Blog : The Rover P6 – can it really be 50 years old?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

Rover P6

According to our archive, it’s 50 years since the Rover P6 was first launched. Again, it’s another of those birthdays that catches the more casual car enthusiast by surprise. After all, I can remember these smoking around as nearly new cars – driven by establishment types for whom the SD1 was simply a little too gauche. Sadly, I also vividly recall the P6’s descent into bangerdom, too – because back in the late-1970s to the early 1980s, its decline into mouldering banger was all too visible thanks to poor paint and rusty body panels… unlike the same process today.

Thankfully, though, the Rover’s progress into classic status was smooth and unflustered, with fans appreciating what a fine car this was back in the late-1980s, when so many cars were preserved, both on the back of artificially high values and the booming interest in classic cars. And, of course, because the P6 was – and is – a great car. We’ve said it many times on AROnline, but then it bears repeating – the P6 and Triumph 2000 really did define the 2.0-litre executive car sector in the UK (alongside the BMW ‘Neue Klasse’ in Germany). It’s a market that remains extremely strong to this day.

The P6 might have been technically unconventional, with that baseframe construction, had weird front suspension because of the potential fitment of a gas turbine and was stylistically heavily influenced by the Citroen DS, but that should not take anything away from this car’s greatness – something that was brought into even sharper focus with the launch of the V8-powered version in 1968. The combination of David Bache’s styling and Gordon Bashford and Spen King’s engineering was a work of genius – and that was repeated with the Range Rover and Rover SD1, too.

David Bache in 1963
David Bache enjoys another day of creative genius at the office

Seeing the P6 make its 50th birthday in such rude health is a very good sign. The fact that it was identified as a classic so early on and ended up being preserved by many doting owners was big factor towards this. Additionally, it enjoyed the benefits of high quality construction – for many, it’s this car that represents Rover’s high point, the time at which this amazing company was at its absolute zenith.

I love to the low-key way in which its launch was reported at the time, though. Here’s what The Times said at the time:

‘For Rover, the launching of the new car represents the biggest revolution in plant and production methods in its history. The development programme has occupied five years, during which £10,600,000 has been invested in the new car, a new factory built at Solihull, Warwickshire, and a 456,000sq ft depot for spare parts at Pengam, Glamorgan.

Into this car we have put all our engineering know-how and skills. We have built 15 prototypes , which have been driven in the aggregate more than 445,000 miles in this country and abroad
– William Martin-Hurst

‘Potential capacity of the factory is 550 cars a week-or one car in just over four minutes. The plant has been in limited operation for 12 months, and secret new models have been out on test all over Britain and the Continent. They have been spotted and photographed by rival manufacturers, and discussed in foreign technical journals. But with covered nameplates and unpainted bodies, the prototypes have often been taken for some Continental model, usually of Italian origin. Unhappily the man who had the greatest influence in the development and general appearance of the Rover 2000, Mr Maurice Wilks, the company’s late chairman, did not live to see the car launched today.

‘His son, Mr Peter Wilks, was responsible for the overall coordination of the project, and the chief stylist was Mr David Bache.

‘Introducing the Rover 2000 yesterday, Mr William Martin-Hurst, Managing Director, said: “Into this car we have put all our engineering know-how and skills. We have built 15 prototypes , which have been driven in the aggregate more than 445,000 miles in this country and abroad. Pre-production cars have been driven over 200,000 miles and 268,000 miles have been covered at high speed on motorways”.’

Here’s to the next 50 years…

roverp61966presspic-600x438

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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45 Comments

  1. Lovely cars, but 13 years separated the launch of the P6 from that of the SD1, and by that time the SD1 was the car everyone wanted, so the recollection of a preference for the P6 is rather debatable . The P6 in its 4 cylinder form was for me the finest handling saloon car I ever owned, but the V8 was rather softer particularly with automatic transmission which was all that was available for the first 4 years and I did not like it as much

  2. Great toast to the P6! A wonderful car & still on my bucket list of cars to own. Had an SD1 & a ZT-T 180, so in a year or two a P6B should make it onto the ‘priority buy’ list.

    If only the momentum had been carried on. We’re full of ‘what ifs’ on here, like screaming at the captain of the Titanic in the movie to slow down…

  3. I got to be a front seat passenger quite a lot in these v8 autos;To be critical with 3/4 adults the car was quite cramped.They brought out a mod to stick the spare wheel on top of the boot lid I suppose to get the golf clubs in.It is one of the few cars I have been in where the seat hits you in the back.I always felt safe with this car and saw a number of results of high speed collisions including one where the car spun under a rail bridge and every one got out I think one with a broken leg

  4. Lovely car the P6 – still has “that look” for me. The round twin headlamps suit it so well. I still enjoy looking at my Corgi & Vanguard models of them.

    My brother once owned a 1968 2000 in Zircon Blue, think it was a TC.

  5. Love my P6B auto. I want to take the designers of my mark 6 Golf for a ride in it to show them what ride quality is all about. And with its Powerflow exhaust it sounds wonderful. Bits can be expensive and it is a complicated car compared to some contemporaries but it’s a glorious conveyance. Even if I was a millionaire I’d still want it above any other classic.

  6. The P6 was and remains a truly wonderful and remarkable car. I was reminded of this just the other day when I saw a Mark 1 V8 auto in Wrexham. It was a beautifully restored example finished in blue, sounding magnificent with that V8 rumble. The car still has enormous presence on the road, and the shape has aged (matured?) incredibly well, better than the SD1 I would say.

  7. I had 2.2TC for a while. It only ever ran right for about 50 miles, but I’ll never forget an early morning high speed run when everything was in tune – wow, they can be quite something.

  8. Rather surprised by the quote from the Times, saying that Peter Wilks was Mayrice Wilks’s son. Not so, he was nephew of both Maurice and Spencer Wilks. But then, it was the Times which said that Rovers had been built at Longbridge for 100 years !!
    You can’t get the staff these days…

  9. Triumph and Rover defined the class with classy rwd 2 litre saloons. BMW and Mercedes continued in a similar vein in the 70s, 80s and 90s and went from strength to strength.

    Maybe P6 should have been replaced with something similar

  10. If we were online 40 years ago, we would be marvelling at its tenth anniversary and how it was the best selling executive car in the country with BMW just being another obscure foreign carmaker whose cars sold in penny numbers.
    Actually the two to three litre class was dominated by three British cars- the Rover P6, Triumph 2000 and Ford Granada- in 1973 and for all you’d see the odd Audi or small Mercedes, nine out of ten cars in this class were British.

  11. Surprising that the man who gave us the P6, the Range Rover and the SD1 should end his career with the Maestro. Could he really have been that embittered and disillusioned to leave such a parting gift?

  12. @11 I think the Granada was more German than British. It was certainly a German design and from 1976 onward UK cars were sourced from Cologne instead of Dagenham.

  13. Paul @ 13, the first generation of Granadas, or Consuls for the lower spec cars, were made in Dagenham until 1976 and the Mark One continued to use the Essex V6 until it was replaced a year later. Certainly early and most mid seventies Granadas were British built.
    I suppose to be pedantic, even if it was a Victor in all but name, we could include the Vauxhall VX 4/90 in the list, partly German in design but made in Luton. This resembled a cut down Chevy and had a powerful 2.3 litre engine that could power it well past 100 mph and had a small but loyal following among people who wanted an upmarket saloon that didn’t have a Rover or Triumph badge. I quite liked these and remember seeing a few rusty survivors in the eighties and thinking that they were an executive car for people who wanted to be different.

  14. I see a late P6 3500 V8S most weeks on my commute to work – it still looks great! But it’s amazing how it’s dwarfed by modern cars – even the Bini seems huge compared with the P6, which, once upon a time was seen as a ‘big’ car! Are we really that fat these days?

  15. Revolutionary but, with hindsight, right. Styling that helped define its era. A great gamble; a break from the distinguished past of P5s etc. into something that spoke of the jet age and on distinctly British terms.

    Design-wise, the SD1 even repeated the trick.

    As someone said earlier… aaargh!!! Screaming at Cap’n Eagle Eye on the Titanic.

    Competes with XJ6 as the loveliest car I’ve ever sampled… [as a passenger in a then-newish 3500]. But one of the sloppiest barges I’ve ever piloted in an 8 y.o. 2200TC.

  16. I remember in the 80’s these were always driven by mature couples. Sort of Terry and June types? I guess that was the market it was aimed at. Great car. I remember in my youth (must have been about 1988) I “acquired” a set of hubcaps off a later P6 that was sitting off the road in someones front garden. A few days later I felt guilty about my acquisition and took them back one late evening. The owner must have been scratching his head.

  17. Even though I haven’t driven a P6 for probably nearly 30 years I can still feel, smell and remember what they were like.
    Loved the “pull out” fuel reserve toggle, glowing “push the choke in” light and the colourful and detailed stickers under the bonnet which showed what fluids went where?.
    Worse were the 2200 which from my experience used oil heavily, had and drove them all but the best was a K plate V8 3500S with manual change..in Almond with black leather and black number plates…those were the days!.

    • I still get 26mpg from mine. Down hill with a tail wind helps! I am not aware of a 3500S with automatic. Telling me about a 3500S manual is a bit like telling me the Pope is Catholic. Have I missed something??????

  18. My dad had a J reg Rover 2000 TC from 1981 to 1983. In those days most ten year old cars would be on their last legs, but the Rover was almost free of rust and started first time every time. Also the leather and wood fittings made it feel special and it still had its original Radiomobile radio, although he did build a cassette deck into the centre console. Quite liked the abovementioned fuel reserve, useful on a long journey, which gave you an extra gallon and a half, and all the toggle switches and dials.
    However, as my parents were divorced by then , I didn’t get to ride in the Rover much and was depressed the day he decided to sell it and buy a Japanese car.

  19. The first car I ever bought new was a’72 P6b.
    Best car I ever owned – A real drivers car .
    I missed the ‘ol P6b that I sold , that I tracked her down and bought her back .
    I still have my gorgeous Rover P6b . 40yrs on and she still drives and rides like the day she came out of Solihull . My modern doesnt do it for me like this 72 P6 does .

  20. I can remember when and where I saw my first P6. It was on a slip way in Cemaes Bay in Anglesey.
    Im fairly sure it was 1964. That puts me at about 4 or 5.
    I was with my dad, plus two uncles (Brothers in law to me dad)1 uncle drove a Austin A50 Other a Morris Minor van my dad drove a VW Van.
    To see a P6 then was I guess like seeing a. ………..Not sure maybe a DS Citroen DS in 1956?
    There was nothing like it on the road . It looked the dogs B****s
    I can remeber my uncles being very impressed!

  21. I had a N reg V8 one. Unrestored, and I used it daily. A superb car easily capable of keeping up with modern traffic. I wish I still had one.

  22. By coincidence, almost exactly 50 years to the day after the Earl’s Court Motor Show, my beloved P6B undertook its first proper road test with its newly installed ZF 4-speed automatic transmission. Whilst I spent much of the drive buzzing at the wondrous new overdriven 4th gear and lockup torque converter (I’ve lost 800rpm at NZ’s 100kph open road limit, 1000 if you take into account torque converter slip), I couldn’t help marvelling at the unmatched ride quality and refinement of this 50-year-old design. Sure it’s a bit cramped, and the wind buffets around the windscreen pillars, and it leans a little disconcertingly into corners, but it is still a remarkably pleasurable car to drive after all my modern daily conveyances, and when I look at it alongside my Rover 75 and modern Mitsubishi company vehicle, the P6 is the one I most want to get into. The P6, especially the smoking V8, was the old Rover company’s high water mark. If only…

    • The 4 speed ZF auto sounds supercalafrgilisticexpedaladotious! what is your fuel consumption now? mpg please. cost? hasstle factor/ 0=none 10 = lots.

  23. Why is it so cramped in the back and so small in the boot? Didn’t they test this or did they think that executives won’t be using the car to drive around their families? Good looking car.

  24. …also, didn’t the fuel tank sit up against the rear bulkhead/back of rear seats, on top of the de Dion tube, ’cause it couldn’t go any where else?
    Still loved it though…

  25. A brilliant concept and arguably one of the Rover Company’s finest achievements for its car range. Admittedly it isn’t my personal favourite Rover – the P5, SD1, R8 and R40 narrowly beat it in this category. But it undoubtedly oozes continental verve, engineering innovation and successfully retained the loyalty of established Rover owners whilst also attracting a legion of new, younger buyers to the Rover family. The latter point was undoubtedly a very difficult order which many other manufacturers were not as successful in realising.

    A number of years ago I recall watching a film that was set in the future and the actor Jude Law was seen behind the wheel of a Rover P6. Sadly I canot recall the name of the film although I do recall thinking how sleek and modern the P6’s outline silhouette still looked, particularly the fast angle of the windscreen.

    Definitely a car to take serious inspiration from, should any final year automotive design student wish to try their hand at designing a future Rover concept, in-line with what has already been demonstrated with other sleeping British marques such as Daimler and Triumph.

  26. One point on the P6 of note was the fact you could see the the corners . Most SD1s had a dent in the rear bumper by the time they were run in and were generally unwieldy then add the build quality issues water leaks petrol fumes in the car.I think it needed the V8 where the P6 was viable with 2,000.the SD1 may have competed with the Germans if the 2.6 had not been such a disaster

  27. @31.

    The reference to the suspension is the design concept (De Dion axle originally by the De Dion company) rather than where it was made.

    This was a radical design decision for Rover to take, when most cars of the era where still using semi elliptic (leaf) springs and live axles on their rear suspension.

  28. I love the P6 and have owned a couple of them over the years…

    Let’s not forget that the Triumph 2000 also turned 50 this week as it was launched on the 16th of October 1963…

  29. #34 : yes, one of the great pleasures of the P6 was seeing those two white light prisms at night on the front corners

  30. Alec Guiness drives one in ‘Tinker, tailor, soldier,spy’. Such an elegant car, I rate it with the DS and Lancia Flaminia.

  31. I have a ’73 P6 2000. in the rare position of having a rust free structure but everything else needing attention. I can confirm that compared to a Granada they are a proper pain to work on. I still love it though.

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