The Rover-P6 was one of the most technically advanced production saloons of its era and the car's cutting edge design finally laid Rover’s conservative image to rest.
WORDS IAIN WAKEFIELD / SURVIVOR’S GUIDE #Rover-P6
/ INNOVATIVE ROVER /
The world was a very different place when the covers first came off the #Rover
P6 back in #1963
. Rover was still an independent company and throughout the '50s it had built up an enviable reputation as a manufacturer of conservative styled cars aimed at conservative minded buyers. By the end of the decade the ever-popular P4 and P5 range were starting to look rather dated and a new breed of middle management buyers now wanted to drive stylish, sub-3.0-litre cars incorporating modern automotive design as well as new technology.
Although its cars looked dated, Rover was a very forwardlooking company and the technically advanced design for what would become the P6 was considered cutting edge and extremely radical for the time. Instead of using a steel monocoque, the new Rover was formed around a 'base frame' to which all the outer body panels were bolted. The main advantage for using this method of construction was to make repairs and later styling facelifts easy to carry out as well as hopefully keeping serious rust at bay. During the P6's development stage, a Citroën-style hydropneumatic suspension system was considered and although this idea was eventually dropped, the final layout for the new Rover's front suspension was equally radical. Although conventional coil springs were used, these were mounted horizontally and kept under tension by a cranked linkage. This operated against the P6's bulkhead and the compact layout allowed plenty of space in the engine bay to house a gas turbine or flat-four – two futuristic proposals that never made it to production.
The first generation of the technically advanced P6 was powered by a brand new, four-cylinder, overhead cam 2.0-litre engine and the car's light weight and advanced engineering allowed it to provide better performance, economy, handing and ride than any other car in its sector. The new Rover was an immediate hit and by 1964 a sizeable waiting list had emerged for the P6. In 1966 the range was expanded with the introduction of two new models; the twin carburettor 124bhp 2000TC and the 3.5-litre V8 powered range-topping Rover 3500.
In 1970 the P6 received a major facelift to become the MkII and a year later the Rover 3500S was introduced with manual transmission (the earlier V8-powered P6 were all automatics).
Continual improvements to the P6 range resulted in the 2.0-litre engine being enlarged to 2.2-litres, with all four-cylinder cars subsequently being rebadged as the 2200 and 2200TC. The P6 continued to sell well until the wraps came off the futuristic but technically less adventurous Rover SD1 in 1976.
This stylish new Rover was initially only available with a V8 power plant and this left the P6 to satisfy demand for the smaller engined cars until the four cylinder SD1's were introduced.
Rover continued to build the P6 until 1977 when the last of some 327,00 examples of the car that redefined the Rover's image finally rolled off the assembly lines.
Despite the P6 having an innovative body structure, the car's unstressed outer panels can still rust, although a tatty exterior won't necessarily be an MoT failure. Fitting a new set of outer panels is a day's job and don't forget that these can all be repaired and painted off the car. However, if the outer panels are really bad, there's a fair chance tin worm will have made serious inroads into the car's central core.
When viewing a P6 it may look great on the surface, so you need to check the inner sills – outer sills aren't structural – floorpans and box sections under the rear ends of the inner sills very carefully for rot. Best way to inspect the condition of the main structure is to lift out the rear seat cushion and inspect inside the 'D'-post area as well as around both the rear inner wheelarches. Check out the condition of the inner sills by easing the carpet up and while the doors are open, check all the undersides and shuts for evidence of any corrosion.
The top mounts for the rear suspension should be inspected carefully as severe corrosion in this area can result in the trailing arms pulling out and while looking under the car don't forget to inspect the condition of the boot floor. The boot lid and bonnet are made of aluminium, so shouldn't corrode but paint may flake off around the washer jets due to the different materials oxidising. Moving to the front of the car, check the inner wings, bulkhead and front valance for any signs of corrosion or badly repaired accident damage – especially around all the seams.
The 2.0-litre P6 will keep up with modern traffic but needs to be coaxed along whereas the TC and the 2.2-litre cars can easily hold their own. V8- powered P6s are obviously fast but fuel consumption isn't that great and these engines require an oil and filter change every 3000-miles to keep them in top form. Oil pressure on the 3.5-litre engine should be around 30psi when warm but don't be put off if the gauge hovers around the 20psi mark so long as you're prepared to drive the car carefully.
Four-cylinder P6 engines are reasonably long lasting and reliable, but setting valve clearances can be a pain as it involves adding or removing shims to achieve the correct gap. Watch out for water escaping from the side plates on the engine block as this can lead to overheating. There are two timing chains on these engines: a worn top chain will make a hollow ringing sound between 1100 and 1400rpm, while a worn bottom chain just rattles and this one is the most difficult to replace.
It's also essential to use a good quality 50-50 mix of anti-freeze all year round in a P6, whatever size engine's under the bonnet and to change the coolant ever three years to prevent internal corrosion building up and blocking the waterways. On V8 powered cars, pay careful attention to the temperature gauge, as overheating problems are often masked by an uncaring owner taking the thermostat out.
Although the manual gearbox in the four-cylinder P6's shouldn't have any significant issues, the uprated box fitted to the Rover 3500 isn't really up to the job of handling the V8 engine's torque and problems will include jumping out of gear on the overrun. Any gear selection issues and rattling levers will be down to wear in the linkage. New bushes are available but the engine and gearbox really needs to come out to enable the replacement items to be fitted easily.
Automatic P6's were initially fitted with a Borg Warner Type 35 box and this was replaced from 1974 on the 3500 with the Type 65. Check all auto 'boxes for burnt fluid and ensure all the ratios change up and down smoothly. Make sure there're no clunks in the transmission (auto or manual) when taking up the drive, as there are six universal joints between the gearbox and rear wheels and these can wear out. The P6's differential is generally bullet proof but watch out for faulty breathers as the casing can pressurise and cause the driveshaft seals to blow out.
BRAKES & WHEELS
The P6's all-disc set up is extremely powerful but it must be set up correctly. Cars built prior to 1966 were fitted with Dunlop calipers and parts for these are now very scarce. Later cars used a Girling setup and many early P6s may have been converted to the later type. One weak point in the P6's braking system, whatever its age, is the inboard rear disc brake set up. The rear discs can get smothered in oil if the diff seals are on the way out and leaking calipers often go unnoticed.
An ineffective handbrake can indicate a lack of maintenance in the braking department and working on the rear brakes, such as changing scored or worn discs is a nightmare unless you can get access to a wheel-free lift. A few early 2000TCs were fitted with wire wheels but although they look good, this type of wheel isn't strong enough to for use on a V8-powered P6. If you're looking at a four-cylinder P6 sitting on a set of wires, check that all the spokes are rust free and intact and splines in the hub aren't worn.
Although the design of the P6's front suspension is unusual in that it transmits all its loading directly into the front bulkhead, the setup is extremely effective and durable. The P6's worm and roller steering box provides a good amount of feel and can be adjusted to take out any play – tight spots will indicate an over adjusted box. Power steering is fitted to V8-powered P6's and retro fitting this system to a four-cylinder car is a straightforward conversion.
Any clonks when driving a P6 over a rough surface will indicate worn ball joints at the base of the suspension legs but these are reasonably easy for a home mechanic to replace. The P6's rear suspension features a coil-sprung De Dion axle and one important point to check on these cars is the condition of the rubber gaiter at the end of the sliding tube. A split gaiter will let grit in and grease out, which over time will result in the sliding joint seizing up and unsettling the car's fine handling.
TRIM & ELECTRICS
As with any classic, sourcing individual trim items in better condition than the part that's going to be replaced can be difficult and half decent used parts can be hard to source. Padded dash tops on the P6 can crack due to excess UV exposure and leather trim in cars built between 1971 and 1973 can shrink and crack. An experienced auto trimmer will be able to replicate all trim styles, including the attractive box pleat leather used on earlier cars, but re-trimming a hide clad P6's cabin will prove a very expensive exercise.
Note that all MkII cars had their battery located in the boot and nearly all pre-1970 four-pot P6's were fitted with a dynamo but many of these will by now have been replaced with an alternator. The instrumentation on the P6 is generally reliable but the fuse box on post-1971 can melt, so check for any Heath Robinson-type rewires. Specialist parts suppliers such as J R Wadhams Ltd. (www. jrwadhams.co.uk, 01384 891800) are able to supply a lot of interior trim arts for the Rover P6 as well as a host of new old stock mechanical spares and exterior fittings including original chrome bumpers.
A nicely presented P6 makes an excellent and very comfortable everyday family classic. Good four-cylinder cars are starting to get expensive but the model of choice for many buyers will be the powerful V8-powered Rover 3500. The 2200 is a popular choice and there are a lot of survivors to choose from, but be prepared as an auto version of this model can be just as thirsty as a well sorted V8.
There are some rarities to hunt out and if you're looking to turn heads at a Rover gathering an interesting P6 to buy would be a fully loaded, run-out VIP model (77 built) or a #FLM-Panelcraft
produced P6 estate (150 built). However, good examples of these versions are now very rare and don't often come on the open market as they nearly always change hands off the radar or through owners' clubs. Early Rover 2200s now come into the free road tax band and sourcing a good P6 makes a lot of sense if you want to own a very useable classic that offers fine handling with plenty of refinement and good looks.
There's a decent amount of space in the front of a Rover P6. The TC badge on the tail of a P6 denotes twin carburettors.
ROVER P6 EVOLUTION
: 114bhp Rover 2000TC launched with 2000 auto ( #Borg-Warner
35) version of SC. TC export-only until 1967. #Dunlop
braking system superseded by #Girling
: Rover 3500 introduced with V8 engine. Automatic transmission standard. Extra grilles under front bumper, larger front valance, V8 badging on bonnet and boot, 3500 in radiator grille and on front wings.
: Through-flow ventilation and fixed rear quarterlights, opening quarterlights reinstated a year later following ‘customer feedback’.
: MkII/facelift model. Black plastic honey combe grille, air intake grille below bumper on all models, twin ‘bulges’ in bonnet. Vinyl covering on rear screen pillars. TC and 3500 now have circular instruments.
: 3500S introduced. Four-speed manual #V8
with vinyl roof and brushed stainless steel spoke wheel trims.
: 2000 replaced by 2200 – SC, auto and TC. Brushed-nylon trim standard, leather optional. SC and auto retain box-type instruments and TC circular.
: 3500 gets full vinyl roof as per 3500S, plus 2200-style interior and wheel trims and tinted glass. Heated rear window and front headrests standard. Auto gets #Borg-Warner-65
in place of 35.
: 3500 VIP – Limited edition of 77 – offered. Standard aircon, bootlid-mounted spare, Sundym glass and rear seatbelts. Two colour choices; Platinum (metallic silver) or Brasilia (brown) with Huntsman brown vinyl roof.
DATA FILE #Rover-2000
POWER (bhp/rpm) 91/5000
TOP SPEED 104mph
0-50 MPH 10.1 secs
GEARBOX 4-sp man
WIDTH 66.5 in, 169cm
DATA FILE #Rover-2000-TC
POWER (bhp/rpm) 113/5500
TOP SPEED 112mph
0-50 MPH 8.2 secs
GEARBOX 4 sp man
WEIGHT 2710 lb, 1229 kg
DATA FILE #Rover-2200-SC
POWER (bhp/rpm) 98/5000
TOP SPEED 101mph
0-50 MPH 9.1 secs
GEARBOX 4-sp man
DATA FILE #Rover-2200-TC
POWER (bhp/rpm) 115/5000
TOP SPEED 108mph
0-50 MPH 8.0 secs
GEARBOX 4 sp man
DATA FILE #Rover-3500-S
POWER (bhp/rpm) 150/5000
TOP SPEED 122mph
0-50 MPH 7.1 secs
GEARBOX 4-sp man