Rover P6: Last of the great British bulldogs?

16 May 2017

There is a case to be made that the Rover P6 of 1963 was the last truly great new car to emerge from the British automotive industry. (The Jaguar XJ6 came five years later, promising the world but built to a very low level of quality.) The P6 was initially available only as a 2.0-litre manual but both a twin-carburettor TC version and an automatic transmission were on offer by 1966. Then in 1968 came the V8-engined P6B. But the original Rover 2000 brought a new hope not only for Rover's home market viability but for exports, especially to North America.

The Rover 2000 was one of a pair of important new upper-middle class compact saloons that appeared at the 1963 Earls Court Motor Show. The other was the Triumph 2000. Somewhat remarkably, both used 2.0-litre engines and boasted plush interiors. Significantly, it is probably the least significant aspect of the coincidental lives of this pair that they shared the same beguilingly simple model name, ‘2000’. By 1968, Rover and Triumph were both part of the newly formed British Leyland where Triumph was the favoured marque of the two; the death of the British motor industry approached.

Although you'd never have guessed it from the joint billing of these two cars at the London show, the industry was already in strife. Some of the smaller independent automotive manufacturers – Lea Francis, Armstrong Siddeley, Allard and Jowett among others – had got out of the business or gone broke. Many others had been taken over by larger firms. In 1960, the year Armstrong Siddeley ceased producing its beautiful Star Sapphire, Daimler was swallowed by Jaguar.