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Rover P6

Published: 27th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Kicking off a new series we look at classics your parents owned – or wanted to own – together with a drive down memory lane to a year that was prominent in the life of that classic, starting with the Rover 2000 and 1963!

Rover made a 4.5-litre racer back in 1970 - rally cars too

When it comes to the swinging sixties, most fans of four wheelsrecite the Mini, E-type and the Lotus Elan as the cars that got the motoring world rocking – but no other manufacturer got in the groove more than Rover with its P6. Launched in 1963 this stylish, sophisticated and sporty saloon changed Rover’s dowdy but dependable image overnight and set the tone for the compact executive car that’s still so in vogue today from just about every carmaker. P6, that’s the 2000 to you, was one of the most revolutionary cars ever. Compact, stylish and super safe, the Rover with a mix of BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar and Volvo all rolled into one at a price most mid-management could easily afford yet was decidedly exclusive at the same time. The 2000 wasn’t a specially fast car and nor a particularly smooth one either, but what it exuded was old fashioned quality and good taste albeit in a totally all new up to date package, that – if it had worked – may well have included gas turbine power! No wonder Rover was awarded the fi rst ever Car of The Year in ‘63 for its efforts. So competent and secure was the P6 (care of its advanced De Dion rear suspension) that the similar 90bhp 1998cc four-cylinder overhead cam engine would have been entirely adequate but cries for more power were soon voiced and Rover answered them in 1966 with the TC. The badge meant “Twin Carb” but in truth it was an entirely new top end to the engine, which never featured in any other Rover. With a 0-60 time not far short of a Jag MK2 3.4 the 2000TC was a genuine hot rod – in contrast the automatic 2000 seemed woefully slow struggling to 60mph in 20.8 seconds according to Motor.

Wot no overdrive?

Strangely for all its mile-eating ability, the P6 was never offered with an overdrive, which irked many owners, making some join the Triumph ranks, where its 2000 the provided those added gears along with a smoother six-cylinder engine. Both manufacturers were attacking the new modern executive market before BMW even got a look in and both launched genuine sports saloons by the end of the 60s that wiped the fl oor with many sports cars – Rover with its still excellent 3500 V8 and Triumph with its bold but fl awed TR5-powered fuel-injected 2.5PI. By now these cars were becoming common fi nds on the used car lots and tempting bets for discerning Cortina owners. Today we call them aspirational but back then it was simply being a bit fl ashier than your next door neighbour! What the average Cortina/Victor family driver liked was the Rover’s style, image, its sumptuous leather interior and the ability to sit at 90 on the motorways.

They may have been less than impressed by the distinct lack of room in the back and the woeful boot space, the latter which caused many to fi t the bulky spare wheel on the bootlid (it became an approved accessory) tocater for an extra suitcase on holidays. The DIY-type certainly cursed the need for special tools, the cost of spare parts and radial tyres (the P6 was never designed for cheap cross plies) and while that inboard rear brake designmay well have helped the P6’s handling, it made changing the brake pads an all time pig of a job. However, at least the car didn’t rot as badly as your average Ford, Hillman or Vauxhall and if it did then every panel, including the roof, was a simple enoigh bolt on fi x. By 1970, seven years into the P6 production run, the Rover was starting to age against more modern and increasingly competitive rivals with its high scuttle style and cramped cabin. A tart up care of a plastic grille and jazzy chrome side strips did little to improve the 2000 and it took a more substantial revamp in 1973 together with a larger 2200cc engine to make the car competitive against working class hero upstarts such as the swish Cor tina Mk3 2000 GXL andVauxhall’s underrated VX4/90 (standard overdrive, too), both which could be bought for some £300 less than the 2000 TC (£1278 in the case of the Ford) – a considerable wedge back in 1973. By this time the BL plague had infected all it came into contact with and Rover suffered with the rest. Quality went down, breakdowns increased plus a new wave of fresh faced sophisticated saloons were surfacing from overseas. In its adverts Rover made great things of the Planned Obsolescence by rivals, but the Solihul company – busy fi nishing the SD1 and coping with the success of the Range Rover – had neither the time, money or inclination to develop a car it would put to out graze in a few years anyway. The swanky new SD1 of 1976 looked like a worthy successor to the P6 even if it was in many ways a retrograde step. P6s were still loved by the Police but old ones were now regarded as bangers by motorists and purchased by bangerminded folk as a result, sullying the car’s once cut glass image. Amazingly that’s how they’ve stood for over three decades, even as a classic where the P6 – and really only the V8s at that – struggle to gain the respect and value that they richly deserve. And the question you have to ask is – why?

When The Car Was The Star

Any 1970s police series worth its salt usually concluded with a fl eet of P6 3500 police cars screaming to a halt, their Mickey Mouse search lamps blazing, but asides from Special Branch, The Sweeney and some early episodes of The Professionals, a P6B 2000SC memorably starred in Coronation Street circa 1983. A brace of hastily mocked up 2000 police cars arrest John Osborne & Co at the end of Get Carter – and an even worse mocked-up P6 arrests the cast of Monty Python & The Holy Grail but, for style, what P6 could hope to compete with the white 3500 in the opening credits of The Gaffer with rear seat full of parking tickets?

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