Revolutionary when new, and still well respected today, Rover’s P6makes a practical and enjoyable classic.
Back in 1963, the Rover P6 epitomised quality and sophistication that rivals struggled to match. It was advanced, yet didn't scare buyers - in fact, it became Britain's favourite executive car during the 1960s and '70s. Choose between four-cylinder and V8, manual and auto, saloon and coachbuilt estate.
Rover was known as a maker of refined and staid cars for the professional classes until 1963. That was when its young engineers’ bright ideas were let out on an unsuspecting world in the Rover 2000. Base-unit construction with unstressed panels, all-round disc brakes, racing-type De Dion rear suspension, even a rallying programme… it all lowered the average age of a Rover buyer by 10 years. The four-cylinder 2000 became a 2200 in 1973, after being joined by the pocket-rocket V8-powered 3500 and the motorway police favourite, the manual-box 3500S. The last cars were built in 1977.
Torque 108lb ft@2500rpm
Top speed 104mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The P6 is comprised of a skeletal base unit with bolt-on panels. Provided the underpinnings are sound, rust shouldn't be a major concern as repair/replacement is easy. Check the wing tops, door bottoms, and front wings around the sidelights for rust. Front inner wings are a crucial checkpoint too. Both the bonnet and bootlid are aluminium, and as such should be grot-free, but don't be surprised by lifting paint - especially round the steel washer nozzles on the bonnet. Check the rear inner door shuts and under the back seat. Rot in the floor here is bad news.
If the external sill covers are welded on, be ultra-vigilant, as you need to check the sills behind them.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
P6 engines are either single/twin-carb 2.0- and 2.2- litre Heron-headed four-cylinder or all-aluminium ex-General Motors 3.5-litre V8. The manual 3500S V8 tends to be hard on gearboxes, prompting many owners to fit the five-speed LT77 gearbox from the Rover SD1. Four-cylinder engines are generally reliable, though rattly bearings are a known issue. Higher mileage manuals suffer gear selection issues regardless of the engine - both Borg Warner auto options are generally durable and a known quantity, V8s are quick but many feel the handling is not as composed as that of the four-cylinder models. Watch for low oil pressure with the V8 - 15psi at idle rising to 25psi under load is what you're looking for.
The brakes - discs all round - should provide strong stopping power, but owners sometimes neglect the rears as they're inboard. Check the handbrake adjustment - many have a near-vertical handbrake lever - and bear in mind that parts are not interchangeable between the pre-'66 Dunlop braking system and the post-'66 Girling set-up. Check the de Dion elbows at the rear - the back of the car can drop if these fracture. The rear springs sag, but are easily replaced, and check the front joints if the car knocks or bangs. Vague, heavy or 'tight' steering indicates an over-tightened steering box. Power steering is a popular upgrade.
INTERIOR AND ELECTRICS
Don't be worried about the condition of the 'wood'. Unless you have an early car, it's Formica and easily replaced. The earlier, flatter leather seats wear best 1971- '73 cars are prone to shrinkage and tearing. Cloth ages badly, but the 3500S's Ambla trim stays in good condition for longer. Dashboards can distort in the sun, and door cards often lift. Red leather is rare and unusual, but no more valuable. The Series II's fusebox is a known problem area - the operating temperature of some fuses is higher than the melting point of the fusebox plastic, leading to inevitable shorting out. Most P6s are fitted with an alternator, although a handful of pre- 1970 cars used a dynamo. Since this is prone to regulator failure, only sticklers for originality object to an alternator conversion on these cars.
If you're looking for a technically audacious classic car that isn't a Citroen DS, then the Rover P6 is an obvious choice. It encapsulates establishment values, feels beautifully made and - with the possible exception of the sluggish 2000 auto - is more than capable of coping with the speeds of modern traffic. And yet, for all of its innovations, it won't break the bank to buy or run, although rarities such as the run-out VIP and FLM Panelcraft estate do command premiums.
Buy now while these cars are still (relatively) cheap. They are durable classics with family practicality, and running-costs are quite reasonable, though greater for the V8s than the four-cylinders. Like all "Rover Company" Rovers, they also have a great deal of charm.