After inadvertently buying an unseen 1975 Rover P6 on Ebay last saturday night (see here – and be warned; opening the Ebay app on your smartphone while in the pub isn’t the brightest idea…) I decided I’d better do some research on what I’d just bought, as to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really have a clue. So over to Wikipedia I went, and this is what I found:
“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.”
Thanks to this, and a selection of other horror stories, it was with some degree of trepidation that I boarded the 0853 from Plymouth to London Paddington yesterday, to collect the car – which had been off the road for the previous six months – and drive it the 230 miles home to Dartmoor. The train proved both comfortable and on time, and by 2pm, the paperwork complete, I was holding the bonnet open in the midst of a thunderstorm as the previous owner topped up the radiator with about three litres of water, and waved me away towards the London Circular.
Predictably, the first problem came a couple of minutes later, when the car stalled at a junction, and took several minutes of persuasion, pleading, and finally, cursing, before it begrudgingly spluttered back into life. For the rest of the journey, I was forced to left-foot-brake whenever I stopped, so my right foot was free to keep the throttle open, and prevent the big V8 from stalling again.
Negotiating the heavy London traffic past Wembley towards the M4, it also became clear that the engine was somewhat lacking in power; a fact which was confirmed when we reached the motorway, and failed to make any headway beyond 60mph. However at least it hadn’t properly broken down yet, and the temperatures and pressures were good, so I resigned myself to a long drive home, settled into the slow lane with the HGVs, and cruised through the downpours, spray, thunder and lightning towards Devon, the throttle wide open all the way.
I took in my surroundings as I pottered along, the Rover’s interior being something from an altogether earlier age. From the thin crome stalks, to the rotary switches for the lights and wipers, and the capacious crome ashtrays, everything around me oozed the quaint innocence of 40 years ago. Passing Reading, I had a rummage in the glovebox, found an old Elvis 8-track from the late ’60s, and completed the experience by inserting it into the period player. As ‘Suspicious Minds’ filled the Rover’s old-school cabin, I laughed to myself at the fact that I’d never even thought of buying a Rover P6 until a few days before, and hadn’t actually sat in one until that afternoon – and here I was pottering through a thunderstorm in one, listening to Elvis on the 8-track.
Other than the lack of power, I was pleasantly surprised by the car’s abilities. It cruised smoothly, was reasonably refined and comfortable, and while the soft suspension and lack of body control hinted at it being a handful in the corners, the terrible weather and crosswinds did little to phase it.
After about 4 hours behind the wheel – and listening to the same Elvis album 6 times – We were on the home stretch, near Exeter. Other than the worry as to whether the underpowered beast would make it over the hills on the A38, I’d gained enough confidence in the Rover to believe it would make it home. Right on cue, the engine chose that moment to cut out for a few seconds, before catching again. It did the same about a mile further down the road, before dying completely a mile from the turning to Exeter services, which I’d been willing it to reach. Pulling onto the hard shoulder, I investigated further. The engine cranked over freely, and I couldn’t see anything too untoward in the electrics. I gave the engine another long crank and had a sniff of the exhaust, and couldn’t smell any unburnt fuel, so concluded it was a fuelling issue.
Then I felt rather stupid.
I’d put £50 of fuel in as I left London, about 190miles ago. The lack of power and stalling was potentially down to the engine not firing on all cylinders, and ejecting much of the fuel directly out of the exhaust, without burning it; hence – despite the fact the fuel gauge was still reading just under 1/4 full, it was quite possible that £50 could have ran out that fast.
Half an hour later, a friendly RAC man was managing not to laugh at me as I went through my well-rehearsed list of excuses for running out of gas, and I was soon on my way. We made it up Haldon hill – the Hill at the start of the A38 which I’d been dreading – at 23mph with the automatic box locked in first gear, and an hour later, the car was home after a rather memorable 230 miles.
There’s clearly some work to be done before we take the old Rover to North Africa in about 6 weeks time, but overall, it seems to be a fairly good example of the breed, with little rust, a decent interior and an engine which a little fettling should hopefully bring back to full power. Here are some photos of the old beast I took this morning: