The Rover P6, voted 1964 Car of the Year, offers something approaching perfection – for very little money. Here’s why you should buy one today
It’s just not right, is it, that a whole P6 Rover can be bought for less than a designer chair made from its front seat? That’s how overlooked and undervalued this stylish, capable and comfortable Rover is. Today this genuinely forward-thinking machine offers a really worthwhile alternative to the Mk2 Jaguar and other superior 1960s saloons at a fraction of the money.
Image has to be partly to blame, for today if the Rover name conjures up anything, it’s a vision of two pensioners eating fish paste sandwiches in a hearing-aid beige 214 in a pay-and-display clifftop car park in Scarborough – on a rainy day. And of course the portly P4 was terminally tagged as the ‘Auntie’ Rover in the days when we quite liked aunties, even if they whiffed a bit.
Fact is, there was a string of post-war Rovers that exhibited fresh thinking, even if the inspiration was someone else’s: the Land Rover begat by the Willys Jeep; the P4 with its Cyclops headlight, so much like the Studebaker Champion that insiders dubbed it ‘Roverbaker’. And with the P6 you just can’t escape references to the revolutionary Citroen DS.
At the 1963 Earls Court Motor Show the P6 appeared young, vigorous, strikingly modern, almost avant-garde. The sleek shape, evolved from an experimental gas-turbine project, was undoubtedly influenced by the Citroen DS, as was the car’s construction method of a skeletal ‘base unit’ to which the 19 body panels were bolted, along with all the mechanicals. Close to ten years of development had gone into the P6, which had no carry-over engineering. The four-cylinder single-overhead-cam, alloy-headed engine was new; there were servo-assisted disc brakes on all four wheels; and suspension design was up-to-the-minute and innovative, with a clever take on the established de Dion tube rear axle design and unusual front suspension for maximum width in the engine bay.
The Autocar declared it ‘one of the outstanding cars of the decade’ and praised its ‘quite exceptional handling qualities’. The Motor raved: ‘We would put it in the top three of European cars irrespective of price’; journalists voted it Car of the Year for 1964.
In no time at all a waiting list formed, and what customers (eventually) got was a car that was right from the start, rather than one produced by British industry’s usual practice of ‘customer development’. The P6 was beautifully put together, handled and rode well, and was capable of 100mph, which was more than the 2.4 Mk2 Jaguar could manage; the Rover was also far better built and finished, with a well-considered interior of real quality. That’s why the leather seats became a ‘design icon’ in the 1980s.
The P6’s capabilities were underlined by Roger Clark’s sixth overall in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally. A pokier twin-carb 2000TC followed in 1966, but the development that will interest readers most came in ’68, when Rover fitted the Buick-derived 3.5-litre V8 to create the 3500, which in manual 3500S guise from ’71 delivered 120mph-plus performance. The Motor noted: ‘As a compact luxury express, the 3500 is a league leader.’ Meanwhile in 1973, the bored-out 2200 added urge to the four-cylinder offering. By wind-down in 1976, P6 production totaled 328,000. Then came the Rover SD1...
At launch The P6 2000 cost £1294 in 1963, pitching it ahead of the £1094 Triumph 2000 but just below the Jaguar Mk2 2.4, which was priced at £1347. The Citroën DS cost £1568.
1968 The new P6 3500 cost £1791, appreciably more than the £1469 Jaguar 240 (Mk2) but a few pounds less than the Citroën DS and new 2.8-litre Jaguar XJ6; however the 4.2 XJ6 cost substantially more, £2254. By then the base P6 2000SC was £1472, on par with the de-specced Mk2 Jaguar 240. The Triumph 2000 was £1271.
1981 Industrial designer Ron Arad created the Rover P6 chair; seats cost £5-15 from scrapyards and the tubular-framed chair sold for £99.
Today The most paid at auction for any P6 is £15,400 in 2012, but this was for an ex-works rally car. At auction, £2000-up gets you a roadable 2000 or 2200. Ron Arad chairs have recently made from £2560 to £3240 under the hammer. A 14,000-mile P6 2000 that made £5175 in 2013 was exceptional; trade and classified prices peak at £5000 – which is also the dealer asking price for a P6 chair. Decent 3500s can be had at auction from £3000; the highest auction price is £5980 in 2004 for an 18,900-miler; the top recent price is £5500 for 34,000-miler. Trade and classified prices tend to peak at £8000, although a superb, low-mileage 3500 is currently on offer at £12,950.
Words: Dave Selby/Octane Magazine