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Rover P5

Rover P5 Published: 31st Jul 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rover P5
Rover P5
Rover P5
Rover P5
Rover P5
Rover P5
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P5 is as good as any Mk2 or S type and is a lot cheaper to buy and run...


Most enthusiasts will rattle off the usual candidates, but what about the Rover P5, a car so good and daring that a scared Rover almost binned it back in the late 1950s?


David Bache, who went on to design the P6 saloons and the Range Rover, came up with something so good that the stuff-shirted Rover big wigs thought it was too good for this staid old Rover company – and told him so in no uncertain terms!


The P5 was the first true modern Rover and was deemed good enough for Queens, mothers of Queens and our Prime Ministers (Maggie Thatcher, Ted Heath, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan), because it was liked for its dignity and decorum that a Jaguar simply couldn’t offer – and nor could Rover with its SD1 replacement! In fact, when the P5 was pensioned off in 1973, Governmental cars were kept in service right up until 1980.


Many think so plus it’s a great answer for those who want something larger and roomier than a Mk2 or S-type but don’t want a lorry-like MkX! Okay, so the P5 had to make do with an ancient and quirky six-cylinder engine that was part sidevalve, but the rest of the car was well up to Jaguar standards. There was a standard fourspeed gearbox with the option of an overdrive or a three-speed automatic transmission. Brakes were drums all round with servo assistance initially, but this was uprated to front disc affairs soon afterwards – thankfully – and, of course, Rover went on to fit its iconic V8 in 1967 to turn the staid P5 into a real hot rod!


What the press said at the time still rings true today. Motor magazine summed up the old 3-litre perfectly: “For less than half the price, you can buy a great deal more performance elsewhere. But for twice as much, it’s hard to think of where you can get that much more refinement”.

Rover identified the four-door coupé market (that’s recently been revisited and revived by Mercedes-Benz with the CLS, BMW with the 5 Series GT and Audi with the A5 Sportback) decades before anybody else. The new Brit looked fantastic yet retained most of the practicality of the saloon.


In a word, stately! These lovely old dignitaries aren’t for belting around in like a Jag plus in many ways remind you of a Roller where you opt for a more relaxing time behind the wheel. And you have to because the 3 Litre takes some 15 seconds to stroll to 60mph, although the P5b is a much faster 10 second dash. Bear in mind that while manual and overdrive were available, the vast majority of P5s were specified as automatics. Comfy cruising is what the P5 was made for and refinement is not far short of a Rolls-Royce, more so on earlier cars because the ‘six’ is notably smoother and silkier than that swifter V8.


Then you’ll need the P5b, the letter signifying Buick – the originator of the newly added V8 engine that Rover purchased a few years earlier and was to serve the company as well as countless specialists and kit car builders right up to this day. At 160bhp, it gave the P5 enough pace to keep station with a Jaguar 420. “Power with pomp” is how Motor described the 3.5b Coupé and it’s still an apt description. That said, don’t dismiss the older models too readilly. When Rover fitted a Weslake cylinder head to increase the six’s power to 129bhp, it gave the 3.0-litre engine pretty fair performance while still retaining a silky smoothness that not only trumped the V8 but was also said to have been as creamy as a Rolls!


Why do you think heads of state and dignitaries stayed faithful to the old Rover, then? That sumptuous wood and leather clad interior was as classy and also a good deal roomier than a Jaguar in the rear (the XJ6 only became acceptable when the longer wheelbase option was offered-ed) and was comfortable enough, if not up to XJ6 levels. But the Rover seems better built and sturdier than a Jag and, as we said earlier, more tasteful and not as flash. P5s are common sights at classic car shows, usually being two-toned P5bs sitting on gleaming white walled tyres fitted to polished-to-the-nines chromed Rostyle wheels. And don’t they look lovely!


Ah yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head; because there are a lot of old nails out there poorly repaired due to the car’s relatively low values when compared to a Jaguar. And boy, can these old Rovers rust! Check everywhere, especially the structure; floors, bulkheads, scuttles, A posts rear arches inner wings (especially the front where it meets the sills), chassis legs sills floor and suspension mounts and so on before you even start to consider the cosmetics!


Supply isn’t bad but it’s not as good as a Jag and that goes for specialist support although owners’ clubs can get most of what you need. It’s the same story for trim.


In the main yes, and only the normal needs to be checked. That straight six goes on and on plus if it runs badly it could simply be due to the tappets needing resetting properly as this type of engine design differs from the norm. The V8 is known to suffer from cracked exhaust manifolds, head gaskets and camshaft wear, the latter down to irregular oil changes which also gum up the hydraulic tappets. It’s a heavy car, the P5, so the suspension may be worn – ditto the steering with all its links, ball joints and bushes – although that big round black Bakelite wheel inside was always a bit sloppy. The torsion bars wear giving the wheels an exaggerated splayed out look and the car will drive funny.


Everybody seemingly wants the P5b and we can’t blame them but condition counts the most. Having said that, the earliest cars from 1958-61 aren’t the nicest because of their drum brakes, lack of power steering as well as speed. Opt for a later 3 Litre model, and preferably a Westlake-headed one if you can, because the car also gained a lower suspension. For 1964, power steering was standardised while post August ’65 saw the seats made more contoured and a better heater fitted. The P5b came along two years later.


P5s offer a lot of metal for the money – perhaps 50 per cent cheaper than a Jaguar S-type and thus are a pittance when compared to a Mk2. Even the best examples struggle to break the £10,000 barrier unless they are indeed something special while projects start from less than £1000.


The P5 has been popular with the custom fraternity for decades – don’t spoil yours! Under the bonnet it’s a Viking badge hints at Rover’s golden era different matter; that V8 is very tunable and up to 4.6-litres from a Range Rover block is a feasible fit and we’ve no doubt that the SD1 fivespeed gearbox can be grafted on.

Watch it as big block V8s (4.2 and 4.6 mainly) suffer from porous and cracking blocks. A new (short) engine is the best part of £2500 – try Turner Engineering (01342 834713). Suspensions can be beefed up and we understand that Jensen Interceptor or Morgan Plus 8 wheels can fit. What’s not to like about a P5?

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