A real Rover

Traditional Rover owners always were a conservative bunch. Whenever a new model was introduced, they immdediately denouncedit as a load of rubbish and acclaimed the superseded model as "the last of the real Rovers". They did just that in 1963, but the car they did it to then might just qualify with hindsight as "the best of the real Rovers".

Certainly, the Rover P6 was built in far greater numbers than any of its predecessors. Exact figures are in dispute, but something like 330.000 of all models were made in a 13-year production run. That was more than two and a half times as many as the P4 range which the P6 replaced, of which some 130.000 were built in 15 years.

The P6, though, was a lot more than a simple replacement for the P4. At Rover, it represented a complete revolution in thinking. The main reason was that, if Rover were to survive, they had to address a wider market than before. The one they chose to address was the new "young executive" market, which was demanding the comfort, refinement and build quality traditional to Rover but wanted a more sporty image as well. On top of that, the P6 was the first Rover to incorporate safety engineering - and indeed it retained its image as a "safe" car right up to the end of production.


Rover introduced the 2000 - the first of the P6s - at the Earls Court Show in 1963. The first reviews were ecstatic, and waiting lists soon built up. There was, in fact, only one thing lacking, and this was more performance.

The point was not that the 2000 was slow, because it was actually a pretty quick saloon by the standards of the day. It was simply that the "chassis" was so good that it could obviously handle much more power.

The first the public knew of a higher-performance P6 was in 1964, when a couple of the works rally cars ran with experimental twin-carburettor engines. That engine became a production option in spring 1966, when the 2000 TC was introduced for export only, becoming available in Britain the following autumn.

The TC lost out a little on refinement as compared to the single-carb model, but it certainly did go. The 60 mph standing-start time was cut by nearly three seconds, and top speed went up from 104 mph to around 110 mph.

However, the company recognised that it also had an obligation to its more traditionally-minded customers. To suit them, it announced an "old gentleman´s" version of the P6 in the shape of the 2000 Automatic. This was never a satisfactory car, as the torque characteristics of the engine were not best suited to the Borg Warner three-speed transmission, but it sold well enough to show that Rover had understood their market.

To avoid confusion, the single-carb version was renamed the 2000 SC in 1967, but there were more interesting things going out at Solihull. Managing Director William Martin-Hurst had secured the rights for Rover to manufacture and develop a light-alloy 3.5-litre V8 engine which Buick had just dropped from production. The first Rover production application was in 1967´s big 3.5-litre saloon and coupé, but from April 1968 the engine was also fitted to a new version of the P6.

What a version that was! Known internally as the P6B (B for Buick) but to the public as the Three Thousand Five, this car was faster than a TC and yet still had all the refinement traditionally expected of Rovers. Its new engine was quiet in operation and powerful, and even with the standard Borg Warner automatic transmission it would whisk the car to 60 mph in two seconds less than a TC took, and then go on to a 118 mph top speed. Nobody was surprised when it was a big sales success.

The next revisions came in 1970. The main changes for all models - known to enthusiasts but not to Rover as "Series 2" cars - were a new plastic "egg-crate" grille, vinyl-covered rear quarter-panels, side rubbing-strips, blacked-out sills and new wheel trims. The 3500 and 2000 TC were given a superb new dashboard with circular dials in place of the strip speedo, and the Three Thousand Five was renamed a 3500, in line with the badging it had always worn.

All this freshened up the P6´s image a little, but the real excitement was saved for 1971, when Rover announced a manual-transmission V8 model called the 3500 S. Although this was not significantly faster through the gears than the automatic 3500, it would exceed 120 mph and it felt more sporty.

The last major changes occurred in 1973. The four-cylinder engines were overbored to give 2.2 litres, although the only real performance gains were made on the automatic model, which now became a much more satisfactory vehicle. The V8s were detuned to take four-star petrol instead of five-star.

In mid-1976, a limited edition of highly specified "VIP" 3500 models were made, but production of all P6s came to an end in December that year; thus overlapping by some six months with the production of the SD1.


It´s important first of all to understand how a P6 is constructed. The outer skin panels are all unstressed, being bolted to an inner "skeleton" or base unit, to which the mechanical units are also attached.

Rust in the base unit can be serious, and a lot of this rust simply isn´t visible until you start stripping off the factory-applied underseal and prodding energetically with a screwdriver.

Base unit problem areas are mostly in the middle of the car. Look for corrosion in the box-section sills, but don´t be misled by the condition of the outer sill panels, which are purely cosmetic bolt-on items. You´ll need to strip back the carpets to get a look at the inside faces of the sills. Look also under the back seat, where wells at the outer edges of the seat pan have often rotted through. Check the wheelarches, at the rear of the front wheels and the front of the rear wheels, then open the rear doors and check the lower D-posts. If there appears to be no rust at all in these areas, go back and look again more carefully!

Other favourite base-unit corrosion spots are at the rear. Check the vertical sides of the boot well, as the suspension trailing arms are bolted to them and can pull through when rust weakens the metal. Check also up under the leading edges of the rear wings, as inner-wing corrosion can be quite serious here.

The bolt-on skin panels are easy to replace and also readily available. Front wings rust around the wheelarches, at their lower front and rear edges, and all along the trailing edge ahead of the door. Rear wings rust all along their leading edges (and bad rust here usually means inner-wing trouble, too), around the wheelarch and at the back where they join the under-bumper valance panel. Doors go at their bottom edges and the front and rear valance panels rot through eventually.

Bonnet and bootlid, fortunately, are made of Birmabright aluminium alloy and will not rust, but you should watch out for paint flaking off the bonnet around the washer jets and, on post-1970 models, around the badge.

Cars built after mid-1975 were sprayed in the new SD1 paint plant and suffer from paint flaking all over, just like early SD1s.

Engines and Gearboxes

There are two basic types of engine (four-cylinder and V8) and two basic types of gearbox (four-speed synchromesh and three-speed automatic). These essential types subdivide into 2-litre and 2.2-litre four-cylinders, each with single or twin carburettors; into high-compression and low-compression V8s; into synchromesh boxes with and without oil pumps; and into Borg Warner type 35 and type 65 automatics.

The four-cylinder engines are both overhead cam, the 2.2-litre being in effect an overbored 2-litre. Both types are very robust, and mileages in excess of 100.000 are possible without major overhaul.

Common faults to watch for are water leaks from the side cover plates on the block; excessive rattle from the timing chain (some rattle is usually present on start-up); and out-of-balance carbs on a TC. Early TCs demanded five-star petrol and should have been retimed to suit four-star. If not, beware of burned valves, or worse.

All the four-cylinders sound quite raucous from outside, but much more refined inside the car.

Early V8s had a rope-type rear main bearing seal which may leak and is a pain to replace. Watch for excessive oil drips at the rear of the engine. Like TCs, early V8s demanded five-star petrol and should have been retimed to accept four-star. All V8s need regular oil changes if they are not to suffer from clogged hydraulic tappets and worn camshafts: a lot of top end noise is the symptom here.

Beware, too, of V8s which overheat. The cause is often corrosion and silting-up of the waterways: many owners ignore the fact that corrosion inhibitor or the right sort of anti-freeze is needed in this alloy engine.

On the whole, gearboxes don´t give trouble, although the type 65 automatic is slightly smoother than the earlier type 35. On the 3500 S, however, an uprated version of the 2000 manual box was used, fitted with an oil pump and shot-peened gears. It was only just up to the V8´s torque, and worn examples are common.

Running Gear

No guide to the P6 would be complete without some reference to its accursed inboard rear disc brakes. They stop the car well when they´re working, but are so difficult to work on that owners often skimp on servicing. Many garages might refuse to deal with P6 rear brakes!

Pre-1966 models had Dunlop disc brakes, for which service parts are hard to obtain. Later cars had Girling units.

P6 steering is characterised by a curious trackrod arrangement, in which the adjustable rod runs across the bulkhead. Many garages have difficulty in setting the tracking, and worn shoulders on the front tyres are therefore quite common.

The front suspension is another unusual piece of design, in which horizontal coil springs operated by bell-crank levers transmit loadings to the bulkhead.

The suspension is trouble-free except for the ball joint at the bottom of the suspension leg, which wears. You´ll hear it "clonk" if it´s past its best.

At the rear, there is a coil-sprung de Dion axle, and you should check the rubber gaiter on the de Dion tube.

Split or missing gaiters let grease out and road muck in, with the result that the sliding joint below may seize. If it does, it has some interesting effects on the handling.


Rovers always had leather seats and wood trim until the P6 arrived. The leather stayed to the end, but the wood on a P6 (except on a very few of the first cars) was actually Formica.

Vinyl upholstery was available from 1970 to 1972, and brushed nylon became optional in 1970. VIP models had velour seat facings.

All P6 interiors appear quite luxurious and, with some exceptions, all wear well. The exceptions all date from the early seventies. The vinyl upholstery  then available can split and tear, but even the leather on 1972/73 cars tends to shrink and tear.

One of the really excellent features of P6 interior design was the round-dial instrument panel used on some post-1970 cars. Switchgear was well ahead of the game in the sixties and seventies, and is still a delight to use.


V8s usually command more money than four-cylinders, and TC´s more than SC´s. Automatic four-cylinders are generally cheapest of all. Post-1970 "facelift" cars tend to fetch more money than earlier examples, which is a pity as there are fewer good early cars around as a result.

Entry price for a rough four-cylinder P6 should be about £250, and £300 for a V8 in similar condition. But do make sure you know what you´re doing before you buy at these prices.

£1100-£1500 buys a good useable four-cylinder car, and a comparable V8 will fetch anything from £1400 to £1800. A really good four-cylinder will be around of just under £2000, and a really good V8 between £2200 and £2800. For the manual 3500 S, add up to £400.

As for parts, the P6 is well served by a number of specialists, and there really isn´t much you can´t get. Shop around for the best prices!

James Taylor

Popular Classics / UK July 1991