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.
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…