Guilty pleasures: Rover P4

| 28 Jan 2021
Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Rover P4

There is no real reason to feel guilty about having a fondness for ‘aunty’ Rovers. They were nothing more than that rare thing – an all-round ‘good car’. No gimmicks, no small print. 

Faithful, refined and fast enough for the job in hand, P4s embody what we used to think of as peculiarly British values of dignity and endurance.

These were ‘traditional’, quality saloons of a type that was rapidly disappearing as the ’50s progressed, reassuring vehicles in a fast-changing world where locally built big cars were becoming increasingly Americanised: rest assured that P4 man would not have been seen dead or alive in a Vauxhall Cresta or a Ford Zodiac.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Rover P4

In many ways, the P4s, with their lavish use of leather and wood, and pre-war-style rear-hinged rear doors, were already cars from another age.

By outlasting – or undercutting – the likes of Armstrong Siddeley, Daimler and Alvis, these cars almost had the market for well-appointed bank manager-type saloons to themselves by the end of the ’50s, with loyal customers buying 75s, 90s, 105s and 100s year after year, simply because so few other cars would do big miles with so little complaint. 

P4s really were nicely built and, although by no means immune to rust, generally outlived their contemporaries – and many later Rover saloons.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Rover P4
Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Rover P4

It would be fair to say that some versions were better than others – the wacky 105R ‘Rover drive’ semi-auto springs to mind as a rare P4 fail – but the basic concept of a body-on-frame saloon with alloy opening panels and a beautifully trimmed interior was hard to beat, setting the template for the success of the bigger, faster, rustier P5. 

There were still loads of P4s swishing around in the 1970s (one of my uncles had one), and I can still hear the shrill whine of first gear and the dignified purr of the engine as they glided past.

At my technical college in the ’80s, one of the younger lecturers was still running a 100 (or it might have been a 110) as daily transport.

I remember his shocked look when I referred to it by its factory code name. It was as if, somehow, this was the sort of secret information oiks like me weren’t supposed to know!

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Rover P4

Production ran from 1949 to 1964 and 130,000 units.

Most versions – 75, 90, 105, 100, 95 and 110 – were powered by a six-cylinder ‘F’ head engine of great smoothness and giving as much as 100mph in the 1962-’64 110, and a solid 90mph in most of the others.

The four-pot, Land Rover-engined 60s and 80s always sounded a miserable idea, but are probably decent cars if you are not in a big hurry.

Not that anyone ever bought a P4 for flat-out motoring, although owners like Raymond Mays of ERA/BRM fame thought highly of their Aunty Rovers as cars for covering ground quickly.

Classic & Sports Car – Guilty pleasures: Rover P4

He was not alone. A friend in Birmingham, normally an Alfa man, had a fetish for these cars and did a mildly tweaked 90 with a thicker front anti-roll bar.

There were plans afoot to drop in a 3-litre engine from a P5 into this hot rod Aunty, but these came to nothing.

In theory it would be straightforward, so I would be surprised if somebody had not tried it already.

There are still quite a few Aunty Rovers out there from as little as £3000 for a runner. Most seem destined to end up as wedding cars or as extras in period dramas. It would be nice to see a few being used, as intended, once again.

Images: Tony Baker


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