Rover P6 - Revolution for the young guns

The Rover P6 was a very advance design for its time, and yet it is delightfully simple to own and maintain today. James Taylor guides you through the joys and pitfalls of owning one of these popular classic saloons.


Up to 1963, production Rovers had always been just a little staid, but the Rover 2000, or P6 in company parlance, turned the image on its head when it was launched at that yearīs Motor Show.

The 2000 represented a revolution for Rover. It had no carryover engineering from existing models, it was built in an entirely new plant, and it was aimed at a younger clientele than its predecessors. Nevertheless, its price, fittings and high quality kept it well within familiar Rover territory.

The 2000īs structure consisted of a strong skeletal "base-unit", to which all the unstressed skin panels were bolted. Unlike existing Rovers, it was drawn up as an uncompromising four-seater, and its interior design incorporated high levels of passive safety.

With 90 bhp from its new OHC four-cylinder engine, it could achieve over 100 mph and still return nearly 30 mpg.

The car was immdediately hailed as an outstanding design, but it had some failings. Rear legroom was poor, boot spare worse, and the chassis could clearly handle a lot more power than was available.

Rover never really overcame the first criticism, but from 1964 they offered an external spare wheel mounting to give more room in the boot, and in 1966 they introduced the more sporting twin-carburettor 2000 TC.

At much the same time came an automatic transmission single-carburettor model, which sold well to Roverīs traditional clientele even though it was rather slow.

Performance was high on the agenda for the next major introduction, which saw 1968īs 3500, complementary to the three four-cylinder cars and running the ex-Buick 3 1/2-litre light-alloy V8 engine. Although only automatic transmission was available, this 144 hp car had a winning combination of refinement, luxury in compact dimensions and high performance.

From 1971, a manual transmission version, the 3500 S, became available. and provided even higher performance. These V8 models were known by the P6B code - the B stood for Buick, original designers of the V8.

Meanwhile, the original styling had been facelifted (in 1970), and the instrumentation vastly improved in the top models. From 1973, the four-cylinders were given overbored engines and renamed 2200 models, but the last P6s were built in 1975 to make way for 1976īs new SD1.

Exact production figures are in dispute, but around 330.000 of all P6 models were made, of which about 80.000 had the V8 engine. Around 150 cars, mostly V8s, were converted to estates by FLM Panelcraft.


Rover took a great deal of care over the design of the P6īs driving position and controls, and it shows. When you sit in a P6 you immediately feel at home. Some commentators have said the car fits you like a glove, and Iīd agree with that.

On the move, four-cylinder engines are fairly refined, though TCīs (especially the early 2000 TC) can be a bit rorty. A V8 in good condition is quiet, smooth and gutsy. Thereīs no doubt that a P6 Rover is an impressive car to drive. The ride is smooth, the steering positive, and the roadholding and handling excellent.

However, there is considerable body lean in corners, which means the driver usually loses his nerve before the car loses its grip. The P6 is quite a heavy car and it isnīt as agile as you might wish for.

Performance with the single-carb 2000 engine is leisurely by modern standards though you can hustle the car along surprisingly quickly if youīre prepared to use the gearbox. TCs are spritely, but automatic 2000s are pedestrian and not a little frustrating.

On 2200s, everything is a little bit quicker: the TC is really quite rapid, but the biggest improvement is to the Automatic, thanks to better mid-range torque.

Once you get up to the V8 models, youīre driving a quick car. The manual-gearbox 3500 S isnīt actually a lot faster than the automatic, but it certainly feels like a road-burner, and allows you to make the most of all that superb roadholding.


In spite of the sophistication of its design, the P6 is quite a simple car to work on. All the panels are bolted on, which makes life straightforward in repair, although space in the engine bay is rather limited, so be prepared for barked knuckles and a lot of swearing. There is no problem with parts to rebuild or repair any of these engines.

However, you may well lose your cool over the rear brakes. They are mounted inboard and alongside the differential, and you really do need a pit or four-poster lift to get at them properly. Working on seized rear calipers while lying on your back in the road with the car on ramps is definitely not recommended.

What to check

The biggest single mistake you can make when buying a P6 is to go for a rusted-out car which has been tarted up with new panels. Itīs very simple for a seller to do this, as all the body panels are easily available. But the thing to remember is that a seriously corroded base-unit will probably be uneconomic to repair.

To avoid this trap, check the inner sills first. The outers are cosmetic screw-on panels, so ignore them, but weak metal in the box-section immediately behind spells trouble.

Peel back the sill carpets and press the metal from the inside, too. Remember that a full sill job might cost you Ģ500 a side, especially if there is associated corrosion in the floorpan and inner wheelarches.

The four-cylinder engines are fairly robust but can become noisy. Tappet adjustment is by shims (and is therefore often neglected) and the hydraulic timing-chain adjuster can clog up in old age, resulting in a ringing noise from the chain at the front of the engine.

The V8s should be quiet and smooth, but infrequent oil changes lead to clogging of the hydraulic tappets and also to wear of the camshaft lobes, so top end rattle is quite common.

On pre-1971 V8s, watch out for leaks from the rear main bearing oil seal, and on all V8s, watch out for overheating; it usually means someone hasnīt used inhibitor in the cooling system and the waterways have started to corrode and silt up.

Manual gearboxes are another weak point, especially on the 3500 S mdeols. Worn synchromesh is common, but beware of cars which jump out of gear, usually in third or reverse.

Listen out for clonks in the driveline, which usually mean worn UJs (the P6 has six in the prop shaft and drive shafts), and beware of braking maladies.

Classic Car Weekly / UK  2 January 1991