CMM reader James Hine took centre stage with the story of his restoration of a P4 Rover 60. From Issue 125 (August 1999).
THE MAN FROM AUNTIE
"OH FOR GOODNESS SAKE; telephone" muttered my wife as I read the same advert in the classic car paper for the ump-teenth time. "No, if its any good it will have been sold or else its a pile of junk" came my feeble reply. However, a few minutes later the voice at the other end of the telephone was explaining that the Rover 60 (P4) was still available and described it with the sort of phrases that would make any sensible car buyer run for cover. "Yes, sir, a lovely little motor, excellent condition, not many owners, genuine reason for sale; trust me, I'm a motor mechanic." Well, on discovering that the vehicle was less than twenty miles from home, it was with some reservation that I arranged to view the following day.
The next morning was bright and sunny as we set off in our trusty Austin Cambridge A60 saloon, convinced that we were about to inspect yet another restoration project purporting to be a potential concourse winner. As we approached our destination I couldn't help mentioning "I'm sure if it's any good its registration number will have been sold" with some dismay. But as we pulled into the vendors drive, there shining in the morning sun was a Dove Grey Rover still bearing its original 1957 number plate. The owner on hearing us arrive came out to greet us and the inspection began.
The first thing that struck me about the car was the gleaming chrome and the owner was able to confirm that most of the bright work had either been replaced or rechromed. A respray had been carried out at some time to a high standard and there were no obvious signs of damage, rust or body repairs. The car looked very attractive, but was it to be as good as it looked?
Rover P4s are not particularly prone to rust and a close inspection of the most likely areas; the rear wheel arches, the front wings around the headlamps and the section at the bottom just forward of the front doors, revealed no evidence of corrosion or repairs. The front and rear valences were also very sound as was the spare wheel door which is located in the centre beneath the rear bumper. The doors, bonnet and boot on all P4s prior to 1963 were made from Birmabright, an aluminium alloy, and therefore didn't suffer from rust problems. However they are softer than steel and so are easily damaged, so never, (heaven forbid that it should ever be necessary) push one of these cars by applying pressure to the boot lid. This example showed no signs of damage. Although the doors are very light the hinges do suffer from wear, there was slight evidence of the drivers door dropping, but not sufficiently to cause concern. They operated smoothly and when closed with a light pressure responded with a purposeful click. Both sills were found to be in good order but examination of the B post (the centre pillar between the two doors) revealed a small repair section welded in at the bottom on the near side. This area was particularly prone to corrosion if untreated, however repair sections to the original specification are readily available.
The interior of the vehicle was particularly neat and tidy benefiting from replacement carpets. The red leather upholstery was in good condition but slightly grubby. We were not too concerned about this since we knew that one of the popular leather cleaning and renovation kits would restore the seats to a near perfect appearance. This example benefited from cloth headlining which was in excellent condition, by 1958 cloth had been replaced by a vinyl material on all models. With dashboard and door trim of African Walnut finished to a very high specification the whole interior just oozed quality and 'olde worlde charm'. I was beginning to get very interested in this car!
Next, it was time to don my overalls and clamber underneath. This model has a separate chassis which can only be described as massive, in fact it was a bit like lying under a steel girder suspension bridge. All appeared to be in first class condition with no signs of rust anywhere. But any potential purchaser of one of this marque would be wise in checking the front and rear outriggers, the jacking points and the sections of the chassis where it curves up over the back axle. For some unexplained reason later P4s tended to rust in these locations more than the earlier ones. On raising the car very little wear was discovered in the steering linkages or king pins, the wheels spun freely and silently and the tyres were in good condition. Unfortunately though, the rear tyres were Yugoslavian and did not bear the necessary E number. This could cause a minor problem at MoT time.
The under bonnet area proved to be a big surprise with the engine positively gleaming. I was most impressed as the owner explained that over the previous winter he had removed and reconditioned the generator and starter motor and also removed and had resprayed many of the engine parts. All of the hoses had been replaced and new hose clips fitted, and encouragingly correctly tightened. Since the 60 has the smallest engine of the P4 family there is plenty of room for the four cylinder 1997cc power unit in the engine bay. These tough engines, incorporating overhead inlet and side exhaust valves produce very good torque and are extremely reliable. However, they can be prone to excessive camshaft wear if neglected or consistently driven very hard for long periods.
By this stage I was more than impressed with the car and desperately trying to conceal my enthusiasm.
The next stage in the proceedings was the crucial test drive. With instant response the engine started at the first prod of the discrete little push button located just above the ignition switch. An initial puff of smoke emanated from the exhaust, (this is quite normal for a P4 on start up) but cleared within a couple of seconds. The engine was extremely quiet with no evidence of any nasty knocks or rattles, making it very easy to forget that this was a four rather than a six cylinder power unit. As we set off with the owner at the wheel and wife with daughters in the back, I settled down on the plush red leather to enjoy the comfort. The car ran very smoothly with minimum road noise and seemed to absorb pot holes and bumps with effortless ease. At last, the moment I had been waiting for, my invitation into the driving seat.
My initial feeling as I slid behind the large steering wheel was one of trepidation as the huge bonnet in front of me seemed to fill the complete road ahead. However, on operating the clutch, which was fairly light and engaging first gear we were off. The steering was quite heavy, but very positive with no undue wander and I soon began to feel confident in manoeuvring what still felt like a giant. The car held the road well and we were impressed with the cornering and general stability. We had test driven a P4 a few weeks earlier and found that it liked to go in any direction other than the one in which the steering wheel was pointing. The gear change was positive although the look of the long gear lever suggested otherwise. On application of the brakes the car did stop in a fairly short distance and in a straight line, however considerable pedal pressure was required. This was understandable since the car, which weighs around 1.5 tons, had shoes all round without servo assistance. After a few more miles I was feeling quite comfortable and confident and began to realise that this was the car that I had been searching for over the last couple of years.
Unfortunately the owner was not open to offers but was willing to include some useful spares including a new king pin set, a fuel pump, brake shoes, some chrome trim and an original workshop manual. We decided to withdraw a short distance for a family powwow and since all concerned seemed to like the car, a few minutes later we handed over our hard earned 'wedge' and at last became the proud owners of "One of Britain's fine cars." But did we get a bargain?
On getting the car home a very thorough inspection revealed no nasty surprises and I was very pleased with its performance. Friends and fellow enthusiasts seemed to like it, however there were a few criticisms, "It looks very nice but it's a pity its so underpowered", "You would have done better with the bigger engined model", "It's a pity it doesn't have servo assisted discs on the front" and so on.
Well, in defence of what has now become my pride and joy I must note the following. The 60 is the simplest to maintain and the cheapest to run out of all the Rover P4s, returning when driven with care about 30 mpg. 'Being the lightest the steering is very positive and its acceleration figures show that from 0-30 it's as fast or faster than any model other than the 90 (freewheel; 4.3 axle). Surprisingly the 0-50 figure of 15.5 seconds is more than 0.5 sec faster than its bigger sister, the six cylinder 75. So certainly around town the 60 is the best of the bunch. Its true that this car is no high speed cruiser but it is happy to be driven all day at a steady 60 to 65 mph and anyway, would you really want to rush around in one of these elegant carriages?
The Rover was assessed for insurance purposes and to our great surprise was valued at nearly twice what we paid. Although we didn't purchase the car for investment or to make a quick profit, it is nice to know that should it be stolen or written off we would have enough money to replace it with one of similar or even better condition.
After a few months of very pleasant motoring the dreaded MoT date approached. My pre-MoT check revealed some end play in one of the king pins and when stripped for inspection I discovered that the top thrust bearing had fractured, also the assembly had at some time been packed with grease. This is quite wrong for a P4 Rover as the pin housing should be topped up to the level plug with an SAE 140 oil. While it was stripped down, I decided to replace the king pin, bushes and oil seals. The job was very straight forward and I was able to hire suitable reamers from the Rover P4 Drivers Guild for a small fee. The other pin was fine and I suspect that it had been replaced fairly recently. We sailed through the MOT without a hitch, but a few months later the gear selector lever snapped, without warning, just inside the housing assembly. A replacement was soon located and within an hour of starting the job the car was once again driveable. The position of the gear lever on these models is adjustable and so I took the opportunity of adjusting it into a more comfortable position.
Well these were the only problems encountered so far and we have since covered a further few thousand miles. These vehicles are sturdily built, extremely reliable and of exceptional quality representing very good value for money.
And yes, we did get a bargain.
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