In this day & age, it is very easy to go out and buy a large and rather powerful saloon car, go into any high-end dealership these days and pretty much every company offers one for sale. These could be anything from a brand new E-Class Mercedes-Benz all the way up to a Bentley Flying Spur. With many different manufacturers offering a big saloon in their line up, it seems strange to remember a time when a company known for making normal cars created something rather special. If you go back in time to the swinging ’60s, however, you’ll see a different story.
See, back in the ’60s if you couldn’t afford the likes of a Rolls Royce or Bentley then you had no other option than one of two brands. From the UK you had Jaguar with their wonderful Mark II and from Germany, you had Mercedes-Benz with their 300 SEL. Now, these two cars were fantastic and have had a cult following ever since release but what if I was to tell you that there was a 3rd option in this list? Well, this is where humble Rover comes in. See, in 1958 Rover released the P5 as the replacement to their P4, at the start of its life it originally came with a 3.0 straight-six engine that pretty much stayed with it through a majority of its life until the late sixties when ultimately the best version of the P5 came out, I am of course talking about the P5B.
The ‘B’ moniker stood for Buick and this was significant as it meant that the P5 was now powered by the now legendary Rover 3.5 V8 engine taken pretty much straight from Buick. Buick used this engine under the Buick ‘215’ moniker in some of their cars as it was very lightweight and could get some decent power figures but after a few years, it got dropped due to reliability issues & cooling problems.
This is where Rover came in. See, at the time Rover was wanting to experiment with a gas turbine-style engine but due to funding, they could never make that dream a possibility. It was only until Rover decided to send Mr. J. Bruce Williams into looking into purchasing a small V8 that they came across the Buick lump. With an all-aluminum design, the new Rover V8 wasn’t just more powerful than the 4 cylinders it was replacing, it was also lighter & smaller too. Power was rated at 160bhp with torque coming it at 210Ib-ft and with a top speed of 115mph that may not sound like much these days but in the late ’60s early ’70s, this was a relatively quick car.
The P5B came standard with a Borg Warner Type-35 Gearbox as it was the only gearbox Rover had at the time that could handle the power of that big V8 and with the gearbox and the big V8 powering, it slowly but surely became the newest sporting saloon ever to grace the roads. Now may it not have been the quickest sports saloon going nor the most direct, the Rover made up for in its cruise ability, this was a car that could easily reach the speed limits on the then-new motorway networks and happily sit there burbling along.
So, what made the P5B actually cool then? Well, first of all, it looked absolutely stunning, especially in Coupé form. While it wasn’t exactly a proper two-door coupé, it was the first-ever 4 door coupé and that has gone on to bring us some rather good looking cars, including the SD1, the Rover 800 Fastback & the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Secondly, it epitomised the ’60s and the era it was in, even though the P5B came out nearer to the ’70s, with its chrome & black Rostyle wheels and its added extra fog lights made it a stylish icon of the ’60s. With the V8 from Buick now fitted instead of the older 3.0 straight-six, it made a wonderful noise and because of the engine’s lightweight, it meant it was significantly quicker as well. By far the best feature, however, was the interior. It was truly gorgeous, the inside was befitting of royalty and high ranking officials. Whereas the likes of a Jaguar MK2 went down the line of sportiness, the Rover was like stepping inside a gentleman’s club.
The P5B was so undeniably cool that it was the car of choice for both the UK royal family and the UK government for well over 10 years or more. It’d always be a common sight to see a high ranking official to be seen getting chauffeured around in the back of a P5B going from place to place. It was so cool that even Queen Elizabeth II has one, in fact, it was the same one that appeared on an episode of Top Gear in 2003.
These days if you want a P5B you’ll need relatively sized pockets as these are going up in price day by day. for a good coupé, you’d be looking at about 13,500 upwards whereas its £6500 upwards for a similarly aged saloon.
By 1973 it was placed by the ever-popular P6 V8 which went on to further stamp Rover as a manufacturer of really good, slightly left-field sports saloons. The P6 was idolized by many compared to the P5 and P5B and that was due mainly to the P6’s world-class construction and ease of maintenance. It was only until the mid-’70s that Rover would come back with a coupé like design with the SD1.
Even though the P5B was only ever out for a few years before being replaced, it set a trend for the Rover company and helped them build some truly fantastic V8 powered beauties over subsequent years and for me and many others, it remains as an affordable dream classic car.
Hope you Enjoy!
By Alex Jebson