Classic file – P6 2000 / 3500
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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
“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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.