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Rover P5

Rover P5 Published: 25th May 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rover P5
Rover P5
Rover P5
Rover P5
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Rover’s P5 bore no ‘relation’ to its earlier models but was still the preferred choice of the establishment right up until 1980 says Andrew Roberts due to it’s unique hand-built character

Rover created its own traditions. It is a line that has been written many times, but it is one that does bear repetition. All of the great cars to be associated with the Viking badge – the P4, P5, P6, Range Rover and SD1 – either created an entirely new genre or helped a market sector. If in late 1958, you were a reasonably high powered type who was in search of a new car, the latest Rover 3-Litre saloon would have appeared so different to the established tropes of ‘luxury motoring’.

In place of a cabin that apparently set out to replicate a ‘gentlemans’ club’ circa 1936 there was an ergonomically designed instrument panel, as for the lines, they could best be described as solid but never stolid, for this was prestigious transport that reflected the forthcoming motorway age.

The P5 was devised as a replacement for the upper echelons of the P4 range, and it was the company’s first monocoque-bodied car. As the story goes, Rover’s original idea was to create a medium sized car that would pre-assembly have competed with the Singer SM1500, Wolseley 4/44 and the MG Magnette ZA. But such a project would have occupied more factory space than Solihull could afford to spare and there was the possibility that it would make low profits. The concept was therefore modified to create a new flagship model, and the body was the responsibility of David Bache, who joined the company in 1953. He also devised a four-door coupé, but the début of the latter would be delayed by several years. In terms of power, an early plan to employ an all-new V6 engine was rejected on the grounds of pre-decimal £sd, and so Rover modified the 2.6-litre unit found in the 1956 105R/105S.

The Rover 3-Litre was formally launched at the London Motor Show, and any visitor to Stand 161 at Earls Court would have been impressed by its sheer integrity – but it was almost not to be because the stuffy Auntie Rover’s big wigs thought Bache’s design was so alien (i.e. modern) to Rover that it wouldn’t sell to its similar straight-laced pillar of society customers.

Motor Sport was also slightly dubious about the styling – “The wrap-round windscreen and restyled front end depart in some ways from the Rover tradition” – but they also thought that ‘the new car should be a worthy addition to the range’. Under the bonnet was the new 2,995cc S6 engine, at the front was independent suspension and the option of Borg-Warner automatic transmission was another first for Rover. Inside, the cabin was replete with Bache’s careful detailing, from the adjustable armrests on the front doors and the aircraft-style air vents on the dashboard and instead of lavishing the cabin with walnut, there was the far more subtle application of cherry wood veneer.

Prestige and pomp

Of the new Rover’s potential rivals, the prospective driver of a P5 would have almost certainly respected the Mercedes- Benz 220 “Ponton” or the Slough-built Citroën DS but would have looked towards more conventual’s British marques. The Wolseley 6/90 and Riley Two Point Six were undeniably handsome – indeed, many regard their line as representing Gerald Palmer’s most accomplished work – but their engineering and ethos was redolent of an earlier era. The Vanden Plas bodied Princess IV appealed to a somewhat different form of buyer – the provincial owner of a chain of off-licences as opposed to a BOAC captain – while the Daimler Majestic and the Armstrong-Siddeley Star Sapphire were magnificent touring cars for the landed gentry. When Solihull altered direction with the P5 project, the new target was the Jaguar MkVII but 1958 also saw the début of the MkIX revamp. However, the Rover had no pretensions to being a sports saloon like the Jag with a top speed of 96mph and 0-60 in over 16 seconds.

Perhaps the one car that the potential P5 buyer might have considered would be the latest incarnation of the Humber Super Snipe, which also débuted in 1958. However, that was a carefully devised blend of quasi-American flamboyance with a ‘traditional’ interior while the 3-Litre was far more low-key in appeal. The Rover would have appealed to a forward-thinking architect engaged in converting bomb-sites into tower blocks but would have been unlikely to find favour with the young Arthur Daley.

Rover constantly, and logically updated the 3-Litre, fitting power-assisted front disc brakes from autumn 1959 onwards – a development much welcomed by P5 drivers – and three years later the face lifted MkIA offered “Hydrosteer” PAS as an optional extra for £78 15s.

The rear engine mountings were also re-positioned in a bid to eliminate a common ‘shake’. In 1961 £1948 3s 3d for a MkIA Automatic was a considerable sum of money but as a graciously appointed mobile living room that could convey a quartet of barristers along the M1 the Rover had few peers. As Autocar put it, “The outstanding characteristics of the 3-litre are its comfort and spaciousness, and the silence of running almost regardless of speed”.

The following year the MkII boasted an enhanced power output and, at last, the Coupé with its distinctive lowered roofline. Power steering and a tachometer was standard equipment and regarding its British-built alternatives, circa late 1962, only the splendid if brash Jaguar MkX comes to mind. However, that was a more substantial and proudly ostentatious machine.

The Browns Lane car belonged to a world of nightclubs and possibly evading a police 6/99 along the North Circular while the Rover managed the difficult achievement of looking simultaneously dynamic yet ultra-respectable.

In October 1965 the Saloon and the Coupé were upgraded as the MkIII to signify an even more luxurious interior. Although the latest incarnation of the P5 would be unlikely to appeal to the driver of a new Ford Zodiac Executive with its “Twilight of The Teddy Boy” lines, it did appeal to motorists who might have otherwise looked at the Vanden Plas Princess 4-Litre R or the Humber Imperial. ‘Quality is ingrained, not superficial’, stated Motor in early 1966 and this was a tradition that the Rover had maintained for the previous seven years.

The MkIII was vital in sustaining the P5’s profile while Rover was planning a new engine. As the 1960s progressed, it was increasingly evident that the 3-Litre’s plant would have to be replaced and after rejecting thoughts of a six, and even five, version of the P6’s unit were abandoned, the solution was an ex-General Motors 3.5-litre V8. In September 1967 the 3-Litre was succeeded by the P5B, a Rover that would forever be associated with Downing Street and Roger Moore’s best of all film The Man Who Haunted Himself.

Loved by Parliament members, including Mrs T (who actually owned an MGB GT) for its understated dignity with decorum – something a Jag could never display – the P5B ceased production in June 1973 but the Government still relied on them up until 1980. For too many years its high profile successor overshadowed its six-cylinder predecessor but in my not-at-all biased view, the 3-Litre is one of the great post-war British cars, as it is one of a select group of mass-produced vehicles that conveyed the air of being hand built.

Perhaps the most elegant and most eloquent summary of the Rover 3-Litre’s immense appeal came late in the day in a November 1964 road test report from the weekly Autocar: There are, however, a few manufacturers of production cars who manage to perpetuate on the production line much of the refinement, luxury and attention to detail that were once the exclusive right of the coachbuilders.

The Rover company is one of these; and in the 3-litre saloon they have achieved in a quantity-produced car a degree of finish, comfort and silence of which even the one-off craftsmen would have been proud.

And I could hardly have expressed it better myself.


Remember when…1962

It was when Auntie Rover showed off her swinging 60’s look with the Coupé. Here’s some more of that year’s highlights

The World held its breath that October, when the USA and USSR squared up to each other, after pictures from the new frontier of space revealed Soviet missiles based on Cuba pointing You Know Where. John F Kennedy wasn’t the first to blink, thankfully…

Small-time thief James Hanratty was hanged for his ‘involvement’ in the infamous A6 murder case, for which even now sceptics believe he was innocent, especially when a main suspect confessed later on! Hanratty has still yet to be cleared, however.

The biggest thing on the ‘box’ was That Was The Week That Was (TW3) which introduced satire to our nation, changing the way that the usual easygoing British public believed all what the authority told them. An angry young David Frost was the front man, latterly Sir David…

In the charts, the Rock and Roll 50s were being replaced by the likes of Ray Charles, Bobby Davrin, Joe Brown (and ‘The Bruvvers’), and four mop tops from Liverpool who had their first chart success with ‘Love Me Do’. Whatever became of them?

Average pay was £800 with a typical house priced at £2670. The New Austin 1100 cost just under £600 while a daily pinta was 6.5pence – a pint of the harder stuff less than 12p! David and Susan were the most popular baby names; Marilyn Monroe dies at 32.




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