A monograph on perpendicular Rovers

Some notes on the now defunct P4 models

I have wanted for a long time to be like Sherlock Holmes and write a monograph. So I decided to do one about those now-defunct Rover P4s which roam our roads in such considerable numbers that they are obviously going to survive for at least another decade. For this I was given valuable clues by Mr. H. B. Light, Rover’s Company Historian.

With the prevailing high values of almost all pre-war cars of any quality, it is often necessary to turn to post-war products for a desirable car at bargain price. While these do not compare for rarity, allure or manners with the better pre-1940 makes and models, and all too often rust is holding together precariously their vital elements, the decidedly economic outlay for which Armstrong Siddeley, Jaguar, Lagonda, Bristol, Alvis, Daimler, Lanchester, Riley, Jowett Javelin and similar cars that have weathered a decade or two can now be picked up, makes perusal of the small advertisements less depressing than this pastime might otherwise be to those not endowed with unsqueezed credit.

I could have built my monograph around any of these and as one who likes, in varying degree and with reservations, almost all cars that have any pretension to being elderly, I might have done this with some enthusiasm. But I have chosen the Rover, because the number of these P4 “aunties” still in service is quite astonishing and so many of them are so well cared for that they obviously constitute a particularly attractive and sought-after form of used-car purchase. The other makes are in general covered by one-make organisations but this popular solid Solihull saloon seems to justify a brief discourse. There will be those who consider any space devoted to these pedestrian perpendiculars completely unjustified in the pages of Motor Sport; I can only plead that in their faster forms they would exceed 100 m.p.h. at a period when very few saloon cars of any size were as quick; moreover, the Rover had acceleration to match, if a s.s. 1/4-mile quicker than a Lotus 7 could cover it counts, yet it was a dignified luxury model in its own right.

Rover had a long career making a varied collection of cars, with sporting forays ranging from winning the 1907 T.T. race, racing the complex 16:50 single-seater “Odin.” at Brooklands in 1926/7 and my old friend Dudley Noble beating the Blue Train across France in a 1930 Light Six, to the far-more-recent turbine-car performances. Rover also won the R.A.C. Dewar Trophy in 1925 for fifty consecutive ascents and descents of the then formidable Bwlch-y-Groes hill with a 14/45 saloon which used less than 1/2-a-pint of water, while after the introduction of the “Blue Train” Rover a few “Speed Meteors” were built, with some reticence at the Seagrave Road depot in London. They were raced at Brooklands by drivers who included Major Gardiner, Munday’s lapping at 97.85 m.p.h. in 1932.

However, these performances did not bring prosperity to the Company and in 1932 S. B. Wilks and F Ward set about reconstituting it. They introduced a range of new Royer models which were luxuriously equipped with leather upholstery, free-wheel, sliding roof, fitted tool-kit, an oil-level indicator in the fuel gauge, a Lucas “Star-tix” automatic engine starter and other items which made these new Rovers “much more than a pale shadow of the contemporary Rolls-Royce and Bentley,” as someone has expressed it.

It took eighteen months for the new cars to emerge, so that they appeared late in 1933 and immediately gained notable victories in the R.A.C. Rally, then a long-distance road event, Wilks driving one of the successful cars and a new model being named the “Speed Fourteen Hastings” coupé in consequence, the Rally having finished at the sea-side resort of that name.

These refined, dignified 10, 12, 14 and 16 h.p. Rovers retrieved the fortunes of the Birmingham concern and were continued up to the war.

After the war the old models were retained for a time as a stop-gap but were superseded in 1948 by the P3 range. The bodywork was not greatly altered but new power units, one a 4-cylinder, the other a six, were used, having cast-iron cylinder heads, i.o.e., as on contemporary Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars, a design completed before 1939 but shelved during the war. However, sumptuously-equipped as they were, the i.f.s. P3 Rovers could not hold their own with the trend towards all-enveloping bodies and at the 1949 London Show the first P4 model appeared, known as the Rover 75. The body style of the P4 range went virtually unaltered, apart from styling changes, from then until 1964. This one-body policy and the provision of basically two engines. a four and a six, of which only 15,161 of the former were made, enabled the Rover Co. Ltd. to sell these luxury cars with their fine interior appointments and extremely sound construction at highly competitive prices, always around that of the cost of today’s Rover 2000. During the thirteen years these P4s were in production a total of 145,503 were built, an average of well over 200 a week for the entire production-run. When I visited the factory in the summer of 1958 I was very impressed by the meticulous care with which these Rovers were made, finished and tested. From what I saw on that occasion I can well understand why so many have weathered so well the passage of time and miles.

Although all the P4 variants had the same body shape and are identifiable to the casual observer only by the type-designation on the body sides and boot (when these are displayed) the differences between these outwardly similar cars are rather interesting.

The late Mr. H. J. Loker, Chief Body Designer, styled the P4 under the direction of the late Mr. C. M. Wilks, scale models and full-size wooden mock-ups being prepared by the late Mr. L. Jackman. Mr. F. Underwood supervised the practical aspect of the body design, the detail drawings for which were prepared by Mr. H. H. Lloyd and Mr. A. S. Ostler. Prototype P4 bodies were made in the jig-shop under the control of Mr. C. Nichols and Mr. G. Savage. The chassis was the responsibility of Mr. G. Bashford, Mr. J. Swaine developed the two-carburetter alloy cylinder head for the P3 engine, and Mr. F. Shaw designed the steering-column gear-change.

The first experimental P4 was disguised with a Studebaker body and was known in the works as “The Roverbaker.” Searle and Bashford drove it to Torquay and back and subsequent development was in the hands of Mr. C. A. Ward, assisted by C. J. Goode and W. A. Worster

The first of the P4 range was the 75, the now familiar 4-light 4-door body with the doors locked on the centre-pillars, using the former 6-cylinder 75 engine of 62.5 x 105 mm. (2,103 c.c.) but with a new alloy head and two-carburetter inlet manifold, which raised the power by three b.h.p., to 75. Rather unusual coil-spring i.f.s. with the lower arms of the suspension assembly sweeping back to pivots below the gearbox was a feature and to accommodate three on the bench front seat a steering-column gear-change was provided. These early 75s had the fog-lamp mounted centrally, cyclops-like, in the middle of the radiator grille. Some of these pre-1952 Rover 75s are still to be seen going unobtrusively about their lawful occasions, a few, one presumes, in the hands of their original owners. They were capable of 84 m.p.h. with a petrol consumption of 27-30 m.p.g.

I imagine that Sherlock Holmes went into minute detail in his monographs and, as I have many road-test reports and other data appertaining to these Rovers, I could follow suit. However, this I will refrain from doing; those who are that interested can obtain copies of Motor Sport’s Rover road-test reports, which are listed hereafter.

Suffice it to say that apart from minor styling and interior changes, the 75 was unaltered until January 1952, when the cyclops foglamp was abandoned, circular instead of square headlamps were adopted, and rubber body mounts and suspension seatings brought even quieter running. In the summer of 1953 the rather unsatisfactory steering-column gear-change gave way to a very long central floor lever joined to a vertical upright, lateral adjustment being provided, and a horizontal r.h. brake lever was adopted. Later, by Sept. 1964, the unusual gear lever was matched on all models by a reversion to the equally-unusual “shepherd’s crook” r.h. handbrake, which, together with the neat metal instrument panel on the W. African walnut facia, tool trays, petrol reserve, and big-lidded cubbyholes, became the hall-mark of all P4 Rovers and endowed them with unmistakable individuality.

The gearbox now had synchromesh on 2nd as well as on the two upper gears. At the same time, two new models were announced, the 4-cylinder, 77.8 x 105 mm. (1,997-c.c.) 60 and the 6-cylinder, 73 x 105 mm. (2,638 c.c.) 90. These model numbers indicated the developed horse-power.

The Rover Co. now had a range of three identical-looking luxury cars appealing to a wide circle of discerning buyers. Production was facilitated by using a common body shell yet, by defining the different models so clearly, different stratas of customer were well satisfied. A 75 Farina convertible was not proceeded with.

For the 1954 Show a short-stroke version of the 90 engine, of 73 x 90 mm. (2,230 c.c.), was introduced for the Rover 75, incorporating all the refinements of the larger 90 power unit, both having a single S.U. carburetter. At the same time a three-piece wrap-round back window was fitted and the 6-cylinder versions were given wider front brake drums. Rover now had three cars, offering 75 m.p.h. and 26-30 m.p.g. in the case of the 60, 85 m.p.h. and approx. 24 m.p.g. from the 75, while the 90 would do 88 m.p.h. on the higher of two optional axle-ratios and some 20-22 m.p.g. A year later a slightly more powerful engine (7.5 to 1 c.r. instead of 6.73 to 1, giving 93 instead of 90 b.h.p.) was used for the 90, raising the speed to over 90 m.p.h., and optional overdrive was introduced for the 90, the traditional Rover free-wheel being discarded. Separate front seats could he specified on any model and to meet its increased performance vacuum-servo two-trailing front-shoe brakes were provided for the 90.

For the 1956 Show the front-end styling was changed slightly, with ribbed wings and projecting lamps, etc. The free-wheel remained available on the 60 and 75 but overdrive could be had on these models if preferred. In ten years, more than 43,000 75s were built, while during its six-year run 36,000 Rover 90s were made. Even with so many permutations on a common theme, Rover still had something in store – before 1956 was out the 105S and 105R models were announced.

The 105S – S for synchromeshm– had a 108 b.h.p. development of the 90 engine with 8.5 to 1 c.r. and twin S.U.s, the integral water jacketing and manifolding of which involved an expensive casting, and was quite a sporting proposition for auntie-Rover, with a top speed under favourable conditions of over 101 m.p.h. In 1957 Motor Sport took a 105S fast across France to Italy. It was timed at 98.9 m.p.h. in the Laycock overdrive along the Turin-Milan autostrada, it was thrashed over the Splugen, St. Bernadino and three other Swiss passes, and it carried a very heavy load. The overall fuel consumption for the 2,500 miles was 19.5 m.p.g. and oil consumption 5,000 m.p.g. That same year the Continental Correspondent made a 4,500-mile journey through France, Spain, Morocco, Italy and Switzerland in a 105S, which “never missed a beat” and which he described as “A good British car!” But for both of us driving was marred by the Girling brakes, which worked splendidly for a time and then let the pedal descend to the floor on the next application, a problem that has presumably been overcome on the many 105S Rovers still in service.

The 105R – R for Roverdrive – truly catered for Rover’s sedate clientele, having the same engine as the 105S, coupled to Roverdrive automatic transmission, with overdrive, for which B. Silvester and F. Shaw were responsible. The famous P4 shape won further fame in 1950 when a 3-abreast-seater version, JET 1, was endowed with a 200 b.h.p. Rover gas-turbine engine in its tail, taking class records at Jabbeke at almost 152 m.p.h. in 1952, and when two years later a 120 b.h.p. Rover gas-turbine was installed in the back of a 75.

Still more production variants of the P4 design were to follow. After eighteen months of a rationalised programme of 2.3-litre 4-cylinder and 2.6-litre 6-cylinder i.o.e.-engined cars, the 80 was brought out in the summer of 1959. It had an all-o.h.v. 90.5 x 90 mm. (2,286 c.c.) 4-cylinder 77 b.h.p. engine, a sturdy unit as used in the Land Rover. At the same time the 100, with 77.8. x 92 mm. (2,625 c.c.) 6-cylinder 104 b.h.p., i.o.e. engine joined the other new model and at the 1959 Show these 80s and 100s replaced all former models. Both had switch-actuated Laycock overdrive and Girling disc/drum brakes. Outwardly unchanged, these immortal Rovers were now technically up-to-date. The 80 and 100 versions lasted for four years, to be replaced in 1962 by the 95 and 110 models. Although they were by now becoming dated, the 110 was another Rover that would just exceed 100 m.p.h.; its 6-cylinder seven-bearing 115 b.h.p. engine retained o.h. inlet and inclined side exhaust valves. Only today, not a mile from home, I saw an absolutely as-new specimen, its radiator muff unfurled as protection from the cold, as old ladies open their umbrellas against the wintry winds. The 95 was virtually the former too, with no overdrive for its manual transmission. The 110 to used the earlier 100 engine, its power increased by raising the cr. from 7.8 to 8.8 to 1 and using a larger S.U. carburetter. Incidentally, Rover were one of the first to eliminate chassis greasing; the 110 had but one grease point, needing attention every 6,000 miles. They also accommodated the spare wheel in its own compartment under the boot.

Rover were concentrating on an even more sumptuous model for top-bracket aunts, the 3-litre, so in July 1964 the 95 and 110 were discontinued. After a life of nearly nine years these well-established Rovers went out of production. They represented a significant part of Rover-renaissance and won the affection of a great many upper-class motorists. Their longevity can be attributed not so much to staid driving ifs to careful assembly (in which rubber insulation of body and suspension was predominant, the back 1/2-elliptic springs were in grease-packed gaiters, and the seats were mounted on the welded box-section chassis and not on the body shell), to individual testing of every engine, matching of road springs, Parkerising of all nuts and bolts and to the use of rust-proof Birmabright aluminium alloy for bonnet, doors and boot-lid of all models prior to the 80 and 100, the latter having these components of rust-proofed steel. Tyre sizes were 6.00 x 15 throughout. The colour was originally black but duo-tone finish came later. (Those who want more detailed information on these cars are referred to our back-numbers/photostat-copy department: “To Italy in a Rover” (105S), was published in November 1957, “How Rovers Are Made” in July 1958. The road-test reports were as follows : 90, Sept. 1956; 100, Oct. 1961; 80, July 1962.)

The P4 Rovers, which some people regard as very much in the Rolls-Royce image, made a material contribution to Rover prosperity and their value-for-money high-quality is maintained in the present Rover 2000 and 3-litre models. – W. B.