Arguably the last proper Rover, the P6 was technically advanced. It both formed and led its own class in the UK – here’s what you need to know to buy one today.
Launched in 1963, it’s fair to say that in the UK at least the Rover 2000 had no rivals. The car – now dubbed the P6 in acknowledgement of its development code, effectively created its own market. Young up-and-coming executives didn’t want the same cars as their fathers; the Humber Hawk and the Rover 90 just didn’t cut it among the young. Yet these people wanted something a step above the normal family car. When replacing the P4, Rover identified this new market and felt it was well worth chasing.
The car was technically audacious; carrying over nothing but the longship badge from its predecessor. The engine, gearbox, chassis and suspension were all-new and up to the minute; a car built by engineers for engineers in Rover’s long-standing tradition of excellence.
Having won the very first European Car of the Year Award, the only criticism the press could make was that the 2.0-litre 91bhp engine might be just a shade underpowered for the car. 1966 saw the twin-carburettor version; Two two-inch SUs replacing the earlier single 1.75-inch example. But in 1967 Rover created what many see as the best P6 of the bunch; by fitting the ex-Buick 3.5-litre V8 the P6 was transformed from a refined saloon into a true bruiser of the type Britain has always done well – 161bhp was enough to propel it from 0-60mph in under ten seconds, and the all-alloy V8 ensured there was scant effect on the overall 50/50 weight distribution of the original.
The P6 range was facelifted in 1970, with new bumpers, a new grille, new door handles and other small items of trim. The TC and V8 models also received a new dashboard, though the single carb four-pot kept the strip speedo of the original. These cars can be identified from outside by the egg-crate grille, vinyl D-pillar, chrome side trims and slightly different hubcaps.
In 1971 the range was supplemented by the manual-transmission V8 – badged the 3500S. Fitted with bright stainless wheel trims and a vinyl roof as standard, the car was shipped with a slightly lower level of trim than the standard 3500 and pitched as a more sporting alternative. Contrary to popular opinion, the S did not stand for “sport” – rather, it denoted the Syncromesh of the manual gearbox.
In 1973 changes to carburation in order to meet emissions regulations led to the replacement of the 2000 range by the 2200SC and 2200TC – enlarged by 200cc to offset the effects of meeting the emissions targets. These engines are known to be marginally torquier than the earlier cars, though until the reintroduction of rolling tax exemption they were seen as relatively undesirable owing to their taxable status. Rightly, prices now are on par with equivalent 2000 models.
Notable P6 models include the run-out VIP, produced to trial the SD1 paint and trim shops (77 made, in either Brasilia Brown or Platinum Silver), and the Estoura. This was an estate engineered by FLM Panelcraft and sold with Rover’s blessing and a full manufacturer warranty from 1970. Less practical than the rival Triumph 2000 estate and cost-prohibitive at £800 to convert, most were based on the 3500 model. Most cars were converted at 12 months old to avoid the additional Purchase Tax.
Following the launch of the SD1, P6 production ceased in March 1977. The last car built; an Avocado Green 3500S registered VVC700S, was originally retained by BMIHT. Sold off in 2003, it is now in the hands of marque enthusiast and Rover P6 specialist Mark Gray. A total of 322,302 P6s were built, and survival rates are still strong.
The Rover P6 is constructed in an unusual manner, with the visible body panels hung from a steel skeleton frame in the manner of a Citroen DS. It’s therefore important not to take any car at face value – scruffy cars can be solid, while cosmetic minters can be like a lace doily where it really matters. Don’t ever be fooled by outward appearances on a P6, because everything you see unbolts and better panels are easy to swap on.
The simplest place to start is on the D-posts, where they meet the sills. This is accessible simply by opening the doors – and any rust here indicates the potential for nasties in the sills themselves. While you’re at it, check the B-posts for rot and make sure none of the doors are dropping. This will manifest in difficult-to-shut doors; a P6 door is a thing of beauty in good condition and if it’s anything other than perfect in its action then trouble’s afoot! While in the back, remove the rear seat bases and inspect the back of the passenger compartment. Underneath the seat, the floor can often rot – especially in the twin recesses to either side behind the sills.
Moving forward, it’s vital to check the bulkhead as the front suspension is cranked against the bulkhead, and it’s one of the most vital sources of strength in the shell. If the bulkhead’s corroded, walk away and find another one – there are plenty out there, and repairs to the bulkhead will need to be of the very highest quality to retain strength. Values at present make this work relatively unviable, given the prevalence of good examples.
There’s more to the Continental spare wheel conversion than many believe, too. If the spare is atop the bootlid, make sure it’s been done properly with the cross-brace fitted to the underside of the bootlid. Panels aren’t too terrifying to source, though they’ll be secondhand via the owner’s clubs or online auctions.
As a rule, neither of these engines is especially fragile, though the venerable Rover V8 fitted to the 3500 is the best to look at from a longevity perspective. After all, it’s been in so many other cars in so many states of tune that finding a replacement is child’s play, likewise tuning the one you have. Change the oil every 3000 miles and the coolant on a regular basis – it’s an all alloy engine, so the coolant change in particular is vital. Neglecting oil changes can lead to worn camshafts, followers and rocker shafts. Noisy top ends are the giveaway – a knock from the bottom end indicates rebuild time. Pre-1973, rope seals were used for the front and rear bearings. These can leak oil – not the end of the world. Neoprene replacements are available, but you’ll need to machine the block to fit the rear one.
The four-cylinder engine is relatively hardy, with most capable of 100,000 miles between rebuilds with relative ease. Exhaust manifold mounting flanges can crack on SCs – not a problem on the TC with its tubular manifold. The two are not directly interchangeable. Water leaks from the engine side plates aren’t uncommon and can lead to overheating if neglected for long enough. Likewise, ensure the car’s run on the correct level of antifreeze – Rover recommended a 50/50 mix. Throttle spindles and linkages can wear, while a rattling at speed on an SC may be something as simple as a cracked carburettor heat shield. A ringing noise indicates the lower timing chain is worn, while a clattering suggests that the upper timing chain needs replacement.
Most V8s and a number of four-pots use the three-speed BorgWarner automatics found in several automatics of the period. These are hardy boxes, though failures have been known – there’s plenty of experience if you need a rebuild. Most four-cylinder cars and the 3500S model use four-speed manuals – uprated in the case of the V8 – which were designed for the car. These boxes are pleasant in use, and not prone to early failure, though regular fluid changes will help extend their lives. Differentials tend to be solid, but as with anything it’s always wise to keep an eye open for leaks.
The front suspension is by struts anchored to the bulkhead and operated using a cranked lever. The rear suspension utilises what effectively amounts to a Z-axle controlled from the rear by a sliding De Dion tube. It’s vital to ensure that the De Dion system is in good condition, because that can affect the whole behaviour of the car. Barring that, the checks are fairly standard – solid mounting points, cracked springs and the rest. Bushes can all be replaced by polybushes if they have worn and these are relatively simple jobs albeit some with awkward access. P6s should lean when pushed hard in corners, so don’t assume this is due to wear.
V8s came with optional power-assisted steering, these cars feature a smaller leather-rimmed steering wheel. PAS systems are not generally problematic, but they can easily be refurbished if they wear. All P6s used steering boxes – 2200s and V8s used identical ratios, while the 2000 had a different steering ratio. If it feels dead or numb, the box may have been overtightened.
The all-round servo-assisted discs on a P6 are very strong for the era and should ensure the car draws up swiftly and straightly under hard braking. However, like the Jaguar XJ the P6 has inboard rear brakes, and the chances are that many home mechanics will have neglected these as a result of their perceived complexity. Now more than ever (courtesy of the lack of a need for annual testing) you should pay attention to the rear brakes in particular. Calipers can seize resulting in weak (or often no) braking action from the rear. This will also take out the handbrake, as this operated on the rear discs. As with all braking systems, check the fluid has been replaced every two years. Servos tend to be reliable in service, though diaphragms can rupture. Rebuild kits are available and it’s a simple job, but while it’s apart make sure you don’t cross-thread the master cylinder on reassembly. Master cylinders can crack, but this is rare.
While much of the interior trim is available, there are some rare colours and materials for which it would be wise to check the condition. Toledo Red is especially rare, though as a leather colour it can easily be re-dyed if it has worn. Leather and Ambla can wear but are relatively simple tasks for a competent trimmer if replacements can’t be sourced. Nylon trim as fitted to many late cars, however, is somewhat harder to repair if damaged. It is possible to retrim the seats, but the original specification material is no longer available. Of note are VIP-trimmed cars, which were trimmed using materials from the upcoming SD1 range.
Switchgear is all relatively easy to come by, so shouldn’t pose too much concern if it’s not perfect in a car you view. Formica “wood” trim in the doors is slid in – it can easily move and snap while the doors are being closed, so check this carefully on all four doors. Very early examples had genuine black cherry wood, though by the end of 1964 this had been changed for the then-new Formica.
Lightly damaged leather seat facings can be ‘revived’ by using a special cleaner, while upholstery specialists such as Woolies or the Furniture Clinic can supply kits and advice on how to repair minor damage.
A Rover P6 makes for an intelligent classic choice, technologically audacious yet well within the bounds of the home mechanic. And staying on top of one will ensure that it stays in good order for several years to come. Do check that the rear suspension and the bodywork have been treated well, and while some jobs might seem unnecessarily complicated (such as the rear brakes) they’re not hard cars to own.
With plenty of P6 specialists such as MGBD Parts able to supply the majority of parts and able to dispense valuable P6 ownership advice, with marque clubs such as the RSR sitting alongside a pair of P6-specific clubs, and with an enthusiastic owner base, the P6 is one of the easiest 1960s-1970s classic saloons to own. Expert opinion suggests that Series 1s are better built then Series 2s, and while many like the V8 the 2000 undoubtedly offers better value. If we were buying, we’d look to find the nicest Series 1 2000SC manual we could lay our hands on – the V8s are faster and torquier, but we like the purity of the 2000SC and it’s not too slow to keep pace with modern traffic.