History of the 1968 - 1975 Rover P5
The Rover P5 was in production from 1958 until 1973, and is widely regarded in Britain as the ultimate car of government. Styled by David Bache and retained by officials long after production ceased, it’s a five-seat saloon with the engine in the front and rear-wheel drive. Two saloon body styles were available, one known as the Coupe.
The Rover P5 was intended as a replacement for the P4. A monocoque, most have front disc brakes, while all have torsion bar front suspension and a live axle with semi elliptic leaf springs at the back.
A relatively staid design, the P5 appealed to the sort of reliable middle class individuals that had previously bought Rovers, allowing traditional Rover customers to stay happy when the radical P6 was launched in 1963. The Mk2 version of 1962 introduced quarterlights, and a radical new Coupe model. With a roofline 2.5 inches lower and frequently finished in two-tone colours, the Coupe was a rakish alternative to the somewhat sober saloon. By 1965 and the Mk3, power had risen and the rear bench seat had been replaced with individual chairs. This is the model which was rejuvenated in 1967 with the fitment of the 3.5-litre V8, front foglamps and Rostyle wheels. The car continued in this form until 1973, and was stockpiled by the British government for use throughout the 1970s. Rover never directly replaced it; its place in the BL range already filled by Jaguar’s XJ.
There were two engine ranges; from 1958 to 1967 the Rover P5 used a derivative of the in-line six-cylinder from the previous P4 and from large Land Rovers. This developed 115bhp in the Mk1, and grew to 134bhp by Mk3. Four-speed manual transmission was standard, with the formerly optional overdrive becoming standard for 1960 and an optional three-speed automatic gearbox. 3.5-Litre Rover P5s used the 3.5-litre 158bhp engine from the P6, and were only ever available with the three-speed automatic box.
Rover P5s feel their size, but in a good, slightly imposing way rather than feeling unmanageable. That’s in part down to the light power assisted steering, which (as with the majority of big 1960s saloons) feels a little overassisted at times. But there’s plenty of power, and it’s a comfortable place to spend time.
The sixes are traditional British saloon fayre, while the V8 adds a little more muscle to the mix. Parts for the V8 are more than plentiful, and from Rover specialists bits for the OISE six are easy enough to source.
As with any old British car though, P5s can rust – and while there’s a lot of metal that just means more to rot. Don’t be fooled by shiny wings and doors, check as much of the inner structure as you can get to – often owners will tidy up the outside for sale and leave nasty rot lurking. Check D pillars, sills, and the rear valance.
Ticking tappets on the V8 usually indicate a top end rebuild will be necessary – but oil leaks needn’t always be a worry, as many can be traced to the breathers. In terms of trim, P5s can be expensive to retrim, so buy the best interior you can.
Coupes attract a small price premium over saloons, as many find them more attractive. The V8-engined 3.5-litres are worth more than the six-cylinder cars, and as a rule the later the six-cylinder the more desirable it will be. Cheapest entry point will be a Mk1 3-litre manual saloon, while top of the tree is the 3.5-litre Coupe.
For a similar car from Rover’s own range, look toward a Rover P4 100, 105 or 110. Humber Snipes and Imperials offer a similar style of motoring, while the Vanden Plas 4-Litre R offers Rolls-Royce power and Connolly hide aplenty.