A few of you will have spotted that, while I love the Rover P6 and enjoy the P5, I am quite fascinated by the Rover that was to come after that: the P8. The initial effort took place after P6 was finalised in 1962, and it centered on completing the Rover range. Rover had always offered a four-cylinder entry-level car: 10 and 12HP, 60, 80. Then three levels of six-cylinder: in pre-war years those were the, 14,16 and 20HP and, in the post-war era, these became the 75, 90 and 105. And later, these changed to become the 95, 100 and 3-Litre and Coupe.
The P6 left Rover with the base four-cylinder and the top of range 3-Litre. Rover needed needed a multi-cylinder P6 to fill the gap. That was the Rover P7, which was powered by the 3.0-litre six-cylinder version of the P6 SOHC engine. Some of these cars were tested even before the launch of the P6. Then, when the Rover V8 engine arrived at Solihull in 1964, everything became much simpler, and the P7 eventually gave way to the Rover P6B.
Thoughts in 1964, therefore, turned to the P5 and P6’s replacement. The first outline specs for the P8 showed it doing both jobs from one body – standard Rover policy throughout the Wilks era – it’s the P5 that is the exception to the rule. Therefore, the P8 was described as having both the 2.0-litre 2000 TC engine and the 3.5-litre ex-Buick V8. Meanwhile, in 1964, the Engine Department’s forward product line already showed the V8 being taken out to 4.4-litres at standard bore, what became the Australian Leyland P76 engine.
With the Wilks family aging and getting more inclined to concentrate on larger cars, and David Bache wanting something more American in size and stature, (the USA was then the holy grail export market for all UK manufacturers to crack), the Rover P8 started to grow. The 115bhp Rover P6 2000 TC engine wasn’t going to cut it for the smaller-engined variant.
Relief came, post-merger into BLMC, in the form of ex-Ford man John Barber. He wanted to abandon the high volume sector of the UK market, where BMC went head-to-head with Ford and Vauxhall. He, correctly, reckoned it needed too much investment to keep pace, which only the Americans could afford. So he wanted to do what we now recognise as a BMW-style premium product plan. He wanted to take BLMC upmarket and sell lower volume, higher margin, quality, niche, cars.
This chimed exactly with the strategy of the Wilks family for Rover. So, he commissioned Rover to build a quality and interesting competitor for the forthcoming Ford Granada. That was the Rover P10. Simpler than a full fat Rover (P8), but roughly the same size and with distinctiveness an asset.
That renewed the interest in the new four-cylinder engine at Rover, to take over from the four-cylinder P6 engine. What was built and ready for production in 1973 has always been a bit mythical… Known to be a 2.2-litre slant four, with the same bore spacing as the P6 SOHC (so that it could be built on the existing engine line) no pictures have ever surfaced.
Until last weekend. It’s on display at Gaydon!
Just LOOK at it!
Its maximum power was 160bhp, from a DOHC 2.2-litre slant-four with 16 valves and throttle body injection. Routine enough now, but revolutionary for a volume car in 1973…
The rest of the tale is rather sad. Barber got the boot for daring to suggest the closure of BMC and the loss of thousands of motor industry jobs in the Midlands to a Labour Government.
Barber gone, P10 – and Rover – were merged with Triumph and the P10 morphed into the Rover SD1, but not before it got a BMC-quality interior (it looked like the Bache original, but it just wasn’t up to Rover quality levels). The DOHC Rover engine was shelved to placate Triumph, which wanted to use its new six (the PE166 engine) – ultimately, a very bad decision because the six wasn’t up to scratch. We can only speculate as to what V8 the P10 might have got. It could hardly have had the same power output as the four-cylinder motor, which is what the carburetted 3.5-litre that actually went into it delivered. EFi 3.5? Or the 4.0-litre narrow-bore engine destined for P8? Or the (later Australian) 4.4? Or – and here we really are fantasising – a V8 version of the 2.2 slant four…
But perhaps not fantasizing too much… At the time the P38 Range Rover development was under way, there was an active proposal to use an existing 32-valve V8. And that engine was seen by a reliable source at Cowley on an engine stand and was reportedly installed in a number of experimental rear-drive Rover 800s. Of course, 32-valve V8s take a fair bit of designing, so it’s tempting to suppose that, like the crank used in the 4.6-litre P38, it was already on Rover’s shelf from P8/P10 days.
The Designer who did the slant-four went on to spend a couple of days a week at Longbridge. It’s tempting to wonder if that Rover engine led directly to the development of the 2.0-litre 16-valve M-Series engine Austin Rover used in R8 and 800.
The Rover P6, meanwhile, had to soldier on. Instead of leaving the stage gracefully at the October Motor Show in 1973, it received an emergency revamp and ‘value engineering’ exercise to give us the 1974 model year 2200SC and 2200TC. The cylinder boring tools for that DOHC engine were, at least, put to good use!
Thank you to Simon Owen for the pictures of the engine and the wit to photograph it!