Racing a Rover

by Rob Harrison, Sydney / Australia

Not that I can recollect it, but my first association with a Rover was when my father picked my mother and I up from a private hospital in Randwick, in his P3.However, it was in his Riley RM that we went to motor racing meetings in the early 1950ís at Mount Druit and Bathurst.

My first car was an Austin Healey 100 which I still own but we were reconnected with the Rover marque when I talked my brother into buying a beautiful new P6 2000TC in 1970[ followed by a new red 3500S in 1975] . By this time I had left my first job as an operator at Sydneyís Stock Exchange [my boss owned a P4] feeling strongly that the job had no future and if Australia was to prosper we needed more emphasis on our Primary Industry and manufacturing. I was also finishing my Engineering degree at night, so it was my desire to join BLMC which I did at Zetland in 1970 , just in time to read in BLMCís publication, HIGHROAD,about the works red and white Rover P6B  winning races in the U.K.

Being a member of the AARC since my school days in the early 1960ís , I was thrilled to hear that Geoff Sykes who ran motor race meetings at Warwick Farm[and who used a white P62000 as clerk of the coarse car]persuaded BLMC Australia to import the second works car to be part owned by well known Mini Cooper driver, Jim Smith.

I briefly raced an Austin Cooper Mini in club events in the later part of the 1960ís and my brother and I accompanied Ross Bond and his Healey 3000 to the long distance races at Surfers Paradise, so I imported a works 3 litre Healey in 1971 but when it arrived here, the Surfers Paradise 6 hour races ceased , never to return, so the Healey was put away and never raced. I then went to the U.K to try my hand at Formula Ford but quickly ran out of funds but I always had my eye on that x/works P6B.When it came up for sale in the mid 1980ís I bought it but it needed a huge amount of work to get it going. I bought the original Traco V8 engine for it but it seemed like a long term project, so I decided to build a Group Nc P6B 3500 S in the 1990ís.The car was to be based on the works car but within the Historic register regulations. However, CAMS were not very accommodating and refused me a historic log book claiming the Jim Smith car only raced with production touring cars on invitation and was in fact improved production and because a Rover 3500 did not compete here in Production Touring they refused me the log book even though spectators remember the blue and white car competing against Mustangs and Minis and XU1ís on tracks all over Australia. Owing to this I wasnít prepared to spend time and resources on improving the mechanical side of the car and elected to only fit a Walkinshaw sump and high pressure oil pump, although a nice road/race camshaft was supplied by Triumph/Rover Spares in Adelaide.However, I decided to concentrate on getting the car to handle so I took it to Heasmans suspension who did wonders with the springs and spring rates but the greatest improvement  was the fitting of a thicker front anti sway bar from Denis Trigg. This transformed the handling together with 15 x 7 inch Minilite replicas and Dunlop DJO1 road/race tyres.

Trying to get weight down was vital, so when the half cage roll bar set up was fitted ,the back seats were removed[to keep historic plates, this is essential] and then the front seats were replaced with classic racing seats from Grand Prix Racewear in London.. The front seat replacement saved 16 kilos. I even removed a couple of doors from the drivers side and replaced them with those from the works car which had Perspex windows again saving weight. The gearbox remained standard[I could get away with a 4 speed version of the LT77 but they weigh almost 20 kilos more Ėit would be handy to have a fifth gear as the Rover runs out of revs on Conrod straight at 5200, yet Iím easily getting 5500 RPM at the cutting in second gear] but Denis Barr put me on to PJS in the UK as I was having difficulty selecting 2 nd gear at the cutting at Bathurst, and they recommended having a nylon bush to the base of the gearstick which worked wonders. This was strange though as this nylon bush was only fitted to very late 3500 S cars and my car was a very early model sent to the New Zealand Motor Corporation but not registered until 1973 in Australia. The commission number had been erased by a rotary drill from the left hand inner guard and a compliance plate fitted to the front bulkhead. Could this car have been sent to N.Z for Police approval??

I was told by Peter Holton in the U.K who races a P6B in the Classic Touring Car Championship that a limited slip diff was essential but at Stg2000 , I stuck with the standard item. If CAMS weakened and gave me the essential log book[they gave me a log book for road going racing saloons-but not historic] then the regulations allow 4 Weber carburettors or a full race engine which would require a LSD. But in the meantime there is no point, so I tried two 2 inch SUís but they fouled with the rocker covers. Wilpower make a lovely inlet manifold which takes two 2 inch SUís and is used in the Morgan V8 race cars but the bonnet clearance is greater and Iím not sure whether they would fit under the P6B bonnet. The problem with the standard 1 ĺ inch SUís is that the O rings donít like Avgas and I had untold problems until it was diagnosed by Peter Yalden in Melbourne whose dealership used to specialize in Rovers.

The brakes are also standard but are fitted with Jaguar E Type racing pads which are fabulous, however, I would like a dual system and 4 pot calipers which may come later. A cheap option would be Volvo rotors and calipers.

Iíve painted the car in the Leyland Young Lions blue and white as was Jim Smithís car which matches the donor panels. I had hoped to reform the Young Lions team with the MG Midget, MGB, Spitfire, Cooper Mini and Austin Healey 3000 but owners of such cars were unwilling to repaint their race cars in the Mediterranean Blue and White of the original cars. This is a real shame as this team formed in 1970 was extremely successful with their B.L , Castrol and Dunlop sponsorship.The Rovers last appearance as part of this team was late in 1971 at Bay Park in N.Z. My wife, Toni and I met at Leyland in the 1970ís , so her interest in the Young Lions Team has been a great motivation for me and Iím sure we will eventually get a replica team together.

Most people donít associate Rovers with motor racing however, their pedigree in this arena is exceptionally good and of particular note is innovative technology which Rover pioneered especially in regard to gas turbine cars at Le Mans and the fact that the front suspension design of the P6 is that used by most Formula 1 teams today.

Our thanks go to Ayers Automotive at Brookvale for maintaining my car and for the interest in motor sport shown by James and Kathy Whitford, Denis and Janet Barr and of course, Denis Trigg whose rallying exploits in a Rover P6B are legendary.

(some more photos of the blue P6 racer here)