Family Favourite

A brilliant car when new, the Rover P6 series is today an underrated future classic. Chris Horton tells you everything you should know about the P6 buying and owning

The Rover P6īs body is constructed as an inner skeleton clad with 19 bolt-on panels. Thatīs a mixed blessing. Itīs easy to tackle corrosion of those panels but the base unit itself can rust in the most dramatic fashion.

Itīs also a complicated structure: each inner sill, for instance, consists of five individual box-sections. Rust can, of course, be disguised easily by the fitment of rust-free exterior panels.

You should pay particularly close attention to the condition of the bodywork when viewing any potential purchase to avoid costly, long-term repairs to the structure.

On exterior panels, look for tell-tale signs of bubbling paint and carelessly-applied filler on the front and rear wings, particularly round the sidelight housings at the front and rear bumpers, the quarter panels between the rear window and the rear doors and, finally, what is known as the "decker" panel - between the rear window and the aluminium-alloy boot lid.

But what about the all-important base unit? You should start your search at the sills. We donīt suggest you dig away at the metal with a huge screwdriver - no vendor will be amused by such behaviour, and serious rust should be obvious to careful examination with your fingers.

But it will pay to have a discreet poke with a penknife to find rust that is beginning to take hold, as well as metal that has been added to try to repair or conceal the damage.

Check the entire floor area of the inner-sill box-sections, just inboard of the outer sills. Then examine their front and rear ends, visible in the wheelarches forward of the rear wheels and behind the front wheels.

Moving inside the car, look under the seats and carpets - chances are youīll see the first signs of rot 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 and, although this is not too serious, it indicates there is more extensive rust inside where you canīt see it.

Lift the rear seat cushions (they slot into place, so no owner should mind), carefully lift up the insulation beneath, and you should see the rear-most section of the inner wall of each inner sill. Check very carefully for corrosion and, if possible, remove the plastic grommets and have a look inside the inner sills themselves with a small torch.

Open the front doors next, and use the torch to examine the forward ends of the sills that are 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 walls of the inner sills.

If all this hasnīt put you off the car, open the boot and carefully peel back the rubber matting on the floor. Surface rust is inevitable, and youīll often find the entire forward part of the floor, where it sweeps up over the rear axle, is badly corroded. Repair is straightforward, however.

Designs vary

Still interested? In that case, open the bonnet and look at the inner front wings. Designs vary according to the age of the car and the engine type, but common trouble spots include the flat area behind the headlights, and the small vertical flanges on which the outer wings are located.

The good news is that most panels are still available to repair 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 Ģ90 each) but thereīs no shortage of inner sills (around Ģ35 apiece) or inner front wings on the autojumble and new-old stock circuits.

Glassfibre front and rear wings, universally derided by the classic car fraternity as "un-original", cost a fraction of the price of the real things (a set of which, remember, could easily set you back over Ģ400 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 (new V8 front panels are unobtainable) so itīs good to hear that various firms (not least Swindon Classics) are now offering glassfibre alternatives. We would suggest you avoid pattern steel valances, though: they are expensive and conspiciously remanufactured, whereas GRP ones, in addition to locking uncannily like the real thing, are also much cheaper.

A good source

You can also find sound secondhand exterior panels. With a little searching (the ownersī club magazine is a good source of relevant adverts) you should turn up a perfectly serviceable set of wings for about Ģ150 and, if youīre lucky, even those elusive front and rear valances. Mechanically, the situation is much better; get a good body and anything else will be a piece of cake.

The four-cylinder engines are reliable, long-lasting units. Most problems that arise stem directly from abuse. There will always be freak breakages, of course, but the most common symptom of high-mileage engines seems to be straightforward cylinder-bore and timing-chain wear. The former is most noticeable through smoking and loss of power, the latter by a hollow ringing sound at about 1200 rpm that disappears as the engine speed increases.

If the four-cylinder engines have a real bęte noir itīs cooling-system corrosion. Many cars will have been run without the right mix of water and anti-freeze in the radiator, in which case you can expect serious corrosion of the waterways in the cylinder head.

Anti-freeze or not, most engines have also reached the age at which the pressed-steel plates covering the sides of the cylinder block are rotting through. Replacements are easy to find (if not to pay for, expect to fork out Ģ per pair plus Ģ5 for gaskets) but fitting them is an engine-out job unless you have 9 in-long double-jointed fingers.

As for exhausts, rot is the problem, particularly of the rearmost sections, on both four- and eight-cylinder cars, but the former tend also to shake their systems to pieces.

Eight-cylinder engines have few vices. Pre-1971 cars have marginal crankshaft oil seals and so can suffer annoying leaks, but they will all leak oil like the Torrey Canyon if the flame traps in the crankcase breathing system should become blocked.

Thanks to the size and power of the engine very high mileages are common before complete overhauls are necessary but neglected examples will age quickly. The camshaft, hydraulic tappets and rocker shafts all wear once oilways become blocked with the sludge that builds up in these engines, and replacement is the only anwer - itīs a straightforward job which can be done without removing the cylinder heads.

Itīs vital that you keep a water/antifreeze mix in the cooling system of this all-alloy engine. Progressive furring-up of the radiator and water jacket will make overheating more likely (a big engine in a small engine compartment is always a risk) but itīs worth pointing out that overheating, even in heavy traffic in the summer, is not inevitable. If it does occur then the underlying cause of the problem will be earlier neglect, and the usual remedy of bolting on an electric fan is not tackling it at source. The V8īs cooling system operates at around 15 psi, so be careful if you remove the radiator cap with a hot or even slightly warm engine...

Bearing noise

Gearboxes are either four-speed manual units or three-speed Borg Warner automatics. Expect bearing noise on high-mileage manual boxes and a change quality, particularly on earlier 2000s, varying from difficult to impossible. The synchromesh should be unbeatable unless the gearbox is on its last legs.

The 3500 was built from 1968 to 1971 with automatic transmission only (there was initially no manual unit strong enough) but even when the 3500 S appeared with an uprated version of the 2000īs manual gearbox it was running near its maximum capacity and failures were common; most of these were during full-bore standing starts. so pruden driving will be rewarded with long gearbox life.

Automatic gearboxes, either of the BW 35 or BW 65 type are reliable, long-lasting and pleasant to use. Check the state of the fluid as a precaution: it should be pink in colour and smell tolerable, if not actually pleasant. If it had black particles in it and/or smells like rotten eggs the transmission 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 crack. This is more common on 2000s and 2200s rather than 3500s.


You can expect to find no particular vices other than wear in the total of six universal joints in the propellor shaft and driveshafts. This will be evident in a clonking sound when you press the throttle or back off (less noticeable on automatic cars, of course).

Final drives are indestructable unless theyīve been run without oil but the oil can leak out. On early cars this is due to a faulty breather system allowing the differential casing to pressurise and blow oil out through the driveshaft seals, but most suffer to some extent. The oil then finds its way all over the inboard-mounted rear brake discs...

Which brings us neatly to the one major mechanical problem area of the P6 - brakes. We donīt suggest itīs not up to scratch; indeed, its all-disc configuration can provide sustained high-speed braking that would be the envy of the manufacturers of many modern cars. The problem lies in what happens when it is neglected.

Things are not too bad at the front, where the calipers are readily 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 are down to the metal, and that the hydraulic fluid and seals are rarely, if ever, renewed at the recommended intervals.

Cars built before 1966 have the added complication of a Dunlop-type braking system. This does a good job of stopping the car, and the fact that each caliper consists of two cylinder--and-position assemblics bolted to a central frame should, in theory, make for easier overhaul.

But, in practise, the scarcity and expense of the components are liabilities. Itīs common to find cars converted to the later Girling braking system, but if you think of doing it yourself, remember that not only will you need the front suspension legs from a later car (of which more later) but that you will also have to fit a complete final-drive assembly from a later car.

Your Classic / UK September 1989