A well-kept Rover P6 3500S can be a joy to drive, as we confirmed with this low-mileage example
Words and images: Jack Grover With thanks to: Peterborough Classic Cars
The V8-engined Rover P6 introduced real muscle to the British executive car market, and provided Rover with a performance model to match Triumph’s fuel-injected straight-six models. But at first the 3500 was only available with a three-speed automatic – the P6’s specially designed four-speed manual gearbox had been intended for the less gutsy four-cylinder engine and simply couldn’t stand the V8’s torque. Upgrading the gearbox’s internals took a few years to happen, leading to the launch of the 3500S in 1971. As was Rover’s habit, the initial didn’t stand for ‘Sport’ but for ‘Synchromesh’ (a distinction dating back to the days of the Rover P4). Whatever Rover thought the initial stood for, the 3500S was certainly the sportiest of the P6s to drive and the one with the most appeal to the well-heeled kipper tie-wearing executive of the early 1970s.
The Rover P6 is one of those cars where a poor-quality restoration can wreak more havoc, and present more trouble for a future owner, than a decrepit but original example. Fortunately, there are no such worries with this mustard yellow example, since it is something that is now increasingly rare – a P6 in low mileage and original condition. The odometer shows 37,800 miles, which is confirmed by a smattering of old MoT certificates that also reveal it’s only covered 7000 miles since 1994, and therefore recent mechanical work has very much been in the line of recommissioning rather than regular servicing. It includes an oil service on the engine and transmission, new brake callipers and rear dampers, while Peterborough Classic Cars has fitted new steering joints, front dampers, a stainless-steel exhaust and a replacement clutch.
The bodywork has needed no work, which speaks to the fundamentally good condition that it is still in. Bright summer sunlight failed to reveal any mismatched colours on the P6’s famously swappable panels, and he gaps between them are also reassuringly even. Of course, a P6’s real trouble spots lurk well under the external panels, but a quick prod of the sills and a feel (and smell) under the rear seat and in the boot floor revealed only solid metal and no signs of water leaks or rust. The vinyl roof is free of defects, as are the various pieces of stainless-steel trim, the distinctive spare wheel mount on the boot and the Lucas foglamps under the bumper with their original covers.
This P6 has black seats on top of tan carpets, as well as the standard black fascia and wooden strip running around the cabin waistline. Although the carpets show some signs of fading in the bits that catch more of the sun, the rest of the interior is in excellent condition. The P6’s distinctive ergonomic switchgear is all present and correct, while the headlining is in perfect condition.
With its sculpted inner wings covering the unique front suspension with its horizontal springs, the engine bay of the P6 is always a neat place. The V8 fairly fills the space between. The warning and service stickers are still there, and there are no signs of leaks from the engine, gearbox or power steering. The engine oil also looks clean and up the right level.
It quickly becomes evident how few miles this P6 has covered. This one is entirely free of the whiny bearings, notchy gearchange and tendency to jump out of gear that can plague these cars. The V8 runs smoothly whether cruising or accelerating, making a lovely wuffle through the stainless exhaust, and even on one of the hottest days of the year the temperature gauge didn’t waver from the middle of the green band on the gauge.
The same weather also brings into sharp notice the benefits of the P6’s distinctive air vent on top of the steering column, allowing fresh air right into the driver’s face – why has no other car got this feature 60 years later? The aplomb with which this car handles lumpy fenland roads does credit to its condition, floating along with a long travel but well controlled motion in completely mechanical silence. The corners see the P6 lean a bit, as is normal for the type, but the steering is light and free of slop.
Rover P6 3500S: our verdict
The P6 is a car that really doesn’t need to make a case for itself – even on paper it has all the hallmarks of a classic and driving one would convince all but the harshest sceptics. The 3500S is chronologically the ultimate example of the breed and one of the most desirable. This one is all the more so because of its lovely original condition and ‘ready to run’ level of preparation.