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Rover P5

Rover P5 Published: 13th Apr 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rover P5
Rover P5
Rover P5
Rover P5
Rover P5
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WHY NOT OWN A...? ROVER P5

A car deemed good enough for Royalty and heads of state, from Wilson to Thatcher, the ‘conservative’ Rover P5 makes a great alternative to a brasher Jag Mk2 or S-Type, offering similar standards of luxury, style and pace in – dare we say – a more dignified manner.

This majestic Rover has to be one of the best kept secrets in the classic market, the ideal transport for the classic enthusiast who wants low priced, lazy luxury. The P5 nearly led to a riot when it was signed-off at Solihull because Rover’s big wigs thought it was too good for such a staid straightlaced company to make! Thankfully, they put modesty aside and relented…

MODEL CHOICE

The P5 enjoyed an impressive production run of 15 years and was so well liked by ‘the establishment’ that a batch of the last ones produced was specifically kept for Government and military use right up to the early 1980s – no badly built SD1 or XJ6 for them!

Apart from the addition of a coupé four-door body style and the adoption of the Buick-based V8 in 1967, where the car acted as a test bed for this great engine, changes to the range were moderate, majoring on refining the basic design such as introducing disc brakes (1960), more power and a lowered suspension in time for the Coupé body option (1962), standard power steering three years later and that V8 powerhouse for 1967.

The 3 Litre P5 was Rover’s first unitary construction model and was fitted with independent torsion-bar front suspension with traditional leaf springs at the rear. There was a standard four-speed gearbox with the option of an overdrive or a three-speed automatic transmission. The first range was the most prolific, with nearly 21,000 built, a fair few of which survive.

In September 1961, an interim version, the Mk1A was announced with added quarter lights, new wheel trims and some improvements to engine mounts and the automatic transmission. Way ahead of its time, Rover identified a four-door Coupé market that’s now occupied by Mercedes-Benz’s CLS, BMW with the 5 Series GT and Audi with its A5 Sportback. A rather contentious car that was launched a year before the even more radical P6 surfaced, the Coupé marked the company distancing itself from its bowler hat image that was associated with ‘Auntie Rover’ as the company was then fondly known.

Trim changes were frequent rather than major. Picnic tables were fitted early on as the interior gained more wood detailing and luxury touches.

For 1965 there was a mild facelift with new chromed side strips, better seats and interior trim as well as separate heating controls front and rear. The real step forward came in 1967. Apart from the engine there were visual improvements such as Rostyle wheels, side indicators and recessed front fog lights. That was about it, save for modified front seats to add a welcome touch of more legroom in the back (1968) and slight instrument dial changes in 1972.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

Let’s get the performance side of things out of the way first because most interest lies in the 3.5 Litre P5b care of its smooth and spirited V8. Road tests at the time quoted a 0-60mph sprint in comfortably under 11 seconds, which meant that this sober suited Rover could keep pace with a flashy 3.4 Mk2 even though it was stifled by the none-too-sporty auto ’box. Granted it had to be used like a manual to achieve this time, otherwise it took a more leisurely 12-14sec in auto modes but it still matched an S-type or later 420.

The American-engined P5 is in a different league to the earlier statelier 3-Litre although the Westlaked-tuned models are considerably the perkier (0-60mph 15.8 seconds). On the other hand, driven normally, the straight six engine is much more refined than the V8 and if you’re not a speed freak a nice 3 Litre saloon will suit you fine. Both provide excellent subdued cruising qualities – especially the 3 Litre when equipped with a manual gearbox and overdrive, that’s providing door and window rubbers are doing their job properly to quell wind noise (alas most aren’t).
Wafting best describes how you pilot one cross country otherwise the resulting lurching and rolling is most unseemly for such regal a vehicle, so on this score the Jaguars are more satisfying and speedier. Perhaps we should also add safer because the P5b was particularly slated for being too light and ‘floaty’ at very high speeds, due, it was felt, as a result of the front suspension not being adequately retuned to accept the 200lb lighter and 32 per cent faster V8 unit.

Comfort levels – as would be expected of a car chosen by monarchs and ministers – is of a high order and with power steering and a lazy auto, this Rover practically drives itself.

It really depends upon how you want to drive this classic. For the majority we’d agree with the P5 club and say that a 3.5 Litre ticks the most boxes, not so much for its added poke, but for the extra style that came with the V8, nicely set off by the clever adoption of racy-looking Ro-style wheels that you usually found on more common Cortina 1600Es.

WHAT TO PAY

When it comes to choosing, there are four options, the 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 its members; the club says that there’s over 2000 cars on its books but obviously, not all are on the road and in terms of condition too many remain in a sorry state.

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 over but when you consider how much equivalent Jaguars regularly sell for, P5s still represent exceptional value for money.

MAKING ONE BETTER

Even if you are not a press-on type of driver, if there’s one area where all P5s could do with a touch of tweaking then it’s the inherently soft suspension that’s probably much worse now due to age and wear.

Don’t go mad, just rebushing where necessary and perhaps some adjustable dampers so you can fine tune the ride/handling balance to your tastes will suffice. Apart from, better brake pads, say fitting EBC’s Greenstuff ones for a better feel, they should also be enough if that potent V8 is left alone. Speaking of which… 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 200bhp 4.2 – with even more power coaxed out of it by Mssrs TVR and Morgan! So as you can appreciate, it all depends on how fast you want your old Auntie to go – one member of the P5 owners’ club has a P5b 220bhp Coupé!

AS A DAILY DRIVER

Apart from some Governmental and armed forces cars which may wear T registrations (1979), all P5s will be tax-exempt and classic car insurance prices will also prove very reasonable. Despite the current cheapness of petrol right now (it won’t last…), the only aspect that could stop either P5 being a delightful daily driver is their fuel economy, which at best will struggle into the low twenties; Motor’s test of the P5b saw 17-19mpg at best.

One solution on the P5b is to fit a four-speed ZF automatic transmission where the added ratio really improves both performance and cruising. They originate from Sherpa vans and ambulances plus some Volvos and the reason they are preferred is because they use a mechanically driven speedometer (club has details).

This Rover is as capable as any Jaguar and is a lot roomier in the rear with a bigger boot, too. The comfort and refinement is up to Browns Lane standards and the Rover definitely boasted better heaters… As most will come as an auto and with power steering, town driving is a doddle and while the R5 was considered a big car in its day, it’s now smaller than a Mondeo. “Power with pomp” is how Motor aptly described the P5b. Agreed!

MAINTENANCE MATTERS

Like Jags there’s a full toolkit (is it still intact?) but the P5 driver doesn’t need to empty the boot to get at it, simply slides out the dash-located tray. As all engines are low-tech, a P5 is the simpler car to maintain than a Jag because there’s no overhead camshaft shims to worry over and the V8’s tappets are hydraulically set although the straight six’s unusual ‘semi sidevalve’ design makes adjusting them tricky and a main reason why so many don’t run well.

There’s a lot of shared bits between the P4, P5 and Land Rover, which means there is a strong supply of new and second-hand parts. First port of call is the Rover P5 club (http://www.roverp5club.org.uk). Good specialists include J.R. Wadhams, Ely Services and David Green.

In common with all monocoque cars of this era, rust is the chief enemy and the underside needs regular care. New full replacement panels are almost non existent but part panels are available for almost every aspect of the car. The plush interiors are as dear as a Rolls to restore. Ensure that the window seals are in good condition to prevent leaks which can also originate from the heater matrix.

VERDICT

Probably the best Rover ever, we’ve been big fans of the P5 for years. It’s as good as any Jag in our eyes and cheaper. As one club member put it; if Rover was still around today these would be 50 grand classics, while their rarity will always get you noticed.

HOW MANY LEFT

Combined mix of 3 Litre & 3.5 Litre 869 Figures include SORN cars but P5 owners’ club says it has 2000 on its books

TOP MOD

According to the owners’ club the best mod (on P5bs) is to fit a fourspeed auto from a variety of BL models. Want wider wheels? Jensen Interceptor ones fit and you can add harder or adjustable dampers. V8 has huge tuning potential but on all fit a good electronic ignition for better sparks and perhaps a modern electric fuel pump

BEST BUYS

With 80 per cent of club members owning a P5b, that’s where the interest (and value) lies but the older 3 Litre is not only much cheaper but is smoother and equally satisfying; all it lacks is go. Coupé’s look best but saloon boasts much better rear headroom and again is a fair bit cheaper.

BUYING TIPS

GENERAL

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. The interior is equally fabulous, but costly to revive if tatty. All the Wilton, wood and leather could cost up to £5000 to restore although old but good trim sets sell for around £300. The main dash is usually resilient, but the corners can delaminate because of water leaks. Replacement panels are mainly used ones.

BODY AND CHASSIS

Check A-posts, outer rear wheelarches 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. Although the P5 is of unitary construction, there are stout chassis legs that sprout from the sills and rot out. New and used parts supply is pretty good thankfully.

The outer panels are usually durable, but the rear inner wings can corrode where you don’t see and NOS panels are hens’ teeth but many part panels are new components. Look behind the boot trim thoroughly you’ll get a better idea of the state of the metal. Check where front bulkhead, sill and door post meet for rust. Similarly, inspect the front subframe for corrosion around the torsion bar mounts.

ENGINE

The 3-litre’s power plant was a bored-out version of the P4’s 2.6-litre unit. If neglected, cylinder and valve guide wear will be in evidence. Cam followers can also wear and valve settings are tricky to do right on this trusty IOE engine.

If it’s been poorly maintained, the V8 kills camshafts and rocker shafts and sticks its hydraulic tappets. As with any alloy engine, it’s essential that a decent quality antifreeze is used. Check that the engine doesn’t overheat when idling.

RUNNING GEAR

While the P5’s rear suspension is conventional, the independent front set-up is unusual with its torsion bars. Problems are unlikely, except for sagging through old age. Any P5 with a decidedly droopy rear needs fresh leaf springs to restore ride and handling.

The P5’s weight takes its toll on the shock absorbers which weaken and can break at the bottom lug. Plus the steering system tends to leak and the best solution is a modified box, with stronger seals; £300.

 



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