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Rover P6

Published: 7th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • The condition of the base skeleton unit is of primary concern, so go prepared with overalls and a torch to inspect this as closely as you can.
  • Screen pillars can rot badly, but this is difficult to spot behind their stainless trim. Look for signs of bubbling under the rubber seals.
  • Panel rust usually shows first in the rear of the front wings and the front of the rear wings. Check also the inner sills by lifting the carpet and, if possible, taking out the rear seat base.
  • The de Dion tube joint must be in good condition, so make sure that its rubber boot is not torn. Also check for rust by the elbows, as they can rot from the inside out and are hard to restore
  • Some slack in the steering can be adjusted out. Check too that the system is well lubricated. Remember that the steering box needs EP90 but the idle box takes ordinary hydraulic oil.
  • Clonks and sloppy bushes can be cured with polyurethane replacements, but there are plenty of them and it is a long job to replace them all
  • .
  • Gear selection tends to be notchy, but if it is impossibly vague, suspect a broken selector rod bush, which is simple enough to replace.
  • A ringing noise from the front of the engine suggests a worn lower timing chain, clattery rattle points to the upper one. Tappets shouldn’t be silent.
  • The flat dash top and the shin lockers can warp with age, leather seats can split and cloth ones can stretch and sag. Good secondhand interiors are getting scarce, particularly complete ones.
  • The optional sports steering wheel, headrests, Sundym glass and a bootlid mounting kit for the spare wheel are all desirable options.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    Not exactly quick even TC but all are fine handling tourers

  • Usability: 4/5

    Comfy civilized four-seater, still suited for today’s roads

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    A DIY nightmare in many respects, especially the rear end

  • Owning: 4/5

    Spares supply quite good, strong owners club support

  • Value: 4/5

    For what a good one offers, P6s are still cheap buys

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Rover’s P6 of 1963 put to rest the company's reputation for conservative designs, but thankfully still maintained that fine tradition of producing quality cars. Simon Goldsworthy sees how the 2000 stacks up today

It is not often that car manufacturers unveil genuinely new cars. Usually they dress up an old shell with new panels, or build a new structure around existing mechanical components. But Rover really bucked this trend when it built the P6. Its relatively compact dimensions and sleek body were miles away from the upright P4 and grand P5 that preceded it, so much so that Rover’s traditional clientele were somewhat bemused. Auntie Rover it seemed was no more. But the styling changes were only the tip of a technological iceberg. The body was built around a welded monocoque base unit to which all the mechanical components were attached. It could be driven in this state, and indeed was tested like this at the factory before the outer panels were bolted on. The overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine was all new, there were disc brakes at each corner with servo assistance, and the ultra modern chassis was designed to run on newfangled radial tyres. The front springs were mounted horizontally to feed their loads directly into the bulkhead and also free up extra space for the engine bay for a proposed gas turbine powerplant, while at the rear resided a de Dion back axle that was expensive to produce, but offered a superb compromise between comfort and roadholding. Fortunately initial scepticism soon gave way to admiration, and the P6 was a major commercial success. Even by the end of production in 1977 after 14 years on the market, the P6 was far from outclassed in the showroom and today it is one of the most usable and affordable classic saloons you could hope to buy.

Which model to buy?

One thing about getting the initial design so right was that there was little need for change over the years. Very early cars such as the 1964 car in our pictures were all powered by the original 2000 engine (1978cc to be precise), with a single carburettor and a four-speed manual gearbox. The exteriors were deliberately plain, either ‘slab-sided’ or ‘pure’ depending on your persuasion. The first gearboxes were troublesome and obstructive, but you are highly unlikely to find one that has not been fitted with a later improved version, either under the original warranty or over the years since. From October 1966 you could specify a threespeed Borg Warner automatic, which adds to the relaxed ambiance, but hammers performance significantly. Going in the other direction, 1966 also saw the introduction of a more powerful TC, (standing for Twin Carb rather than the more common Twin Cam). The changes go much deeper than just an extra SU though, as the TC has a completely revised head design with individual ports, a higher (10:1) compression ratio, a tubular exhaust manifold and an oil cooler integrated into the bottom of the radiator. View it as a sort of BMW 330i saloon of its day.

For 1970, it saw the closest the P6 came to a heavy restyle. The aluminium mesh grille was replaced by a cheap black plastic honeycomb affair that was not so deeply recessed and a new universal bonnet with twin bulges was fitted to V8s and ‘fours’ alike. The TC also got a nice new dash with round dials, but the SC kept the rectangular unit to the end. In 1973, the engine was bored out to 2205cc and the model became known as the 2200. This was not much faster, but had better torque to make up some of the original deficiencies. Leather trim became an option,the stronger gearbox from the V8 was fitted along with that model’s larger 15 gallon fuel tank. There were even some estate cars along the way, converted by specialists FLM (Panelcraft) Ltd from standard saloons. They were stylish but not particularly roomy, and with only around 160 produced, are little more than a footnote in the P6 history as was a soft top two-door concept which looked like an Audi cabriolet.

Behind the wheel?

Comfort was what the Rover P6 was all about

Comfort was what the P6 was all about. The P6’s seats are a pleasant place to sit. The backs are infinitely adjustable and the base can be raised or lowered (admittedly not with the flick of a switch as you do have to replace spacers). They also give a formidable nine inches of fore and aft movement which, coupled with a steering column that can be raised or lowered, ensures that drivers of all sizes should be able to get comfy. If you have the driver’s seat right back (rear seat passengers won’t thank you for it as space is tight), you might find it a bit of a stretch to reach third gear with the stubby, sporty gear lever, though. There is ample shoulder room and visibility is excellent, with the driver able to see all four corners without straining. The engines - advanced for their day - are perhaps the least refined part of the mechanical package, with some noise and harshness able to penetrate the cabin. To some extent this reflects the fact that they need to be revved to give of their best, thanks to a combination of tall gearing and relatively little torque. That lanky gearing does make the P6 one of the few four-speed cars that doesn’t really miss a fifth gear (Rover never offered overdrive as an option). You can hold first until 30mph, second until 55mph and third all the way up to 85mph, at which speed fourth takes over for some smooth and quiet touring. The downside is that the gearchange is not the smoothest, slickest in the world, but if you don’t work the ‘box then overtaking can be a leisurely affair. There are differences between the models, of course. The automatic is particularly sluggish in 2000 guise, taking a yawning 20.8 seconds to reach 60mph from rest according to road test figures, while the manual will dispatch the same sprint in a hardly necksnapping 14.6 seconds. A bigger problem is the lack of overtaking urge in the 30-50mph arena unless you use all the intermediate ratios, although the 2200 was better in this respect, whether automatic or manual. The steering wheel is huge and does away with the need for power assistance. At nearly four turns lock to lock, there is plenty of arm twirling to be done and although the self centring action can be a touch lazy, you soon learn that it is more precise than it first appears. The suspension is quality. The de Dion rear axle with its inboard disc brakes keeps unsprung weight down, which helps stop the tail from skipping about over bumps. The system also prevents camber changes as the wheels rise and fall, keeping them parallel to the road surface. It is not a sports car, but it does inspire similar levels of confidence at speed, particularly once you get used to the little shimmy from the rear end known as ‘the de Dion lurch’ that is characteristic of the design. All in all the P6 is a supremely safe handler, the rear being virtually unstickable particularly on the SC models, where the grip easily exceeds the power available. Even on the Tc and V8, the worst you can usually provoke is a gentle four wheel slide during extreme cornering, with gentle oversteer being the more common trait. For it’s day it was a superb handler, let down only by some considerable body roll. Brakes are more than adequate, and that unconventional front suspension has been designed so that there is minimal diving at the front when you have to stop in a hurry. Even four decades on the P6 is an extremely safe classic to travel in.

The Daily Option?

Conclusions of Motormagazine in 1966 still ring true today

Why not? They have a reasonable turn of speed, can cruise with the flow and are a joy to drive. The P6 is a compact size, but it was only designed to seat four people in style if not space. Rear seat passengers will greatly appreciate the sculptured cushions that cosset them, but a fifth occupant will curse their uncomfortable perch in the middle. The boot is adequate for general use, although you’ll need a boot-mounted spare wheel if you plan to go touring with four people and all their luggage. P6s do require the best fuel you can find (100 Octane for the early TC which means plenty of additives and improvers sloshing in the tank), but can easily return over 30mpg and you’ll struggle to push this below 24mpg if in good tune, however hard you drive. For what is essentially a high quality 1960s saloon, that is quite commendable. The four headlights give a good view of even the darkest roads, the heating and ventilation is welldesigned and effective, and there are ‘modern’ touches such as variable intermittent wipers (on post-facelift cars), electric screen washers and an optional heated rear screen. And if you do use your P6 every day, you can be comforted in the knowledge that its safety aspects were streets ahead of the contemporary competition. The under-dash cubby holes are padded and slope away from your shins, the switchgear is thoughtfully designed and with the innovative front suspension and steering box mounted on the bulkhead, there is little to be forced into the cabin in the unfortunate incidence of a front-end smash.

Ease of Ownership?

Being something of a technical tour de force, the P6 has a reputation for being difficult to maintain. In actual fact, although some jobs are more involved than for other cars of the era, very little is beyond the scope of a DIY mechanic armed with a decent tool kit. The valve clearances are set by buckets and shims which take time and a good supply of shims to set properly, but at least they then stay in tune for long periods. The clutch is time-consuming to replace rather than difficult (Rover quoted ten hours for the job), those rust-prone engine side plates are fiddly to swap in situ and the rear brake pads are a nightmare to change due to the discs being mounted inboard. But on the other hand there is only one grease nipple (on the propshaft) to attend to, all the maintenance points in the engine bay are easily accessible and those bolt-on panels are both cheap and easy to replace.

Timelines

1963

P6 appears two years later than planned but still highly futuristic and wins Car Of The Year with ease. Available only with 1978cc four-pot OHC engine and four speed manual gearbox, advanced running gear.

1966

Revised light clusters,TC introduced (initially only for export) plus automatic option added (2000 only). TC ups power from 90bhp @ 5000rpm to 114bhp @
5500rpm. Brakes switch from Dunlop to Girling.

1968

1970

Facelift sees new grille design, re-styled bonnet andnew stainless steel side mouldings to create the socalled Series 2 cars. 2000TC gets V8's circular dials. Alternator becomes standard, as do hazard warning lights.

1973

2200 engine offers more torque (useful on auto). TC compression ratio reduced to run on four star. Final drive uprated to 3500 spec. Brushed nylon, trim, seats re-shaped to provide more knee room in the back.

1977

Production of the P6 ends on 19th March after (Triumph designed) six-cylinder variants of the new fangled SD1 are added to the expanding range although some cars hung around in dealerships afterwards.

We Reckon...

We think that the conclusions of Motor magazine in October 1966 still ring true today. They described the P6 as “a strict four seater, average luggage space, above average performance and economy, good handling, very good roadholding, exceptional comfort.” In other words, a supremely capable grand touring sports salon - the sort BMW excel at.



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