US spec. Rover P6 3500 S restoration

American Express

One of the many joys owning a classic is the attention you get when you´re out and about. Sooner or later, someone will recognise your car, and the most common opener is ´my dad had one of those´. It´s something thar Richard Hallett is familiar with, but not many people appreciate that his car is a little bit different.

"People know what it is in terms of it being a Rover", he says, "but not in terms of having bumps on the bonnet and suchlike. Some people don´t even notice the difference on the NADA car."

NADA stands for North American Dollar Area, and the model was an attempt by Rover to break into that lucrative market. With the 3.5-litre V8 fitted and a bunch of optional extras, it should have been a success, but sadly Rover sold only about 2000 before calling it a day. Richard´s car was back on these shores when he found it.

"I was looking for something I could carry the family arround in", he says. "I had an MG before - a Midget. I had a white V8 P6 many years ago so I knew about them. My dad´s got one as well, a 2200 SC."

"I was just surfing around on the web and Rover Classics had this one. There was something about it - it sat nicely. I had quite a long discussion with them. It had been exported brand new to California in 1969, and came back in 2008. I bought in March of that year."

"It was driveable - everything worked. The brakes weren´t very good, though. I wouldn´t have driven it any distance - let´s put it that way. It was just very tatty. Everything was dirty and messed about with, and covered in dust. One of the bumpers was bent and most of the panels had a few knocks on them."

Start stripping

Fortunately, when Richard started to take the P6 apart, he made a pleasant discovery that was related to the car spending most of its life in California.


"I´d had this discussion with Ian Wilson at Rover Classics about it being rust-free, and it was really was. The intention was to get it MOT´d and then do a rolling restoration on it. What really made me decide to go further was when I went to change the oil. I took the filter off, looked inside, and it was like mud - it was horrific. I took the rocker cover off and it was really quite nasty in there. That was the point when I decided I had to take the engine apart."


"Actually it hadn´t gone any further - it was just inside the rocker cover. The rest of the engine was fine. All I really did was to take the heads off, rebuilt them, replace the rocker shafts, camshaft, pushrods, tappets. I didn´t touch the bottom end because it was fine."


With the mechanical work progressing and components stored in various neighbours´ garages, Richard decided to move on to the Rover´s bodywork.


"I got it painted earlier than I was planning to. I got about 18 months into it and the engine bay was done, and I´d got to that point where you suddenly need to make another big step. I took all the panels off, but left the roof panel in. I took all the stainless steel trim off and sent it to Auto Classico in Westerleigh near Bristol."


"I reused as much as I could, but fitted a new bonnet. It´s got internally bonded-on stiffeners, and they´d all come off - plus it had lots of little dents in it. The new one came from a guy who´d accidentally ordered two of them in 1971 - he got the wrong part number, and wanted UK ones. They´d been in his workshop ever since."


Fitting up

"The hardest part was getting all the panels back on the car and aligned the way I wanted them to be aligned", continues Richard. "They don´t fit, and it makes you realise - this car was supposed to be all jig-drilled, and easy to assemble, and very clever at the time, but it´s not. Not compared to a modern car, anyway. There are washers and packers in the bonnet and bootlid to get them to fit."


"The bonnet was an odd one - it seemed to be too long. When I put it on, you can´t really adjust the position of it, and the catch at the front was about half an inch too far forward. I looked at it and thought ´how can that be´."


"I looked at lots of pics on the internet of P6s and looked at the front of the bonnet compared to the wing, and they´re all over the place. They´re plus or minus about an inch - they´re all different. So I thought ´okay - it´ll just sit where it sits´, and I had to modify the catch at the front. It´s got three screws on it, and I just turned it round so that it actually fitted."


"Everything was like that - the wings didn´t fit very well, and getting the front valance to fit on the wings was tough. They attach to two captive nuts on each side, and they were all over the place."


"Most of the parts came from Ian Wilson, and he was a huge help because he´s quite an enthusiast about the American cars. He keeps a lot of the spares, or can get hold of them, so that was very useful. But a lot of the stuff I got from America, such as the switches."


Luckily, the interior was in good shape, and apart from the seat backs and door cards, is pretty much proginal. All the various extras work too, such as the elctric windows and air-conditioning.


"You never trust cars when you´re rebuilt them, because you know so much about them", concludes Richard with a smile. "We drove the old Midget to Le Mans when I boiught it - I didn´t think twice. Then I restored it and thought it was going to break down every time I used it."


"I´ve sort of gone as far as I wanted to go with the Rover. I´ve seen cars with engine bays that you could eat your dinner off and think ´how did you do that? and how do you keep it like that?´ Mine isn´t as good as it was two years ago, but it´s still good. And anyway, this car gets used....."

Classics Monthly / UK 2011