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Rover P6

Published: 29th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • The condition of the base 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 the 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.
  • 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 unit’s idle box takes hydraulic oil.
  • Clonks and sloppy bushes can be cured with modern polyurethane replacements, but there are plenty of them to do 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 to replace.
  • A ringing noise from the front of the engine suggests a worn lower timing chain (2000/2200), but a clattery rattle points to the upper one, which is easier to fix.
  • The V8 suffers from blown head gaskets, clogged cooling systems and gummed up oilways, which affects the hydraulic tappets. Manifold failures are quite common.
  • The flat dash top and the shin lockers can warp with age, leather seats can split and cloth ones can stretch and sag. Good used interiors are getting scarce, particularly complete ones.
  • The optional sports steering wheel, headrests, Sundym glass and a boot-lid mounting kit for the spare wheel are all desirable options.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 4/5

    Apart from V8, not exactly quick, but all are fine handling tourers.

  • Usability: 4/5

    Comfy, civilised four-seater with small boot. Ok for today’s roads.

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    A bit of a DIY nightmare in many respects, especially the rear end.

  • Owning: 3/5

    Spares supply is quite good with strong owners’ club support.

  • Value: 4/5

    For what a good one offers, P6s remain bargains, strangely.

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Rover’s P6 of 1963 changed the company’s image overnight and promised greater things to come. It didn’t happen, of course, but the 2000 and 3500 remain great yet overlooked classics

Sometimes it takes just one car to change the public’s perception of the manufacturer. With Volvo, the transformation from safety to sexy was down to the saintly P1800 and the all new 850 of the 1990s.With Rover it was the P6 that transformed the company’s cosy ‘old auntie’ image into the BMW of its day. It is not often that manufacturers can unveil genuinely new cars but Rover did when it built the P6, to compete in the new compact executive market that’s now dominated by the Germans. The P6 looked like no Rover before 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 ‘naked’ state and, indeed, was tested like this at the factory before the outer panels were bolted on. In some ways it mirrored the Citroen DS in this respect. Perhaps the closest thing to it these days is Audi’s Space Frame design. Rover’s existing engines were all ancient, so something new was called for. The P6 got it with an overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine of 2-litre capacity (90bhp), which we all thought at the time had considerable future potential. Also new and radical were disc brakes at each corner with servo assistance, plus the whole car was designed to run on new-fangled radial tyres. However, the real trick was the chassis. 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 power-plant that never materialised. At the rear resided a de Dion back axle that was expensive to produce, but offered a superb compromise between comfort and road-holding. 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 remains one of the most usable and affordable classic saloons you can 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 as Rover hated change for change’s sake. ‘Planned obsolescence’ was how Rover put it in its 1960s adverts and, after almost 15 years of production, the P6 remained steadfast to its blueprint. At launch the P6 was powered a 1978cc, single-carb engine via a four-speed manual gearbox, although amazingly with no option of an overdrive. The exteriors were deliberately plain, but the interiors were very plush with leather and (mock) wood as standard along with a lot of standard kit. From October 1966 a three-speed Borg Warner automatic was at last offered. 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 moniker) to answer criticisms of rather sluggish performance, especially when laden. The changes to produce 115bhp 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. Inside the only major addition was the fitting of a tachometer. View it as a sort of BMW 330i of its day? The closest the P6 came to a restyle was in late 1970. The classy aluminium mesh grille was replaced by a cheap black plastic honeycomb affair that was not so deeply recessed, plus a new bonnet with twin bulges was fitted to V8s and ‘fours’ alike. The TC also gained a nice new dash with round dials to match its performance image, but the SC kept the rectangular unit to the end. A decade after launch, the engine was bored out to 2205cc and the model became known as the 2200, not much faster, but had better torque (126lb.ft against 112lb.ft). Leather trim became an option, the stronger gearbox from the V8 was fitted along with that model’s usefully larger 15-gallon fuel tank. WIthout doubt the TC, or at least a 2200 (perhaps fitted in an earlier 2000 shell), is the best bet for today’s roads, or you can go V8! We couldn’t leave out the 3500… Launched in spring ‘68, the P5 unit was a logical fit to make the P6 an Audi S4 of its day. A cracker when launched, it too fell foul of British Leyland and the successive cost cutting. The best model was the 3500S, introduced in late 1971, as it was at last equipped with a manual gearbox (along with other detail changes). Typically BL, the S could be had as an auto to run alongside the ordinary 3500! The P6 survived until well after the SD1 made its reputation and unsurprisingly is held in great esteem.

Behind the wheel?

Comfort was what the P6 was all about. The seats were something else for their day, with backs and squabs infinitely adjustable. 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. Rear seat passenger might not be so comfortable, though, despite those contoured seats (later copied on Vauxhall’s Viva SL!), due to too tight legroom. The engines, which were advanced for their day, are perhaps the least refined part of the mechanical package now, with some noise and harshness able to penetrate the cabin, especially in the ‘four’ as they need to be revved to give of their best, thanks to a combination of tall gearing and relatively little torque. The V8 is another matter of course and has pulling power to spare. Despite its lanky gearing, the P6 always cried out for overdrive or five-speeds, although can hold first until 30mph, second until 55mph and third all the way up to 85mph. The downside is that the gearchange is not the smoothest or slickest mover in the world. The three-speed automatic negates this but is particularly sluggish in 2000 guise, taking a yawning 20.8 seconds to reach 60mph from rest according to road test figures. The manual will dispatch the same sprint in a hardly neck-snapping 14 seconds but the TC is usefully snappier. The V8s can easily hold their own against a modern and the 3500S is still a quick car. The bigger 2200 engine really makes its mark in the auto and is worth retro fitting this engine; Motor reported, “The 2000 took a milk-float-like 20.8secs to 60, whereas the 2200 chopped five seconds from this and two seconds from the critical 30-50mph overtaking time”. The steering wheel is huge and at nearly four turns lock-to-lock, so there is plenty of arm twirling to be done, although the suspension remains quality. In an era where lever-arm dampers, leaf springs, drum brakes and cross-ply tyres dominated, the P6 was streets ahead with its de Dion rear axle, inboard disc brakes and radial tyres. The de Dion system prevents camber changes and keeps the wheels parallel to the road. The P6 is not a sports car, as it rolls too much, but even now when you get cracking – especially in the wet – the P6 inspires confidence, 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 remains a supremely safe handler and, with all round discs, an extremely safe classic to travel in.

The Daily Option?

Why not? They have a reasonable turn of speed, can cruise with the flow and are pleasing to drive. The P6 is a reasonable size, but it was designed to seat four people in style, if not space. The boot is mean so you may 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), but can return 30mpg, while even a lightly used V8 should be good for more than 20mpg, although all autos performed badly in contemporary road tests. The quad headlights give a good view of even the darkest roads, the heating and ventilation is well-designed and effective, and there are some nice ‘modern’ touches such as variable intermittent wipers (on post-facelift cars), electric screen washers and an optional heated rear screen which most cars had anyway. Finally, if you do intend to use your P6 every day, you can be comforted in the knowledge that its in-built safety aspects were streets ahead of the contemporary competition and pretty handy nowadays.

Ease of Ownership?

Being something of a technical tour de force of its day, the P6 retains a reputation for being difficult to maintain. In actual fact, although some jobs are more involved than for other cars of the 1960s, very little is beyond the scope of a DIY mechanic – although it can be an awkward bugger. The valve clearances are set by buckets and shims on the ‘fours’, which takes time and a good supply of shims to set properly, but at least they then stay in tune for long periods (best done with a head off top end overhaul); the V8 is an older OHV unit and inherently easier to work on The clutch is time-consuming to replace, rather than difficult (Rover quoted ten hours for the job). Those rustprone engine side plates are fiddly to swap in situ and the rear brake pads on all cars are an absolute nightmare to change, due to the discs being mounted inboard; the Rover special tool helps enormously. 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 body 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 engine and four speed manual gearbox and 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

Major facelift sees new grille, re-styled bonnet and new stainless steel side mouldings to create the so-called Series 2 cars. 2000TC gets V8's circular dials. Alternator becomes standard, as do hazard lights.

1971

At long last the 3500 gains a manual gearbox to become the 3500S (along with some sportier touches) although automatic becomes an option. Amazingly Rover offers the ordinary 3500 in manual box mode too!

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 and the seats are 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...

A supremely capable grand touring sports saloon – the sort the Germans now excel at – the P6 remains absurdly cheap for the performance, prestige and pedigree it still offers. So advanced was this Rover in its day that it still beats the replacement, regressive SD1 hands down and is one of the few '60s classics we'd recommend as a long-distance daily driver.



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