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The P6 was sixth and the last of the "P" designated Rover designs to reach production. The vehicle was marketed first as the Rover 2000 and was a complete "clean sheet" design intended to appeal to a larger number of buyers than earlier models such as the P4 it replaced. The P5 was sold alongside the P6 until 1973.
The 2000 was advanced for the time with a de Dion tube suspension at the rear, four-wheel disc brakes (inboard on the rear), and a fully synchromesh transmission. The unibody design featured non-stressed panels bolted to a unit frame, inspired by the Citroën DS.The de Dion set up was unique in that the "tube" was in two parts that could telescope but not rotate, thereby avoiding the need for sliding splines in the drive shafts, with consequent stiction under drive or braking torque, while still keeping the wheels vertical and parallel in relation to the body.
The Rover 2000 won industry awards for safety when it was introduced. The car featured all-round seat belts and a carefully designed "safety" interior. One innovative feature was the prism of glass on the top of the front side lights. This allowed the driver to see the front corner of the car in low light conditions.
One unique feature of the Rover 2000 was the unusual design of the front suspension system, in which a rocker (an L-shaped rotating bracket trailing the upper hub carrier joint) conveyed the vertical motion of the wheels to fore-and-aft-horizontally-mounted springs fastened to the rear wall of the engine compartment. A single hydraulically dampened arm was mounted on the firewall for the steering.The front suspension was designed to allow as much width for the engine compartment as possible so that Rover's Gas Turbine engine could be fitted. In the event, the engine was never used for the production vehicle, but the engine compartment width helped the accommodation of the V8 engine adopted years after the car's initial launch for the 2000.
The luggage compartment was limited in terms of usable space, because of the "base unit" construction, complex rear suspension and, in series II vehicles, the battery location. Lack of luggage space (and hence the need to re-locate the spare tyre) led to innovative options for spare tyre provision including boot lid mountings and optional run-flat technology.
The car's primary competitor on the domestic UK market was the Triumph 2000, also released in October 1963, just one week after the Rover. In continental Europe the Rover 2000 contended in the same sector as the Citroën DS which, like the initial Rover offering, was offered only with a four-cylinder engine – a deficiency which in the Rover was resolved, four years after its launch, when Rover's compact V8 was engineered to fit into the engine bay. The Rover 2000 interior was never as spacious as those of its Triumph and Citroën rivals, especially in the back, where its sculpted two-person rear seat implied that Rover customers wishing to accommodate three in the back of a Rover should opt for the larger and older Rover 3 Litre.
The first P6 used a 2.0 L (1978 cc/120 in³) engine designed specifically for the P6. Although it was announced towards the end of 1963, the car had been in "pilot production" since the beginning of the year, therefore deliveries were able to begin immediately. Original output was in the order of 104 bhp (78 kW). At the time the engine was unusual in having an overhead camshaft layout. The cylinder head had a perfectly flat surface, and the combustion chambers were cast into the piston crowns (sometimes known as a Heron head).
Rover later developed a derivative of the engine by fitting twin SU carburettors and a re-designed top end and marketed the revised specification vehicles as the 2000TC. The 2000TC was launched in March 1966 for export markets in North America and continental Europe. Limited availability of the redesigned induction manifold needed for the twin-carburetter engine was given as one reason for restricting the 2000TC to overseas sales. The manufacturers also stated pointedly that the UK's recently introduced blanket 70 mph (113 km/h) speed limit would make the extra speed of the new car superfluous on the domestic market. Fortunately for performance-oriented UK buyers, supplies of the redesigned inlet manifold must have improved and the company relented in time for the London Motor Show in October 1966 when the 2000 TC became available for the UK market. The 2000 TC prototypes had run in the Rally of Great Britain as part of their test programme. It featured a bigger starter motor and tachometer as standard and was identifiable by "TC" initials on the bodywork. The power output of the 2000TC engine was around 124 bhp (92 kW). The standard specification engines continued in production in vehicles designated as 2000SC models. These featured the original single SU.
Rover saw Buick's compact 3.5 L (3528 cc/215 in³) V8 from the Buick Special as a way to differentiate the P6 from its chief rival, the Triumph 2000. They purchased the rights to the innovative aluminium engine, and, once improved for production by Rover's own engineers, it became an instant hit. The Rover V8 engine, as it became known, outlived its original host by more than three decades (its original host being the P5B, not the P6).
The 3500 was introduced in April 1968 (one year after the Rover company was purchased by Triumph's owner, Leyland) and continued to be offered until 1977. The manufacturer asserted that the light metal V8 engine weighed the same as the four cylinder unit of the Rover 2000, and the more powerful car's maximum speed of 114 mph (183 km/h) as well as its 10.5 second acceleration time from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) were considered impressive, and usefully faster than most of the cars with which, on the UK market, the car competed on price and specifications. (The glaring exception was the Jaguar 340, substantially quicker and, in terms of manufacturers' recommended prices, 15 percent cheaper than the Rover 3500, the Jaguar representing exceptional value as a "run-out" model, shortly to be replaced by the Jaguar XJ6.)
It was necessary to modify the under-bonnet space in order to squeeze the V8 engine into the P6 engine bay: the front suspension cross-member had to be relocated forward, while a more visible change was an extra air intake beneath the front bumper to accommodate the larger radiator. There was no longer space under the bonnet/hood for the car's battery, which in the 3500 retreated to a position on the right side of the boot/trunk. Nevertheless, the overall length and width of the body were unchanged when compared with the smaller-engined original P6.
Having invested heavily in the car's engine and running gear, the manufacturer left most other aspects of the car unchanged. However, the new Rover 3500 could be readily distinguished from the 2000 thanks to various prominent V8 badges on the outside and beneath the radio. The 3500 was also delivered with a black vinyl covering on the C-pillar, although this decoration later appeared also on the car's four-cylinder siblings.
A 3-speed Borg Warner 35 automatic was the only transmission option until the 1971 addition of a four-speed manual 3500S model, fitted with a modified version of the gearbox used in the 2000/2200. The letter "S" did not denote "Sport", it was chosen because it stood for something specific on those cars: "Synchromesh".
The Series II, or Mark II as it was actually named by Rover, involved a number of revisions to all Rover P6 variants and was launched in 1970. It included new exterior fixtures such as a plastic front air intake (to replace the alloy version), new bonnet pressings (with V8 blips even for the 4-cylinder engined cars) and new rear lights. The interior of the 3500, and 2000TC versions was updated with new instrumentation with circular gauges and rotary switches. The old-style instrumentation with a linear speedometer and toggle switches continued on the 2000SC versions. The battery was moved to the boot for all Series II versions.
The final years of the Rover P6 coincided with production problems at British Leyland. This was highlighted in August 1975 when Drive, the magazine of the British Automobile Association awarded a trophy to a Rover 3500 as the worst new car in England. It reported that a Rover 3500 purchased in 1974 had covered 6,000 miles (9,600 kilometers) during its first six months, during which period it had consumed three engines, two gear boxes, two clutch housings and needed a complete new set of electrical cables. The car had spent 114 of its first 165 days in a workshop. The runner-up prize in this rogue's gallery was awarded to an Austin Allegro with forty faults reported over ten months, and a Triumph Stag came in third. The story was picked up and reported in other publications not just domestically, but also in Germany, at the time Europe's largest national car market and an important target export market for the company. Further evidence of poor quality control on the 3500 assembly line at the Solihull plant appeared in a report in Autocar magazine in October 1976, surveying the experiences of company car fleet managers with the model, although the report also suggested, apparently wishing to appear even-handed, that at least part of the problem might have arisen from excessively optimistic expectations of the model.
The 2200SC and 2200TC replaced the 2000 and 2000TC. Announced in October 1973 and produced through to the early part of 1977, it used a 2.2 L (2205 cc/134 in³), version of 2000s engine with the bore increased from 85.7 mm (3.4 in) to 90.5 mm (3.6 in): the stroke was unchanged at 85.7 mm. Gear boxes on the manual transmission cars were strengthened to cope with claimed power increases to 98 bhp (73 kW; 99 PS) and 115 bhp (86 kW; 117 PS) for the SC (single carburettor) and TC (twin carburettor) versions respectively, along with the improved torque.
The last 2200 came off the production line on 19 March 1977, a left-hand drive export version that was converted to right-hand drive by Tourist Trophy Garage, Farnham.
Estate conversion on 3500 V8Side view, with low roofline apparentWhile Triumph enjoyed considerable success with the estate version of their 2000 saloon, Rover seemed happy to leave that sector of the market entirely open to their old rival. However, Battersea-based coachbuilders FLM Panelcraft picked up Rover's dropped ball and produced their own estate conversion of the P6, called the Estoura. The name is presumably a contraction of the words 'estate' and 'tourer'. Between 160 and 170 were produced (although the Rover P6 Club database shows 187 Estoura's as of Dec 2010). The first estate was not an approved conversion, but from 1970 onwards the car was marketed (with the factory's blessing) by BL dealers HR Owen Limited and therefore factory warranties were carried forward.
The conversions were completed by H.R. Owen and Crayford Engineering, with bodywork executed by FLM Panelcraft. According to P6 archivist John Windwood, Crayford's involvement in the project was limited to the interior of the car, and the company had no bearing on the external design of the estate conversion. Nonetheless Crayford badged them as Crayfords for a while (implying that they built them) and only stopped after FLM threatened legal action. Conversions could be carried out at any time in the car's life. Most conversions appear to have been carried out when the cars were 12 months old or older because if a car was converted when new, the conversion would be liable for Purchase Tax like the car itself.
Due to the cost of the conversion (about GB£800) it would appear that most were carried out on the 3500 rather than on the 2000, with even fewer 2200s made. In comparison with the Triumph 2000 estate, the Rover Estoura was of limited practicality. The quality of the conversion also left a great deal to be desired. According to John Windwood: Due to the sloping roofline, the rear door is very low and very small; I am 6'2" tall, and the tailgate is open fully at about the level of my chest! Loadspace is also compromised for the same reason. And they were even more rot-prone than the standard P6 because the conversion was, quite frankly, a bit of a lash-up! The rear pod unit is basically held onto the base unit with pop rivets, and when the cars were cut for conversion, no paint or other rustproofing was applied to the bare edges. The rear pod was also fitted on top of the boot drain channels, effectively blocking them and redirecting the water to places it was never intended to go.
Rover made an attempt to break into the North American market with the P6, beginning with the Rover 2000 TC. One version of the P6 that was exported was the NADA (North American Dollar Area) model, equipped to a higher standard than UK cars. These are also often referred to today as being "Federal Specification". Notable differences outside the car were wraparound bumpers, three air scoops on the top of the bonnet, front and rear wing reflectors and the "Icelert" on the front grill. The "Icelert" was a sensor which warned the driver of falling outside temperatures and the possibility of ice forming on the road. Inside, depending on the location, the US 3500S was also equipped with electric windows, power steering and air conditioning all of which are extremely unusual in UK market P6 cars. The NADA P6 introduced features which would later appear on the UK Mark II car including a new instrument cluster and seat piping. Despite being badged as "3500S" cars, the export models were all fitted with the Borg Warner 35 automatic transmission. The cars were not popular with American buyers, but were sold in Europe instead as they were already converted to left-hand drive. In true British Leyland fashion, several UK cars also ended up with single scoops on their bonnets in an attempt to use up the surplus parts from the now defunct export models. Rover discontinued selling the P6 in North America in 1971: in that year the US had taken fewer than 1,500 Rovers. The company told their US dealers that modifying their cars to meet new US Federal safety and pollution requirements would be prohibitively expensive, while experience elsewhere suggests that the Rover four-cylinder engine was particularly hard to adapt for reduced octane lead-free fuels without an unacceptable reduction in the car's (already mediocre) performance.
New Zealand production
The Rover 3500 was assembled in New Zealand from 1971 to 1976, at New Zealand Motor Corporation's assembly plant in Stoke, Nelson, alongside the Triumph 2000/2500, Jaguar XJ6 (Series 1 and 2) and Land Rover (Series 3). A notable factor about the Rover 3500 was that it was an export car for New Zealand – 2,400 were shipped to Australia for sale there.
Last production model
The last Rover P6The last Rover P6 off the production line, registered VVC 700S, was built on 19 March 1977, a year after its successor - the Rover SD1 - went into production.
This car was first sent in August 1977, to the Leyland Historic Vehicle collection, then at Donington Park until 1980, when it was moved to Syon Park along with the rest of the collection, which became the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust Collection. It remained an exhibit at Syon until 1990, when the collection moved to Studley Castle (then owned by Rover) and went into storage until 1993.
In 1993, the collection then moved to its new home, The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust site at Gaydon, now known as the Heritage Motor Centre. VVC 700S was on display until 2003 when it sold at the Bonhams sale of Rover-owned items.
In 2006 the car revisited Gaydon for the first time since the sale and is still in original condition having never been restored. The car came out of the collection having only ever covered 12,300 miles (19,800 km). "Graham" as the car is affectionately known by its current owner Mark Gray, (Editor of Driving Force the magazine of The Rover P6 Club), had a Corgi Vanguard model commissioned of it in 2006, which was released in 2007 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the end of production.
VVC 700S is a base model car with just power steering and the spare wheel kit, from the optional extras range and was never fitted with a radio.
Death of Grace Kelly
On September 13, 1982, while driving with her daughter, Stéphanie, on the Basse Corniche to Monaco from their country home, Princess Grace suffered a stroke, which caused her to drive her Rover P6 off the road. Grace was pulled alive from the wreckage, but had suffered serious injuries and was unconscious. She died the following day at the Monaco Hospital (renamed Centre Hospitalier Princesse Grace – The Princess Grace Hospital Centre in English – in 1985), having never regained consciousness. It was initially reported that Princess Stéphanie suffered only minor bruising, although it later emerged that she had suffered a serious cervical fracture. It was rumoured that Kelly had been driving on the same stretch of highway that had been featured in her 1955 movie To Catch a Thief, but her son has always denied it. The section where she died has subsequently been renamed in her honour.