By on September 11, 2019

The P6 was an important leap forward in style and modernity for the small and independent Rover Motors. And today’s Rare Ride subject is particularly important because of its prototype status. It’s an early example of the most powerful P6 which became Rover’s flagship.

Rover’s lineup in the early Sixties was very limited, and fairly dated. The company had two cars on offer: A version of the small P4 which had been in production since 1949, and the larger P5 introduced in 1958. The P6 was intended as an all-new car to replace the P4 and run concurrently (as a lower-priced executive saloon) with the more conservative P5. Rover identified an emerging market for the P6-class car: Younger people with money who wanted something nicer than a basic four-cylinder car like a Ford Consul, but less expensive than a larger displacement six- or eight-cylinder car like a P5 or Jaguar Mark II.

Focused on technology and modernity, Rover’s engineers gave the P6 a fully independent suspension with a de Dion tube at the rear and four-wheel disc brakes. It was also a unibody, much like the advanced Citroën DS from which Rover drew much inspiration. Front corner lights had protruding domes to let the driver know if their Lucas headlamps were working, as well as identify the extremes of the car’s body.

The front suspension system was innovative in its bell crank design, which allowed as much room in the engine bay as possible. Initially the extra space was to be filled with a gas turbine engine Rover was developing. But that idea was dropped for various practicality reasons.

The P6 entered production in 1963, and was branded according to its engine displacement. The first model available was the 2000, with an inline-four engine paired to a four-speed manual. Later, the range was joined by the 2200. It featured a 2.2-liter, and optional three-speed automatic. But Rover wanted more, and had been planning.

And the plan was a powerful V8 version, as Rover engineers began to rework the 3.5-liter Buick 215 that General Motors recently cancelled. The large engine bay came in handy, as Buick V8s started to arrive at Rover in 1965.

On April Fool’s Day 1966, today’s specially-prepared P6 2000 chassis was registered for the first time. Shipped to the U.S. without an engine, a Buick 215 was installed stateside. After a year of extensive testing, the P6 was sent back home to Rover, where an early build Rover V8 version was fitted. More testing ensued before the public debut of the 3500 in 1968.

The 2000-badged P6 with the secret V8 remained in Rover hands until 1970, when it was sold to a Rover employee. A barn find type example, the P6 was restored with pre-production features intact that never made it to official production: The rear window is heated, front quarter windows open, and the dashboard is from a future P6. The P6 remained in production through 1977, but competed directly with other vehicles in the British Leyland lineup after Rover’s ownership change in 1967. The thoroughly interesting SD1 started to replace the P6 in 1976.

Today’s very special P6 is for sale in London in restored and spectacular condition. It asks $89,497.

[Images: seller]

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14 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Prototype Rover P6 From 1966...”

  • avatar

    Not sure I see how a De Dion tube can be called fully independent, since it consists of a rigid member joining the two wheel carriers. When one wheel moves, so does the other. In that respect it’s just like a live rear axle, except with the diff and halfshafts outboarded.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you. de Dion has often been combined with a transaxle, at which point the design actually makes a bit of sense. It is essentially a solid axle with reduced unsprung weight, which is worth the trouble when there’s a transmission as well as the differential mounted to the car instead of the axle. Alfa Romeo used it with transaxles in some fairly pedestrian sedans and coupes. Independent rear suspensions were often associated with unpredictable handling in the days of swing axles and semi-trailing arms. de Dion suspensions maintained perpendicularity between the wheels and ground while improving ride quality. People used to take unsprung weight so seriously that de Dion suspension was often combined with inboard brakes as well.

  • avatar

    I always liked the Rover P6 but they were handicapped, here in the U.S. by a couple of things:

    First was their traditional British reliability and propensity to leak oil everywhere

    But second and mostly, they were burdened with some Englishman’s notion that Americans liked hood scoops, ala the 66 Pontiac GTO, and if one hood scoop was good, three would be better…..ah, no. No, no, no! It destroyed the looks of an otherwise very handsome car, and made it hard to take them seriously.

    • 0 avatar

      I followed that link, Lokki. Yikes, you were not lying. It looks like some sort of terrible aftermarket treatment.

      In fairness, cars like the scoop-less ’04 Pontiac GTO get criticized (wrongly, IMO) for being boring, which puts manufacturers in a damned if they do/damned if they don’t situation.

  • avatar

    I recall seeing the Rover 2000 and 3500 around in the late 1960s and early 70s. Was curious about that square chrome thing in front of the grille. Found out it was a device to warn of low temperature and possible road ice.
    Never thought about having one as I recall the pans under the new cars at the dealers to keep the oil drips off the floor. Also the poor reliability record of British cars at the time.
    And the turmoil that involved the failures and mergers of various Marks: Triumuph, Hillman, Austin, Morris, MG, and Rover. BMC,British Motor Holdings, and British Leyland.

  • avatar

    A very interesting Rare Rides choice, and one that’s also very close to my heart. A 1972 Rover 2000 Automatic (BRY 451K for anyone who may be interested; it’s long since been parted out and Chinese refrigeratored; thanks, tinworm) was the one car that I kept throughout my time at University, and was in the same Zircon Blue with Buckskin leather colours as this one.

    One interesting facet of the photographs: this LHD car has the eyeball air vents near the doors. I believe that these were only fitted to North American-spec cars with A/C.

    It’s a pity that Rover was never quite able (for reasons not entirely under their control) to get the foothold with the P6 in the market that they should have been able to. This is the car that should have put them where BMW is now.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, they were apparently pretty wonderful cars, according to people “in the know” at that time. Unfortunate that they have just about faded from memory in North America.

      Fiat was once a respected brand here too.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Not at all a Rover, but this is its own kind of rarity:

  • avatar

    The second car I ever bought. Starting out with a brand new Ford TE Cortina. After suffering Ford Australia’s quality control and the fact that the cars power train came out of the Falcon (3.3l crossflow), I, being young, single and easy credit bought a 1972 Rover Three Thousand Five. Wonderful English prestige, wonderful english engineering. Handled like it was on rails. Quirky engineering and the “australia” tax on spare part prices killed the dream, alongside a broken rear axle drive shaft and the need to put more oil in the engine than fuel!

    I would have another one in a heartbeat, I can afford to maintain it now :)

  • avatar

    One American who loved these cars was the late David E. Davis, editor of Car and Driver magazine at its height in the 1960s. As a teenaged car nut, I devoured each issue of my subscription from cover to cover. Whenever the latest Rover TC or 3500 was reviewed, Davis pronounced them the greatest thing since sliced bread. Perhaps he never lived with them long-term like a real owner. But boy, did they exude Old English class. Regardless of their faults, they still stand up well for their design esthetics today.

    • 0 avatar

      Jean Shepherd, long-time radio host, author of *A Christmas Story*, and sometime C&D contributor, also owned one. He was paid to do the ad spots on the radio, but he talked about his own personal car in the ads.

  • avatar

    Gorgeous car, would love to drive one.

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