Concepts : Rover P8/P9

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

A vital opportunity lost?

The full story of Rover’s stillborn range topper, killed days before it was to be given the go-ahead for production – a victim of politics, poor crash testing and internal rivalries.

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: Spen King and Gordon Bashford were developing an exciting triumvirate of models which would shore up the company’s share of the prestige sector of the market.

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. Obviously, the image of the Auntie Rover was a lasting one in the minds of customers but, with the launch of the Rover 2000 in 1963, the shape of the executive car market had changed – people no longer needed to buy the excessively large 3-litre cars so typified by the Austin Sheerline in order to show their status in life.

Three years previously, in 1963, and with the success of the Rover 2000 not yet assured, Rover were still producing the ageing 3-Litre P5 alongside the mainstay of its range, the Rover P4. In their forward planning, King and Bashford had a problem; the P4 was due to disappear the following year – the P6 being the modern incarnation of this car – but the P5 3-Litre would need heavy revision or replacement in order to remain competitive.

The Rover 2000 also had been saddled with compromises in order to get it into production – the round the corner independent front suspension famously being the first one but, more pressingly, the heavy 2-Litre engine was assuredly the other. King knew that, in the medium term, more highly-powered versions of this car would need to be put into production – the rival Triumph 2000 was slightly cheaper and offered far better mechanical refinement because of its six-cylinder engine.

Rover P6B
At the turn of the Millennium, the archetypal British executive drove a BMW 5-Series – a car 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

What this situation meant in effect was that, with a replacement being needed for the 3-Litre and a significant update being required for the P6 at what King saw, was about five years hence, there would be a need to develop 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 that the new car should be a larger car than the P6, work began on developing a replacement. King himself did not want a larger car, and the desire to make the new car larger 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.

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 and 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 Seventies. 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 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 in order to accommodate it. In a move pre-dating Audi by some ten years, the Research Department, run by Brian Sylvester, actually engineered a 2.5-litre five-cylinder version of the engine in order to get over these problems.

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

The 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 project 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 P6BS (which stood for P6 Buick Sports) sports car, the P8 development programme was to take a back seat in Rover’s task-list.

Not only was the P8 pushed behind the glamorous P6BS, 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 V8 ex-Buick all-aluminium engine. Now, Rover had the perfect power unit with which to give the P5 and P6 ranges a much-needed fillip.

Rover P6BS

Rover P6BS
The P6BS was so far ahead of the game in so many ways that it is hard to believe it was conceived in the mid-1960s. The three-seater used a mid-mounted Rover V8 engine to great effect. Styling was rough and ready, but this was to have been tidied up for the P9 Project (see below). The car suvives today and is part of the Heritage Motor Centre’s extensive collection. (Pictures supplied by Julian Marsh, taken from the book ‘The Cars That Time Forgot’, by Giles Chapman)

Actually, this audacious deal, pulled off in January 1965 by Rover’s Managing Director, William Martin-Hurst, would prove to be a far-sighted one for the company – it would provide an engine that would become the centrepiece of British Leyland’s corporate executive car through the Seventies and into the 1980s but, more than that, it would provide the motive force for the Range Rover and also keep the British specialist car makers, such as TVR, Morgan and Ginetta 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 encountered 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 P6BS 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.

This would remain the case until 1967 when, following 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 were 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 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. Maybe the hints of Americana were incorporated in order 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.

This flexibility meant that the P8 could act as a replacement for all P5 and P6 models. After Leyland stated that their desire was for the car was 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 and make something impressive, rather than 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 and beat someone you should try and make something that is good, that the public will want.’

Leyland management gave approval for production in late 1967 – and the styling was signed off for approval less than a year later, after these changes to the make-up of the model range and chassis development rapidly followed.

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

The new chassis that would underpin the P8 was created as a result of all the work undertaken by Rover on their 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 manner 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 modification 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 – somewhat similar to the already employed on the Citroën DS and later refined for the CX.

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-organization 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 in the most farcical way.

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. Firstly, it did not look good for the P9 mid-engined super car – that was too close to Jaguar’s patch of the market where the E-type resided – and, when delays in that car’s replacement resulted in a shortage of tooling capacity at Pressed Steel Fisher, it was canned in preference of the Jaguar XJ27, later to become known as the XJ-S.

Rover P6 and P10
Left: Scale model of the Rover P9, how it is likely to have appeared had it been allowed to reach production. Many regard the non-production of this car as not only British Leyland’s greatest loss, but also one of their biggest mistakes. Right: From the P8, Bache moved on – his vision of a large executive saloon of the 1970s incorporated five doors and a hatchback. This was a design proposal for the P10 project, which soon gave way to the corporate design, the RT-1, then SD1

Unfortunately for Rover, its future lay in the hands of its representation at Donald Stokes’ boardroom table – and, because of the fact that Rover’s management was timid when it came to dealing with William Lyons, they caved in to the Jaguar man and allowed their saloon car project to be put under microscopic scrutiny. This was after tooling had been completed at Pressed Steel Fisher and the car was ready for production at a cost of over £3m to the company.

Why was this decision made? Much speculation about William Lyons’ personal involvement with the P8’s death has been made, but an ex-employee of AE-Brico, Peter Wilson, shed some new light on this in Jaguar World Monthly magazine.

‘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 crash

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.

The P8’s position was not 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. My personal feelings on looking at this potential clash between the XJ6 and the P8 are that they may have been pitched at a similar market sector, but they 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 following the absorption of BMH in 1968, their financial situation was more ropey than perhaps even they had imagined and so cut their losses at the cost of Rover.

Had the P8 and P9 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 P9 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 in order 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.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created 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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  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?

  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.

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