2000 TC (Best Buy)

Visit any organised gathering of P6 Rover owners and the car you´ll see most is the 3500 S. Not run-of-the-mill specimens, either: Sundym glass, leather seats, power steering, spare wheel mounted on the boot and head restraints front and rear are de rigeur.

On paper, the V8-engined, 122 mph, manual-transmission 3500 S is the best of the P6 bunch. Only a brave man would drive it far at its maximum speed, but it has the power and acceleration the rofiginal four-cylinder car is left to lack and, even if there´s little difference between them in roadholding, a good S always feels more agile than a 2000.

Current classic car price guides - unusually consistent and accurate for once - suggest you´ll pay £3500-4000 for a really good S, but as little as £1500 - and possibly a lot less - for a Series 1 2000 automatic in the same order.

This price difference alone (much narrower at the basket-case end of the condition scale) doesn´t necessarily make the early 2000 auto this month´s Best Buy, but it does mean all the four-cylinder cars - and particularly the Series 1 2000 - are among the most underrated classics available. Where else can you buy a supremely comfortable four-seater saloon with leather upholstery and an unburstable and doggedly reliable overhead-camshaft engine for the money? What other car offers such surefooted road manners combined with a limousine-like ride? What other car in its class offers servo-assisted four-wheel disc brakes, the limit of whose stopping ability you´re never even likely to approach?

The 3500 S offers most of these and more, argue its devotees. Yet it also lacks subtlety - it has an indefinable tackiness like so much of early seventies British culture.

The 2000, on the other hand - particularly in twin-carburettor (TC) form and with those rare and desirable optional-extra wire wheels - is the very essence of understated sixties elegance. It´s that car we´ve selected as our Best Buy. To find out more about these appealing machines we spoke to a specialist who, aided and abetted by the writer, has owned 20 P6s of all types and who, as a fulltime mechanic at the sharp end of real-life classic car motoring, has tackled any P6 problem you´ll ever encounter.

Alan Roney has done the lot: engine, gear box and suspension rebuilds, steering-box and brake overhauls, converting single carburettor engines to the much more powerful twin-carb specification, and even indulging in blueprinting and performance tuning.

He knows all about the inevitable rust, too, his long experience now enabling him to separate cars with salvageable base units from the depressingly numerous wrecks with no inner sills or floors to speak of.

Base-unit checks

Your first check when you´re examining a potential purchase must be a very careful one on the state of the bodyshell. The P6 was constructed as a fully-stressed and self-supporting inner skeleton, or "base unit" to give it its technical title, on which were hung the 19 removable exterior panels.

This means that changing even the most badly corroded wing or sill should, rusted fixings notwithstanding, be a question of simply undoing a few nuts and bolts. But it also means rust in the outer panels is a sign of real horrors beneath and, for the same reason, you can´t assume that perfect outer panels are signs that all is well with the base unit. The ease with which outer panels can be changed encourages all manner of pre-sale bodging.

Starting with the structural sill members (behind the cosmetic outer panels), run your hands the entire length of their lower faces and tap the surface vigorously with your fingertips to feel for loose, spongy metal. Remove the rubber plugs in the outer sills and make sure that the jacking tubes are still in line with their access holes (if they aren´t you can assume the jacking points have given way and major repairs will be necessary).

A discreet jab with a small screwdriver or penknife is a good idea too, particularly at the front and rear ends of each box-section. Repeat the screwdriver test on the vertical front and rear wall of each sill (visible behind the front wheel and in front of the rear wheel), and then lift out the rear seat squabs and the sound-deadening material beneath them. No owner should object to this.

This will give you a good idea of the base unit´s health. What you´re looking for is clean, body-colour metalwork with no signs of water leaks past or present; what you want to avoid like the plague is the sort of corrosion damage shown in the photo - which invariably means that the entire inner-sill-to-floorpan seam is rusting away, too.

In truth, you´re unlikely to find a car with no rust at all in its sills, and there´s an argument for saying that, in terms of repair, even the smallest bubbles of rust indicate as much trouble as gaping holes. But use your judgement as best you can. Try to gauge the competence of past repairs, too.

Another common trouble spot you´ll probably see as you open the rear doors: the curved sections of the "D" posts corrode in the concave area next to the channel for the rubber door seals. Although this is not, in itself, desperately serious, it does indicate there´s more extensive rust inside.

Open the front doors next, and use a torch to examine the forward ends of the sills just inboard of each front wing. Inside the car again, lift the carpet in the front footwells and repeat the examination of the floor and the inner walls of the inner sills.

Continue by opening the boot and carefully peeling back the rubber matting on the floor (it´s easily torn). Surface rust is inevitable, but you´ll often find that the entire forward part of the floor, where it sweeps up over the rear axle, is badly corroded. Repair is reasonably straightforward here, however.

It´s highly unlikely that the car´s owner will let you remove the rear wings to have a look underneath, but from inside the boot you can gain a reasonable idea of what the metal might be like in this area. Peel back the rubber trim covering the upper sides of the boot compartment and look for a semi-circular line of rust bubbles around the outer edge of the inner wheelarch.

Next, open the bonnet and have a look at the inner front wings. Common trouble spots include the flat areas above and behind the headlights, and the flanges on which the outer wings are located. From inside the wheelarches examine the vertical stiffening panels for those flanges and the solidity of the vertical panels just behind the headlamps.

Very occasionally you´ll find holes in the upper rear part of the front wheelarch, where the road spring and suspension links bear against the bulkhead and, although this is still repairable, again it seriously calls into question the car´s long-term viability.

If that´s the bad news, the good news is that much panelwork is still available with which to repair the damage. Most sought-after, and priced accordingly, are genuine Rover/BL/Unipart items. Front and rear wings are the only major items still in production (available for around £100 each) but there seems to be no shortage of inner sills (around £40 each) or inner front wings on the autojumble and new-old stock circuits.

There´s also an increasing number of pattern panels around and these, not surprisingly, are items which have, for some time, been unobtainable from Unipart. Exterior panels are available in both glassfibre and steel, inner panels in steel only and, while they will never be as easy to fit as genuine Rover panels, they could get you out of trouble.

Glassfibre front and rear wings, for example, normally derided by the classic car fraternity for being "unoriginal", cost a fraction of the price of the real thing (four of which could easily set you back over £400 including VAT) and, thanks to the simplicity of their fixings, can always be replaced with steel when funds allow.

Genuine steel front and rear bumper valances are in short supply so it´s good to hear that various firms are now manufacturing pattern alternatives. We would suggest you avoid pattern steel valances though: they tend to be expensive and conspicuously remanufactured, whereas the GRP ones, in addition to looking uncannily like the real thing, are much cheaper.

The nature of the car´s construction means it´s also wasier than normal to find sound secondhand exterior panels. With a little searching you should be able to buy a serviceable set of wings for around £150, four doors for around £200 and, if you´re very lucky, even those elusive front and rear valances.

Replacement interior trim, of course, is virtually unobtainable new, but the good news is that these earlier P6s, all fitted with leather upholstery and leathercloth trim panels as standard, are remarkably hard-wearing. We´re talking best Connolly hide here, not late seventies brushed nylon.

That said, it´s not unusual to find rips in the seats or warped door trim panels, and then it´s a case of looking for the best secondhand parts you can find. Some interior colours, notably red, are scarce, though, so don´t under-estimate the potential problems - particularly if total authenticity is your goal. Getting hold of the right carpet - a very fine-textured material - is difficult, too.

Exterior trim is a mixture of chrome, extruded aluminium and everlasting stainless steel. Thus window surrounds, wheel trims and radiator grilles are no problem at all, while bumpers and door handles can be. Bumpers seem very susceptible to parling damage and bending in the middle (particularly at the rear) and door handles become pitted.

Neither should you under-estimate the cost of replacing scruffy door window waist seals. These are vital to prevent too much water and dirt running down the glass and collecting in the bottom of each door, and they can quickly become frayed round the edges. Remanufactured seals are available. but even the originals didn´t last long.

Reliable running gear

The four-cylinder P6 engine is a reliable, long-lasting unit, and most problems stem directly from abuse and/or neglect. There´ll always be freak breakages, but the most common symptom of high-mileage engines is cylinder-bore and timing-chain wear.

The former is most noticeable through smoking and loss of power, the latter by a sort of hollow ringing sound at about 1200 rpm which disappears as the engine speed increases. Complete overhaul is the best answer in both cases, for which parts are still numerous and, compared with the V8, laughably cheap.

Camshafts last for ever. We´ve seen one or two engines on which one of the camshaft bearing caps has fractured, and others on which some of the valve seats have actually dropped out of the cylinder head, but this isn´t a widespread problem. Burning of the valves and seats is not unknown, though, and if you find a car which runs on only three cylinders at tickover but which picks up as you open the throttle, you can bet that number four exhaust valve has a chunk missing from it. Valves are expensive, particularly for the TC, and replacement is not a five-minute job (the valve clearances have to be laboriously set by means of shims) so consider your options carefully.

If the four-cylinder engines have a real Achilles´ heel it is cooling-system corrosion. Many will have been run without the right mix of water and anti-freeze in the radiator, so you can expect to find erosion of the waterways in the cylinder head. Repair is possible if you can find a machine shop with the facilities for aluminium welding, but the best answer is straight replacement. Most engines have also now reached the age at which the pressed-steel plates covering the sides of the cylinder block are beginning to rot through. Replacements are still easy to find but they cost £50 apiece and fitting them is an engine-out job unless you have 9in-long double-joined fingers.

Those twin SU carburettors, particularly on early cars, can lead to erratic, lumpy running (provided the rest of the engine is sound a good tune-up will usually restore normal running) and it´s a fact of life that, with a compression ratio of 10:1, most TCs suffer pinking and running-on.

Throttle-spindle and linkage wear can be a problem on the SC - and occasionally a cracked carburettor heat shield will produce an irritating rattle at high engine speeds. And don´t despair if a SC sounds like it has a piece of metal tubing rattling around inside the inlet manifold: it´s probably part of the carb-to-manifold adaptor which, fortunately, is too large to pass down any of the inlet ports themselves.

Rot is the usual problem as far as the exhaust is concerned (particualrly on the rearmost sections), but the four-cylinder cars also shake their systems to pieces. The whole thing needs to be correctly hung for maximum life and minimum noise, and you should check any TC for fractures of the special tubular-steel manifold. Replacements, if you can find them, are expensive. SC manifolds sometimes show signs of cracking around their mounting flanges, too.

Gearboxes are either four-speed manual units or, in the case of the single carburettor automatics, three-speed Borg-Warner units. Expect bearing noise on high-mileage manual ´boxes and a change quality, particularly on earlier 2000s, that can vary between difficult and impossible.

The synchromesh should be just about unbeatable unless the gearbox really is on its last legs. Most gearboxes, however, show some signs of teeth gnashing when you select reverse. This is due to clutch drag rather than any fault within the gearbox itself. It´s also worth checking the nylon bush in which the gearlever pivots: lack of lubrication can make it very stiff and, in severe cases, the bush can break up alltogether, allowing the lever to drop down beneath the car.

Reconditioned manual gearboxes are available, although there is an increasing trend towards the fitment of the SD1´s five-speed manual gearbox. This is easiest and most useful on V8-powered cars, but one or two converted four-cylinder cars are now beginning to surface in the small adds.

Automatic gearboxes, for the record, are reliable, long-lasting and thoroughly pleasant to use. Check, of course, that the ´box does actually change gear like it should (and that you have reverse as well) and look at the state of the fluid as an added precaution. It should be pink in colour and smell tolerable, if not pleasant.

If it has black particles in it and/or smells like rotten eggs you can bet that the tranmission has been "cooked" and will need replacement. Finally, bear in mind that the flexible drive plate, on which is mounted the starter ring gear and the torque converter, can fracture. Intermittent engagement of the starter pinion - usually at the most embarrassing time - is the giveaway.

Moving back along the drivetrain you can expect to find no particular vices other than wear in the six conventional universal joints in the propellor and drive shafts. This will be evident in a clonking sound when you press the throttle or back off (less noticeable on automatic cars, of course). On those few cars with original knock-on wire wheels make all the usual checks for worn splines and loose spokes which can cause similar symptoms.

Final drives are almost indestructible unless they´ve been run without oil but, having said that, the oil does leak out. On early cars this was due to a faulty breather system allowing the differential casing to pressurise and blow oil out through the driveshaft seals, but most cars suffer.

The problem is that the oil then finds its way all over the inboard-mounted rear brake discs. And that brings us neatly to the major problem area of the P6: its braking system.

It´s not so bad at the front, where the calipers are accessible, but the inboard location of the rear discs and calipers, right under the centre of the car, means that pads are rarely changed until they´re down to the metal, and that the hydraulic fluid and seals are hardly ever renewed.

Cars built before 1966 (and some very early TCs) also have the added complication of a Dunlop-type braking system. This also does a very good job of stopping the car, and the fact that each caliper consists of two cylinder-and-piston assemblies bolted to a central frame should make for easier overhaul. But, in practice, the scarcity and expense of the components makes it a liability.

It´s not uncommon to find early cars converted to the later Girling breaking system but, in case you think of doing it yourself, remember that not only will you need the front suspension legs from a later car but realistically you´ll also have to fit a complete final-drive assembly from a later car.

Whatever the car and its braking system, take a long, hard look at the rigid metal pipework and flexible rubber hoses for corrosion and splits, and check carefully for the slightest signs of fluid leaking from the cylinders. Don´t overlook the master cylinder (tucked away in the pedal box but sometimes giving itself away by leaking fluid over the pedal itself) or the servo. Although total servo failure is rare, they often accumulate fluid inside them as they get older, usually giving themselves away by a rapidly falling fluid level in the reservoir but no visible leak.

Make the usual checks for scored or warped discs (the latter evident in a juddering through the pedal) and for the common problem of sticking pads and/or pistons. Finally, test the handbrake by trying to drive off with the lever pulled up about three or four clicks.


The P6´s suspension and steering look complicated but there´s little to worry about. Wear in the front suspension ball-joints can be assessed by jacking up the car under the front crossmember, grasping the wheel in the six o´clock position and rocking it gently. You´ll need special tools to remove and refit the joints, but some specialists are now offering exchange overhauled suspension legs for little more than the price of the joints.

Steering is by a worm and roller-follower box which, although it will never compete with a good rack-and-pinion system for accuracy, is adequate once you get used to it. Beware of cars with tight spots which might indicate that someone has adjusted the box to get rid of excessive play. All P6s, incidentally, tend to be a little twitchy at high speed, particularly in strong crosswinds.

The rear suspension abounds in arms and rubber bushes which must be checked for wear. The two main trailing arms locating the rear wheels have a Metalastik bush at each end (as does the large transverse member supporting the nose of the differential on later cars) and only remanufactured items are now generally available, so check them carefully for softening and collapsing by judicious levering with a screwdriver.

The transverse de Dion tube aft of the differential must be kept adequately lubricated (oil or grease depending on the year; check with the handbook) and, conversely, the rubber gaiter protecting the tube´s sliding joint and keeping the oil in must not be perished or torn, or the oil will leak and the tube will wear.

The most important check at the rear, however, is on the security of the longitudinal links locating the top of each de Dion tube "elbow". The Metalastik bushes are prone to softening with age but, more seriously, the links themselves can tear out of their mountings on the base unit, if the boot floor metal around their mounting brackets has rusted badly.

Not surprisingly, this produces bizarre handling characteristics and the car should only be driven (very slowly) as far as necessary to get it off the road in safety. Repair is straightforward however, and, if done properly, should prevent recurrence.

With the youngest P6 now 13-years old (and the oldest nearly 30), there´s also evidence to suggest that the de Dion tube elbows themselves are not as long-lasting as they look, and it´s worth examining them very carefully for corrosion eating its way through from the inside.


The motor industry´s current obsession with performance at all costs makes it easy to assume that the fastest P6 is also the best and, depending on your circumstances and preferences, that may be the case. Neither are we falling into the trap, we hope, of assuming that original is automatically best, but in this case we think it happens to be true.

The 2000 TC has its faults and its idiosyncrasies - earlier road-test reports complained vociferously, and with some justification, that its extra acceleration and top speed were achieved at the expense of refinement - but it also has a remarkable purity of line, a sort of uncluttered elegance that´s rare on other cars of the period. Combine that with the bargain-basement prices that are largely a result of the market´s ignorance, and you have one of the most intriguing and best-value classics. Don´t say we didn´t warn you!

Chris Horton

Classic and Sportscar / UK  January 1992