It’s been a long while since I wrote anything about vintage motoring on this blog. Not that I haven’t been doing it – my 1969 Morris Minor has been my faithful daily driver for work ever since I took up a job close enough to home to commute daily, and hopping into a classic car at the beginning and end of the day is always a treat. It’s more that my classics have always been working vehicles, so I don’t tend to find myself at events that spark a blog entry. However, recently there’s been an addition worthy of putting pen to paper with the arrival of a 1960 P4 Rover 100, RVS267, as a stable mate for the Morris.
I’ve had a Rover 100 before, ironically bought following the demise of my first Minor after it was stolen and joy ridden into a concrete bollard in deepest Tottenham back in 1984. I parted company with that one, a 1962 model in two-tone green, after a couple of years as life in the RAF meant moving frequently and the chances of finding someone to service a twenty-odd year-old car of that complexity were slim. With a Germany tour on the horizon, and a more modern classic P6 Rover 2200 coming my way from a deceased relative, it made sense to sell her on while she was in good roadworthy condition, but it’s the car I’ve always regretted having to part with.
I’ve known of RVS267 for a few years now, when I spotted her outside the house of a chap I’d gone to for help with a vintage radio that was playing up, and I was amazed to find myself looking at the twin of my lost Rover. The radio itself took only minutes to fix, but we spent ages talking vintage technology and motoring, and we stayed in touch afterwards. When we met up a couple of years ago on ‘Drive It Day’, he mentioned that he’d have to put her up for sale before too long as a progressive condition would make it increasingly hard to manage a heavy classic, and we jokingly agreed that he’d give me first refusal. The prospect of being united with a car identical in every
respect to the one I’d sold some thirty years ago occasionally bubbled up, but I dismissed it as being just idle talk and assumed that he was either still happily driving her, or had easily found a buyer. In mid-June, I was reminded again when, on a local drive out, we passed a village garage with a beautiful P4 in the showroom and I was tempted to pop back and have a look, but suspected that the price would be eye-watering, so just pushed it to the back of my mind.
And then I got an email: RVS267 was up for sale, and at a very attractive price. The common sense side of my brain reminded me that this isn’t a good time be acquiring a sixty year-old, six-cylinder 2.6 litre classic saloon. Petrol prices are on the way up again, and we’ll soon be forced to buy so-called ‘super unleaded’ if we don’t want the additional level of ethanol in regular fuel to corrode our engines. Unless I disposed of the Minor, which I’ve been steadily improving for nearly twenty years, I’d have to find somewhere to garage another car as it’s not sensible to park on the road outside our house, even if I ousted the modern family car from the car port. And if keeping a 1962 car on the road was a problem in 1986, how is that going to be easier in 2021?! But it’s a Rover P4, and it’s just like the one I used to have, and if I don’t do it now, I never will as driving classic cars on a regular basis just might not be practicable in the future, and it’s great value – and I want it!
The present owner answered the only deal-breaker question I could come up with, that a Rover 100 can run on unleaded fuel, so I wouldn’t have to go hunting for four-star just to keep her on the road, and a trip over to crawl over her and go for a test drive confirmed my impression that this was a well-maintained example, with a price set to allow for a respray which would be the only thing needed to restore her to pristine condition. Fortunately, I was able to take over the rental of the lock-up where she’s currently stored, so there’s somewhere for her to live until I can find somewhere closer, so that removed the practical considerations that might have succeeded in putting me off. Some extra classic car insurance was easy to arrange, and so she came to join the Midcentury stable.
I won’t be putting her into daily use just yet. As a 1960 vehicle, she’s been legally running without seat belts, but that makes me a bit uncomfortable given that I want to be able to use her regularly both locally and further afield. My 1962 model was unusual as her original doctor owner had fitted seat belts front and rear, which was innovative for the time, especially as the front ones were inertial reel. I don’t think I’ll be able to replicate that, but I’ve found a source of classic Britax-style belts that should look a lot nicer than modern ones whilst avoiding the slightly dodgy prospect of fitting original belts of dubious quality salvaged from a vehicle or vehicles en route to the scrappy. There are also a couple of niggling electrical issues to sort out – the kind that inevitably come to light (or in this case, stop the lights from coming to light) when a car comes out of a garage and is parked up outside for a week or so. Once that’s sorted, though, I’m planning to switch regularly between Rover and Minor so that both stay in frequent use.
I’ll be posting the occasional article as I get to know my way around a P4 again and treat RVS267 to the occasional photoshoot in the local countryside.
And for historical context: ‘P4’ was the factory term for a group of mid-size, luxury saloons designed by Gordon Bashford and produced by Rover from 1949 until 1964. Although Rover’s first foray into a car designed in the post-war style (and with styling inspired by Studebaker models of the time), their structure was quite conventional as they retained a separate chassis rather than adopting an integral monocoque construction. Early models were dubbed the ‘cyclops’ Rover as they featured a single passing lamp in the centre of the radiator grille, reflecting road rules at the time that required headlamps to be doused when overtaking. This was dropped at an early stage and subsequent models, including the 60, 75, 90, 100, 105 and 110 – each representing different power options – maintained a consistent look with limited changes to body styling. Much favoured by professionals keen to avoid ostentation (indeed, you can spot Robert Hardy tooling around the Dales in a 1952 model in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’), one motoring journalist of the time commented that they were the kind of car one in which would visit auntie for team – giving them their nickname of the ‘Auntie’ Rover. Although supplemented by the three-litre ‘P5’ in 1958 (much liked by police, royalty and politicians), the P4 remained in production until 1964 when the more radical ‘P6’ Rover entered production.
So much for the history lesson, time to get cracking with the T Cut and see how much shine I can bring to that paintwork…