Welcome to The Carchive, where, for half an hour, at least twice a week, the state-of-the-art ceases to exist and we find ourselves spiralling down some terrifying plughole into a world of what once was, or sometimes what might have been.
I ask for, and will recieve, absolutely no forgiveness for being a little bit Rovercentric in the choice cuts I’ve dredged up so far, we’ve had the Rover 800 story and the ’73 2200 cc versions of the P6. Today, we trip back a little further to see what the Viking Longship badge was nailed to in 1969.
“A four-door, four-seater saloon, the 2000 has won the highest praise from press and public all over the world and is a clear example of The Rover Company’s absorbing interest in better, safer road travel”
An example of how all cars should be built, or somesuch, was what Ralph Nader said of the P6, presumably having never visited a Solihull production line or, if he did, presumably not visiting it during that BL dark patch in the ’70s. During “The Unpleasantness” it would not be unusual to find the remains of a production line worker’s lunch boxed into some sealed interior cavity, only to be discovered years hence by a hapless Rover owner trying to trace a musty smell.
But industrial unrest and wholesale complacency notwithstanding, the P6 on its launch in 1963 represented an unprecedented lurch into the future for the British motor industry. David Bache’s styling was a quantum leap beyond the Rover norm, even though it owed a certain amount to a certain space-age Citroen (Check out those rear sail panels and the roofline).
Inside, too; the open-plan dashboard and practical lateral shelf heralded an interior layout almost obsessively well organised.
In 2000SC form, though, it was hardly a flier. Stately, perhaps, but that four cylinder mill with its output of 99hp (measured through the somewhat generous Gross method), needed more than just a single SU carburettor to give its best.
“Identified outwardly by the TC motif and inwardly by the inclusion of a tachometer to indicate engine revolutions, it is in all other respects identical to the SC model”
TC meant “Twin Carb” and signified that a pair of SU HS8’s were installed, in place of the solitary, lonely HS6. This meant the horsepower swelling to a decent 124hp (Still Gross) and a car which could at least get out of its own way.
This was the one thing the car needed; a little bit more assertiveness. The 2000TC made for a flexible, usable car, and was reasonably refined, but a little bit of urgency was needed to elevate the P6 from the ranks of also-ran.
Enter stage left a certain 215cu.in aluminium V8.
“The Three Thousand Five is a logical progression from the highly successful Rover 2000 concept, bringing to it the power and performance of a three-and-a-half litre V8 engine without appreciable change or weight of fore and aft distribution (sic)”
That mangled sentence only begins to cover the impact that the 184hp (again, gross) of that Buick engine had on the P6, and subsequently the entire British motoring scene.
Suddenly the mature, intelligent middle-class P6 was transformed into a thrusting, confident world-class sedan. The moderate weight of the engine meant that the De-Dion aided handling went unsullied and finally the car had the performance to match the poise.
And the noise, too, was something that few British cars could equal. There had been British V8s before; the Turner-designed 2500 Daimler unit was a sweetie, but the Buick lump had a particular snarl to it that proved music to the ears of everybody who drove it.
And of course, if the P6 was a little, well, humdrum, and you wanted something a bit more decorous, Rover still had that covered.
“Travelling in modern traffic conditions can be a frustrating experience for ordinary motorists but within the 3 1/2 litre Rover one can view every situation with a degree of detatched calm, insulated from the noise and bustle of the workaday world”
The Rover P5 was still available, having been on the scene since 1958, ever popular with traditional buyers who wanted a car of a certain size and status. The P6, with its smaller engines, had never been intended to oust the P5, but it had made the old stager look a little long in the tooth.
Of course, when the six-cylinder engine was lobbed in the bin in favour of the Rover V8 for the launch of the P5B (B was for Buick) in 1967, the opportunity arose for what became one of my favourite press excerpts of all time:
“So many who regard this Rover- with its woodpanelled interior and four thick, leather armchairs- as being the finest London club on wheels, will now have to accept it as one of the fastest as well”
The brochure boasted that 115 mph could be had, and all in a car which simply didn’t know the meaning of the word “ruffled”. The P5B was a car that could be seen late at night, sometimes accompanied by police motorcycle outriders, humming briskly along the motorways of Britain, the side windows about an inch ajar to release thick curls of smoke from pipe-tobacco being smoked by the political heavyweights who reclined in the back. Major international decisions were made from the back seat of a Rover P5B on a weekly basis.
And, just in case you wanted to look particularly rakish, Rover had one final offering:
“If you prefer a low, sleek line and sporting appearance, and do not normally require accommodation for more than four people, the 3 1/2 litre Coupé will be your natural choice”
Lowering the roofline by a couple of inches was enough to lend the P5B a most extraordinary menace, turning it into a car that, quite frankly, you just didn’t mess with. And by calling their creation a Coupé, Rover were pre-approving Mercedes-Benz and numerous other companies to use the same name thirty-five years later.
No, it wasn’t a Coupé. It was named in homage to the concept of a Coupé.
One of my favourite Coupé features was that the front head restraints had a light incorporated allowing each rear seat passenger to read or write without disturbing the driver. There was also a separate control for rear compartment heating, and a dial for setting the rear radio speaker volume.
Of all the Rovers, it’s the P5B that has always made the biggest impression on me. So much so that, one evening at University I got to fantasising about what a new Rover “P Series” might look like.
Yeah, so it was just a fanciful sketch, but just producing it gave me some kind of strange hope for what still could happen, although that was in 2003 and it doesn’t seem to be getting much more likely as time passes…
(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me, except for the last image which is mine, all mine. Oh, Rover. Sighs.)