death
rattle: this is usually nothing more serious than a loose metal tube from the
carb-to-manifold adaptor and can be put right by dismantling and glueing the
tube back into place with Araldite.
Cooling systems are generally quite well behaved. Because the
engine has an alloy cylinder head and a cast-iron block it is vital to keep
anti-freeze in the system all-year round for its anti-corrosion properties and,
now that even the youngest car will be over ten years old, it pays to keep a
close eye on the pressed-steel covers on the sides of the engine block. These
are not easy to see, particularly on twin-carburettor models but they can, in
time, corrode to the point of leakage. Both the plates and their gaskets are
still available but it wouldnīt be a bad idea to buy a set now if you intend
keeping the car for a few more years.
One of the criticisms of the original Rover 2000 was that for
what purported to be a sports saloon it still wasnīt particularly fast. The
Rover Company obviously took these comments to heart because in 1966 the
twin-carburettor or TC model was announced. This had a much-modified cylinder
head fitted with twin SU HD8 carburettors and a more efficient exhaust manifold
which boosted power from around 90 bhp to 114 bhp. Immediately this gave the car
the sort of performance it should have had in the first place and, indeed, some
early TCs were very rapid pieces of machinery, far removed from the leisurely
progress one could expect from an SC.
For those who wish to convert their SCs to TCs, it is possible,
provided you obtain literally every part you will need from a suitable donor
car, but such is the work involved that it is probably best simply to change the
complete engine; but however you do the conversion donīt make the mistake of
trying to eliminate all movement between the twin carburettors and the inlet
manifold. They are intended to be a flexible fit to avoid the possibility of the
frothing and by tightening the mounting bolts you will make the engine run
worse, not better.
More power still
Needless to say, the 3500 is a very much faster car than the 2000
or 2200. The V8 is a very smooth and powerful engine for its size and weight and
is still in use in the SD1, albeit considerably modified. It, too, has few
vices, although it is vital to change the lubricating oil and filter at the
recommended service intervals to avoid sludging and the consequent damage to the
camshaft and valve gear (both of which tend to wear quickly anyway).
Anti-freeze is again very important to prevent cooling-system
corrosion and, if the car seems to suffer from overheating some sort of
auxiliary cooling is a good idea. Some owners have fitted Kenlowe electric fans
with success, others with less impressive results, although in the latter case
it seems that fitting the wrong type of fan blade might have been the problem:
Kenlowe fans are sold with either a "blower" or a "sucker" fan depending on
whether they are to be mounted in front of or behind the radiator and it is
important not to confuse the two. You may also find it worthwile fitting an
expansion tank to the cooling system.
Inevitably there is far more to choose from in the way of tuning
and uprating equipment for this engine, although the simplest step is probably
to fit a larger engine and start with that as a basis. Electronic ignition is a
good first step, even if itīs the only one you take.
The 3500 was, as weīve said, originally available only with an
automatic gearbox because the manual version available at the time (the one used
in the 2000) wasnīt strong enough. To be honest the gearbox was rather marginal
even in the 2000 and tales of early cars getting through three or four boxes
were not uncommon. Eventually the 3500 S was launched with an uprated version of
the 2000 box but that, too, had its problems: rapid standing starts (very
tempting with all that power on tap) were likely to knock teeth off first gear
(although there was available an even "tougher" box for police spec cars). In
practice, however, 3500 S gearbox problems are less common than legend would
have one believe and considerate useage gives no problems. That said, if you
know that you are hard on gearboxes or intend driving the car very hard, give some
thought to fitting a SD1 five-speed gearbox. It can be done - with a little
ingenuity and modification - and provides the car with a virtually unbreakable
Manual P6s have never had what one could call a perfect
gearchange: later cars with a cast-alloy remote linkage were better and you
should make sure that both the nylon seating in which the gear lever pivots and
the rubber ball which engages with the selector rods are in good condition. If
the rubber end breaks up youīll get a lot of unwanted free play and if the nylon
seating fails the lever could well drop straight through. Make sure, too, that
the engine is idling as slowly as possible or you could get clutch-drag problems
and noisy reverse-gear engagement, not to mention difficult forward-gear
If manual gearboxes are to be watched carefully then you can
expect few problems from automatic versions, although do bear in mind that the
2000 automatic was desperately slow off the mark. The 2200 automatic was far
better in that respect but the manual box was far better for four-cylinder cars.
Final drives are generally trouble-free, although you may find
that a blocked breather tube has pressurised the oil inside and forced some of
it out onto the inboard rear disc brakes. Provided the seals themselves havenīt
been damaged you can easily cure the problem by unblocking the breather,
cleaning the discs and fitting new pads.
To anyone accustomed to the simplicity of a Ford Cortina the P6
has a most unusual suspension arrangement front and rear. It is said that the
design of the front suspension was influenced by the need for as wide an engine
bay as possible (to accommodate a gas turbine engine) but since it is fairly
common knowledge that a de Dion tube was used at the rear as much to enhance the
carīs paper specification as the actual road behaviour it may have been a case
of complication for its own sake.
The big advantage of the front suspension layout is that it feeds
all the loads back into the carīs massively strong passenger-compartment
bulkhead (making the inner wings little more than splash guards for the engine)
but this does tend to generate noise, the hollow bulkhead acting like a giant
resonator. Thus you can always expect plenty of assorted clonks and brake noise
and there doesnīt seem to be much you can do about it: fillling the hollow box
section with foam might be one answer; learning to live with it another.
Worn ball joints will obviously not help: try to use genuine
Rover or Unipart items wherever possible, or a good-quality pattern part like
Quinton Hazell, but avoid the really cheap unknowns since they tend to wear out
again very quickly. Top joints can be replaced fairly easily but youīll need
special tools for the bottom ones.
Rear suspension is by trailing Watt linkage and de Dion tube,
with the final drive bolted to the floorplate to reduce unsprung weight. The
bushes at each end of the trailing arms can wear, allowing metal-to-metal
contact of the arms and their mounting brackets but they can be renewed on a DIY
basis if you can obtain access to a press or a large vice and some suitable
spacers. The dampers are easy enough to renew, but watch out for seized lower
mounting bolts (if the heads break off you will have to extract the remains from
the trailing arms) and check that the domed upper mountings in the body havenīt
cracked: this is rare, but not unknown.
Tyres would be either 165 or 185/14s, with the larger size on the
3500, and because the front and rear tyres have such totally different wear
patterns they cannot effectively be swopped round to equalise wear. In addition,
the front tyres can suffer from very uneven wear: it is obviously important to
get the tracking right (something which, for some reason, many garages seem
unable to do) but the problem may also be helped by modern tyres with stiffer
"shoulders". Contrary to popular belief, the P6 was not designed specifically
around radial-ply tyres, although it undoubtedly handles much better on them.
Just as the P6sīs suspension may look unusual to a Cortina owner,
its steering will hardly fill him with confidence. By no stretch of the
imagination can directional stability be said to be one of the carīs strong
points, particularly as it ages, and it can be a real chore keeping a P6 running
straight at high speed in a crosswind.
Correct tyre pressures and tracking help, of course, as does a
properly adjusted steering box (all cars have a worm-and-roller follower
steering box) but youīll have to face the fact that the steering will never be
in the sports-car league. Watch out for oil leaks and roughness from the
steering box. They can be rebuilt but renewal or at the very least a better
secondhand one is probably the best answer. The combined steering idler and
damper may also be leaking in which case youīll have to fit a secondhand one
since new ones are no longer available, unless you happen to have a
left-hand-drive example. Some 3500 models were fitted with power steering -
which may or may not be to your taste; try it and see - but much the same
Four-wheel disc braking may be nothing special now, but when it
was launched in 1963 the P6 was almost unique, certainly amongst British saloon
Initially a Dunlop system was used but when, in 1966, Dunlopīs
braking system interests were taken over by Girling a Girling system was fitted.
From this point on all cars had the same rear discs and calipers but the 3500
had much larger front discs and calipers. Those rear calipers, incidentally, are
the same as the used on the Ford Zodiac and the early 3500 front calipers are
the same as those used on the Reliant Scimitar.
Inevitably parts are quite scarce and expensive for the Dunlop
system and, given the fact that it tends to suffer from seized calipers anyway,
it could be worth updating an early car with a later system. That said, to do
the job you will also need the appropriate suspension swivel pillars and, for
the rear, the later final drive or, at the very least, the extension-shaft
bearing housings to which the calipers are bolted.
Whatever the braking system you can expect exemplary performance
unless there is something wrong with it. The pedal should be firm with just the
right amount of servo assistance and if you ever manage to fade the brakes you
must have been trying very hard. The only fly in the ointment is the
effectiveness of the handbrake, often the main reason for a P6 failing its MoT
test. Provided the cable hasnīt stretched the Dunlop system should present few
problems because of its separate handbrake pads which obviously wonīt be subject
to rotational wear; but the self-adjusting system on the later Girling caliper
(which uses the same pads for hand and foot braking) can often fail to adjust.
The secret is to fit new pads and make sure that the ratcher mechanism inside
the caliper is set up exactly according to the workshop manual.
Finally, on all cars watch out for a handbrake lever that is
pulling out of its mounts on the transmission tunnel; repair is easy enough,
though, simply by welding the cracks and grinding the surfaces flat again.
So much for the P6īs mechanical strengths and weaknesses; letīs
now have a quick look at a few day-to-day hints.
First of all, you will have to live with the fact that when you
open the front doors in the rain, water will drip onto the seats. Heater output
can vary from poor to adequate, even on cars fitted with so-called throughflow
ventilation, but matters can be improved considerably (unless the heater matrix
is blocked) by opening the rear quarterlights. Neither should you expect
particularly good legroom for rear-seat passengers or luggage room in the boot.
The former can be improved by fitting thinner-backed front seats from post-1973
cars and the latter by fitting the spare wheel on the boot lid (a kit is
available from some of the parts specialists) but both were always points of
Leather seats always benefit from a periodic application of
Connollyīs Hide Food to keep the material supple and free from unsightly cracks
and it is a good idea not to put too much weight in the lockers in front of each
front-seat occupant: they tend to warp if you do and wonīt close properly.
Inertia-reel seat belts are a good idea for those with shorter arms since it can
be otherwise be a stretch to reach the controls and the window winding handles,
and remember that all P6s, whatever their age, have ready-drilled mounting
points for rear seat belts.
The best place for a radio aerial, if not already fitted, is the
roof, and the front section of the headlining pulls down for easy access.
Wing-mounted mirrors tend not to be very successful because of the absence of a
flat surface, but be careful if you fit rear-view mirrors to the doors: it is
deceptively easy to get the window channel directly in your line of vision or to
position then so that the front quarterlight wonīt open fully.
Finally, donīt slam the boot lid shut - a gentle push is quite
sufficient - and always jack the car up in the correct places at the rear on the
jacking pad under the bumper or at the points provided in the sills; and at the
front under the crossmember or the proper sill points again. Donīt jack under
the final drive or the de Dion tube and certainly not under the sump.
Mechanics / UK Summer 1986