6th (5.6%): Rover P5/P5B
For many, the P5 and P5B epitomises everything that Rover stood for during the prosperous 1960s. Big, powerful and imposing, the P5 soon became the transport of choice for the captains of UK industry and their political leaders.
Sadly, it was never replaced…
THE advancement of the Rover marque was not the exactly the quickest process in the world in pre-World War II days. Rather like the creation of an iceberg from an active glacier, Rover’s evolution had been a slow and steady process. There had been a logical progression from the P3, and it has to be said that although the company’s products may not have been right at the cutting edge, they did much to define the marque’s core values. This careful honing of an engineering principle and design ideology was accelerated in the immediate post-War years, leading to the successful (if rather radical for Rover traditionalists) “Auntie” Rover P4, launched at the 1949 British Motor Show. It was this car that, more than any other, refined the idea that a Rover was the perfect car for the British management class.
However, times were-a-changing – the British were looking outwards, and manufacturing confidence grew as the country finally dusted itself off from the lingering effects of the Second World War. Rover had become rich and confident thanks to the launch of the Land Rover in 1948, and it seemed that what was seen as the company’s previous stuffiness (but was actually having an eye for building cars for a grown up clientele) would be lost for good. It was around this time that the old school Rover hierarchy was swept away. to be replaced by such names as A.B, Smith, Robert Boyle, Gordon Bashford and Spen King.
Although it is hard to believe now, the P5 was something of a departure from the Rovers that preceded it, and it could be said that it was this, and not the P6 that marked the point in time when Rover began to shake off its “Auntie” image once and for all.
The P5 was actually conceived as a replacement for the P4. First considered by Maurice Wilks and Robert Boyle in 1953 as a replacement for the P4, the P5 would slowly evolve into a larger car, one powered by a revised version of the company’s inline straight-six engine. The reason why the company grew the P5 into a much larger car was simple: the confidence and increasing wealth of the company and the success of the more powerful P4 90. It also gave the new guard the opportunity to start again with the P4 raplacement (more of which later).
So David Bache was encouraged to give the car an imposing style to match its top-of-the-range ambitions, and duly delivered the goods. Bache seemed to take some of his influences from the 1953/1954 Pininfarina Rover P4 fixed-head Coupe, but overall, the design was sheer magic: the full-depth Rover grille ensured a high bonnet line, which then led to a high and solid shoulder-line. Here, lay the appeal of the P5 – it was solid, but also graceful, and although it stood almost 5-feet tall and was a bulky car, in no way did that bulkiness detract. Why not? Because the scale of the car was not disguised as it is in some cars. In fact, it was celebrated. Opposed thinking to many subsequent large cars: the current S-Class Mercedes-Benz, for example, could just as easily be a C-Class scaled-up to 120 per cent. The P5, on the other hand, could never be mistaken for anything other than a large car. In fact, it looked bigger than it actually was.
And it was this styling genius that made the P5 such a suitable top-of-the-range car for Rover.
There was one other (to this day) unique string to its bow, the availability of two four-door body styles. The traditional saloon style was supplemented by a four-door coupe version, which looked a knock-out, even if it compromised rear headroom for the average bowler hat wearer. This was a continuation of Rover’s then-recent history, paying homage to the P2 6-light and lower-roof 4-light saloons of 1936-47.
Industry captains and politicians fell for its charms, and unlike just about any other Rover in recent history, this one can count royalty and prime ministers among its fan base. Impressive.
In 1967, the company’s silky smooth straight-six engine was supplemented by William Martin-Hurst’s boatyard discovery, the ex-Buick 3.5-litre V8 engine, and it was at this time that the P5/P5B attained the status of immortality. The rumbling, burbling V8 installation sounded its best in the P5B, and as a result, the car gained a voice to match its on-road attitude. It also gained performance. And although progress in the P5B could never be described as rapid, it was certainly stately. After all, that is what the P5 was all about.
Even before the P5B was introduced, Rover was investigating its replacement. That car, the P8, never reached production thanks to Rover becoming part of the sprawling BLMC empire, an arena where Rover shared its bed with Jaguar. Looking back, the decision not to proceed with the P8, favouring the Jaguar XJ was probably the right one for the time, even if it was a tragedy because it compromised SD1. Not only that, but it meant that British captains of industry no longer had anything obvious to choose when the P5 went to meet its maker. Jaguars were bought by “flash Harrys”, you see…
So, like the best British cars, the P5/P5B lived a long life: fourteen years. Even though it was never replaced, its legacy lived on. Roy Axe cited it as a big influence in the design of the Rover 800 (look at the interior), and it seems to have been first port of call for Richard Woolley when formulating the Rover 75. Like no other Rover, this one seems to be universally loved by marque enthusiasts. MG Rover launched the 75 V8 in 2004, and ensured that the world knew that it was paying homage to the P5 with its full-depth grille design. In fact, MGR were happy for the inevitable parallels to be drawn between the two cars… Proof if ever it were needed that the P5 was loved by one and all.
The 2004 Rover V8: MGR ensured that one an all knew that the company saw it as a modern day incarnation of the great P5B.
There is only one limo you could ever love and an Iron Maggy P5 always should tick more boxes than most. Chrome, rumbly V8, slab sides, Rostyles and deep, deep leather. I would pick the coupe for minimal rear headroom and enigmatic crouching exits that will fox the paparazzi.