A most English car
It´s at least
20 years since the last new Rover P6B burbled out the dealer´s doors and joined
the streams of cars on our roads. During that time the technology of the motor
car has changed immensely and it takes a good car to hold its own amongst the
modern cars of these very last years of the 20th century.
But it´s been a
sunny Sunday afternoon in Greenhithe, north of Auckland, and I´ve just been
driving a couple of cars that can still easily foot it on our highways.
Kelly Archer is
a boat builder with a lifelong passion for perfection and consequently for these
great Rovers. He´s has several good ones, but the two he has currently are prime
examples of one of my favourite cars.
It was like
revisiting an old friend. The great advantage too was that this time I could
drive an auto like the ones I used to own and then drive a manual edition, both
in excellent condition. They were quite different cars.
Kelly has owned
the almond-coloured automatic 1974 car for about 15 years and it is his daily
work car, so you can believe it when he mentions that this car has now completed
300.000 ks – not unusual with this cars incidentally.
was tourist delivered in England and then used for about six months in Europe
before being brought back to NZ. The white 3500 S car was bought with overseas
funds and delivered to its owner in Napier in 1973. Kelly bought it in 1988. The
mileage on the 3500 S is still only 120K and it shows up in the way everything
handles and feels – especially the manual box which is by far the nicest one
I´ve ever used in one of these cars. In fact it was a delight by any standards.
Not strong enough
didn´t come into use until 1971 and they were derived from the four-cylinder
box, which is the reason why they´re a bit on the edge if abused or misused –
not quite strong enough.
Both cars are
strictly bog standard in every feature. Although Malcolm Clarke of Bygone Autos
does the servicing and has several very interesting tricks that transform these
P6Bs, he hasn´t yet been able to persuade Kelly to carry out the mods.
These mods can
be very rewarding. They involve changes to the suspension, and you can go
further, changing the twin SUs to a downdraught Weber and even a Japanese
It took Kelly
five years to find the 3500 S, and then he stripped it down to paint and
rustproof. He also managed to find a touring kit, including boot lid, which he
installed. The touring kit enables you to put the spare wheel on the boot thus
making the boot a lot more useable. Touring pack installation can be done in 30
secs. But the spare wheel is a bit prominent on the boot lid and does obscure
your vision directly out of the rear window.
Both cars are
immaculate inside and out although the auto is due for a repaint, says Kelly,
and that´s on the agenda when he´s worked up the energy to carry out the
preparation – don´t you hate rubbing down? It´s a lot of trouble persuading
teenagers to do it, even for money, the lazy bs. Bring back the knout!
Both cars are
Mk IIs and have the later box-pleated seats in the very high quality vinyl in
the auto and cloth in the manual. The seats can be raised and lowered with
packers between the runners and the floor.
seated you can actually feel yourself to be quite high up. I get the feeling if
innate superiority that is expected of a Rover owner – enough even to make me
vote coalition possibly. You can also adapt your stance with the adjustable
steering column and the seat back which can be rake modified easily. Seating is
extremely comfortable – even on a long run – and gives an excellent feeling of
is really very well placed and there´s everything that you need at a glance.
From the right – the fuel and temp in one gauge then the speedo, the rev counter
and the amp and oil again in the one gauge, and then the clock. Below them on a
new panel is the fog lighter, the two light switches for the interior and the
outside lights. Then there´s the wiper switch – slow and fast – and the hazard
lights button and heated rear window button. Night lighting is restfully tinted
and superbly clear and adjustable.
failing is the cabin room which is strictly four seater, and if you´ve got a
tall driver, the rear passenger will feel pinched from the knees down.
A safety capsule
sloped and padded glove box lid in front of the driver and passenger – in front
of their knees actually – one of the reasons that the P6B has always been rated
as one of the world´s safest cars. Seatbelts were always standard too.
Both the auto
and manual sticks are perfectly positioned for rather portly motoring writers –
such as Allan Walton or Greg H.
steering is excellent and once you´ve had it you wouldn´t be without it. A well
set-up P6B is a secure-feeling handler, with some initial understeer, although
if the suspension is aged and sloppy the body roll can turn quickly into
David Bache was
given his head in designing the P6 which was to replace the P4. The original P5
idea of a base unit (which never eventuated) was revisited when the design team
were brainstorming their way through things.
The P6 was
conceived as a high-speed light weight, with advanced specs. Remember that it
was originally conceived as possibly a turbine engine user and certainly as an
employer of the new Rover 1978 cc ohc motor.
By the time it
was launched in 1963, the turbine had been axed and the only available motor was
the four-cylinder ohc unit. Everybody thought it a wonderful car with an
excellent motor (which the four ohc is) but they´d like more power thank you, so
then came the period of dithering when Rover tried to extend the unit by two
more pots – too long for the engine bay, so what about five cylinders? Balance
was a problem of course and Audi didn´t solve that for another few years.
When it was
found that GM no longer needed the alloy V8 – casting iron blocks was now a lot
cheaper and compacts such as the Buicks and Pontiacs were not selling so well –
Rover made one of their best-ever decisions and snapped it up.
At last a
reasonably priced English saloon with lots of power and that lovely burbling
sound that America was used to.
With both the
2200 and the V8, Rover had winners in the P6 design, and don´t forget that
simultaneously the Land Rover was just as important in generating business for
Solihull – where Rover made Rovers.
I don´t always
comment on driving cars, but I need to with these two, because there´s something
a bit different about them. In a word it´s “refinement”.
I´ve driven a
number of the Rover P6Bs and I´ve owned a couple. As soon I got into the auto
version I found myself dropping straight back into the standard Rover P6B mode –
laid back and easy enjoyment heightened by the power steer, smooth auto and the
silently powerful sensation of a stressfree V8 doing its job.
But in the
manual version half an hour later I found that the very markedly more lively
performance of the V8, freed from the auto, and instead directed ny an excellent
gearshift, made me much more purposeful in my driving.
Contrary to my
previous experiences this manual shift was outstandingly efficient; it clicked
quickly, cleanly and readily from gear to gear and showed me that when one of
these boxes doesn´t do this there´s something wrong with it.
The auto is
calming and the manual is exciting. One is a soporific and one is a stimulant.
This is why
Kelly has both of them. There´s a time and a need for each. Long-distance
touring and/or towing with an auto is very relaxing. Going somewhere in a hurry
is very energising in a manual.
would have the suspension modified in the 3500 S to turn it into a very sporty
car. If there´s another nice one out there at a sensible price let me know. I´m
in lust again.