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Rover P5

Rover P5 Published: 11th Feb 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: P5B Coupé
  • Worst model: Anything rusty
  • Budget buy: 3 Litre saloon
  • OK for unleaded?: No, needs converting
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): (mm) L4740 x W1780
  • Spares situation: Mechanically ok, body fair
  • DIY ease?: No problems here
  • Club support: Pretty good
  • Appreciating asset?: P5B gaining a following
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A regal rival to any classic Jaguar of the same era
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Understated, underrated quietly impressive prestigious saloon that’s as good as a Jaguar Mk2 in many respects and as handsome – yet handsomely cheaper to buy and run

Anyone who has seen the 1970 film The Man Who Haunted Himself may recall a straight laced, bowler hatted Roger Moore (in what he rated as one of his favourite films-ed) driving an equally stiff upper lipped Rover P5 saloon while his more flamboyant alter ego enjoyed himself in no less than a Lamborghini Islero 400 S.

Dignity and decorum were Rover watchwords and the P5 epitomised what the carmaker stood for even in the modernistic 1970s, deemed good enough for Queens, mothers of Queens and Prime Ministers (Maggie Thatcher, Ted Heath, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan et al), all liking this sober suited saloon. So much so that when the P5 was pensioned off in 1973 (Rover never really replaced it with the SD1) special Governmental cars were kept in service right up until 1980.

This majestic Rover remains to be one of the best kept classic car secrets and let’s face it – if the P5 is good enough for Royalty and heads of state then it should still be good enough for us!


1958 The P5 is Rover’s first all monocoque construction although still using quirky IOE (part side valve inlet over exhaust) 115bhp 3-litre straight-six taken from the P4, enlarged to 2995cc.

1961 For 1960 front discs with a servo (thankfully) became standard. In July ’61, the MkIA ushered in minor trim changes such as quarter light vents and stainless steel wheel trims. Mechanically, improvements to the engine mounts and optional automatic transmission were order of the day.

1962 MkIIA surfaced with a Weslake-designed cylinder head for 121bhp. Also, the suspension was lowered – but the big news was the new Coupé, a sleeker styled saloon.

1963 Changes were slight for the MkIIB; the Coupé was unchanged but the saloon’s steering ratio was revised to make it lighter.

1964/5 MkIIC saw standard power steering and two-speed wipers, while the MkIII of September ’65 featured a mild facelift; chromed side strips, better seats and trim and improved heating with separate heating controls. Mechanically, a power increase to 134bhp was marshalled by a new Borg Warner automatic gearbox.

1967 Biggest change since launch was the P5b automatic with the now legendary Buick V8, with another 27bhp, plus considerable extra torque and much lighter weight, it gave Jag 420 performance. Apart from the engine visual improvements such as Rostyle wheels, side indicators and recessed front fog lights saw the light of day.

1968 Gearing revised (with yellow-coloured change-up points on the speedo) and improved rear seat room plus inertia reel belts for ’72 before the range was discontinued a year later after almost 70,000 sales, with some not registered until 1975.

Driving and press comments

The 3 Litre saloons are stately cars and respond best to appropriate driving styles. Wafting is their preferred mode and this they do arguably better than the P5B hot rod. Thanks to the lower centre of gravity and a fat 2cwt weight reduction the 3.5-litre is the enthusiast’s choice. Motor clocked its test car at a whisker under 120mph and hit 60mph in 9.5 seconds – although the auto ’box had to be worked like a manual to achieve this TR6-like performance. Both engines provide excellent cruising – the quietest being the 3 Litre that not only trumps the V8 but is also said by P5 aficionados to be as creamy as any Rolls.

Comfort levels – as would be expected of a car chosen by monarchs and ministers – are of a very high order thanks to good seats and a mellow ride.

The press chiefly agreed. 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”. Autocar concurred, “The outstanding characteristics of the 3-litre are its comfort and spaciousness, and the silence of running almost regardless of speed”.

“Power with pomp” is how Motor headlined the P5b in 1967, the testers loving the P5’s new found pace observing that those who regarded the Rover as “the finest London club on four wheels will now have to accept it as being the fastest as well”.

Values and specialist view

When it comes to picking a P5, there’s four options; P5 Saloon, P5 Coupé, P5b Saloon and P5b Coupé although, according to the official P5 owners’ club, it’s the 3.5 Litre that’s the most popular accounting for 80 per cent of members. The club adds that the number on its books runs into four figures but obviously, not all are on the road and in terms of condition too many alas remain in a sorry state of affairs.

Everybody it seems wants the P5b Coupé and we can’t blame them but condition counts the most even though the earliest cars from 1958-61 aren’t the nicest because of their drum brakes and lack of power steering as well as speed. Opt for a later 3 Litre, and preferably a Westlake-headed one, because the car also gained a lower suspension.

Decent P5s start at around £5000, while the top 3.5 Litre Coupés fetch in the region of £12,000- £16,000 with really nice ones nudging the £20K barrier; saloons are valued at some £3000 lower, as are all 3 Litre models. The days of true bargain buys are almost over but when you consider how much equivalent Jaguars regularly sell for, P5s still represent exceptional value.

According to major spare parts supplier J.R. Wadhams (, keeping this Rover’s nose cold is not a problem as it can supply the majority of mechanical parts needed, the only main exception being bearing shells for the straight six engines. The West Midlands outfit makes new sills, valances, chassis components, and part repair wing panels (plus made to order fibreglass rear wings) but says you do find NOS – New Old Stock – occasionally crop up on Ebay.

Apart from some Governmental and armed forces cars which may even wear T registrations (1979), all P5s are tax-exempt and classic car insurance quotes will also prove reasonable.

P5 owner Eddie Halling says, “These cars are the last of the stately Rovers. One of the most appealing things about it is that this was the last luxury car to be largely hand-made in Solihull,” and adds “If you’re aiming to buy one of these cars but you’re worried, there’s bound to be somebody within the club who can help you with a pre-purchase inspection.”


Letting this Rover off its leash isn’t the done thing old boy but what a classic Q Car it makes. As this V8 started life in the P5 as a 3.5-litre delivering a quoted 160bhp and finally was pensioned off by Rover as a monster 200bhp 4.2 – with even more power coaxed out of it by TVR and Morgan – so choosing how fast you wish to go is easy. However, given that all V8s are autos it’s best to refrain from hairy camshafts and the like as it will alter the torque curve and thus hinder the transmission.

The best route is to opt for a 3.9, 4.2 or 4.6 engine coupled to a later four-speed ZF auto which originate from Sherpa vans and ambulances plus some Volvos and the reason they are preferred over the usual SD1 ’box is because they use a mechanically driven speedometer (the club has details). Or you can fit the LT77 five-speed manual.

All benefit with routine upgrades such as a new radiator, electronic ignition and so on but even if you are not a press-on type, if there’s one area where all could do with a touch of tweaking then it’s the inherently soft suspension that’s probably far worse now due to inevitable age and wear.

Positives of p5 ownership

Engines are ohv with the V8’s tappets hydraulically set, in contrast the straight six’s unusual ‘semi sidevalve’ design makes adjustment tricky and a main reason why so many don’t run as well as they might. There’s a lot of shared bits between the P4, P5 and early Land Rovers, which means there is a strong supply of new and second-hand parts. First ports of call are The Rover P5 Club (www. and Rover Good specialists to lend a helping hand include J.R. Wadhams, Ely Services, Roverpart RPI (Norfolk) and David Green.

Rover rot spots

A P5 will cost as much as a Jaguar Mk2 to restore but without the financial rewards so be picky when buying as many have been bodged due to their lowly values – has recent shiny respray been carried out, for instance? One way to ascertain on the P5B coupé is to see if the pin stripping on the roof has been redone – which should contrast with the one on the body flanks.

Although the P5 is of unitary construction, there are stout chassis legs that sprout from the sills and rot out but it’s probably sturdier than a Jag. Check the A-posts, outer rear wheelarches, jacking points and base of each D-post. Significant corrosion in this latter area will require removal of the rear wing, which is where costs will rack up. The sills are three-piece affairs – the outers cost around £150 and are easy to inspect, but the inner require crawling underneath. Other worrisome areas are the floors (naturally) and the bulkheads – check for rot and repairs around the screens, the car’s ‘snout’, battery tray, front nand rear valances and all inner wings.

Suspension points are another cause for concern; check the chassis legs and the rear suspension spring pick-up points (JR Wadhams can supply most of these parts). The front subframe is unlikely to give any major problems, but beware of corrosion around the torsion bar mounts and previous repairs or accident damage. Taking on basket case shouldn’t be taken on lightly as a P5 will fight you all the way.

Smooth six or a great eight?

Parts supplies for the V8 is no problem but the IOE ‘six’ are more difficult although P4 and Land Rovers can provide a source. Bores, valves and their guides and camshaft are main wear points but a low oil pressure isn’t unusual and it’s an inexpensive unit to recon or buy used (£500).

A poorly maintained, V8 eats its camshafts and rocker shafts and gummed up oil ways further lead to sticking hydraulic tappets and they can be rattly when cold but that’s normal. Heads and their gaskets can fail (possibly due to corroded waterways due to spent anti-freeze) and exhaust manifolds, together with their gaskets, are well documented in-service failures.
Is it still the original engine or has a later one been substituted? This is no bad thing although it’s said that the 3.9 is the safest swap as the other pair can suffer from cracking and porous blocks.

Has rover had a dog’s life?

As it’s a big beast, the P5’s suspension may be worn. Check for no listing suggesting tired or even broken springs. The front torsion bars wear giving the wheels an exaggerated splayed out look and the car will as a result drive oddly. Similarly, the steering, with all those links, ball joints and bushes was always a bit sloppy from the showroom. If the tiller feels tight it points to someone adjusting the steering box to compensate. The PAS is a known leaker. The P5 started off with drum brakes all round. Apart from normal deterioration and lack of servicing, it’s not an area to be duly concerned over although the original Girling servo is best replaced with the later Lockheed model when the need arises.

Most P5s are autos, a lazy old thing so expect a leisurely cog swapping but it shouldn’t jerk or miss ratios. Check fluid state, does it smell burnt?

A pair of P5s profiled

Phil Hobin is reluctantly selling his immaculate P5b Coupé due to health problems. He’s asking £22,000 which may seem a lot but he claims to have spent £35,000 over the 15 years of ownership.

“I owned a P5b coupé back in the 1980s, but unfortunately when petrol prices went up and up, being my only means of transport it wasn’t economical to keep the car. Fast forward to 2005, I had a motorcycle accident and whilst recovering I had time to think about what I would do with my spare time after now giving up bikes.

“So after looking on the internet I discovered a set of P5b panels in excellent condition. Having missed the comfort and sound of my old car, I decided to purchase them, then went looking for a P5b that needed the panel’s replacing. After buying a car that was in mechanically sound condition, but needed attention to the bodywork, I now had a hobby!

“Discovering that the car wasn’t that mechanically sound, the engine, gearbox and torque converter was taken out and rebuilt, also the steering box was overhauled. Then the car was rebuilt with the new panels and resprayed. The interior was recovered and also had new carpets fitted. I also had the car converted to LPG”.

Guy Muller owns the last factory build car and says his love affair with Rovers – and the P5b in particular – started at a very young age. “My dad always had a Rover of one sort or another, as our main family car as I grew up…and I can remember them all very well…
“My earliest clear memory of one though, is of kneeling up on the rear seat squab – behind my dad – as he drove his then two year-old Grey P5b Coupé at a VERY ‘naughty’ speed in about 1973…the roar of the V8 engine and the sight of the needle hovering just about as far around the large speedo as it could possibly go – along with the beautiful, shiny viking badge in the centre of the horn ring and the long, centre-line down the middle of the bonnet, have stayed firmly etched in my mind ever since!”

Guy saw this very late Grey ‘M-Reg’ car advertised by a gentleman in County Clare, Ireland and he studied the photos closely before organising a flight to Shannon the next day, to have a proper look.

“Although based in Ireland, it was originally a UK registered car and being an M-Reg, I knew it was going to be a very late one – however, to my surprise, it turned out to be the 12th from last one built and the latest known surviving ‘line-build’ car that was originally ordered by P&O, for its Director of Finance, where it remained in use with him until 1976 when it was sold and bought by the gentleman in Ireland, for export”.

After 44 years of faithful service, the car needed plenty of work doing cosmetically, says Guy, but was 100 per cent solid and original in all the usual susceptible places, having been Ziebart undersealed when new.

Once back in Blighty, Guy carried out a part rebuild and respray that was finished last summer. Stop at a petrol-pump and someone will chat… stop at traffic-lights and someone will turn and give you the thumbs-up. It’s great and genuinely feels like you’re driving some sort of national treasure, like how the pilot of a Spitfire or Lancaster must have felt.

People just love to see a P5 “far more so in fact, than my 1938 Rover 12!,” says Guy who is a member of both the Rover P5 Owners Club and the Rover Sports Register who Guy says are both great clubs offering excellent advice to prospective owners. Specialist David Green, in Bury St Edmunds is Guy’s usual go-to man for used (and certain new or reproduced) spares which aren’t too difficult to obtain, he further enthuses.

Three Of A Kind

Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar S-Type
A fairer comparison to the P5 is the Mk2 spin-off S-type that’s roomier and better riding thanks to the MkX suspension which also gives it a handling advantage. Even better, but strangely overlooked, are the later 420/Daimler Sovereigns boasting the 4.2-litre XK unit, a far superior front suspension, brakes and steering yet are cheaper than S-types.
Humber Hawk/Snipe
Humber Hawk/Snipe
Even statelier than the Rover are these unfairly overlooked Humber saloons launched a year before the P5 and easily on par. Hawks rely on four-cylinders, Snipes and flagship Imperial have smoother six pots but all rely on an antiquated threespeed transmission. Old hat to drive but fine value all the same the best models come post 1963.
Vauxhall PC Series Cresta & Viscount
Vauxhall PC Series Cresta & Viscount
Almost as prestigious are the strain of Vauxhall’s Cresta range which for the PC included the Viscount, packed with more standard kit than either the Rover or Jag. No inferior to drive than the P5, the Vauxhall offers more room as well as metal for your money – bank on at least half the price of an equivalent P5 although spares and trim can be a big problem.
Classic Motoring

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