Rover P4

The ‘Auntie’ Rover P4 has long been a consistent favourite with enthusiasts of classic British saloons, and these elegant old-world saloons last and last.

Rover had trouble getting to grips with modern car styling trends after the Second World War, so the new technology in 1948’s P3 models was concealed under a traditional wings-and-running-boards body. Meanwhile, the real new post-war car was being prepared for release in 1949 as the P4. With a shape inspired by the Raymond Loewy Studebakers of 1946, it was bang up to date.

That basic shape served the P4 well throughout its 15-year production life. Though it was looking old fashioned by the time the last ones were built in 1964, it still had its devotees and, today, it’s as distinctive as they come.

The shape was tweaked a little over the years and subtle though some of it may be, enthusiasts tend to have their favourite period in the car’s evolution. From a practical point of view, it’s worth taking one other factor into consideration – the brakes. On the very first cars (1949-1950), there was a hydromechanical system. There were drums all round until ’59, when the 80 and 100 introduced front discs. All 105 iants had a servo, as did all disc-braked cars.

At the wheel

You are faced with a beautifully restrained wooden dashboard. Later cars have more black metal and plastic around the instruments and switches, and even a vinyl-covered “crash roll” under the windscreen, but all of them give you the same relaxed feeling.

The six-cylinder engines simply hum along, accompanied as you set off by a characteristic and quite endearing whine in first gear. There’s some wind noise, but essentially the P4 is a very relaxing car to drive. It won’t be hustled.

However, when you need speed the overdrive is a delight flick the column-mounted lever to engage it, and disengage it by booting the accelerator hard, like using the kickdown of an automatic.

The freewheel, though, takes a little learning. It allows engine revs to drop as the car is cruising, but those revs must rise again before fixed-drive will re-engage. The freewheel also gives you no engine braking at all, which can be disconcerting when, in this heavy car, you can’t re-engage fixed-drive because the engine isn’t pulling!

Our verdict

With all that leather and wood, and an air of graciousness and elegance, just driving one of these cars is quite an experience. On the other hand, we wouldn’t recommend the car for somebody whose interests lie in performance and handling. In a P4, both are best described as adequate.

As relatively simple cars from a mechanical point of view, they are an ideal DIY proposition, too. Most of the parts you could want to keep a P4 on the road are available, which is another bonus. Major restorations might be problematic, though.

We think it’s worth adding a small word of warning here, too. If you run a P4, you’ll attract a seemingly endless stream of people who want to tell you that their father/ grandfather/uncle/aunt/neighbour/teacher (etc) used to have one. A P4 is that kind of car it’s unforgettable! 

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