Concepts and prototypes : Rover P8 (1966-1971)

Keith Adams tells the full story of the Rover P8. The company’s range-topping saloon was killed days before it was set for production.

The P8 was a victim of politics, poor crash testing and internal rivalries with Jaguar.

Rover P8: a vital opportunity lost?

Rover P8

In 1966, the Rover car company literally had the world at its feet – in the shape of the Design Team led by David Bache and Engineering Department headed up by Spen King, the company had arguably the strongest development team of any British car company in post-war automotive history. Rover was riding high on the success of the Rover P6, introduced in 1963, and new models were in the pipeline.

The success of the P6 had completed the rejuvenation of the Rover image, which had begun with the highly-publicised outings of the gas turbine-powered Rover JET1 and then the success at Le Mans of the jet-powered Rover-BRM. The image of the Auntie Rover was a lasting one but, with the launch of the Rover 2000, the shape of the executive car market had changed – people no longer needed to buy the excessively large 3.0-litre cars so typified by the Austin Sheerline to show their status in life.

Back in 1963, and with the success of the Rover 2000 not yet assured, Rover was looking at its future strategy. A replacement for the aging 3-Litre P5 and P4 would be needed, and King and Bashford had a problem: the P4 was due to disappear in 1964, but the P5 3-Litre would need heavy revision or replacement to stay competitive.

How to replace the Rover P5?

What this situation meant was that, by 1970, there would be a need to be a new model to do the job of both the P5 and P6. It was a straightforward decision for the company to pursue this single model programme because management at Rover had become convinced that the Solihull Design Team could only handle the development of one major new car at a time.

With the decision made that the new car should be a larger car than the P6, work began on developing a replacement. King had not wanted a larger car, and the wish to make it bigger came from above: ‘I had a lot to do with the machine that went into P8 before it ever happened, and I didn’t ever want it to be as big a car as P8. The thing is that in P6 we had straight window glasses and curved side windows were just coming in and you could make a P6-sized motor car with a lot more space in it quite easily without making a bloody great lump of a thing like a Jaguar.’

Various mules were concocted – all based around the P6 base unit – in which to test new engine and suspension configurations. The idea being that the P6 Rover 2000 replacement should be a re-engined and re-engineered version of the existing car and work was soon underway on the project. These models became collectively known as the Rover P7 prototypes and they allowed Rover to investigate various mechanical configurations for their upcoming large car replacement.

Which engine to use in Rover’s future?

Rover P6
At the turn of the Millennium, the archetypal British executive drove a BMW 5 Series – a large car with a large engine, delivering power and performance and, most importantly, road presence. Back in 1966, when Rover shoehorned their ex-GM V8 engine into the already successful Rover 2000 bodyshell, it created this breed of middle-management motorcar and enjoyed considerable success with it

The other problem for Spen King was that not only was the P5 an ageing car, its engine was also past its sell-by date. Even though straight-six versions of the P7 were produced, there was never any serious consideration given to the use of this power unit in any upcoming car that would lead Rover into the 1970s. However, six-cylinder versions of the Rover 2000 engine were developed and, with a displacement of 2967cc, managed to produce a more-than-healthy 150bhp even in single carburettor form.

Straight-line performance was ample, but the handling balance of the car was upset by the heaviness of the engine – giving a bias towards understeer. The problem was that the six-cylinder engine was physically a long engine and there were considerable problems in installing the unit in the P6 bodyshell without resorting to changes to the bodywork to accommodate it. In a move pre-dating Audi by a decade, the Research Department, run by Brian Sylvester, actually engineered a 2.5-litre five-cylinder version of the engine to get over these problems.

Edward Eves of Autocar actually owned one of these prototypes, which survives today (in the hands of Ian Glass of the Rover Sport Register), and he reported that the in-line six version of the P7 was impressive and considered it equal to the later Buick-engined version.

The P7’s role in Rover’s evolution

Rover P7

The Rover P7 mules acted as a rolling test bed for the alternative power unit configurations to go in the eventual P6 replacement. With this work coming to completion, the P7 name was dropped and thoughts were put into an entirely new car. P7 proved that the P6 could be re-engineered to take a straight-six, but the sensible option was always going to be to start from scratch. The cost was one consideration, but the lack of space granted by the P6 body was a major one, given Rover’s intention of using this car to replace the P5.

Because the P7 mules had served their purpose, Gordon Bashford and Spen King worked together to formulate plans for a completely new car to take over where the P7 had so successfully started out. Logically, the new car was dubbed the Rover P8 but, because the Design Office was now working actively on the mid-engined P6 BS (which stood for P6 Buick Sports) sports car, the P8 development programme was to take a back seat on the firm’s task-list.

Not only was the P8 pushed behind the glamorous P6 BS, but also the pressing need for a new large saloon had been deferred somewhat by the fact that, in 1965, Rover had acquired the rights to use the remarkably efficient Rover V8 engine. Now, Rover had the perfect power unit with which to give the P5 and P6 ranges a much-needed fillip.

Testing the Rover P8’s anti-roll suspension in a P7

Denis Chick, a former Rover Apprentice, tells the story of the anti-roll P7 and its involvement in the Rover P8 programme.

In the late 1960s, the Rover Company’s Research Section – an independent think tank pushing the boundaries of new automotive ideas and research – was conjuring up the idea of a hydraulic suspension system that would revolutionise handling and ride quality for a new big car, the replacement for the P5.

The catalyst for this idea came from the Citroën DS – Rover had bought one during the later years of P6 development. Remember that it had the base unit production principle, but the more interesting part was the fully hydraulic suspension system giving the car a velvet ride. A great ride maybe, but not such great handling with lots of roll, just like a 2CV!

How could Rover replicate the ride quality yet provide a sharp handling car, a big car at that? The boffins got to work under the guidance of Mike Lewis who headed up the Research Section. Using the car’s hydraulics, an independent valve system was developed that was activated by G-forces acting on spool valves to ‘jack up’ either side of the front suspension in cornering.

Making a Citroën-based testing mule

Lead weights acted like pendulums and drove the spool valves which, in turn, allowed high pressure fluid into what could be described as active shock absorbers. The Citroën ‘mule’ was tested at the company’s test track and at MIRA and proved the basic principle, but what was now required was a full working prototype with sharper reaction rates and some semblance of productionised components.

I was lucky enough to have come out of my apprenticeship in 1969, in my last year specialising in chassis engineering and aerodynamics with a job as Technical Assistant in Rover Research. The project was underway ‘on paper’ when I joined and was about to become a fully-fledged Rover P8 prototype build project – anti-roll was destined to become an option on the new flagship car.

My boss was Peter Stubbs, who headed up the chassis and aerodynamics section under Richard Fishwick. With me was Peter Morris, a graduate of Loughborough University. The fitter who was given the job of building the car, which was affectionately known as ‘SCAB’, (for Steve Crouch/Anthony Bates) was Tony Bates.

The anti-roll P7 prototype detailed

Rover P7

To build the prototype we would use a P6B, an engineering car – CXC 838G (above), was the donor (in City Grey, of course) and first had to be prepared. The car would have the P8 rear suspension grafted in – a de-Dion layout, but with the tube ahead of the axle, a solid tube with no sliding joint and splined drive shafts. There would be a self-levelling ram attached to the centre of the tube to account for luggage and passenger weight.

The front suspension was standard P6, but with the dampers replaced by hydraulic rams which would do the levelling. A complex mechanical anti-roll bar was fitted front to rear on each side – roll stiffness would be controlled hydraulically on a production version, here we were testing the active hydraulic system.

The whole build was photographed by the Acocks Green photographic team – somewhere in the Gaydon archive, this portfolio must still exist. First,the the bodyshell was turned upside down and all sheet metal work, suspension mounting points, etc., were produced. This was a complex ‘cut and shut’ putting the P8 rear into a P6! Then it was the turn of the hydraulics.

In partnership with Automotive Products

The spool valve blocks with in-built mechanical damping through shim steel valves and the valve controls (though lead weights acting upon the spool valves) were manufactured by Lockheed Aviation Systems in Lancashire. The original contact was made through the company’s relationship with AP.

Bob Pitcher was the Engineer assigned to the project, Bob oversaw the manufacture, installation and subsequent fine tuning of the assembly – a beautiful, complex and jewel-like piece of aluminium machining. A hydraulic pump was run off the engine in place of the power steering pump – remember the P8 rack was a full high pressure hydraulic power unit too. On the P8 this would also operate the full power brakes – no servo and no vacuum required.

It’s worth explaining here briefly how the system worked. With no roll angle created, all roll energy was being absorbed by hydraulic accumulators. These also acted as springs which could be set at fairly soft rates with no roll energy to absorb, giving a soft and very comfortable ride. As the car cornered, the lateral ‘G’ was sensed by the lead ‘pendulum’ weights which acted upon the spool valves.

Similarities with Hydragas

The valves opened ports in the valve block to activate the front struts, pushing up on the outside of the corner and holding the inside level – the car cornering flat. As the wheels moved over bumps, damping was taken care of via the shim valves (a similar principle to a conventional damper, but fitted inside the valve block not the damper itself), the springing was hydraulic within the accumulator not unlike a Hydragas unit.

The rear struts were connected front to rear with the mechanical roll bar adding supplementary roll stiffness to the system. Remember, this was not the electronic age, the whole thing was mechanical, its sophistication being in the beautifully designed and engineered valve block from Lockheed.

Tests in 1970/71 proved the system to be reliable, very quick to respond to the lateral ‘G’ and providing an excellent ‘flat’ ride quality. Quite a lot of testing was done on the then revolutionary four-post hydraulic test rig in the grounds of Alex Moulton’s home, The Hall in Bradford on Avon. Tony Best ran the rig, he was one of Alex’s engineering partners.

Testing anti-roll on the test track

The rig was one of the very first to simulate road conditions – these would be measured and recorded out on the road using lots of sensors and a good old paper trace, the recordings would then be used back in the lab to drive the hydraulic posts on which the road wheels were placed, simulating the same road conditions. We used the same rig for ride work on Range Rover. Not much in the way of sophisticated electronics here yet!

SCAB was complex, it was hugely expensive in prototype form and also likely to be very expensive in production. It was also complex – how would we sense lateral ’G’ in the production version?  After all, it was no good having a couple of lead weights bobbing about under a production bonnet. We were crying out for someone to come along and invent suitable electronics so the whole thing could be miniaturised and produced for a sensible price! The project stalled right there as those electronics boffins weren’t around just yet.

Rover Research was a wonderful place to work and had been doing ‘stuff’ like this for years. It had come up with an ‘interconnected’ Land Rover, trying to soften up the hard, cart spring ride yet retaining good axle articulation for off-roading. The answer was front to rear torsion bars – interconnected. No coils and no carts! It rode wonderfully, but had the strange sensation of rising up when you pulled away and ‘crouching’ when you applied the brakes. Dynamic effects!

We designed and built a tyre testing vehicle based upon a forward control 109, which could measure the forces acting at the tyre-to-road contact patch – dry or wet, it had its own water system! We designed and built a very sophisticated, fully hydraulic mobile dynamometer for use out on the open road. Why drive the Stelvio when you could do it on the flat roads of Warwickshire? We designed and built a handling trolley that would measure vehicle roll, slip angles and lateral ‘G’ at speed up to 100mph. It was lightweight and fitted with Moulton cycle wheels so that its own lateral force on cornering would be negligible and not affect the results.

Rover V8 engine revolutionises plans

This audacious deal, pulled off in January 1965 by Rover’s Managing Director, William Martin-Hurst, would prove to be a far-sighted one – it would provide an engine that would become the centrepiece of British Leyland’s corporate executive car through the 1970s and into the ’80s but, more than that, it would provide the motive force for the Range Rover and also keep the British specialist sports car makers, such as Ginetta, Morgan and TVR in engines all the way through to the late-1990s.

Range Rover
When Leyland completed its acquisition of Rover in early 1967, Donald Stokes and John Barber looked at what Rover then had in development and were enthralled with (what would become) the Range Rover. Their intervention meant that the Range Rover took precedence over the P8 and P9 and reached production just over three years later, in 1970

All the installation problems the company had met with various six-cylinder engines had been cured at a stroke – the V8 engine was compact and light and, more importantly, produced ample power and oodles of torque. As a result of the purchase of this engine, another ongoing project – the 100in station wagon – would bloom, and the destiny of the end product, the Range Rover, would change irreversibly. Spen King related: ‘…the actual Range Rover was planned design-wise and we hadn’t got a very suitable engine. The V8 was a godsend.’

With all this activity then taking place on the P6 BS and Range Rover, the fairly simple task of installing the new engine into the P5 and then P6 was also undertaken, breathing a new lease of life into both cars. As it was, the P8 was now very much a paper project and it would receive attention as and when there was time to do so.

Rover P8 styling plans take shape

Rover P8 drawing by the Bache studio: striking and imposing are two words that come to mind, even in this early stage of design. (Picture: Motor magazine, supplied by Jerry Ford)
Rover P8 drawing by the Bache studio: striking and imposing are two words that come to mind, even in this early stage of design. (Picture: Motor magazine, supplied by Jerry Ford)
An alternative frontal design, incorporating elements of the P6 and Range Rover. (Picture: Motor magazine, supplied by Jerry Ford)
An alternative frontal design, incorporating elements of the P6 and Range Rover. (Picture: Motor magazine, supplied by Jerry Ford)
Glassbacked sketch: an interesting idea, although one suspects that the cost and engineering implications of this would be too much for Rover. Ahead of its time, nonetheless... (Picture: Motor magazine, supplied by Jerry Ford)
Glassbacked sketch: an interesting idea, although one suspects that the cost and engineering implications of this would be too much for Rover. Ahead of its time, nonetheless… (Picture: Motor magazine, supplied by Jerry Ford)

Bache interior made it to pre-production almost unchanged. Note the quartic wheel in this sketch (c.1969), and then compare this with the same picture in the SD1 development story. (Picture: Motor magazine, supplied by Jerry Ford)
Bache interior made it to pre-production almost unchanged. Note the quartic wheel in this sketch (c.1969), and then compare this with the same picture in the SD1 development story. (Picture: Motor magazine, supplied by Jerry Ford)

This would stay the case until 1967 when, after the acquisition of the company by Leyland, the company’s plans came under scrutiny from the new management. When they viewed the cars that Rover was working on at the time, Donald Stokes and John Barber both agreed that the saloon car project should be pursued, even if it was still behind the Range Rover in terms of resource prioritisation in the company.

David Bache presented his thoughts (above) on the P8 design to the Leyland management and what was emerging was a large and brutal looking car, which incorporated some styling cues from the P6, but owed most of its inspiration from the products of Detroit. Leyland management gave approval for production in late 1967 and the styling was signed off for approval less than a year later – after these decisions, changes to the make-up of the model range and chassis development rapidly followed.

Maybe the hints of Americana were incorporated to ensure the success of the car in the USA, but it also endowed the new car with just the right amount of heavyweight appeal for the P8 to be a successful replacement for the P5B. At this point in time, the P8 was engineered around a single base unit, incorporating a range of engines encompassing the 2000cc straight four, as well as the 3.5-litre version of the V8 engine, and two different body styles with varying trim levels.

Two models, one replacement needed

Rover P8
Rover P8
Full-size styling buck of the P8 circa mid-1967, as styled by David Bache shows that he wanted to achieve an imposing look for the new car, which had been dubbed internally, the ‘Mercedes-Benz Eater’. Interestingly, this model sported 4000 badges on the base of the C-post, indicating that a mild stretch of the V8 was to give the new car the performance required of it

Rover P8
Profile view of the above car gives the impression of a pleasingly balanced design…

This flexibility meant that the P8 could act as a replacement for all P5 and P6 models. After Leyland stated that its desire was for the car to act as the group’s flagship model, the smaller-engined model was rapidly dropped and upward expansion of the V8 model was mooted, with an enlargement to a full 4.4-litres.

Spen King, however, was unimpressed: ‘I think if you try to make something impressive, and not good, you’re doomed, and the P8 was trying to do that. The only way that anything good is going to get done is by trying to do something good, not by trying to do it impressive.

‘The rationale behind the P8 really became big because David Bache wanted to make it big and because the Leyland people, Stokes and George Turnbull particularly, came in and, because it was before they got hold of BMC, which had Jaguar, started talking about building a “Mercedes-Benz beater.” You shouldn’t try to beat someone, you should try and make something that is good, that the public will want.’

Styling evolution as P8 heads for production

Rover P8
Left: December 1969 and the P8 shape is reaching what would be its definitive shape (note the SD1 style hubcap design). Right: Final clay model and the style is set – big and brutish it may have looked and Spen King was not a fan of the final incarnation, but it certainly achieved the aims set of it by its Stylist David Bache and the Leyland management headed by Donald Stokes and John Barber
Rover P8
It’s 1970, and here’s a closer view of the final version of the Rover P8. The front now looks a lot tougher
Rover P8
…although the rear remains reasonably untouched, still badged, as it is, a 4000 V8
Rover P8
P8 interior mocked-up and ready for production: some very nice features incorporated in this classic Rover interior design. The basic architecture is typical post-1960s Rover with its flat dash and boxy instrument pack mounted atop – an arrangement that closely resembles that of the SD1. Note also the use of soft-feel plastics and integrated switch gear – something that would become common later on in car design – again Bache’s team was ahead of its time. The only downside was the over-large quartic steering wheel – another feature shared with the later SD1

The new chassis that would underpin the P8 was created as a result of all the work undertaken by Rover on its various P7 mules – and, because of this, it was a very carefully considered piece of design. The major change from the current car was in the front suspension, always a weakness of the P6, which incorporated a double wishbone set-up mounted on a subframe, which was insulated from the body by four flexible rubber bushes, which also allowed for fore-aft movement of the front suspension assembly.

An unusual addition was the Rover P8 arrangement of horizontal tubes for the mountings, giving a large engineered longitudinal compliance. At the rear, the P8 would use a de Dion and coil spring arrangement, which was configured in a different way to that found in the P6. The P8 also had its own single central levelling unit, with a pump was produced in collaboration with Lockheed – something which Spen King was extremely keen on with regards to the beneficial effects upon vehicle handling that self-levelling possessed.

This change to the rear suspension that Spen King had put in place was the start of something much more ambitious: he designed a hydraulic ring main that not only served the rear self-levellers, but also acted a servo for the power steering and braking system – similar to the system employed on the Citroën DS and later refined for the CX.

Pushing the boundaries of technology

Jim Shaw, whose father worked on the P8 project, confirmed that it was also to have anti-lock brakes. The company minutes stated: ‘Peter Wilks was fairly definite with Girling on wanting to go along with their skid control to the extent of being first into production on a vehicle (the Rover P8). He said P8 was to be ‘in the forefront of technology – we are leaving the antique motorcars to Jaguar”.’

Evidence sometimes points to King being a pragmatist with some of his later engineering solutions on the Rover SD1 and Austin Maestro especially, but given time – and budget – he was unafraid to experiment with radical engineering solutions, as the suspension system of the P8 readily demonstrates.

At this point in time, King was drafted by Donald Stokes to lead the Engineering Department at Triumph, so the final production engineering of the P8 was left to the rest of the Rover Engineering Team. Despite this, the car was very much his brainchild and it must have been frustrating to not be able to see the car’s development bear fruit.

Following the Leyland merger with BMH in January 1968, wider issues began to surface for Rover, not least the strength of Jaguar in the newly-amalgamated company – reflected by the fact that William Lyons, no less, was on the newly-formed BLMC Board and his interests lay purely and simply with the survival and prosperity of Jaguar. Because of the group-wide re-organisation and the loss of Rover resources (not least that of King to Triumph), the final production engineering and development of the P8 began to drag its feet.

Road testing begins late in 1970

The tooling-up of the P8 began in 1969 but, because of delays in the new BLMC system, prototypes of the new car did not get onto the road for serious testing until 1970.

Slippages in the P8 programme meant that the launch date was put back from the original plan for a pre-1971 Earls Court announcement to a more realistic time of mid-1972. Various prototypes were spotted testing furiously at the MIRA test track at Nuneaton and the P8 seemed to be again on course.

Trouble was brewing for Rover, though. With the Range Rover successfully launched in 1970, a far-reaching analysis of the financial state of the group resulted in Rover’s two outstanding projects being put under further scrutiny.

The inevitable happens, and the Rover P8 is killed

The axe finally fell on the P8 in the spring of 1971 and, sadly for the company, three years of precious development resources at Solihull had gone down the tubes. There were other issues to be taken into account, such as the group’s entire capital spending and the fact that there was a question over capacity and where to build the new car without affecting the production of the P6 and Range Rover.

The cancellation of the Rover P8 was probably unique in that it was announced in The Times newspaper of 10 March 1971. Three days later the same paper was reporting widespread anger at Solihull over the cancellation, although no names were published.

The anonymous Rover executives pointed out that, with Jaguar XJ6 demand outstripping supply – at one stage the waiting time was reported to be two years – and, with some would-be Jaguar customers buying foreign cars instead, there could have been room for the Rover P8 in British Leyland’s range and that competition between the Solihull and Coventry cars would have been minimal.

‘In its crash test, rather than the engine bay folding on impact, it was the front passenger compartment which had done so – it was a complete, utter and unexpected disaster. Hurried modifications were made and a further crash test carried out. The result, however, although showing a marginal improvement, was fundamentally the same.’ – Peter Wilson

The P8’s position was not as strong as it should have been and all the indications are that this car was a World-beater of the same calibre as the SD1 that would emerge from Solihull some five years later. However, while there may have been a potential clash between the XJ6 and the P8 in that they were to have been pitched at a similar market sector, the two models would have appealed to different buyers.

Historically, the Rover P6B and Jaguar 2.4 were always priced at a similar level in the late 1960s, but appealed to a vastly different set of buyers: the Rover being more old money than the flashier Jaguar. That aside, however, Donald Stokes and, perhaps more importantly, John Barber were acutely aware that, after the absorption of BMH in 1968, their financial situation was more ropey than perhaps even they had imagined and so they cut their losses at the cost of Rover.

Who was responsible for the death of the Rover P8?

For a long time, the blame was laid at Sir William Lyons’ door. The assumption was that the Jaguar boss and BLMC Board member killed the in-house rival to the new XJ6. However, a former employee of AE-Brico, Peter Wilson, shed some new light on this situation in Jaguar World Monthly magazine, citing poor performance in crash testing as the most likely scenario.

‘I arrived one morning to find a large group of Engineers, all with long faces, surrounding a P8, which had been subjected to a 30mph frontal impact test at MIRA as part of its proving programme,’ Peter recalled.

‘The reason for their consternation was all too obvious. Rather than the engine bay folding on impact, it was the front passenger compartment which had done so – it was a complete, utter and unexpected disaster. Hurried modifications were made and a further crash test carried out. The result, however, although showing a marginal improvement, was fundamentally the same.’

He continued: ‘It spelt the end for the P8, and this is what killed it off, not Sir William.’

Rover P8

Was the Rover P8 a Mercedes-beater?

Had the P8 made it through to production, by 1973, Rover would have been in possession of an innovative and desirable range of cars, incorporating a Premium off-roader, an exciting sports car and muscular large saloon. What actually happened was somewhat different and a sad reflection of the extraordinary bad luck that the company put up with in the early years of the BMH/Leyland merger.

Certainly, such was the level of belief in the abilities of the P8 that the car had its mourners at Solihull long after its demise, but perhaps not as many as those that mourned the loss of the glamorous P9.

It is fair to say that Rover never recovered from the loss of the Rover P8 and, although the SD1 that followed it was an enormously talented car, it suffered from Solihull build quality woes from day one. Not only that, but the SD1 was compromised on several fronts to be deliberately cheapened so as not to pose a threat to the Jaguar XJ6. That, in turn, devalued the Rover name and, from that point on, British Leyland never allowed the company to compete in its traditional market sector.

Rover P8
How the Rover P8 looked just before production was cancelled in 1971

Thanks to Denis Chick, Jim Shaw, Ian Elliott, Ian Nicholls, Kevan Barnhill and Spen King


Keith Adams
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  1. The P8 and P9 are interesting designs for us to look back on now. However, I have to say I well prefer the P6 and SD1. That said, the P8 and P9 might look dated now, but in the era they were envisaged they looked up to the job.

  2. The Rover P8 looks all wrong – slab-sided – no wonder Spen hated the car. It reminds me of the Toyota Crown.

  3. I think the P6BS, the P8 and P9 should have made it through to production models, with some modifications I’m sure the crash problems could have been solved, and, Man, a Mid-engined V8 Rover, WOW !!

  4. I like the look of the car as it is agressive from the front think Jensen interceptor or Leyland Force7V that was on the drawing boards at the same time and shared its engine @4.4 litres. It would of been a worthy P5B replacement that was looking very dated by about 1968 and it shared some good family resemblence with P6B again at the nose and with its american type Hippy look would of sold well in world markets like the USA, Australia,New Zealand and South Africa. I believe that the car would of sold well in these markets.

  5. Hideous looking thing even by the standards of the day – how this would have stacked up against Mercedes is anyones guess, dumping it and sticking with the XJ was the best thing BLMC did. The P9 on hte other hand looks up to the job and wouldn’t have impacted on the XJ-S at all.

  6. Beautiful car, IMO.

    I know people here love the SD1, but I think the P8 does a better job of looking like a Rover and being progressive at the same time. It’s a saloon as well, which would have won it more success outside the UK than the SD1 had.

    Spen King might have thought it looked too imposing, but me being an American and a product of the modern era, I find it quite appealing.

  7. I never know why BLMC never used cross product design the P6BS could have been transferred over to Jaguar as a genuine E Type sports car replacement, instead of the bloody awful Series 3 V12 cars

  8. A correction . Rover’s technical director from 1964 to 1971 was Peter Wilks , and he would have had overall responsibility for the P8 . Spen King was a departmental head , like Gordon Bashford and David Bache, and answerable to Peter Wilks . From 1968 to 1971 Spen King was technical director of Triumph . Peter Wilks’s premature retirement in July 1971 resulted in Spen King returning to Rover to replace his cousin .
    Was the P8 a great loss ?
    Ultimately the Range Rover took over the position as Solihull’s luxury barge oce occupied by the P5B .

  9. Not a complete loss, P76 from Australia looks very very similar, shall I start and say “Oh, those doors”… US barge like a Ford Falcon or GM’s Holden, and according to the story on this model, problems had already shown with regards to reliability, something we all know became a trade mark for the ENTIRE group until Japanese technology was used…I don’t think the P8 would have impacted the market as P6 or SD1 did, but it would have been a complementary model to XJ6 and save P5 and somewhat P6 from being the only antiquated saloons offerings Rover had until SD1!! Merc and BMW must have regaled in hearing P8 was scrapped, a sure thing.

  10. Well it is interesting that Jaguar is now with Land Rover under Tata and that they use shared engines etc – one thing they never did under the old Leyland. It is also interesting that it is the Rover products (ie Land Rover) that are now more than pulling their weight in the new set-up. Why don’t they produce a chunky saloon on a Jag floorpan and call it a Rover? They own the name – to rival that similar chunky thing produced by Chrysler. Why not also revive the P9 concept and produce a mid engined V8 sports hybrid – there must be the demand. It would also be crucially different to the other sports products under the Jag lable.They could also be really daring/retro and call it Alvis (if they own that name).

    • Simply, the ‘Rover’ name is dirt in the markets. This is especially true overseas. The damage that SD1 did in particularly the US market, is seen as unrecoverable. This is why ‘Sterling’ was invented for the US.

      • At this point I don’t think there are many people in the U.S. under the age of 60 who remember either Rover or Sterling.

  11. I like the comment about the reuse of the Alvis name. I think that the Rover name was spoilt by what happened in the 1980s to 2005. The Alvis name could be the way to bring a Rover type replacement into the Market.

  12. Alvis passed to United Scientific many years ago. However, since they do not make cars, they would probably license it

  13. Was any of the work done on the P8 transferred over to the Australian P76? I’ve just got the book “Leyland P76 Anything But Average” the cars look very similar even though the P76 was designed by Micholotti, certain factors like the 4.4 litre V8 shared by both cars even though the book states that the engine was an indigenous Australian development. Still the P8 does look like a missed opportunity both the Rover & Triumph contenders were ageing and the P8 would have slotted in between the Princess and the XJ6

  14. Spen King’s reported quotes that a car should be designed to be ‘good’ and not designed in relationship to perceived competitive, or complimentary products, exemplifies, for me, the great hope for motor-manufacturing that came out of the 1960’s.
    We had cars like the NSU Ro80; Peugeot, with it’s RWD torque-tube rear suspension; the 6-Cyl Triumph cars; and eventually the dawn of FWD Audi/VW cars. We had, then many exciting new ideas and I could hardly wait, as a teenager, to see what would come next.
    My father had a Rover P6 3-5-hundred (150bhp model) and my job was to look-out for those, nasty, NSU’s & Triumphs in their yellow-and-orange stripes and their blue-flashing-lights.
    By 1978, we had the TR7; the SD1; the Peogeot 304; the XJ-S; and were soon to get the rubber-bumpered MGB; and the dream of ‘good’, well-engineered cars, was all-over.
    You could still buy a ‘good’ car, of course. You could buy Mercedes. A car unequalled in terms of comfort, speed, handling and reliability. Then, with the demise of the W124-series, in 1994, all that came to an and.
    So, nowadays, what particular configuration of engine/transmission combination are you using to tow-about your tin-tank-on-wheels, with it’s torsion-beam rear-suspension arrangement?
    Yes, now cars are pretty-much all the same; and, if you think they handle nicely; well, you simply have not lived.
    One more thing: why was it easier to reverse-park an old Merc, than it is a FWD hatchback?

  15. I came across a memo from my father, Jim Shaw, to Dick Oxley regarding the use of Full Power Braking on P8 and some developments by Lockheed and Girling written 24 July 1969.

    The final paragraph amused me!

    PMW {Peter Wilks} was fairly definite with Girling on wanting to go along with their skid control to the extent of being first into production on a vehicle (P8)[not from the start of course]. He said P8 was to be “in the forefront of technology – we are leaving the antique motorcars to Jaguar”.

    {} my insert

  16. These crash tests involve running into a concrete block. In order for the passengers to experience a survivable deceleration the front of the vehicle MUST crumple AND absorb energy whilst doing so.

    The key questions after that are 1) does the passenger compartment retain its integrity? 2) do the seats remain attached? 3) do the seat belt attachment points remain intact.

    None of the images posted here suggest that the impact tests failed.

    • To the contrary – the A post to sill has failed, the dash and cowl to floor has failed, the upper A post/front header/cantrail has failed, the B post to cantrail has failed, the entire front underframe has failed allowing severe deformation to the passenger cell. With the massive damage evident, it’s reasonable to suspect that the floor and tunnel have also failed in proximity to the front occupants.

      The structure of the vehicle as tested, clearly shows catastrophic failures in multiple areas – any one of which calls into question the integrity of the passenger cell.

      • This speculation is just Modern Myth Making. The truth has more to do with too many bosses, too many marques and too few customers.

        The purpose of crash testing at the prototype stage is to reveal weaknesses, this wasn’t a qualification test.

        Detail changes were made to P6, for instance, as a result of impact testing. Without sophisticated computerised finite element analysis this was the only way to proceed.

  17. The failed crash test theory does not make much sense to me.

    Almost a decade before with the P6 the Rover company created a car with an exceptional behaviour on crash tests. This didn’t happen by accident. It shows that they were able to understand what they should do with a car’s structure to be safe. So, how come that years later, with added experience and better technology available, they created a car that was rather worse than the P6? It just doesn’t fit together. As Jim Shaw states above, apparently the P8 was still incomplete at the time that it was cancelled.
    The problem was that there were too many people at the upper BL management that had very strong ideas about how the Rover products should be, without understanding what made the Rover company so much successful a few years earlier. The BL policy at its early formation years that messed with just about everything and managed to ruin the successful efforts of the engineers and management of the past, comes into great contrast with the careful steps of the majority of the other car makers around the world, that recognised the sound ideas and stepped on them to create progress for the future.

  18. The crashed one actually looks better. Even by the standards of the day the intact car is nothing short of hideous. If this had gone ahead there would have been no SD1 and the P9 would probably have still been in production well into the 80s. How could this have even seen off the likes of the Mk1 and Mk2 Granadas? Let alone foreign competition.

  19. A strange one the P9. It’s hard to get the scale of the thing, but it looks vast, and without the elegance of P5 or the XJ6.

    Leyland wanted a flagship model, but in retrospect it’s a shame it wasn’t designed a bit smaller as a replacement for P6 as well. After all, P6 by 1971 was already EIGHT years old.

    • You need to remember that in the world outside of the UK, Rover was not considered a ‘prestige’ name. Indeed, in the major car market of the time (the USA), it was unheard of. There was no point in squandering resource and money on Rover. The only ‘prestige’ badge available to the company was Jaguar.

      • I meant the pre BLMC Leyland, where Rover was the most premium badge Leyland owned before the merger with BMH.

        I imagine they saw P8 as a chance to compete with Jaguar and raise the profile of Rover

  20. I presume that the P8 was intended to replace the P5B at the time of planning, before Rover & Jaguar were in the same group.

  21. @Demetris

    One point is that the P6 body engineering was done by Pressed Steel Fisher, whereas I understand the P9 was done at Solihull.

    The point being that as well as the much expanded team for Roots (using Chryslers money) you had teams working on the Marina, Puma, Range Rover and ADO 74 as well as the P9 across British Leyland. With so much expansion in the the late 60’s engineering teams one has to wonder if their was enough “quality” engineers to go around.

    I suspect this is a driver behind issues such as the panel gaps on the SD1 for example as well as the poor crash test results for the P9.

    They simply did not know how to do it better.

    • As a former PSF body engineer, I must say you’re spot on. In the time period, we were swamped with work, from ADO28 (4 door, coupe, estate, van, and pick-up), ADO77, ADO71, XJ27, XJ4, ADO88, etc, through to the various Rolls Royces, Sherpas (KT2 and MT210), Rootes, and International Harvester trucks. On top of which were lots of modifications and updates on things like Maxi and Mini. Add into the mix the politics within the company….especially from Solihull, and things were interesting to say the least. In essence, any body engineered in Solihull was considered dubious at best. Witness the way a Range Rover bonnet ‘smiles’ when viewed from the front – they didn’t understand about relieving the hemming flange in the corners, which in turn caused the front corners of the assy to curve up!

    • Interesting picture and it confirms what a former member of Spen King’s team told me about the P8 body shell looking like a patchwork quilt it had so many pressings.

      He said that a Ford Consul was brought in to show them how could be done.

      • David,

        From the same set I also have:
        Sht.1 Complete Car
        Sht.2 Body Shell Front Threequarter
        Sht.3 Body Shell Rear Threequarter
        Sht.4 Main Shipped Loose Assys.
        [Base Unit + 4 doors, bonnet, boot, front wing,
        rear wing, roof, moulded front & rear valances
        Sht.5 Split Up Of Skin Panels As Supplied By PSF
        [Base Unit ‘shadowed’ otherwise similar to Sht.4
        but front valance includes lower (foglight?), air dam section]

        They have all been ripped out of a plastic comb-bound book so I presume there were many copies produced.

  22. Regarding the P8 prototype’s poor crash test results, is it possible that one of the causes is connected to the lightweight Rover P6 project (involving personnel from Alvis) that used a light-gauge body as the lessons learns from the project would have also been relevant to the P8 project?

  23. I worked in the Rover Research Dept from 1965 to 1968, mainly on torque converter and suspension design. Did a lot on the Range Rover suspension, P6B and P5B, and also on P8.

    We tried to eliminate some of the problems on P6, especially lack of roll damping which resulted in what we termed roll-rock.

    I assisted the drawing office in the layout of the rear suspension, and specified the spring, damper and bush rates. I recall going out in the first prototype with five passengers, driving over a hump back bridge somewhere around Solihull at some speed, and gasps of approval for the body control exhibited.

    Looking at the pictures now, the appearance of the car would have been much improved by using a straight side stripe instead of the wavy line.

  24. @ orienteer

    As a P6 owner i would like to thank you for the work on the suspension. I am rather young to know how it compared with others back in the day, but i did not manage to find anything this side of hydropneumatic that irons out the irregularities in the way a well sorted P6 does.

    I have a question though? Did your team considered back in the day to increase the roll stiffness of the P6? Although i have no personal experience, i hear owners that replace the front anti-roll bar with a thicker one, and have only positive comments to make about the improved handling without compromising the comfort.

    Also i will be glad to hear stories from Solihul in those golden years!

    • @ Demetris

      My comments related to the P8 suspension, but I did development work on P6/P6B too.

      The desired balance between comfort and handling has changed over the years. Thicker ar bars will always reduce comfort over single wheel bumps. The main problem with modern cars is the stylists’ influence reducing available wheel travel and fitting low profile tyres, both of which compromise comfort.

      Spen King was a strong advocate of long wheel travel, it’s what gave the Range Rover its exceptional abilities compared to its contemporaries.

      We designed and built a damper test/calibration rig so we could get dampers made to our exact specification, it had always been a “black art” beforehand.

      We also experimented with active suspension using mechanical sensors and hydraulics, it would be much more easily achieved today using electronics.

      • I have a copy of a drawing by Lockheed dated 3.1.69 showing a scheme for “Power Braking & Levelling System For Rover P8”.

        This system used a hydraulic pump to maintain pressure in a pair of accumulators, one serving the front brakes and the other the rear. An isolating valve fed from both accumulators provided fluid to a levelling valve and thence to a suspension strut coupled to a pneumatic/hydraulic spring. It isn’t obvious whether this spring is per wheel, per axle or per vehicle.

        Rover conducted trials with “full power braking” on P4’s and P6’s as well. Certainly at the time of the P4 experiments (1959) Rover had its own Citroen DS19 which used this. My father, who was Brake Project Engineer for Rover over a greater part of his career was a strong advocate of “full power braking” and very critical of the various ‘splitting’ schemes that were asymmetric in the failure mode. P8 was expected to be very advanced ‘under the skin’.

        • Some other notes that I have confirm (as in the above article) that a single levelling ram operated on the rear of the vehicle.
          There was a concern at the time that EEC regulations required that rear wheels shouldn’t lock-up and that meant that European cars were becoming under-braked when heavily laden.
          By integrating the braking and levelling systems the P8 would have been able to transfer braking effort to the rear to match the weight on the rear axle.

          • Jensen Interceptor FF had ABS (Girling I think)- could Rover have acquired this…?

  25. Spen King was spot on as he always was. The flaw to the De Dion axle with excess body-roll was solved by Alfa Romeo ( via Jalopy Journal) with a well-placed sway bar. Alfa went far with their de Dion design- Rover could (ideal circumstances) “borrowed” it.
    Oh UK Car industry- excellent engineering but wretched management and politics. And utterly awful at follow-through especially on fine details which when fail- create a larger more inconvenient problem. One example- poor quality door hinges on Escort era Fords. Could you not have at least toured the German facilities at the time and done some trials with the German style management inclusion of labour unions reps?

    • I’d love to know how Tata have managed to turn things around. Sure, they’re cashed-up but they must have changed the management style more than a little.

  26. Have read elsewhere that not only was the Rover P8 intended to be more sophisticated in terms of engines (with the V8 to feature quad-cams and 32v), but also elsewhere with the air-suspension and hydraulic active-suspension being considered before the project was cancelled.

  27. I cannot believe that such an ugly car was seen as a Mercedes beater. I have seen prettier home made cars. And I’ve seen and travelled in a Typhoon Tornado !

  28. I thought the Peugeot 206 was ugly when it first came out. Then I bought one. Then it became the best-selling small hatch in the UK and now all vehicles in that class look ‘just’ like it. Someone has to start a trend!
    I do think it looked a bit of a brute though. The ‘Mercedes beater’ surely was the engineer’s viewpoint, ‘the works’, not the ‘box’ that the stylist put it in.

  29. Citroen worked on systems similar to the anti roll device described here during development of the DS. The intention was to have anti roll, anti squat and anti dive and the valves would not have been controlled by inertia pendulums described here but by steel balls rolling around in a valve body. Citroen couldn’t get the system to work reliably and presented the DS without such features.

  30. Well that hydractive/hydrolastic video was frankly terrifying – with the grey car. I suspect I might know why. When someone who will remain nameless overinflated the rear tyres of my Landcrab it bounced quite badly but it also did exactly the wriggling trick the Rover was doing in that film. The cure for the landcrab (on SN832 tyres at least) is drain out a couple of psi to around 26-27 on the back. No more bounce and no more opposite lock on sharp maneuver. I suspect that might have helped to make the rear less skittery.
    Incidentally any previous owners of DFD702K floating about on here?
    Would it have been possible to take the A series and make a v8? A 2-litre and a 2.6 would have been smooth as silk and fitted nicely – and if you took the 850cc motor you’d have gotten a 1.7 litre v8 – perfect for the Wolseley/Riley landcrabs and more besides (MGC anyone? If I remember the 1275cc was 71hp or thereabouts – so an even 140hp easy to get – stupidly tuneable and reliable – what’s not to like?)
    The 948cc engine in Austin Healey trim would give 86hp as a 1.9 v8. Perfect for the Wolseley landcrab – 92hp is easy to obtain.
    Or a 2.2 with 140hp? Twinned 1071s.

  31. Well that hydractive/hydrolastic video was frankly terrifying – with the grey car. I suspect I might know why. When someone who will remain nameless overinflated the rear tyres of my Landcrab it bounced quite badly but it also did exactly the wriggling trick the Rover was doing in that film. The cure for the landcrab (on SN832 tyres at least) is drain out a couple of psi to around 26-27 on the back. No more bounce and no more opposite lock on sharp maneuver. I suspect that might have helped to make the rear less skittery.
    Incidentally any previous owners of DFD702K floating about on here?
    Would it have been possible to take the A series and make a v8? A 2-litre and a 2.6 would have been smooth as silk and fitted nicely – and if you took the 850cc motor you’d have gotten a 1.7 litre v8 – perfect for the Wolseley/Riley landcrabs and more besides (MGC anyone? If I remember the 1275cc was 71hp or thereabouts – so an even 140hp easy to get – stupidly tuneable and reliable – what’s not to like?)
    The 948cc engine in Austin Healey trim would give 86hp as a 1.9 v8. Perfect for the Wolseley landcrab – 92hp is easy to obtain.

    • As time goes on so memory lane gets longer. As I worked in Rover’s Research Department from ’70 to ’74 Denis Chick’s article bought back many happy memories. I knew all of the people in the article and still remember some others :- Mark Morris, Dennis Boam, Roger Mills, Malcolm Peers and the department secretaries. And there was more equipment used by the Chassis group eg the Bentley engined automatic box test rig and a shock absorber test rig. A very self contained group. Mike Lewis set up a Numerical Engineering group led by Steve Crouch. I joined this group. It had a state of the art (1971) scientific computer that had 8kb of memory and 750kb storage (1000kb=1meg) and it filled a portakabin. Oh what could we have done with a modern computer. The Numerical Engineering group developed apps for vehicle journey analysis, valve spring optimisation for the V8 engine, theoretical studies into vehicle understeer / oversteer and vehicle performance prediction. I did many predictions for P8 with differing combinations of engine size, power, torque, gearbox ratios and tyre sizes. The 4.4 engine with low down torque would have been a real goer. It was a pity that the group was split up and so much knowledge lost. Later on in life I joined BL Systems and last met Dennis at Studley Castle in the mid 90’s. He hadn’t changed a bit.

  32. Rover were reinventing the wheel with the roll-free car, Alex Moulton interconnected hydragas or hydralastic may well have achieved their ambitions, Had Rover turned it’s back upon Alex Moulton during the period?

  33. I see the resemblance to the Leyland P76 – but also to the Ghia Centurion prototype from 1966, based on a US Checker taxicab chassis.

  34. I’m surprised the 3.5L V8 P9 was seen as that much of a threat to the 5.3L V12 E type, especially as the forthcoming XJS was a grand tourer anyway, rather than a sports car.

    Indeed, rather than an Alvis, surely it would make more sense as a Triumph, as a TR6 replacement?

    • Or been restyled as a Jag with an xk supplanted in the back – an F-type. It would have given Jag a proper sports car and along with the xj and xjs been a modern range of cars. Instead we got the not invented here, and it is a danger to our range of cars. It’s a shame that Stokes was a wet lettuce.

      • Even it the XK6 was a production version of the all-alloy short-stroke 2.6-3-litre+ with ~185+ hp and equipped with 24-valves (as was looked at a few years later prior to initiating AJ6), have doubts it would fit into the back of a Jaguar-ized Rover P9. That and the fact BL would have been influenced by findings in the US concluding customers preferred a conventional front-engined RWD sportscar as opposed to a mid-engined one (as also planed for ADO21).

        Despite the Stag V8’s issues however, it would have been fascinating to see Triumph basically copy Rover by producing a 2500-drived mid-engined V8 sportscar (in the same way the Rover P9 was reputedly derived from the Rover P6 3500 V8).

        • But as previously discussed on this site – this was supposed to be a super car to compete in the market above and be a halo model for Rover. Even if the XK wouldn’t fit, maybe a Daimler V8 would have and given Jaguar a genuine sportscar and a halo for the new BL group.

          • Unfortunately the Daimler V8 would have likely been too heavy for the P9 compared to the Rover V8 (even in 280+ hp 5-litre form as fitted to the Mk10 prototype), that leaves the P9 featuring either a Jaguar V12-based 60-degree V6 or a production version of the still-born V12-based 60-degree V8 (if not the V12 itself for a road-going bitza supercar to succeed the mid-engined XJ13).

            That however is assuming the Jaguar V12 was properly-developed engine readily available in 5-6-litres (for -167+ 2.5-3-litre V6 / -222+ hp 3.3-4-litre V8) and other improvements from the outset, though the 60-degree V8 would have been a potent yet less than ideal alternative (to the Rover V8) even if the roughness was reputedly resolved.

          • The daimler v8 was just over 120lb heavier than the rover v8 though 1.5l bigger. That means the lb weight per litre was actually lighter. The engine was said to be in a very low form of tune in the majestic, while the mk10 prototype was in a higher state of tune. There are stories on the net which show it go way beyond 270 without a lot of tinkering. The only thing is size, as I can’t actually find anywhere how big dimensionally either the daimler, rover v8s or the xk engine is, or how big the actual P9 was to fit it in.

  35. I quite like the Range Rover door handles mirroring the vents on the P9. Damn that’s handsome.
    And although I don’t like the look of the bonnet air fam on the P8 (and the effect it had on crash protection). The side vents behind the front wheel and the aide swage line look good. But I l wonder if those door handles are in the wrong place – why not above the swags line? They fixed the awful rear end by moving up the number plate and raisingthe rear bumper.

  36. regarding the innovative Rover suspension video , in the Alex Moulton book, Moulton refers to a visit to Bradford-on-Avon of as senior executive who arrived in a Range Rover fitted with an experimental hydraulic suspension system. the suspension developed a dangerous leak, the Range Rover was now unroadworthy and the executive was sent home in a Metro loaned by Moulton, the executive may have been Michael Edwardes.
    Is it possible thesuspension project did not end and carried on with the Range Rover at a later date?
    A Range Rover well known for 2CV roly-poly cornering may be a better candidate for an expensive intelligent suspension system

  37. Find it a bit strange the P8 was said to have drifted away from its original parameters as a P5/P6 replacement to become a bigger P5 replacing car, since the comparison between it and the SD1 and P76 suggests it was smaller at least in terms of wheelbase (on the P76 vs P8 vs SD1 page).

    That begs the question was P10 originally conceived as a much smaller car (perhaps even a shade smaller than the P6 it intended to replace) likely planned to be derived from the P8, before it was subsequently costed-down (when merged with the Triumph Puma project) and grew to have a slightly larger wheelbase than even the P8?

    Even though the P6 was sold with both Four-cylinder and V8 engines like the P8 was planned to feature, in hindsight cannot help but feel the P8 as a projected Mercedes challenger would have also benefited from a Six-cylinder of some form regardless of whether the P8 ended up being a dual replacement for both the P5/P6 as envisaged or the larger P5 replacement it eventually became.

    Because something would have needed to fill the void between the 2.0-2.2-litre Fours and the 3.5-4.4-litre V8s for the P8, which internally within Rover (as opposed to the rest of BL via SD1 and P76) comes down to the choice of a Rover P7-like Six (if not a lighter P10 development) or a Rover V8-based V6 with each having their own potential issues to resolve. Maybe the reputed intention to replace the Rover V8 OHV with a more sophisticated P10-based 32-valve Quad-Cam Fuel-Injected V8 successor would have also allowed a Six to have been schemed.

    Would like to believe there were plans to significantly tidy up the P8’s exterior had it reached production, the alternative frontal design proposal that incorporated elements of the P6 and Range Rover appears to be the best way for the P8 to go considering the success of the Range Rover.

  38. A number of years ago, I found a web page with a detailed technical analysis of the Lockheed Aviation power hydraulic suspension system developed with Rover. It includes a sectional view of the control valves for the wheel cylinders. Since then, I have been completely unable to find the article. If it can be found somehow, it would be a superb extension to this page.

  39. In the article above it is mentioned that the de Dion rear suspension of the P8 was different from the previous iteration of the design as used by Rover for production cars. The prototype de Dion tube is reported to have been of fixed length with splined half-shafts. OK so far. It is also reported that the de Dion tube passed ahead of the axle. Can anyone clarify this detail?

    In a de Dion set-up the tube is the axle. How is it possible for the tube to pass ahead of the axle when they are one and the same thing? Is that the tube passed ahead of the differential and half-shafts? If so, how would it have been possible to achieve sufficient ground clearance for the tube as well as reasonable travel from normal ride height to full bump? Surely the drive-shaft passing from the gearbox to the differential unit would have clashed with the de Dion tube.

    Is there a sketch or drawing available which illustrates the P8 rear suspension? I’m having difficulty understanding how it would have operated! A drawing or sketch would be most helpful.

    Thanks for your help with this.

  40. Hi David

    Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for posting the link and comment.

    In order to self-level the car (for the passive suspension system, not the AP one) I imagine that there would have been two hydro-pneumatic units at the rear of the car (one for each rear wheel) and two more at the front (also one for each wheel). Is this correct?

    Was the forward axle pivot fixed to the body of the car or was it moveable up and down (by hydraulic actuation for instance)?


  41. The Lockheed Hydraulic System diagram that I have shows it providing full-power hydraulic braking via front and rear discs. The rear brake pressure line is modulated by a levelling valve mechanically connected to the rear suspension. A single hydraulic ram controls the ride height.
    It is my understanding that coil springs provided the main suspension.

  42. Hi Jim

    Now I am stuck!

    If the de Dion axle crosses the centre-line of the car ahead of the differential (bent into a sort of U-shape) with a fixed pivot point under the drive-shaft (input to the differential unit) then there does not appear a means to self-level the car with only the one hydraulic strut. What would the strut attach to? There is no suitable suspension structure behind the differential. It would be possible to attach to a Watts linkage in the gap immediately behind the differential unit (can’t see them using a Panhard rod in this application), but pushing on the centre-point of the Watts merely alters the roll centre height while doing nothing to level the car. So I am stuck. I have not been able to visualise how they achieved self leveling with only the one strut.

    I’m keen to understand the suspension being developed for the P8, but am unable to understand how it operated. Please help!

    Thanks for the link to the website. It is most excellent. I’m part way through and finding plenty there of interest.


  43. I am sorry that I don’t have any more information. Both my father’s diagram (on the website) and the Lockhead drawing imply that there was only one levelling ram but how it worked I don’t know. The Lockheed drawing is a strange animal. I imagine that in pre-CAD days the draughtsman has traced items from other drawings so trivial things like float switches are near full-scale while the interesting stuff is tiny in comparison.
    James Taylor was intending to co-author a book on the P8 a year or so ago and maybe that will shed some light?

  44. This car is unbelievably ugly and looks like the half baked effort of a weekend welding hero.
    Did they really, honestly think this contraption would sell?
    Positioned against Mercedes the competitor would have been the W116, a car not only on a different level but from a different galaxy.

    • The P8 was ready for production and it was ugly, I grew up with 70s cars and this is the level of Toyota/Datsun big car “styling” from the side and back. The photo you include from Mercedes is not a prototype but a test safety car designed to experiment with pedestrian safety and crumple zones and in no way planned for production so not sure why you would include it.

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