US spec. Rover 3500 S restoration

Seven day wonder

When Rover P6 expert Ian Wilson was diagnosed with serious illness, his friends rallied round to get his partly-restored 1970 Rover 3500 S back on the road in just a week

Weīve all seen thise television shows where a team of presenters set themselves a completely unfeasible deadline to restore an entire classic car in a month, or perhaps a weekend .  but hereīs one that was done for real by passionate enthusiasts. The 1970 Rover 3500 S went from part-restored to completely reassembled in just a week - and for a very good cause.

Chences are if youīve owned a Rover P6 in the last 20 years, at some point you will have spoken to Ian Wilson. A marque expert, Ian was initially a restorer then began trading as Rover Classics - a business supplying parts for the P6. Ian had a great fondness for Federal or "NADA" specification P6s - the North American Dollar Area model that was exported to America and better equipped than most home market cars. NADAīs came with desirable extras such as air conditioning, electric windows and an Icelert ice warning device.

"Dad imported a number of NADAs", remembers Ianīs son Joseph. "Iīd say 16 or more. He would bring them in three at a time. He even once bought one that had been driven into a swimming pool! He was passionate about them but this 1970 was always his favourite. Dad got it in 2006 and drove it around until 2011 when it came off the road for interior work". The original Sandalwood seats got replaced by a new Toledo red leather interior, then in 2012 the car was repainted in the original Davos White - echoing the colour scheme of Ianīs first P6, a 2000 TC.

Ianīs wife Donna explains: "I bought Ian his first P6 about 20 years ago. In fact he crashed it because he was talking to me instead watching the road!" Ian was diagnosed with cancer in November 2012. "We found out it was terminal the following April", says Donna. "As soon as his friends heard, they travelled down to get the part-built car finished so Ian could drive it." Those friends were all Rover P6 V8 owners who had bought parts from Ian over the years.

One of the first in line to assist was fellow NADA owner Roly Shaw. "I phoned Ian and told him I was coming down for a week and wasnīt taking no for an answer", laughs Roly. "The Rover had been away at Ianīs dad Terryīs place getting the rebuilt engine and gearbox put into place. Ian wanted his car restored to standard condition but he refused to put the Sandalwood interior back in."

A previously-installed Range Rover fuel injection unit was removed in favour of a pair of original-specification SU carburettors, and the heated rear screen was replaced because Ian apparently preferred the appearance of plain glass. "I swapped with the unheated one from my own car", remembers. Roly.

Richard Moore was another of the volunteers. "I have a background in body and paintwork so I helped out with aligning the doors and panels," explains Richard. Being a California car the NADA had rust-free bodywork meaning all the panels are the original ones, other than the rear "decker" (the panel between the rear screen, just ahead of the boot lid) and the front one ahead of the windscreen. "With most classic cars you have the rear wings welded in place and you work forward from them, but with the P6 you line up the doors, the bolt the wings in place - working from the middle outwards."

Richard hat practiced such techniques when restoring his own Paprika coloured 1974 Rover 3500 S. "I did mine in three months - Ianīs was a lot more effort! The entire week was a lot of blur. The scariest bit was drilling holes into a mint condition new old stock front number plate surround. A case of measure twice, then four times, then all over again. It was a bit frightning on that calibre of car. Ian had all the bits we needed - heīd collected them - but finding out exactly where they were stored took some time. There were sone teething problems but I think it went together very well."

Roddy McLeod travelled over 200 miles down from Scotland with his friend Alan McLeod to help. "If I remember correctly I did the dashboard and air conditioning installation, fitted the distributor, helped tune the engine and I think I installed the exhaust too. It was hectic - lots of people ordering each other around", laughs Roddy.

Another friend eager to do his bit was Richard Cleal. "Iīd known Ian since 2009", explains Richard. "I have a 1975 P6 with a four-litre-V8, I call it a 4500 S. I restored it from the ground up and when Iīd bought a rear set of bushes from Ian heīd fitted them for free - thatīs the sort of man he was. When I got there they had the shell almost complete with interior in and back axle coming out. I was handed a pair of rear brake callipers and asked to put new seals in. I though "oh great"... when I did them on my car it took me three days and Iīd done a step-by-step photo reference for the Classic Rover Forum - I think thatīs why I was given the task. But everything on Ianīs P6 was new - nothing needed cleaning", continues Richard. "Ianīs place was a huge parts store. He had a big shopping bag of seals and we used his parts manuals to identify the correct ones from numbers. One of the pistons was stuck and levering it and shouting at it didnīt shift it. Joseph and I eventually freed it by putting the bleed screws back in and applying 2000 psi of pressure through a grease gun."

"I also mounted the back bumper. I remember seeing someone trying to unscrew the top mounts of the rear shock absorbers. I pointed out it was probably hard going because they hadnīt supported the back axle, so all the weight was on that bolts, and also there were a couple of guys doing something else underneath .."

"Other than that everyone was very organised. We were all gifted amateurs who knew the cars very well. It was like being on a production line or in a 1970s garage, brand new parts and all the tools we needed. Working on it was fun, I enjoyed it. Ian was always a massive person with a big presence and when he requested some help finishing his car he didnīt have to ask anyone twice. Everyone agreed immediately."

"It clearly meant a lot to Ian; after the work was complete he posted the following on the internet forum: "a real big thank you to (everyone) who gave their time up to come and work on my NADA. I cannot thank you all enough."

"Ian was a bag of nerves when he first took it out", smiles Donna. "But he drove it down for the MoT and it passed first time." Sadly, Ian passed away on October 11th, 2013. "I know he loved driving the car", says Roly. "I think he managed to do almost a thousand miles and took it to several shows."

The Rover still drives beautifully and was recently on display at the NEC in November, even braving the snow and ice for our photos during Christmas. The car has now passed onto Joseph, ready for the day when he passed his driving test - which should be in a little over 18 months. "Iīm currently restoring a 1974 Rover 3500 for myself", explains Joseph. "That will be my everyday car; my dadīs NADA will be the fine weather car to take to shows." Itīs a fitting tribute to a man who did so much to keep classic Rovers on our roads.

Classics Monthly UK 2015