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Rover P5

Rover P5 Published: 1st May 2019 - 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, overlooked Jaguar alternative with less brash for less cash. Not as sporting or showy but the P5 provides many inbred compensations and is an exquisite executive express in its own right if you get a good one

If a magnificent Mk2 or the super S-type Jag is out of your financial grasp then why not reel in a Rover P5, a saloon so daring for the straight-laced Solihull carmaker back in the late 1950s that it considered putting down this pedigree David Bache design. Bache, who went to pen highly successful and advanced P6 saloons, the Range Rover and, ahem, the rather more prosaic Austin Maestro, came up with something so outlandish that the stuff-shirted Rover big wigs thought it was too good for this staid old car company to contemplate. “It’s a head turner and the Rover Company doesn’t make head turners,” one ‘suit’ is reported to have told him.

Motor Sport was also slightly dubious about the styling – “The wrap-round windscreen and restyled front end depart in some ways from the Rover tradition.” Thankfully, the Viking badge went against tradition and launched a car that not only provided a far more modern replacement for the old P4 but was deemed good enough for Queens, mothers of Queens and Prime Ministers (Maggie Thatcher, Ted Heath, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan et al). They all liked the car hugely for its dignity and decorum – so much so that even when the P5 was pensioned off in 1973 (Rover truly never replaced it with the plasticy SD1) special Governmental cars were kept in service right up until 1980.

As an equally prestigious but less expensive substitute for the Coventry Jags, the Solihull saloon has few peers 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, being the ideal transport for the classic enthusiast who wants low priced, lazy luxury and let’s face it – if the P5 is good enough for Royalty and heads of state then it should be good enough for us!

History

1958 P5 is announced that September – it’s Rover’s first all monocoque constructed car but still using the quirky IOE (part side valve inlet over exhaust) 115bhp 3-litre straight-six taken from the P4 but upped to 2995cc and equipped with drum brakes all round.

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

1962 Again in July, the MkIIA surfaced with a Weslakedesigned cylinder head to up the ante to 121bhp. Also, the suspension was lowered – but the big news was the new Coupé, a sleeker styled saloon with a more rakish roofline, a market most recently revived by Mercedes-Benz with the CLS, BMW with the 5 Series GT and Audi with its A5 Sportback.

1963 July must have been Rover’s favourite month for MkIIB went on sale. Changes slight though; the Coupé was unchanged while the saloon’s steering ratio was raised to make it lighter.

1964/5 The MkIIC ushered in power steering and two-speed wipers as standard, while the MkIII of September 1965 featured a mild facelift with a new Borg Warner automatic gearbox and a power increase to 134bhp but with little effect on performance. There were new chromed side strips, better contoured seats and interior trim and better heating with separate heating controls.

1967 Biggest change was launch of the P5B automatic with the now legendary Buick V8 engine. It may have only provided another 27bhp, but with considerable extra torque and much lighter weight, it gave virtually Jaguar 420 performance with better fuel consumption. Apart from the engine there were visual improvements such as Rostyle wheels, side indicators and recessed front fog lights.

1968 The car’s gearing was revised (signified by yellowcoloured change-up points on the speedo) and improved rear seat room plus inertia reel belts for 1972 before the range was discontinued a year later after 15 years of dignified service and almost 70,000 sales although some vehicles were not registered until 1975. Around 70,000 P5s were made, short of the 90,000 Jag Mk2s (including the later 240/340) but way ahead of the 24,900 S-types and 9600 420s produced. Rover planned to replace its old warrior with a high tech replacement – possibly with an early form of adaptive suspension – called the P8 but BL politics and Jaguar caused the project to be canned.

Driving and press comments

Thanks to legendary ‘old’ Rover quality, many cars are still around and offer a real alternative to the Jaguar Mk2 at a fraction of the cost. The 3-litres are stately cars and respond best to restrained driving styles as they don’t like hard driving and can sound very strained when stressed. Wafting is their preferred style of travel and this they do arguably better than the P5B. The rear suspension in particular is pre-war in design so fast cornering is not really an option. The resulting lurch and roll is most ungainly for so regal a vehicle. So rather than trying to carry speed through the bends, it’s better to brake early and use the prodigious performance to accelerate through: much more dignified and the correct form, of course.

The 3.5-litre certainly responds much better to spirited driving, thanks to the lower centre of gravity and a fat 2cwt weight reduction. 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 pace. Both engines provide excellent cruising – the quietest being the 3-litre with a manual gearbox and overdrive.

When Rover fitted the Weslake-designed cylinder head to increase the straight six’s power to 129-134bhp, it gave the 3.0-litre engine pretty fair performance while still retaining a silky smoothness that not only trumped the V8 but was also said to have been as creamy as a Rolls! Speak to P5 aficionados and they’ll admit that the old IOE engine is somewhat smoother and sweeter than the more vivid V8 – something Silver Cloud owners may also heartily concur?

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 and none of them will disappoint at higher speeds providing door and window rubbers are doing their job to control wind noise.

There’s little argument that the Jaguars are more satisfying and speedier and perhaps we should also add more secure 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.

For all that, we’d agree with the owners’ club that for the vast majority the P5B is the top pick, not so much for its added poke, but for the extra style that came with the V8, such as restrained looks, neat two-tone paintwork and the clever adoption of Rostyle wheels. It all added up to a car with real class and one that made the hallowed Mk2 look decidedly second best in many areas.

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 the Motor headlined the P5B in October 1967 with the testers loving the Rover’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”.

In January 1968, those rather acerbic scribes at Car magazine compared the new Coupé with a Daimler 420 Sovereign, which was at that time the nearest Browns Lane’s competitor to the P5b and the conclusion, typically, was decidedly unrestrained and not to say touch backhanded. “We think that buyers of either car will feel that they are getting value for money providing they continue to judge their purchases by British standards under British conditions”.

Perhaps the most elegant and most eloquent summary of the Rover 3 Litre’s immense appeal came late in the day in a November 1964 road test report from the weekly Autocar: “There are, however, a few manufacturers of production cars who manage to perpetuate on the production line much of the refinement, luxury and attention to detail that were once the exclusive right of the coachbuilders.

“The Rover company is one of these; and in the 3-litre saloon they have achieved in a quantityproduced car a degree of finish, comfort and silence of which even the one-off craftsmen would have been proud”.

Values and marketplace

When it comes to P5 picks, there’s 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 adding that the number on its books runs into four figures but obviously, not all are on the road (under 300 at the last count out of a combined mix of 869 3 Litre and 3.5 Litre models) and in terms of condition too many alas remain in a sorry old state.

Everybody seemingly wants the P5B 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, lack of power steering as well as speed. Opt for a later 3 Litre model, and preferably a Westlake-headed one if you can, 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 over but when you consider how much equivalent Jaguars regularly sell for, P5s still represent quite exceptional value for money.

According to major spare parts supplier J.R. Wadhams (http://www.jrwadhams.co.uk), 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 3 Litre 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.

Wadhams, who caters for all Rover 1949-77 classics, also notes that P5 owners are starting to spend the appropriate amounts on their cars as their values grow. Apart from some Governmental and armed forces cars which may even wear T registrations (1979), all P5s are tax-exempt and classic car insurance prices will also prove reasonable enough.

Improvements

With the exception of that great V8, letting this Rover off its leash isn’t easy as it’s not that sort of classic – nor their owners which is ironic as that power unit can make this quite a Q car – one member of the P5 owners’ club has a 220bhp P5B! All can benefit with routine upgrades such as a better radiator, electronic ignition, brighter lighting, and so on but even if you are not a press-on type of driver, 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. Don’t go too mad here, just rebushing worn areas where necessary and perhaps the insertion of adjustable dampers so you can fine tune the ride/ handling balance to your tastes.

Apart from better brake pads, say fitting EBC’s Greenstuff ones for a better feel and swapping the latter Lockheed servo in place of the Girling type this should also be enough if that potent V8 is left pretty much 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 TVR and Morgan. So as you can appreciate, it all depends on how fast you want your old Auntie to go but given that all V8s are autos then refrain from hairy camshafts and the like as it will alter the torque curve and thus hinder the transmission’s change up and kick down points.

The best route is opt for larger block – 3.9, 4.2 and 4.6 – coupled to a later four-speed ZF autobox for easier cruising. THey 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 full details). Or you can fit the (Austin Rover) LT77 five-speed manual and have some fun.

P5 positives

Like Jags there’s a full toolkit (is it still intact?) plus 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 oho, a P5 is the simpler car to maintain than a Jag and not much different to a Jensen Interceptor (whose nice wheels fit a treat by the way) because there’s no overhead camshaft shims to worry over as 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 as well as they might – it’s a malaise which affects many sidevalve engines. 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 is The Rover P5 Club (http://www.roverp5club.org.uk) and Rover P5.com. 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? New old stock panels are hens’ teeth so any major fettling will probably mean using good second-hand alternatives. The interior is equally fabulous, but costly to revive if tatty. The main dash is usually resilient, but the corners can delaminate because of water leaks. Replacement panels are mainly used ones but carpet sets are available.

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 and if suspect, walk away – the car’s ‘snout’, battery tray, valances (the rear one is double skinned, the front costs £225) and all inner wings.

Suspension points are a 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 check for corrosion around the torsion bar mounts and previous repairs or accident damage.

I bought one

From the moment Eddie Halling saw his fi rst Rover P5, he knew that one day he would own one himself – but he didn’t think it would be another 22 years before he realised his dream. “When I bought my car I didn’t appreciate the difference between the saloon and the coupé, but I did know that I wanted a V8-powered example. It’s such a wonderful engine. The automatic works superbly, it’s not a car that’s heavy to drive, either, with its power steering and brakes.

“I bought my P5 in 1991 and in hindsight buying a saloon rather than a coupé proved to be a good move. The saloon might be less of an investment but that’s not why I bought the car – I bought it to use, and the saloon has that bit more head room in the back.”

During the fi rst few years of ownership Eddie embarked on a rolling restoration, once he’d had the engine rebuilt. Fitting electronic ignition and swapping the automatic for a manual choke ensured easier starting, then last year Eddie fi tted an electric radiator fan to aid cooling.

“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; I love the pedigree that these cars come with. .

“On balance the P5 is an ideal all-round classic, but anybody buying must do their homework fi rst. It’s essential that you buy the best you can fi nd and afford, while you also need to establish which is the best derivative – everyone clamours for the V8, but the six-cylinder models can also make an excellent buy. I’m in the Rover P5 Club and I’d say that membership is essential for any owner… there’s a huge amount of expertise within the club which has around 700 or so members spread around the world, mainly in the UK. 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 to ensure that you buy a car that you’ll really enjoy owning,” enthuses Eddie.

What To Look For

At sixes and eight

The engines are all long serving units. Parts supplies for the older IOE ’six’ are more difficult but P4 and Land Rovers can provide a source. Tappet setting isn’t easy due to the quirly half sidevalve design and may be out of tune as a result – it should be silky smooth. 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 recondition or buy (s/h £500). If it’s been poorly maintained, the V8 kills its camshafts and rocker shafts and gummed up oil ways lead to sticking hydraulic tappets – although they can rattle a bit when cold by design. Heads and their gaskets can fail (possibly due to corroded waterways due to spent anti-freeze – check for poor running and overheating) 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.

Righting the Rover’s running gear

It’s a big heavy car, the P5, so the suspension may be past its best. Check the car sits square with no listing suggesting tired or even broken springs. The front torsion bars wear giving the wheels an exaggerated splayed out look (check for this) and the car will as a result drive oddly as a further indication although this feeling can also be down to the myriad of bushes in the system being clapped out – bank on £100+ for replacements – but the transformation is worth it.

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 – expect to pay the thick end of £500 for recon unit.

The P5 started its 15 year production run with drum brakes all round but front discs quickly, thankfully, followed. Apart from normal deterioration and lack of servicing, it’s not an area to be duly concerned about although the original Girling servo is better replaced with the later Lockheed model when the need arises.

While manual with or without overdrive was offered most are autos. It’s a lazy old ‘slush box’ so expect a leisurely cog swapping but it shouldn’t jerk or prove reluctant to change ratios. If it does, an overhaul is looming, especially if the fluid is dirty (lack of servicing) or, worse of all, smells ‘burnt‘. The manuals give no real concerns although check the overdrive works promptly and doesn’t cut in or out; electrical issues here usually.

Three Of A Kind

Jaguar S-Type
Mk2 spin-off that’s roomier and better riding thanks to the MkX suspension which also gives it a handling edge over its more popular, in house rival. An acquired taste, but the later 420/Daimler Sovereigns are vastly underrated executive expresses boasting a far superior front suspension, brakes and steering yet are cheaper than the earlier S-types of which the 3.8 versions are preferred over the sluggish 3.4.
Humber Hawk/Snipe
Cultured classic cruisers don’t come any cheaper than with this unfairly overlooked Humber saloon and estate that was launched a year before the P5 and easily on par with the Rover, especially if your priorities major on comfort and space. Hawks rely on four-cylinders, Snipes and flagship Imperial have six pots but three-speed column ’box on all. Antiquated to drive but fine value. Best models are post 1963.
Rover 75
The last Rover saloon, launched 20 years ago, was based upon the character and style of the P5 but with a modern front-wheel drive twist and BMW’s help. A choice of saloon or estate, a Mustang-powered V8 flagship and sportier MG derivatives, there’s no shortage of choice and most sell for banger money because a good many are. Nice enough in (troublesome) 2.5 V6 guise – are they classic enough for you?

Verdict

This middle class, classy and regal Rover has to be one of the best kept secrets in the classic market offering low cost, lazy luxury and yet it was a dignified discreet saloon deemed good enough for Royalty and heads of state – from Wilson to Thatcher. The ‘conservative’ P5 should also get your vote if that’s your sort of sporty rather than sports saloon.



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