The car was standard issue for cabinet ministers and prime ministers and indeed the Government Car Service must have been more than wary of Jaguar’s new XJ saloons since it bought and stored the final batch of P5Bs, gradually registering them as new cars several years after production ended. Oh, and a further seal of approval was stamped on the car by the Queen’s personal ownership of an Arden Green example.
The ‘B’ in the car’s name signified the use of the Buick-designed V8 powerplant which was fitted to the range from 1967 when the 3.0-litre straight-six was discontinued. In reality the old Rover 3.0-litre engine had its work cut out to make the big P5 shift and in order to keep abreast of the competition the firm knew it needed a replacement, which came in the shape of the compact all-alloy V8. With a significant weight saving over the six-cylinder, the car was both faster and handled better, with no penalty in fuel consumption.
The example we have here is something of a timewarp, just as those ministerial cars must have been – in the 43 years since it left Solihull, it’s covered just 19,000 miles and its condition reflects that. The bodywork is exceptionally sound and was in fact restored and painted some 19 years ago by a P5 specialist for the original owner who unfortunately passed away before he could enjoy the finished article.
The P5 isn’t an exotic car but can still be costly to bring up to scratch when items like chrome trim are needed – especially the hefty bumpers – but this example boasts shiny, straight items at both ends, set off nicely by the thin whitewall banded tyres. Another area that can get very expensive to restore is the sumptuous interior with its wood and leather ambience, which skillfully blends modern and traditional with its wraparound dashboard. The values of the cars aren’t at the level yet where a full retrim and re-veneering can often be justified which means that many outwardly presentable P5s have dry leather and cracking veneers. Not here though – thanks to that low mileage the interior is one of the nicest examples of the P5 I can remember experiencing, with nice taut seat covers and lustrous veneer.
ON THE ROAD
Firing from a cold start it’s good to see a manual choke – the original Rover automatic choke was unloved and in fact Rover itself offered an official conversion kit. There’s no fumbling for a key slot on the column – the P5 ignition switch is right in front of the driver in the instrument binnacle and a quick twist is rewarded by that familiar Rover V8 thrum.
All the V8-powered P5s were automatic since Rover lacked a manual gearbox in its range capable of handling the torque of the 3.5-litre, and the selector lever is elegant in its simplicity. The wide centre console with its pull-out picnic table is uncluttered by a handbrake, too – there’s an umbrella-style lever on the dash to the right of the driver. Modern inertia reel seatbelts are fitted to this car and they are so much more convenient (not to mention safer) than the fixed type, which never seem to quite be adjusted properly.
We didn’t get the chance to take the car up to higher speeds but there’s a big difference between the way a good P5B and an average one drives – and this is most definitely a good one. The low mileage means the suspension doesn’t feel soggy and the V8 pulls strongly enough to suggest that its 160bhp is still very much present. These are brisk cars rather than outright hot rods, but do have more than enough pace to keep up with modern traffic and are very usable.
If you like the P5 style and don’t want to get into restoration then this is an ideal choice. The expensive bits have all been attended to and at a total mileage less than that of a modern rep’s yearly travels, it’s got another lifetime of enjoyment left in it.
ENGINE: 3532cc V8
TOP SPEED: 110mph
GEARBOX: 3-sp auto