If one car could define everything that is good about a British classic then perhaps that car would be the Rover P5/P5B.
Despite its generous size, its looks combine brutal sportiness with old-school luxury in a way that is hard to pull off convincingly.
In fact, Rover did such a good job that the model was one of the Queen’s favourite vehicles, while the British government snapped up the last batch so they could be guaranteed for ministerial use.
Strangely, the P5 could be had as a four-door saloon or a four-door coupé, the latter distinguished by its more rakish rear roofline.
It was Rover’s first attempt at a monocoque chassis, resulting in a solid car with a hefty front subframe that supported the engine, front suspension and gearbox.
Initially, the car came fitted with a 3-litre straight-six, with seven main bearings that meant it was exceptionally smooth, although gutless in automatic form.
The best was yet to come, though, and it came thanks to the 3.5-litre, all-alloy Buick V8 that was spotted by MD William Martin-Hurst on a trip to the States. He purchased the rights to the legendary unit and fitted it to the P5B from 1967.
It turned out to be a revelation. Being both lighter and more powerful than the ‘six’ it not only improved performance, but also lent the Rover newfound handling finesse. That said, the 3-litre can be had for a lot less than a V8, while saloons a less sought after than Coupés.
Rust is the Rover’s biggest problem, not least because it tends to strike from the inside out. Therefore, any inspection should involve opening all the doors, lifting the carpets, examining the boot floor and having a thorough poke around the underside.
Known rot spots include the front valance, wings, front jack points, subframe mountings, A-post, scuttle, crossmembers, floors, door bottoms, D-post, rear inner wings and chassis legs.
The ‘six’ is a solid engine, but if it puffs blue smoke the valve-guide seals are probably worn, while rattles occur when the cam followers tire. The V8 requires high-octane fuel to avoid pinking and can suffer from worn head gaskets, so check for overheating. Both engines should cope with unleaded. It’s also worth remembering that spares for the ‘six’ will be significantly harder to source than for the V8.
Suspension needs regular lubrication, worn ball joints are costly to replace and leaky power steering rots torsion-bar bushes.
Inside ensure that wood trim matches, while seats can be recoloured, but frayed stitching is common and a more costly fix.
The car on sale with Ace Classic Cars for £3250 led to a certain amount of head scratching at C&SC HQ. Why so cheap? We’re not too sure, it comes with a fresh MoT, is the more desirable P5B Coupé, and sports a nice black coachwork/ beige leather combo. If it is as good as it looks on-screen then it’s a bargain.
At £6495 this P5B Saloon is quite a bit pricier, but around what you would expect to pay for a usable example. It has had money spent on it, too, which covered a respray, four new wings, two new sills, D-posts and new screen rubbers all of which was completed five years ago. In the past 12 months, you can add to that with rear springs, a triple-core radiator and a stainless-steel exhaust.
If you can live without the V8 (it’s a big if…) then your money will go a lot further. Spend £7300 and you could end up with this multi-award-winning 3-litre Saloon.
It’s been with the same fastidious owner for 40 years and has always been garaged. The exterior looks perfect, as does the interior, and the car comes with a huge list of completed work.
Choose any P5/P5B and you’ll get a car that gives an instant reminder of what Britain could achieve when it came to car building and one that’s surely only going to get even cooler with age.