A real Rover
Rover owners always were a conservative bunch. Whenever a new model was
introduced, they immdediately denouncedit as a load of rubbish and acclaimed the
superseded model as "the last of the real Rovers". They did just that in 1963,
but the car they did it to then might just qualify with hindsight as "the best
of the real Rovers".
the Rover P6 was built in far greater numbers than any of its predecessors.
Exact figures are in dispute, but something like 330.000 of all models were made
in a 13-year production run. That was more than two and a half times as many as
the P4 range which the P6 replaced, of which some 130.000 were built in 15
though, was a lot more than a simple replacement for the P4. At Rover, it
represented a complete revolution in thinking. The main reason was that, if
Rover were to survive, they had to address a wider market than before. The one
they chose to address was the new "young executive" market, which was demanding
the comfort, refinement and build quality traditional to Rover but wanted a more
sporty image as well. On top of that, the P6 was the first Rover to incorporate
safety engineering - and indeed it retained its image as a "safe" car right up
to the end of production.
introduced the 2000 - the first of the P6s - at the Earls Court Show in 1963.
The first reviews were ecstatic, and waiting lists soon built up. There was, in
fact, only one thing lacking, and this was more performance.
The point was
not that the 2000 was slow, because it was actually a pretty quick saloon by the
standards of the day. It was simply that the "chassis" was so good that it could
obviously handle much more power.
The first the
public knew of a higher-performance P6 was in 1964, when a couple of the works
rally cars ran with experimental twin-carburettor engines. That engine became a
production option in spring 1966, when the 2000 TC was introduced for export
only, becoming available in Britain the following autumn.
The TC lost
out a little on refinement as compared to the single-carb model, but it
certainly did go. The 60 mph standing-start time was cut by nearly three
seconds, and top speed went up from 104 mph to around 110 mph.
company recognised that it also had an obligation to its more
traditionally-minded customers. To suit them, it announced an "old gentleman´s"
version of the P6 in the shape of the 2000 Automatic. This was never a
satisfactory car, as the torque characteristics of the engine were not best
suited to the Borg Warner three-speed transmission, but it sold well enough to
show that Rover had understood their market.
confusion, the single-carb version was renamed the 2000 SC in 1967, but there
were more interesting things going out at Solihull. Managing Director William
Martin-Hurst had secured the rights for Rover to manufacture and develop a
light-alloy 3.5-litre V8 engine which Buick had just dropped from production.
The first Rover production application was in 1967´s big 3.5-litre saloon and
coupé, but from April 1968 the engine was also fitted to a new version of the
version that was! Known internally as the P6B (B for Buick) but to the public as
the Three Thousand Five, this car was faster than a TC and yet still had all the
refinement traditionally expected of Rovers. Its new engine was quiet in
operation and powerful, and even with the standard Borg Warner automatic
transmission it would whisk the car to 60 mph in two seconds less than a TC
took, and then go on to a 118 mph top speed. Nobody was surprised when it was a
big sales success.
revisions came in 1970. The main changes for all models - known to enthusiasts
but not to Rover as "Series 2" cars - were a new plastic "egg-crate" grille,
vinyl-covered rear quarter-panels, side rubbing-strips, blacked-out sills and
new wheel trims. The 3500 and 2000 TC were given a superb new dashboard with
circular dials in place of the strip speedo, and the Three Thousand Five was
renamed a 3500, in line with the badging it had always worn.
freshened up the P6´s image a little, but the real excitement was saved for
1971, when Rover announced a manual-transmission V8 model called the 3500 S.
Although this was not significantly faster through the gears than the automatic
3500, it would exceed 120 mph and it felt more sporty.
major changes occurred in 1973. The four-cylinder engines were overbored to give
2.2 litres, although the only real performance gains were made on the automatic
model, which now became a much more satisfactory vehicle. The V8s were detuned
to take four-star petrol instead of five-star.
a limited edition of highly specified "VIP" 3500 models were made, but
production of all P6s came to an end in December that year; thus overlapping by
some six months with the production of the SD1.
important first of all to understand how a P6 is constructed. The outer skin
panels are all unstressed, being bolted to an inner "skeleton" or base unit, to
which the mechanical units are also attached.
Rust in the
base unit can be serious, and a lot of this rust simply isn´t visible until you
start stripping off the factory-applied underseal and prodding energetically
with a screwdriver.
problem areas are mostly in the middle of the car. Look for corrosion in the
box-section sills, but don´t be misled by the condition of the outer sill
panels, which are purely cosmetic bolt-on items. You´ll need to strip back the
carpets to get a look at the inside faces of the sills. Look also under the back
seat, where wells at the outer edges of the seat pan have often rotted through.
Check the wheelarches, at the rear of the front wheels and the front of the rear
wheels, then open the rear doors and check the lower D-posts. If there appears
to be no rust at all in these areas, go back and look again more carefully!
favourite base-unit corrosion spots are at the rear. Check the vertical sides of
the boot well, as the suspension trailing arms are bolted to them and can pull
through when rust weakens the metal. Check also up under the leading edges of
the rear wings, as inner-wing corrosion can be quite serious here.
skin panels are easy to replace and also readily available. Front wings rust
around the wheelarches, at their lower front and rear edges, and all along the
trailing edge ahead of the door. Rear wings rust all along their leading edges
(and bad rust here usually means inner-wing trouble, too), around the wheelarch
and at the back where they join the under-bumper valance panel. Doors go at
their bottom edges and the front and rear valance panels rot through eventually.
bootlid, fortunately, are made of Birmabright aluminium alloy and will not rust,
but you should watch out for paint flaking off the bonnet around the washer jets
and, on post-1970 models, around the badge.
after mid-1975 were sprayed in the new SD1 paint plant and suffer from paint
flaking all over, just like early SD1s.
Engines and Gearboxes
There are two
basic types of engine (four-cylinder and V8) and two basic types of gearbox
(four-speed synchromesh and three-speed automatic). These essential types
subdivide into 2-litre and 2.2-litre four-cylinders, each with single or twin
carburettors; into high-compression and low-compression V8s; into synchromesh
boxes with and without oil pumps; and into Borg Warner type 35 and type 65
four-cylinder engines are both overhead cam, the 2.2-litre being in effect an
overbored 2-litre. Both types are very robust, and mileages in excess of 100.000
are possible without major overhaul.
to watch for are water leaks from the side cover plates on the block; excessive
rattle from the timing chain (some rattle is usually present on start-up); and
out-of-balance carbs on a TC. Early TCs demanded five-star petrol and should
have been retimed to suit four-star. If not, beware of burned valves, or worse.
four-cylinders sound quite raucous from outside, but much more refined inside
Early V8s had
a rope-type rear main bearing seal which may leak and is a pain to replace.
Watch for excessive oil drips at the rear of the engine. Like TCs, early V8s
demanded five-star petrol and should have been retimed to accept four-star. All
V8s need regular oil changes if they are not to suffer from clogged hydraulic
tappets and worn camshafts: a lot of top end noise is the symptom here.
of V8s which overheat. The cause is often corrosion and silting-up of the
waterways: many owners ignore the fact that corrosion inhibitor or the right
sort of anti-freeze is needed in this alloy engine.
On the whole,
gearboxes don´t give trouble, although the type 65 automatic is slightly
smoother than the earlier type 35. On the 3500 S, however, an uprated version of
the 2000 manual box was used, fitted with an oil pump and shot-peened gears. It
was only just up to the V8´s torque, and worn examples are common.
No guide to
the P6 would be complete without some reference to its accursed inboard rear
disc brakes. They stop the car well when they´re working, but are so difficult
to work on that owners often skimp on servicing. Many garages might refuse to
deal with P6 rear brakes!
models had Dunlop disc brakes, for which service parts are hard to obtain. Later
cars had Girling units.
is characterised by a curious trackrod arrangement, in which the adjustable rod
runs across the bulkhead. Many garages have difficulty in setting the tracking,
and worn shoulders on the front tyres are therefore quite common.
suspension is another unusual piece of design, in which horizontal coil springs
operated by bell-crank levers transmit loadings to the bulkhead.
suspension is trouble-free except for the ball joint at the bottom of the
suspension leg, which wears. You´ll hear it "clonk" if it´s past its best.
At the rear,
there is a coil-sprung de Dion axle, and you should check the rubber gaiter on
the de Dion tube.
missing gaiters let grease out and road muck in, with the result that the
sliding joint below may seize. If it does, it has some interesting effects on
had leather seats and wood trim until the P6 arrived. The leather stayed to the
end, but the wood on a P6 (except on a very few of the first cars) was actually
upholstery was available from 1970 to 1972, and brushed nylon became optional in
1970. VIP models had velour seat facings.
interiors appear quite luxurious and, with some exceptions, all wear well. The
exceptions all date from the early seventies. The vinyl upholstery then
available can split and tear, but even the leather on 1972/73 cars tends to
shrink and tear.
One of the
really excellent features of P6 interior design was the round-dial instrument
panel used on some post-1970 cars. Switchgear was well ahead of the game in the
sixties and seventies, and is still a delight to use.
command more money than four-cylinders, and TC´s more than SC´s. Automatic
four-cylinders are generally cheapest of all. Post-1970 "facelift" cars tend to
fetch more money than earlier examples, which is a pity as there are fewer good
early cars around as a result.
for a rough four-cylinder P6 should be about £250, and £300 for a V8 in similar
condition. But do make sure you know what you´re doing before you buy at these
buys a good useable four-cylinder car, and a comparable V8 will fetch anything
from £1400 to £1800. A really good four-cylinder will be around of just under
£2000, and a really good V8 between £2200 and £2800. For the manual 3500 S, add
up to £400.
As for parts,
the P6 is well served by a number of specialists, and there really isn´t much
you can´t get. Shop around for the best prices!
Classics / UK July 1991