Designed by David Bache, the P5 followed a long line of large and luxurious executive Rover models dating right back to the turn of the century. Lavishly equipped interiors and an understated yet handsome exterior appealed to a number of very high profile clientele. The Queen, Margaret Thatcher and many dignitaries all chose a P5 as their mode of transport, even once production had ceased they remained in favour well into the late ‘70s. Despite their high-profile status, values have generally remained low.
Well-built, quick in V8 form and with an interior that offered a real sense of occasion, the P5 may just be the ideal classic car for the gentleman driver. Read on to learn more about these under-appreciated cars.
Which Rover P5 to buy?
The P5 started off in 1958 as a heavy 115bhp 3-litre saloon, with drum brakes all-round. Production of the well-loved model ended 15 years later, with a sporty 160bhp 3.5-litre V8 offered, gaining the option of a highly-desirable four-door coupe body shell too.
The 3-litre cars progressed through three major updates. High points were the introduction of disc brakes in 1959, and a Mk2 version in 1962 with 129bhp and the option of a four-door coupe body. The MK3 came in 1965, with power up again to 134bhp. Available in either four-speed manual or three-speed automatic options, these early cars are consummate cruisers and respond to a measured driving style. The leaf spring rear suspension was not designed for aggressive cornering antics. Unless you are specifically looking for an early car, your best bet is to stick with the Mk2 and Mk3 cars for their upgraded brakes and additional power.
The V8 P5B arrived in 1967, combining a lighter aluminium Buick-derived motor (knows universally as the Rover V8) to make this a proper sporting saloon. Standard equipment included fog lights, power steering, upgraded leather interior and twin exhaust pipes. These are the driving enthusiast’s choice and while not quite as smooth as the earlier 6-cylinder cars the additional power and torque make for a far more engaging drive. The interior of all P5 models was a classy mix of leather and wood and minor updates over the years meant better quality trim – and from 1968 a bit more rear legroom too.
Performance and specs
Rover P5B Saloon
Engine 3532cc 16 valve OHV V8
Power 161bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque 210lb ft @ 2750rpm
Top speed 115 mph
0-60mph 10.0 seconds
Fuel consumption 15-20mpg
Gearbox Three-speed auto
Dimensions and weight
Rover P5 Saloon
• 3-litre P5s may be less powerful than their V8 counterparts, but they are smoother running. Rough running may indicate worn cam followers or worn valve guides.
• V8 motors need regular maintenance to avoid excessive wear on camshafts. Regular flushing of the anti-freeze is important to avoid potential overheating issues. Frequent oil changes are recommended for both models.
• Automatic gearboxes should be smooth; discolouration of the gearbox fluid may mean problems down the road.
• Manual gearboxes on 3-litre models should be robust but check that the overdrive, if fitted, is functioning correctly.
• The interior of the P5 is hard wearing but the wood panelling and leather seats need periodic maintenance to keep them in good condition. Replacing trim can be expensive and water leaks from the heating system or door seals can irreparably damage the leather and carpets.
• Suspension is independent up front, and bushes need renewing occasionally. The rear is leaf sprung and sagging may mean new springs are required. Dampers can break and the heavy curb weight of the P5 means they can also wear out regularly.
• Steering boxes tend to leak, especially the power assisted ones in the P5B, however upgraded seals can be installed that usually solves the problem.
• Fuel consumption is heavy regardless of which model you choose, with the overdrive equipped 3-litre manuals offering marginally better efficiency than the rest.
• Rust is the big enemy of the P5. The Monocoque chassis design is prone to corrosion in a number of areas and any potential purchase should be thoroughly checked over.
• Problem areas include rear wheel arches, rear inner wings, front wheel arches and chassis members linked to the sills.
• Joining the Rover P5 club is highly recommended as members are knowledgeable and can offer a lot of valuable advice to new P5 owners. A number of specialists still stock or manufacture parts for the P5 models too.
1958: Mk1 P5 3.0 saloon launched at Earls Court Motor Show. Three-speed automatic or four-speed manual transmission options available
1959: Front disc brakes now standard fitment. 3.0-litre engine uprated
1961: Mk1 A update sees the introduction of optional power steering, quarter light vents and minor trim changes.
1962: Mk2 P5 launched, power output was 129bhp and suspension was updated over the Mk1. Coupe body style released. Power steering now available as well as more comprehensive dashboard instrumentation. Additionally, ‘Hydrosteer’ variable ratio power steering is optional on Saloon and standard on Coupe.
1965: Mk3 P5 launched. Power now up to 134bhp. Interior trim updated. Automatic gearbox now a Borg Warner unit.
1967: Rover P5B launched, featuring Buick derived 160bhp 3.5-litre V8, speed and acceleration were greatly improved over P5. Twin exhausts, fog lights and Rostyle wheels were standard fitment. V8 only available with Three-speed automatic transmission
1968: Rear seating space improved
1972: Inertia reel seatbelts introduced
1973: Final year of production for Rover P5B. Gearing revised with change-up speeds marked on dials
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.roverp5club.org.uk – UK based Rover P5 club
• www.thersr.co.uk – The Rover Sports Register
• www.davidgreen-p5.co.uk – P5 parts stockists
• www.roverp5.com – Another P5 club
Summary and prices
The P5 is one of those rare cars that is undervalued, despite being a very usable and desirable classic. Avoid cars with excessive rust or too far gone interiors, and rather focus on well cared for examples. Good 3-litre cars can be found from as little as £8000, while the desirable P5B can be found in good condition from £10,000. Top cars, as well as ones with interesting histories, may command up to £18,000. The four-door coupes add a touch of sportiness to the P5, and sell for around 10-15 per cent more than the saloons.
Luxurious, smooth and rather good value, the P5 and P5B can be the ultimate classic cruiser. If it was good enough for the Queen, who are we to argue?
Words: John Tallodi