Buying a Rover P6

If you fancy a big, comfortable and fairly rapid car, but feel you couldn´t afford to buy - or to run - an XJ, what about a Rover P6? The Rover 2000 offers little less performance than a Jaguar, and without the inherent engine weaknesses - and the later Rover 2200 was an even smoother unit. The big Rover 3500 will give impressive performance and should come a bit cheaper than the bigger engined Jaguars. Marketed in competition with the Triumph 2000, the Rover seems to have survived the test of time rather better than its BL stablemate.

The P6 was designed as a replacement for the P4 "Auntie" style car in the late fifties and there was substantial Citroen influence in the car first devised by designer David Bache. Senior sales stuff did not approve of the Citroen-like front end with no radiator which he first designed and this was dropped but not forgotten - it appeared on the later Rover SD1 - but the sophisticated and unorthodox suspension layout was retained.

The back end boasted a de Dion axle which was very unusual for a car in this price range and it added a reputed £35 to the production cost. The front suspension was independent with coil springs pointing towards the front of the car and with longitudinal top links and transverse bottom - an even more unusual arrangement. Brakes were by disc all round, the rear units being inboard, and there was a servo.

The Rover 2000

The P6 was designed from scratch and launched in 1963. The design brief dictated that the engine was to have four cylinders and, as there was no suitable power plant within the range, engine designer Jack Swain was asked to produce an overhead cam four, while David Bache worked on the monocoque shell with its bolt-on body panels. Those bolt-on panels can be a mixed blessing; they can be replaced by the enthusiast, but corresponding rot in the monocoque will be just as hard to deal with as on any other car, encouraging some to conceal the real damage with a good panel.

New wings are rare but glass fibre replacements are an option, starting at about £20 for a front or rear wing. Check the sills for rust, particularly on the underside, and make sure the boot still has a floor - the rear suspension mounting plates are particularly vulnerable in this area. The front wings rust in the usual places, at the front and adjacent to the doors. The boot and bonnet are aluminium.

Early 2000´s were stopped with help from Dunlop. Post August 1966 cars were equipped by Girling and the spares situation is likely to be improved on these later models. A larger servo had been fitted in about September 1965. If working on the front brakes is relatively straightforward, then tackling the rear inboard discs is likely to be a real pain. It has been known for the diff seals to spit oil onto the discs and just changing the pads is a trial - they come out at the top, towards the floorpan.

The 2000 engine has turned out to be fairly reliable and capable of giving long service. Typically of aluminium cylinder heads, this one can give problems in the area of the water channels were a form of corrosion can occur; the correct type anti-freeze must be used, as using the wrong sort can speed the decay. If anti-freeze is drained, a suitable inhibitor should be used in its place.

Early cars were trimmed in leather but this was replaced by ambla in the last two years of production of the two litre car. Though the armchair seating was good, the fascia was rather ordinary with its oblong box of instruments ahead of the wheel and a straight line of controls across the centre of the car beneath a shelf.

In 1966, the 2000 TC appeared. This replaced the single SU with two SUs - TC meaning simply twin carburettor, which boosted the power output from just under 100 bhp to about 109 bhp.

The Rover 2200

By overboring the 2000 engine to 2205cc, Rover produced a smoother running but not much more powerful engine, aimed mostly at dealing with exhaust emission control requirements of US markets. The 2200 also came in SC (single carb) and TC variants and with the gear lever improvements also made to the last few 2000´s, probably represents an all-round better bet than the 2000.

The Rover 3500

The Buick 3.5 litre engine was redundant in American terms in 1963 when Rover chanced upon it and acquired the rights to make it themselves. The compact V8 fitted beautifully into the P6 engine bay which had been made roomy from the start to cope with an earlier gas turbine development programme.

The all-alloy, 3528cc engine was light enough not to disturb the fine balance of the car but was too powerful for existing manual gearboxes, meaning that all of the early 3500s were automatics. The stronger manual box finally came with the 3500 S, thought by many to be the cream of the bunch.

The still-comfortable seating was by now brushed nylon covered and the fascia had acquired round instruments in a modified layout; on the whole, though, the interior remained bland.

As with the four cylinder engines, the V8 is a long lived and reliable unit, but it does need some careful maintenance. For instance, it is essential to change the oil and the filter every 3.000 miles or the hydraulic tappets will start to chatter. The timing is critical and these engines are said to benefit from electronic ignition.

Driving impressions

The Automobile editor, Michael Brisby, has just acquired a Rover 3500. "I first drove a Rover 2000 in the late sixties and was very impressed by it", he says. "At the time I was regularly testing two or three new cars a month and the Rover felt quite different to its contemporaries - the only car that it reminded me of was the DS Citroen. - More recently, I drove my mother´s Rover 2200 and although it felt odd and old fashioned for the first few miles, after an hour or two at the wheel I felt entirely at home. The steering is heavy and dead at low speeds but the car is faster than one first thinks, and the road behaviour and ride are still impressive despite the fact that this is a sixties design. - I decided that my next staff car should be an automatic Rover 3500 because I wanted a reasonably compact, comfortable car which would be restful in city traffic, over long distances on motorways and on country lanes. The combination of the excellent Rover 2000 and the Buick derived Rover V8 engine has proved to be an excellent choice and one I would recommend without hesitation. - The road behaviour is excellent but will probably be improved still further by replacing the present mixture of tyres - that should also reduce the tyre whine which is present and make the car very quiet indeed. My car has power steering and I find it quite good, a vast improvement over that fitted to the P5 Rover 3 1/2-litre which was awful. - The car is very comfortable but not all that spacious. The driving position is very good indeed and the instrumentation and controls are also well above average. Performance is not startling but neither is it slow when I consider my journey times. - The Rover P6 range - 2000, 2200, 3500 and 3500 S - is not widely thought of as a classic car despite the fact that the family dates back to 1963. I put it to you that the Rover is a far better car and a far better buy than most of its saloons contemporaries."

Spares availability

The V8 engines should pose no spares problems whatsoever, and exchange engines for both the 2000 and 2200 are still available from the established re-conditioners as are gearboxes, axles and diffs, but expect to pay £80 for a 2000 clutch. V8 parts should be available over the counter at BL dealers - most are common with the SD1 but there are some differences so check part numbers.

The spacialists have not turned their attention fully to the P6 and, as usual, steel panels are the first parts to go scarce followed by rubber seals. Luton-based Rover specialists DAK Autos are hoping to have a more comprehensive spares stock within the year, but, in the meantime, say there is very little they cannot locate for the P6 owner.

What to pay

The P6 is not a car which is yet associated with the mythical "collector" and there are some bargains, or at least some good value buys, to be had, unlike the P5B saloons and coupés which have seen something of a revival recently. Beware - the Rover 3500 dated 1968-73 advertised with no other description could be a P5B or a P6. Cars are more likely to be advertised in the local paper than the classic magazines and prices can be anything from under a hundred for a car which "needs attention" up into four figures. £500 should secure a very good 2200 and £800 a fairly good 3500. Don´t pay more than £1.000 for anything less than a pristine late model V8 - £1.500 should secure the immaculate, low mileage example. The market is still not very bouyant for this type of car, so drive  hard bargain.


You will buy comfortable performance with a good P6 but if you want a car with real character and perhaps a little more panaché, then be prepared to spend more on a Jaguar. The Rover was built to ferry executives from one extreme of the country to the other with the least amount of wear and tear, and with the least amount of frills. It still successed in this task today.

There are many of these cars to choose from, so pick the best available. The total restoration of a £50 car would cost many times the price of a first class car to start with. Having managed to get a good car on the road, there should be no problem keeping it there.

Practical Classics / UK July 1983