The cars we loved.
Nowadays we take a well-planned interior for granted. Even the worst offenders in the art of usable control surfaces and arrangements have gotten on board. It wasn’t always that way of course. For the longest time, a car’s interior was judged on how comfortable its seats were or how well it’s heating and air conditioning worked. We have evolved past such trivial matters thanks in part to a somewhat obscure English car (to Americans), the Rover 2000.
Believe it or not, Rover was once known for its clever engineering. Advances from the 50’s led to the P6 series with the Rover 2000 in 1963. Besides being the most advanced English car to that date, the 2000 is loosely credited as being the first car with an ergonomically designed interior. Actually, the interior fails to impress by today’s standards, but the spec sheet for the P6 set the blueprint for cars for the next 20 or 30 years.
The stubby three block sedan looked like a melding of 60’s and 70’s design trends. Even though it was a sedan (or wagon), it seated only four, thanks to sculpted rear seats, much like a 2+2 coupe. For the power-hungry, the only let down with the initial crop of P6 cars was their four-cylinder engines. Named for their displacement 2.0 (2000) and later 2.2L (2200) inline four-cylinder engines were fairly advanced with a overhead cam arrangement. With around 90+ hp, they were sprightly, but not what one would expect in a car costing well over $4,000 by the time it reached American shores. To put that in perspective, a base ’71 Corvette was about $5,000.
The P6’s primary market was Europe. It had been a fresh design from the ground up and was built like it was intended to be used in the apocalypse. The P6 was nearly unflappable on all but the roughest roads thanks to its sophisticated deDion tube rear suspension and independent front. Further enhancements to the driving experience were made courtesy of four-wheel disc brakes, an almost unheard of feature on all but the most expensive Italian sports cars. You could even order a run-flat spare in later versions of the P6 (3500) that was mounted on top of the rear boot (trunk).
The cars amazing stability on irregular surfaces was due to its ridgid unibody design similar to the Citroen DS. Like it’s French competitor, the P6 was lauded by the press for its safety features. So big was the impact of the P6 on the market, that it won the first annual European Car of the Year Award in 1964. Rover’s attention to detail would set new industry standards, but could not be sustained much beyond primary European markets.
Sales were strong in Europe, but in America the skimpy dealer network was poorly supported. A car with so many new technologies required a close relationship with a service department. For American owners, parts sometimes were hard to come by when the car was new. For the few 2000’s still on the road today, it’s nearly impossible to get replacement parts. For Rover the factory support issues lead to an eventual reputation for fussy if not unreliable cars. A ghost that would haunt them until the early 90’s when they pulled out of North America. American bound P6 cars were usually equipped with power windows and air conditioning, features less prevalent on the average Europe bound models.
America would never see to best of the P6 cars officially, the V8 powered Rover 3500 S. The P6 was initially designed to carry a larger engine than the 2.0 and 2.2 that were initially used. At one time there were plans to use a gas turbine engine, but it was never carried out. The 3.5L V8 was small by American standards, but was more powerful than the average Detroit engine of larger displacement. The OHV design made a respectable 184 hp., not bad for 1970. At 3184 lb., the 3500 S was more spry than the four-cylinder cars and could be ordered with a Borg Warner Type 35 3-speed automatic transmission. Many cars were equipped with a standard 4-speed manual. 14 inch wheels on Pirelli tires made for enhanced handling, while four hood vents gave the 3500 an odd Australian/Mad Max muscle car look.
When the time came to replace the P6 in 1977, it had become dated looking by most measures. The P6’s engineering was as advanced if not more so than it’s modern looking replacement; the wedge-shaped and futuristic looking Rover SD1.