Concepts and prototypes : Rover P10 (1969-1971)

In March 1969, Rover embarked on a new project to replace the P6. The Rover P10 would last until 1971, but its influence would be far greater than its ‘cancelled’ status would imply.

Read full story of this fascinating might-have-been as pieced together by Keith Adams, Chris York and Ian Nicholls.

Project P10: the final Rover

A P10 crash testing at MIRA, the last step immediately before production. The number on the door – L69 – tells us that this is the 69th crash test in UK registration year suffix ‘L’ – around Easter 1973. Everything stopped after this to turn P10 into SD1. Note the characteristic tail collapse also typical of SD1

The seeds of the Rover P10 were sown in March 1969 when, in an initial concept briefing, the bones of this new car were created. It would be the car to replace the Rover P6 – a job that had originally been down to the Rover P8.

However, since Rover’s takeover by Leyland in 1966 and the P8’s subsequent evolution into an altogether larger car, a direct replacement was needed. By March 1970, it was beginning to take shape as a four-door saloon and five-door fastback, which is pictured above in the latter form.

As you’d expect from David Bache, the initial design concept was nothing if not radical for the time for a car of this market sector. But as it was replacing the the P6, a car that was equally as progressive at launch in 1963, this was to be expected.

Rover P10
This drawing was produced by David Bache in the late 1960s, while the aborted Rover P8 was still in development. Right from the outset, Bache knew that he wanted a fastback saloon or hatchback. This rendering shows that, while the basic proportions were already set in his mind, the style was still some way from being finalised. Note the ‘clam shell’ side doors, which would facilitate access into the cabin – years ahead of their time
Rover P10
This gullwing proposal, set in clay during 1969, shows clear Lamborghini Marzal influences – Bache was an enthusiast of gullwing doors – and this can be seen in the picture below, where he had the Solihull Engineers design a full-size mock-up of the systemRover P10

By June 1970, the Rover P10 package drawings were passed to the Styling Department with a view to dressing it up as a viable executive challenger for the 1970s. The Rover Board was told at that time that the P10 would expected to be launched in Autumn 1974. Power would come from the venerable all-aluminium Rover V8 engine for the top versions.

Rover decided to adapt what it already had and started work on a development of the 1978cc four-cylinder engine found in the P6 saloon. The engine was a twin-cam, four-valve per cylinder engine of 2204cc (below). The extra capacity was achieved by increasing the bore. Five or six prototypes were built, including one with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection and a double overhead cam head (below) which produced 170bhp on the testbed. Routine enough now, but this would have been revolutionary for a volume car in 1973…

Rover P10 engine
Rover P10 engine shows the exhaust manifold design principles re-used on SD1 and Range-Rover V8s. Layout of the auxilliaries, distributor and oil pump drive, give the game away that this engine started life as the P6 SOHC (Picture: Simon Owen)

On 11 December 1970, the Triumph Board was informed that it would have to drop the 2000/2500 replacement programme, known as the Puma, in favour of the Rover P10. The British Leyland corporate executive car would be engineered by Rover, which in light of the P6’s sales supremacy over its Triumph rival, was an understandable decision – even if it would effectively decapitate Triumph’s model range in the future.

On 11 February 1971, the BLMC Board met at Solihull to view scale models of the proposed replacements for the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000/2500. David Bache’s team produced six P10 scale clay models, five hatchbacks and a notchback, for consideration by the Board. However, Triumph was still in the running to style the corporate executive car and brought along a model of its Puma proposal. Both projects were brought together for assessment, but the Board opted for the Rover P10. Triumph’s Puma was thought to be too conventional in style.

It was at this point that the Rover P10 was rebranded the RT1 (for Rover-Triumph 1). As well as the overall design concept surviving reasonably intact to become the Rover SD1 we all know and love, the P10’s slant-four 2.2-litre twin cam was put to good use as the cylinder boring tools for that engine were used in the post-1974 facelifted Rover P6 2200.

Rover P10

Keith Adams


  1. The first (top picture) design is spot on!

    I agree with E; The bonnet and grill of the Michelotti are pure P76. Those hubcaps too!

  2. Had the P10 engine been produced, could easily see it revert from 2.2-litres to 2-litres in the post-1973 fuel crisis environment. The P10 engine also appears to have some potential use in other applications like sportscars and even possibly in entry-level Land Rover / Range Rover models.

    Otherwise there does not appear to be that large a gap between the proposed entry-level 120 hp 2.2-litre P10 and the 115 hp 2.2-litre development of the P6 OHC engines, at least in terms of power.

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