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Rover P4

Faithful Hound Published: 13th Nov 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 110
  • Worst model: 60
  • Budget buy: 90
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 4526 x W 1669mm
  • Spares situation: Mechanicals good, panels and trim are a problem
  • DIY ease?: Good
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Barely
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Cheap for what they offer
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Don't expect fireworks with this stately old Rover... just a journey back in time to the good old days Last year one of the most usable classics ever made celebrated its diamond jubilee, and hardly anybody noticed. The Rover P4 arrived in 1951 and ever since then it's offered stylish, refined, comfortable transport at amazingly affordable prices. And while many mainstream classics have crept up in value in recent years – or even shot up – the P4 has remained resolutely affordable. Arguably the classic that best sums up post-war middle class Britain, the P4, with its Studebaker-inspired lines, was fi rst shown at the 1949 Earls Court Motor Show. It captured the essence of Britishness perfectly, with its wood and leather interior that was combined with safe and solid engineering. Now it's almost half a century since the last example was made, and while values aren't likely to rocket any time soon, good examples are always in great demand. So read on, try to convince yourself that you don't need a P4 in your life, then go out and find the best one you can.

Pros & Cons

Smoothness, comfort style and quality build, rarity, value for money
Pedestrian performance and handling, much an acquired taste
£600-£10,000

History

In its original ‘Cyclops’ form, with its distinctive central light set into the grille, the 75 ushered in a new era for Rover. It replaced the pre-war P3 and although dubbed the poor man’s Rolls-Royce, it was a still pricey proposition at £1106. That central front light proved too radical and in 1952 it bit the dust; the following year the more affordable 60 and 90 arrived. At the same time the gearchange was moved from the column to the fl oor and a conventional handbrake replaced the shepherd’s crook item previously fitted.

In 1955 there was a new rear end with fresh lights. Servo-assisted brakes arrived the following year for the 90 and in 1956 Laycock overdrive was offered in place of the freewheel system previously available. In the same year the front wings were redesigned, while 1957 saw the arrival of the 105R (for Roverdrive) and 105S (for Synchromesh, denoting a manual gearbox), with twin carbs and servo-assisted brakes. With the arrival of the swish all modern looking P5 the next year year development of the old car understandably slowed down after that, with a fettled radiator grille for 1958; the following year saw the introduction of the four-cylinder 80 and the six pot 100 which effectively was a down-sized P5 engine but even smoother. At the same time disc front brakes were standardised for all models while in 1962 the 95 and 110 first went on sale. In place of the aluminium panels fitted until now, steel panelling for the bonnet, doors and boot were introduced in 1963, but in the following year, P4 production ceased. By this time 130,342 examples had rolled off the production lines and the days of Auntie Rover were over.

Driving

In many ways once you’re sat in a P4’s cabin, how the thing drives is almost secondary. Surrounded by high-quality materials wrapped up in an understated design, a P4 cabin in that’s in good nick is fabulous place to while away hour after hour. Alongside the leather and African walnut you’ve got chrome, Bakelite and fabulous detailing like a height-adjustable arm rest on the door, while the transparent speedo needle means that whatever speed you’re doing, you can read the odometer. So much thought went into this car’s cabin that the Rolls comparison, albeit on a lesser budget, is entirely justifi ed.

Fire up the engine and it’s barely audible; even when extended, progress is smooth and relaxed, so you’re wafted along in a stressfree manner like few contemporaries can achieve. And that’s just for the four-cylinder cars; buy a six-pot edition instead and it’s even more relaxed.

With its upright driving position and oversized steering wheel, it can feel like you’re driving a truck rather than a car. And considering the P4’s heft, the analogy is apt – the P4 can have the responses of a truck. But that solidity also ensures that bumps are smothered, so progress is even more comfortable. And that’s what the P4 is about – comfort not speed. While six-pot cars can keep up with modern traffi c fairly easily, this is a car for enjoying the ride and ocassion rather than burning up the streets.

Prices

As is typical with so many mainstream classics, you should buy according to condition rather than specifi cation. All P4s are worth much the same, for a given condition, although some models are more desirable than others, so they’re easier to sell – but they’re not necessarily any more valuable. As a guideline, projects start at £200, although a scruffy runner may be worth only £600. Roadworthy P4s are £4000+, with really nice cars fetch over £10,000 – exceptional examples are now touching £12,000. However, few cars are worth over £10,000. 

Improvements

As if you needed further evidence that the P4 is essentially right, there aren’t many modifications that are worthwhile. It’s possible to swap between engines if you’ve got a tired four-pot and you want the performance of a six-cylinder. But if you’re still looking at buying your P4, if you want six-cylinder performance, just buy a six-cylinder car. Alien engines have included the Rover V8 while a later Land Rover unit is feasible. One of the more worthwhile upgrades is of the braking system; if you’ve got a car that’s fi tted with drum brakes at the front, you can fi t the disc system of a later car, but it involves replacing the suspension at the same time. You can also swap a non-overdrive gearbox – complete with propshaft – for one with overdrive, if you can fi nd one. Other than that, it’s the standard upgrades that you should be looking at, such as halogen headlamps, alternator, electronic ignition, Kenlowe fan, and so on.

What To Look For

  • The P4 is amazingly durable, thanks to highquality thick steel panels. That’s why rotten P4s are relatively rare; most are saveable but quite a few are cosmetically challenged, even if structurally sound. Replacement panels aren’t available, repair sections are.
  • Focus on the headlamp and indicator surrounds, front wing trailing edges, inner wheelarches and boot fl oor. The area where the fuel filler pipe enters the car is also vulnerable, and especially on pre-1954 cars.
  • Front wings should be removable, as they’re bolted on, but a patch often gets welded into the inner wheelarch, permanently attaching the wing to the main structure. Sorting this is a big job, so look for bodging. Also check the A and B-posts, where the doors attach; these often rust and while repair sections are available, it’s not an easy job to fit them.
  • The P4 enjoyed a 14-year production run, and during that time there were few major changes, ensuring decent interchangeability between panels. The key differences between early and late cars are in the front and rear wings, which became less rounded over time. Pre-1963 P4s also had aluminium panels for the bonnet, boot lid and doors; the steel items used for the fi nal two years of production are interchangeable though.
  • Be wary of a car with perished screen seals; the three-piece rear window has to be resealed professionally, and it can easily take three days to do the job properly. Also, the P4’s separate chassis is tough but the outriggers can corrode; of the three fitted, it’s the front and middle ones that rust the most. Replacements are available, but they can’t be fi tted properly unless the bodyshell is removed first, allowing access.
  • A P4’s engine is even more durable than its bodywork, with 200,000 miles between rebuilds quite normal. Engine parts are generally plentiful thanks to Land Rovers being fitted with some of the various P4 units; you’ll struggle to find oversized pistons, but otherwise the parts supply situation is excellent. Even better, because all P4 engine bays have much the same layout, you can swap between the various powerplants, whether four or six cylinders.
  • All these engines need fresh oil and a new filter every 2000 miles, to avoid premature camshaft wear. In good condition and properly set up, a P4 engine should be almost inaudible; if it’s clattery, the valve clearances are out – hard to adjust right in this semi side valve engine.
  • If the exhaust manifold is removed, its mating face needs to be machined flat because it always distorts once separated from the engine. Listen for blowing from the manifold, which can also fracture if its clamping brackets are fi tted the wrong way round. Replacements man are £175 apiece. 
  • All P4 engines have an alloy head with valve seat inserts, allowing the use of unleaded fuel. As a result, using additives is unnecessary; regular use of addiitves leads to the SU carbs getting clogged up, resulting in an erratic mixture and poor running.
  • Finally, the 80 has a Solex carburettor which tends to break up inside from the engine heat. The best fix is an SU or Weber conversion; it’s an easy job and costs around £100 or £200 respectively.
  • Two types of gearbox were fitted to the P4, and they’re both strong. Most common by far is the four-speed manual, but a semiautomatic ‘box dubbed Roverdrive was also offered. The latter was fitted only to the 105R (for Roverdrive), and although the transmission isn’t weak as such, it does wear out and parts are hard to fi nd. This gearbox also blunts the P4’s performance and increases fuel consumption.
  • An oil change every 2000 miles will prolong the life of a P4 gearbox, but eventually the layshaft bearings go; listen for rattling when the clutch pedal is pressed. Second-gear synchro will wear next (there was no first gear synchro). A specialist charges around £400 for a rebuilt manual ‘box. 
  • A slipping clutch is often down to a worn crankshaft rear oil seal; that’s easily fixed. Also simple to repair is worn driveshaft seals, which result in oil all over the brake backplates. It’s easy to do yourself; new seals are a tenner per side or a specialist charges around £60 per side. But you’ll need to fit fresh brake linings too, at £50 a set.
  • Juddering as the clutch is released is normally down to a perished gearbox rear mounting; a new one is £35 but replacement isn’t a DIY job, so expect to pay a specialist £150. Vibration when cruising belies worn propshaft universal joints; easily replaced; pre-1959 P4s featured grease nipples.
  • All P4s have a steering box which has several wear points, with things not helped by the oil seal perishing at the base. The secret is to use the thickest oil (at least 140SAE, preferably 250SAE) and keep it topped up.
  • The rear suspension also gives few problems; you only need to watch out for weak springs, given away by the car sitting low. Look for two inches of tyre under the wheelarch – half an inch is more common. If new springs are needed, they’re £90 apiece.
  • Front isn’t quite so tough. Feel for play in the kingpins, as new ones are around £250 per side, professionally fi tted. It helps if they’ve been oiled regularly – not greased.
  • There can also be movement in the front suspension because of wear in the link bushes at the top of the kingpin. Once these bushes have worn the tracking will be out. The bushes in the lower kingpin links also wear, causing metal to rub against metal. The handling then deteriorates and things get noisy. In all there are 16 bushes in the front suspension, and at just £4 apiece it needn’t cost much to fix everything. But getting them all replaced by a specialist will typically cost £700.
  • The braking system can suffer from various maladies. The key one is perished seals in the master cylinder; it’s located under the car so it gets bombarded with water and debris. Another common problem is sheared bleed nipples on the wheel cylinders. P5 items for around £80 apiece – go straight on and improve the braking.
  • The P4’s cabin is a big part of what makes the car so appealing. All cars were fitted with leather trim, so make sure it hasn’t split, torn or dried out and cracked, as a full retrim is typically around £3000. You also need to make sure the Wilton carpets haven’t seen better days, although a new set at around £250 isn’t the end of the world.
  • The woodwork can also look tired, but the only veneered piece is the glovebox lid – it’s all solid African walnut otherwise, so it’s easy enough to revive on a DIY basis. The same goes for any tired door trims; replacements are unavailable but making decent new ones isn’t difficult.
  • Exterior brightwork can be more of a problem than interior trim because it’s hard to find decent bits and refurbishing parts is costly. So make sure everything is present and correct – and make sure it’s in good condition too.
  • The P4’s electrical system is straightforward, but problems can crop up, many centring on the age of the components. Early looms had cloth braiding, which deteriorates; later cars featured plastic shrouding, which is more durable.  Control boxes can also be temperamental, but new ones are available for £20-70 depending on the model. The switchgear and instrumentation is reliable and although new parts are now scarce, decent used bits are easy enough to track down.

 

Three Of A Kind

Amrstrong Siddeley Sapphire
Amrstrong Siddeley Sapphire
Just as solidly engineered as the P4, but nowhere near as familiar, these unusual high quality British saloons came in 234 (fourcylinder) or 236 (six-cylinder) fl avours, with either a Manumatic transmission or a four-speed manual with overdrive. They’re long-lasting, but how easily you’ll fi nd a good one for sale is another matter. Great value but spares are a bit of a problem.
Citroen DS/ID
Citroen DS/ID
Want fifties family transport with more style and presence than a P4? Then the DS or ID should suit you well. Packed with gallic charm and tech, the Citroen may not be an obvious P4 rival, but values are similar, it's a family car, and performance is along the same lines too. But the driving experiences couldn't be much further apart. Radical it's still a complex car to restore but there's good specialist support.
Humber Hawk
Humber Hawk
The 1957 Hawk ushered in a new era of Humbers, with unitary construction and trans-Atlantic styling. With a range of saloons, estates and even limousines to choose from, buyers were spoiled for choice, although the sole engine option was a 2.3-litre four-pot (a Chrysler V8 was tried). Sadly most have disappeared now, aside from a few saloons. Super Snipe was even more luxurious and even rarer.


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