Rover P6

Is it the best "everyday classic"?

Some years ago, it was quite common to see cars such as the MkII Jaguar in everyday service as clapped-out runarounds. It is still possible to see the occasional one used thus but now that these cars have become very collectible they are a rare sight in "banger" form.

Cars that temporarily replaced the MkII Jag as a popular status symbol were the P6 Rover, closely followed by the Rover SD1 and elderly BMW saloons. This situation is changing rapidly though because, as these cars fail stiffer M.O.T. tests and owners refuse to pay out more money than the cars are worth to repair them, they end up in the scrapyard. Currently, it is still possible to pick up a decent P6 Rover for small money, a situation which will no doubt reverse in the next few years as the P6 rapidly increases in value as the remaining good cars become collectors items.

This brings us to the point of our story. If someone was to ask me what was the best value "everyday classic" available at the moment I would without any hesitation have to say: the P6 Rover. The reasons why are many and varied. First of all, let us look at the car in a general way, ignoring its many different engine options. The modelīs strongest points are its fantastic ride, in some respects as good as that of a Jaguar XJ6. Its seats are among the most comfortable ever designed and the engines are very smooth. Heating and ventilation are positive factors and visibility is also excellent. Durability is also fairly good even though rust has clained many P6īs. The carīs styling has also stood the test of time and, although it certainly looks different to modern cars, it is not old-fashioned looking. Maybe it would be more appreciated if it did look older. The carīs weaknesses are generally thought to be rust in the main "skeleton" or base unit, wear in the suspension and in the gearboxes of some models. Most pre-1974 engines required 5-star petrol so watch out for burnt out valves. Also, the V8īs are prone to corrosion in the waterways. Although all P6 engines have their troublespots, on the whole they are a hardy lot.

This central "skeleton" of the car is, paradoxically, one of the carīs strength. By taking off all the outer panels of the car which are bolted on, including the roof, we are left with a main "skeleton". If this is in poor condition, the cars are frequently scrapped but some experts say that a good welder can save it if the damage is not too severe.

One good point about all of this is that the panels are easily replaceable. Furthermore, access to the "skeleton" is fairly straightforward for investigative purposes. The front suspension has a complicated multi-linked system that wears quickly and needs to be serviced regularly. The de Dion rear axle also needs proper servicing if trouble is to be avoided. The four speed gearbox is fine when used in the four cylinder models but even though beefed up for use in the V8, itīs not really strong enough in that application. The engine used in the 3500 was slightly different to that used in the later SD1, but it is possible to use the later engine and five speed gearbox from the latter. The advantages here are that the later engines are more powerful and run on a lower compression ratio. The five speed box will also allow better acceleration. This, of course, will not be original but many owners of old cars, more concerned with running the vehicle, are not too bothered about this aspect.

The P6 was first on sale here in Britain in 1963. During its 13 year lifespan, approximately 329.000 cars were produced before it ceased production in 1976, to be replaced by the SD1. How many cars have survived heaven only knows, but I would hazzard a guess that a fair few have. The car was initially known as the "Rover 2000" and that name has stuck. Even the other P6 derivatives with bigger engines were commonly known as a "2000". These derivatives were as follows: the 2000, 2000 TC, 2200, 2200 TC, all four cylinder engines; the 3500 and the 3500 S models plus other export models. The 3500 engine, of course, was the ubiquitous ex GM V8. The body style hardly changed during the carīs long life, most alterations being to exterior trim etc. An Estate version was produced by Panelcraft and marketed by Crayford, Hurst Park Auto and H.R.Owen. This was not a factory car but a full Rover warranty was offered if a new car was converted. Approximately 155 of these Estates were built and today are much sought after.

In comparison, the 2000 model is a little sluggish, and the 2200 TC is quite quick, whereas any of the four cylinder cars with the optional Borg Warner automatic transmission are considerably slower. With the 3.5 V8 installed, the car is transformed even in automatic form. The 3500 S model with the manual box is very fast, much faster on the road than its "official paper" performance figures indicate. The V8 engined models are also very smooth. Fuel consumption on the four cylinder cars averages around 20-23 mpg for the manual versions and 19-22 mpg for the autos. The V8 is thirsty in any form and should give around 18.20 mpg in auto guise and 19-22 mpg with the manual box. Spares are still relatively easy to come by, especially secondhand. The P6 club has been going from strength to strength with membership showing a marked increase in recent years.

To see how easy or difficult it is to restore a P6, Old Car are going to have a 3500 Estate restored. Our initial examination showed a car that had been used regularly all of its life, now a bit tired and certainly in need of some restoration. The bodywork shows that all four wings are fibre glass. The sills, bonnet and tailgate are all sound. All exterior chrome is pitting to varying degrees, the door handles being the worst. Side trims and badges need replacing as do exterior window rubbers. The padded vinyl roof is very good but the sunroof is shot. Tyres are all good. Underneath, the car is sound but it will need some of the wings off to see the condition of the all-important base-frame.

The engine and Borg Warner 35 autobox are still the original ones fitted nearly 20 years ago and have travelled over 150.000 miles. Unfortunately, both have had it. The gearbox wonīt kickdown and will not engage bottom gear. The engine is using oil at a tremendous rate which is not surprising as it is leaking out all over the place. Even at this high mileage and with the engine and transmission "past it", the car is surprisingly smooth to drive. The front suspension seems OK but at the rear the de Dion tube is leaking and the springs are well worn. The exhaust also needs replacing. The brake pipes looks rusty as do discs and callipers. The grey leather trim is still good and only needs "Connollising" to restore it to newish condition. Carpets, headlining and door seals all need renewing.

Non-functioning items including the speedo, quarter lights and the heater. As I said, the car needs a little restoration!

Even with virtually everything on the car needing attention, it warrants restoration as it is still basically sound (base unit notwithstanding) and will make a splendid car when the work is finished.

Old Car / UK December 1988