Classic file – P6 2000 / 3500

Remember Rover´s image in the 1950s? Well engineerd, beautifully constructed and very staid, the P4 was called “Auntie Rover”, and the P5 found favour among politicians. But in the early sixties all that changed: Rover went to a remarkable metamorphosis and in 1963 launched the P6 Rover 2000 on to an incredulous motoring world; a car at the forefront of vehicle technology, designed to appeal to the rising “young executive”. Lauded by press and public for its sporting nature, performance, handling, ride and safety features, it sold in much greater numbers than any previous Rover and stayed in production basically unchanged, apart from the addition of the V8-engined model, for some 13 years.

Design origins

In the mid-1950s Rover realised its need for an innovative car for the next decade; one that would retain the traditional Rover virtues of quality and reliability while being cheaper to produce. Numerous concepts were tossed around, and by 1958 Rover had settled on a car with a 103in wheelbase, an engine of around two litres, and a top speed of over 100 mph.

The car would be built with a “base unit” structure, where all the mechanicals were attached to the base unit and the body “styling” was achieved by the addition of unstressed exterior panels. Although unusual, this form of construction was not unique; Citroen was already using it on the DS. Rover´s chief engineer, Robert Boyle, was particularly taken by its advantages, one of which was the ease with which restyling could be carried out by merely changing the exterior panels.

Gordon Bashford was in charge of chassis engineering and designed the suspension around radial-ply tyres, the first time that these were fitted to a production Rover. The front suspension used an innovative design in which the coil spring was mounted horizontally against the bulkhead in the top of the front guard and operated by a bell crank arrangement. In part, the idea seems to have been to leave room under the bonnet for the possible fitment of a gas turbine engine at a later date: around this time Rover was experimenting with gas turbines. A De Dion arrangement at the rear allowed a degree of independence for the wheels but kept them vertical to the road surface at all times. It provided most of the benefits of irs without some of the drawbacks.

All-round disc brakes and the radial-ply tyres combined with the long-travel suspension to enhance active safety. Passive safety was also given great consideration – seat belts were standard years before this became mandatory; the rigid centre section of the body provided occupant protection and the interior was designed to minimise injury in an accident. While we take all these for granted today, in 1963 they were revolutionary.

The two-litre, four-cylinder engine was a brand-new design and a major departure from Rover´s previous overhead inlet and side exhaust valve configuration. It used a Heron head design (cumbustion chamber in the head of the piston), with a chain-driven overhead camshaft and a five-bearing crankshaft.

Styling, inside and out, was under the control of david bache. The object of the exterior styling was for a simple, elegant form with good aerodynamics. The interior design hinged around the then-new science of ergonomics, with much attention also paid to improving occupant safety in the event of an accident.


The Rover 2000 was released in October 1963 to rave reviews from the motoring press and excellent buyer acceptance. Production would lag well behind demand for some years. In 1966 the 2000 range expanded to include an automatic and the twin-carburetted 2000 TC. The TC offered considerably improved performance but the leisurely automatic was very much regarded as an old gentleman´s car for Rover´s traditional clientele.

Regressing slightly in our story, on a trip to the USA in 1963 Rover´s managing director, William Martin-Hurst came across the aluminium alloy V8 that General Motors had introduced in its 1961 compact Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac cars. GM subsequently developed cheaper thin-wall iron casting techniques and abandonded the aluminium engine after only three years in production. Martin-Hurst realised that the engine would fit both the P6 and the larger P5 (Three Litre) bodies, and obtained its manufacturing rights.

In April 1968 Rover released the V8-powered P6 – the P6B (B for Buick engine) and called it the Three Thousand Five to distinguish it from the V8-engined P5B model which was called the 3500. The P6 installation was made considerably easier by the model´s wide engine compartment. Rover carried out a number of modifications to the V8, including the use of twin SU carburettors. Initially the Three Thousand Five was only available with automatic transmission – the engine was just too strong for any existing Rover manual gearbox. A manual model would not become available until 1971, when a much-modified 2000 gearbox was fitted to the model known as the 3500 S.

The first facelift came along in 1970. Generally known as the Series II – although never officially – the new models were mainly distinguished by an egg-crate grille and a new bonnet shape, although there was a host of other minor changes. The V8 version of the P6 was now called the 3500, the P5B model having surrendered that title and been renamed the 3 ½ Litre.

1973 saw further changes: the exterior was much as before, but an improved four-cylinder engine was fitted with capacity increased to 2200 cc. Interiors were revised and there was a greater emphasis on commonising parts between the four-cylinder models and the V8s.

The arrival of the completely new SD1 models in 1976 meant the end for the P6 after 13 years in production. According to The Classic Rovers by Rover expert James Taylor (who, incidetally, once bought a P5B off our Editor!) something like 329.000 P6s were built in that time, 249.000 four-cylinder cars and 80.000 V8s. The last P6 came down the line in December 1976.

The Australian and New Zealand connection

It took some time for the first Rover 2000 to find its way to the Antipodes: the Solihull-made cars arrived in Australia in 1965. The 2000 TC and the automatic arrived about a year later.

Australia got the Three Thousand Five in late 1969 and the so-called Series II in 2000 form and as the 3500 automatic in 1971, but had to wait until mid-1972 for the 3500 S manual V8. The 2200cc P6s introduced in Britain in 1973 were never officially sold in Australia, although there are some private imports around. Australian sales after 1973 consisted entirely of the V8 models.

From early 1973 most of the 3500 automatics that came to Australia were assembled from completely knocked down packs in New Zealand. One fascinating piece of trivia connected with the New Zealand assembly is that the base units had their roofs cut off at waist level in the UK factory so that more bodies could be packed into the containers. The roofs were subsequently welded back on in New Zealand!

ACCM contributor Robert Penn Bradly reports that the New Zealand Rovers were assembled at the Associated Motor Industries plant in Nelson. Substantial tariff reductions were possible for vehicles imported to Australia from New Zealand under the New Zealand Australia Free Trade Agreement, but to gain the concession the cars had to meet a specified level of Australian and New Zealand content. This was achieved by using some Australian and New Zealand components and New Zealand labour.

At the time there seems to have been some prejudice against the New Zealand cars by Rover enthusiasts on the grounds of finish. Whether justified or not, this is pretty much irrelevant now after 20+ years´ use.

Although production finished in the UK in 1976, P6s continued to be sold in Australia until around 1978. About 3.300 Rover 2000s and 4.000 Rover 3500s were registered in Australia in total. It´s hard to be definite about the 3500 numbers because official registration figures do not distinguish between the P5 and P6 V8-engined cars.

Owners´ view

“I think it´s one of the best-looking cars of all time”, says Tim Crick, the enthusiastic owner of a 3500 S manual V8. Always a keen car enthusiast, Tim had fancied the P6 range since its release in the sixties, but it wasn´t until 1987 that he bought one. Since then Tim has spent considerable time and effort to bring it up to its current excellent condition. He has had the car completely resprayed, made up his own air-conditioning system that integrates with the original Rover ventilation arrangements, and fitted a Supra five-speed gearbox conversion.

Tim has a background in industrial design and mechanical engineering and uses his car as a daily driver. “The P6 was designed by a small team who left their personal imprints on the car. It would never happen today when cars are designed so much by computer. And I just like the engineering. From a practical point of view, my 1973 model is one of the last cars that the enthusiast can work on without getting into any serious difficulties. For something like the price of a third-hand Corolla you can buy a car with that indefinable air of quality. The ride is extraordinary good, the car is smooth, quiet and fast, with good brakes and it´s easy to maintain.”

Tim will admit to a few minor drawbacks to the P6. “If it only costs as much as an old Corolla it´s only got about the same amount of interior space. It is definitely designed specifically to take four people. And the boot is a bit small, although there is a kit that allows the spare wheel to be mounted on the bootlid. On the road the offset to the fine ride quality is a lot of roll on corners. Wind noise, too, builds up from about 100 kph. But these are easily more than balanced out by the quality feel every time I shut the door.”

Bob Campbell is equally enthusiastic about his 2000. A long-time Rover owner. Bob has had two other P6s along the way and has also acquired a P4 Rover – black, of course. In 1986 Bob decided to restore his 1966 model P6, an early arrival in Australia, to its original glory. It was completely stripped, the mechanicals overhauled, the body resprayed and the interior retrimmed. Bob estimates that he spent well over 2.000 hours on the car to get it into its present superb condition.

“My professional training in appreciating good design was the main influence in selecting the 2000. Its unique engineering, coupled with the safety features and clean functional body designs placed it years ahead of all but one of the production cars of its time. We bought our car second-hand in 1968 as family transport, to fulfil our requirements for a safe four-seater that would give fast and economical highway touring for frequent trips from Canberra to Melbourne.”


Along with most other road testers of the times, Modern Motor´s scribe was very enthusiastic about the 2000 in the April 1967 issue. He regarded it as “one of the best half-dozen cars I´ve driven”. Compliments were heaped on to the Rover for its handling, ride: “beautifully controlled and free from pitch”, brakes that “respond faithfully and sensitively”, and the effortless nature of the progress. Modern Motor felt that the Rover “would be a better car with more power” but that the “luxury interior is very much in the old company´s traditions”.

A brief trip around the block in Bob Campbell´s beautiful 2000 confirmed for me most of Modern Motor´s comments. The ride quality is truly excellent and the whole vehicle exudes a wonderful of quality. The engine is obviously a large four and was somewhat more obstrusive than I might have expected, but it had no trouble in keeping the 2000 moving along with the other traffic. Overall the 2000 has the feel of a much more modern car.

Wheels magazine was not so wholly complimentary about the 3500 S manual P6 in January 1973. The writer criticised the lack of low-speed torque (perhaps he had been overdosing on 351 GT´s?) and the fact that the Rover was slower against the stopwatch than the BMW 3.0 S and the Mercedes-Benz 280 E. The latter two cars, we should note, cost well over half as much again as the 3500 S! Ride, handling, quality and ventilation all found favour, but somehow there was an air of “put-down” about the whole test.

Tim Crick´s 3500 S disproves most of the Wheels´criticisms. Admittedly, Tim´s car was fitted with a five-speed box (more on that later) but I found the performance quick and the engine very responsive. It certainly provided more than adequate get-up-and-go for most needs. Tim´s 3500 S has the power steering that was fitted to most of the later V8 models. It proved to be light, accurate and had plenty of road feel. Interior width was at a bit of a premium – my 180 cm height was easily accommodated but my broad back and shoulders had one side of me pressed against the door and the other getting perilously close to the passenger´s seat. As with the 2000 the ride was excellent but the motor was much quieter and less obstrusive. The 3500 S would surely make a great tour car.

A classy classic

For someone looking for a classic with quality appointments, good performance, excellent ride and roadholding, an individual stamp on its design and advanced safety features for its time, the Rover P6 models have a lot to offer. The 2000 could appeal to those with an eye to restoring or keeping one of the more significant motoring milestones of recent years. Performance is still reasonable, although keen drivers might appreciate the extra urge of the TC model, and the economy is better than the 3500 but some parts are more difficult to obtain.

The 3500 is also a very usable everyday classic. Performance is up there with the best and fuel consumption is reasonable, but don´t expect Mini-style economy. While the manual is more sought-after, don´t overlook the 3500 automatic – the box is more reliable and cheaper to repair. If you are considering a 3500 S make sure that it is the genuine article – there are some fake converted automatics out there trying to cash it on the higher prices.


The Cars in Detail


Generally speaking, both four-cylinder and V8 engines are trouble-free. The V8, in particular, is capable of very high mileages without major problems if given regular oil changes. Even at 200.000+ km some owners report almost no wear in the bores or bearings.

Nevertheless, there are still a few points to check. On the four the engine side plate (a kind of giant welch plug along the sides of the block) is prone to leaking and can rust right through on older cars. Timing chain rattle may also be present, suggesting excessive wear, although some noise is not unusual when the engine is cold. Piston slap can also be apparent when cold but this is normal.

The V8 is susceptible to overheating problems and has been known to boil even on English summer days. The usual cure is to fit a three-row radiator core. vapour lock is also common in the summer but can be overcome by installing an electric fuel pump at the rear of the car in place of the standard engine-driven mechanical unit. A badly maintained engine may suffer from blocked oilways and resultant camshaft and valvetrain wear. Be wary of a car with noisy valvegear.

The Lucas distributor fitted to the V8 is prone to wear. An aftermarket electronic ignition system will help to overcome any resulting problems.

If you have an eye to the future and the eventual disappearance of leaded fuel, the V8 is the safer bet. The aluminium alloy heads are fittened with hardened valve seat inserts which don´t suffer from valve recession when used with unleaded. Ignition timing will, however, have to be retarded to cope with the lower octane rating of unleaded – particularly those early model V8s that run on 10,5:1 compression. Even later models with a 9,25:1 ratio will need some retuning. The four-cylinder engine suffers major valve seat recession when operated on unleaded fuel and no satisfactory solution to the problem has yet emerged.


Four-speed manual gearboxes and Borg-Warner three-speed automatics were available with both engines, although the rare manual V8 is a mich sought-after model. Automatic boxes are largely trouble-free and can be repaired reasonably inexpensively if they do play up. The drive plate on the 2000 automatic can fracture but is readily replaceable.

While the manual box fitted to the four is quite reliable, the one fitted to the V8 can be troublesome and is expensive to repair. A gear cluster alone (if it can be found) is reported to cost around $1500. The more usual solution to manual V8 transmission problems is to convert to a Toyota Supra five-speed box. Conversion kits and gearboxes are available from Dellow Automotive in Sydney. Fitting the Supra box to the 3500 S does require some widening of the floor pressing on both sides of the gearbox. If the conversion is carried out on an automatic there is sufficient space already available.

The rear axle is usually reliable and trouble-free.

Suspension, steering, brakes

Desoite the apparently complicated nature of both front and rear suspensions on the P6, the systems have proved to have no operational vices. The steering mechanism is mounted at the back of the engine compartment for safety reasons and uses an adjustable track rod that runs across the front of the bulkhead. For some reason this strikes terror into the hearts of wheel aligners who are only used to dealing with Commodores and Falcons, and it can be quite hard to find someone who can set the alignment up correctly.

All P6s are fitted with disc brakes allround. While the front discs are quite easy to service, the difficult access to the inboard rear discs is legendary. Some owners have been known to drop the entire rear suspension and axle assembly just to change the rear pads! It´s well worth checking this area in a potential purchase to make sure it hasn´t been neglected.

Body and trim

The unusual body construction of the P6 with its base unit and attachable panels carries some pluses and minuses. On the positive side, minor panel damage can be readily repaired by just unbolting the necessary unit and fixing on a new one. All doors detach very readily and are fully adjustable. On the negative side it´s quite easy to tart up a rusty heap with new exterior panels and flog it off as a good car.

Rust in the base unit can be a problem on vehicles kept near the sea. Lift the carpet in the boot and check the floor for rust. It can eat its way right through. Another check point is to remove the rear seat and look underneath. In extreme cases the bolted-on roof panel can leak at the joints and allow water (and rust) into the roof, down the “C” pillar, around the wheel arch and into the boot. The base of the “A” pillars can also be a trouble spot. These instances are unusual – most P6s are quite solid – but it does pay to check carefully.

Both bonnet and bootlid are aluminium alloy and rust will not be a problem here. Likewise interiors were made of good-quality materials in the best Rover tradition and endure well. Dashboard tops can split in the sun, as with most cars.

Spare parts

Although the P6 was not sold in huge volumes here, the total production of over 300.000 vehicles in its 13-year life means that the availability of spares for the range is still quite good. Nevertheless, some items are becoming scarce – according to Melbourne parts specialist Roverco, valve regrind gasket sets for the four-cylinder car and front discs for the V8 can be hard to obtain new. Bonnets for series IIs are also very scarce. Most spares, however, are reasonably prived and many are stock parts common to other British vehicles.

There are Rover specialists in most capital cities and, if necessary, difficult small parts can be ordered from UK suppliers and sent armail. As with most cars that are 20 and more years old trim parts can be somewhat hard to find.

AUS 1996