Rover P6: buying guide and review (1963-1977)http://www.classicandperformancecar.comClassic and Performance CarClassic and Performance Car
The task for a car brand to shake off its slightly fogey-ish image is never an easy one. Nor, as the Rover P6 proves, is it a recent problem either. Predecessors of the 1963 saloon were dependable, but not exactly desirable to anyone other than loyal existing customers.
Radically different in terms of engineering and styling, the P6 had to strike a tricky balance - one which helped it both appeal to a new, younger market, yet not alienate its current customers. The gamble paid off, with a total of almost 330,000 produced over its 14-year lifespan.
Beneath the contemporary design, the P6 featured numerous clever features. Body panels were simply bolted onto a monocoque chassis (similar in principle to the Citroen DS). This meant that should the main structure remain sound, any rust would be purely superficial, while rotten or damaged panels could be replaced easily.
There were numerous clever engineering concepts deeper under the skin, too. While Rover executives didn’t give the nod to the hydropneumatic design that the engineers really wanted, the suspension setup remained a huge leap forward from the P4 and P5. The front setup was braced against the scuttle, not only to allow the strongest part of the car to absorb loads transmitted each wheel, but its compact shape allowed the possibility to fit a revolutionary gas turbine engine which was under development (and sadly never found its way into the P6).
At the rear, the de Dion sliding tube design was developed to reduce lift-off oversteer, and allowed for impressive control in most situations. Disc brakes were fitted to all four corners, with the rears mounted inboard to reduce unsprung weight.
One advantage to that wide engine bay was that Rover would eventually fit the Buick-sourced 3.5-litre V8, which thanks to Rover’s own development saw service in various guises up until 2008. The aluminium block didn’t weigh significantly more than the four cylinder lump, yet produced 160bhp, turning the 3500 into a genuine performance saloon.
Today, the P6 in all guises remains an entirely usable classic. It’s very comfortable thanks to a smooth ride, squishy seats and useful features like an adjustable steering column. A synchromesh manual transmission makes it easy to drive, too.
Best of all, it’s still highly affordable - prices are yet to follow the rapid rise of much of the classic market. If you’re looking to invest in a P6, here’s what you’ll need to look out for.
Which one to buy?
Between 1963 and 1977, Rover produced three distinct versions of the P6. The release model was known as the 2000. A 1978cc four cylinder petrol engine produced 91bhp, though through the change from single to twin carburettors, this figure increased to 104bhp. Both models were produced alongside each other, with the former dubbed 2000SC and the latter 2000TC. Aside from badging, the TC can be distinguished courtesy of a standard-fit tacho, and a larger starter motor under the bonnet.
Five years into P6 production, the 3500 was introduced. The 215 cubic inch pushrod V8 was combined with a three-speed auto for smooth, easy progress. Little changed from a styling point of view, though the 3500 can be recognised courtesy of a larger front air intake and V8 badging. As space under the bonnet was more limited, the battery was relocated to the boot.
Some US spec versions of the 3500 are seen as quite desirable today, as they were much more generously equipped than UK models. Many came fitted with electric windows, air conditioning and power steering as standard - all rare on UK models. Power steering systems can be retrofitted to V8s without much hassle.
The Mark II, revealed in 1970, introduced a number of cosmetic changes. The front air intake was now plastic rather than a metal alloy, C pillars were trimmed in vinyl, and the taillights were redesigned. Inside, rotary witches and revised dials were introduced, though the single-carb 2000 continued with the Mark I's toggle switches and linear speedometer.
The 2000 was eventually replaced with the 2200. Using the 2000's engine as a base, the cylinder bore was widened to increase overall capacity to 2204cc. SC and TC models remained, with power jumping to 98 and 115bhp respectively.
While most examples are fairly solidly built, the later models coincided with production problems at British Leyland and quality issues (especially with paint) started to appear.
There are one or two oddities to look out for, too. Coachbuilders FLM Panelcraft converted between 160 and 170 P6s to estate models. These conversions - the majority of which were carried out on the 3500 due to the relatively high cost of the work - are said to not be of the finest quality. As a result, they tend to be more prone to rust than saloons.
Performance and spec
Engine 3528cc V8 Power 160bhp @ 5000rpm Torque 201lb ft @ 2750rpm Top Speed 114mph 0-60mph 9secs Fuel consumption approx 19mpg Gearbox Four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
• The P6 is prone to rust in many areas, to the point where it's easiest to say where the P6 won't be affected: the bonnet and boot lid are made from aluminium, so safe apart from a little harmless surface corrosion, they will be fine.
• The rear wheel arches and rear quarter panels among the most common rust spots on the body.
• The chassis can rust in the centre section, while the sills can rust too - peel back the carpet to take a look if necessary.
• Be thorough when checking under the floor too; factory-applied underseal can hide some serious rot.
• Other points to look out for are the boot floor and inner rear wings. The latter locate the rear trailing arms, and any rust can weaken the metal sufficiently to pull the suspension from its fixings. A car that has been subject to a full restoration might still hide some of these problems, so it is worth checking, even if the car looks well presented.
• The four-cylinder engines are fairly reliable - over 100,000 miles should be realistic before any major work is needed. However, water leaks from the side cover plates can cause overheating. Fortunately, they are fairly cheap to replace if they’re past their best.
• The timing chain will rattle on startup, but any noise once warmed up at higher revs could suggest a problem.
• Exhaust manifold mounts can crack, causing increased noise and reduced performance.
• The V8 needs fairly regular attention if it is to last well - oil changes should be performed every 3000 miles, and coolant should be flushed and replaced every couple of years.
• Pre-'73 V8s are likely to leak oil, as the seals for the front and rear main bearings were inadequate. Upgraded seals can be bought, but some machining work is required to fit the upgraded rear main seal.
• Auto gearboxes shouldn't cause much trouble as long as transmission fluid is kept in good order.
• The gear linkage of manual cars can be a little flaky - particularly in pre-1971 models.
• Differentials can leak. If any problems aren’t noticed soon enough it can cause overheating and possibly seizing of the diff.
• Overall the disc brakes work very well, but the inboard rears are difficult to access. As a result, they can often be neglected.
• Brand new replacement trim panels – interior and exterior - are almost non-existent, so used or refurbished replacements are the only reasonable options. Likewise, dashboard, door and window seals are hard to source.
• Both four and eight cylinder models should run on unleaded, although high-octane petrol is recommended.
Oct 1963: Rover 2000 launched at Earls Court Motor Show 1966: 2000 TC introduced in Europe and North America (March) and UK (October). Revised engine featured new intake manifold and twin carburettors, increasing power to 124bhp. Automatic gearbox offered Apr 1968: Rover 3500 introduced Oct 1970: P6 Mark II revealed at Paris Motor Show Oct 1971: Option of four speed manual added, model known as 3500S. Differentiated by vinyl roof Oct 1973: Rover 2000 production ends, replaced with 2200 Mar 1977: Final P6 produced, a left-hand drive 2200
Key clubs and websites
• www.p6club.com - P6 owners’ club • www.p6roc.co.uk - P6 owners’ club and forum • shop.roverp6cars.com - P6 parts suppliers based in Wolverhampton • www.elyservice.co.uk - classic Rover specialist based in Cambridgeshire • www.jrwadhams.co.uk - Parts suppliers for P4/5/6, which has commissioned new parts in-house with the original tooling
Summary and prices
Prices for the P6 remain highly attainable. The cleanest examples of the 3500 are advertised for £9000-£10,000 currently, while fully running examples with minor work needed can be bought for barely half that. Four cylinder models are more accessible still, with fairly solid examples changing hands for as little as £2000.
Most parts are fairly easy to source still, and prices aren’t that high. If you can find one with a rust-free chassis and a tidy interior, it should make for a great buy.