A Photo for Sunday: 1967-1973 Rover P5B

After a bit of a hiatus a Photo for Sunday returns with an old favourite of Driven To Write, the Rover V8 engine in its original UK application, the Rover 3.5 Litre.

1967-1973 Rover 3.5 litre.
1967-1973 Rover 3.5 litre.

This one was not seen in my local neighbourhood, but in the midlands of Ireland. Normally I do as little editing as possible with these images. As there was a person sitting in this car I promised to anonymise the photos. Hence the blockular incongruities.

The Rover isn’t relatively big compared to most modern cars. It’s probably smaller than a VW Polo. You can measure it and yet still not believe your eyes. It still looks enormous and incredibly imposing without having the massive, stately-home inertia of a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow which manages to pull off the same trick. The tiny glass house is part of the secret. The proportions are perfect. You wonder why they really bothered with the saloon version, much as the VW Passat CC should make the ordinary Passat redundant (but doesn’t: why do people buy the saloon when the CC looks so very much better? VW is responsible for the price difference being what it is. If the Passat saloon didn’t exist then people would just buy the CC, wouldn’t they?)

1967-1973 Rover P5B
1967-1973 Rover P5B

I wish I had more time to look at the car in the photos. Alas, there were people in the car when I went to photograph it. I decided it would be unnerving for me to peer at the fit and finish of this venerable monument to extinct British values while people were inside chatting. Rain poured quite steadily and wind lashed. Those factors also propelled me back to nearby shelter.

1967 Rover P5B badgeLook at that grille. It’s so huge it’s almost the same size as the one on today’s Mercedes S-class. It would have been good to look at the pressings around the headlamps. I bet they were complex and expensive to make.

Even with the windows up and the doors closed I detected the characteristic aroma of old car. This is a smell that maybe is not the same as old car smell on the continent. Ireland and the UK have a damp climate. A car interior made of horsehair, glue, leather and wood is simply a rolling banquet for microbial lifeforms. That generates a symphony of sweet, biscuity, mulchy notes with after-smells of molasses and caramel and Parmesan.

I also detected the slightly stunning smell of petrol and the richer, thicker, saccharine perfume characteristic of engine oil. Smell is so evocative. It sends signals directly to the oldest and most primitive part of the brain. Why do you think we wear aftershave and perfume? Only colour gets close to creating strong feelings. The strong feelings these smells generated were that I am very glad I don’t own a classic car in Ireland, where these photos were taken. Petrol: carburettors; oil: leaks. Imagine if your car was not only under assault from microbes but also incessant damp conditions and astonishingly badly laid and poorly maintained roads?

In that context I salute the driver of this car for keeping it on the road against the odds. The Rover 3.5 litre is a magnificent car and driving one in a country where the average age of the car is about 32 months must give a remarkable feeling of distinction. 

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

13 thoughts on “A Photo for Sunday: 1967-1973 Rover P5B”

  1. I like the p5 in saloon and “coupe ” form. However it is the best part of a metre longer than a polo .. that’s approx 25%, only 10cm wider though. Perhaps you meant a Golf.
    The coupe version lacks headroom in the rear, probably much like the Passat CC and I understand that the CC has only 4 seats effectively though I guess that could be changed quite easily. My experience of recent modern versions of “coupes” with 4 doors are that the door aperture to the rear is very tight indeed.
    A P5 with a webasto roof is a joy in sunny weather for all concerned in the car.

  2. Intrigued by the suggestion that the P5 is little bigger than a VW Polo, I checked some numbers. I checked some numbers. The current Polo is quite a lot smaller, but a more pleasing comparison is the Jaguar XE, built in the same factory.

    Less than 50mm separates most dimensions. The Rover is 57mm taller, and 65mm longer. In V6 form the XE is slightly heavier, despite the predominantly aluminium monocoque.

    Mere numbers, but they tell a story nonetheless. Will the XE enjoy such reverence five decades from now?

    1. Much as I suggested above Robertas, I also suggest that the weight of the XE has been massaged a little bearing in mind the XF weighs in at 1850kg. It would be interesting to discover if the weight is calculated differently today compared to earlier in history.Automotive companies are a lot more devious in their data production than they used to be. In the old days they simply lied about power ratings and weight wasn’t considered an issue. Today, things are a little different.

  3. Apologies- I was being a bit Clarkson with my comparison to the Polo. Nobody expected that, I assume. The intention was merely to suggest that once the Rover was a leviathan but that today it’s not an especially big car though looks big anyway.

  4. Did I say I checked some numbers? Driven to Write. Twice…

    As Richard says, comparisons are a minefield. Power and torque: Gross, Net, SAE, DIN, and mostly damned lies – blame it on manufacturing tolerance. Weights: Kerb, dry, test and probably rotten (Add accumulated gunk and trapped mud, subtract metal and paint lost to oxidisation).

    Anyway, the P5 is proof, if proof were needed, that David Bache at his best could do Pininfarina even better than Pininfarina could.

    (Also nice to see how well The Ould Sod is coping with “austerity”…)

  5. Despite the adverse conditions, these are very nice and evocative pictures. The car has a great colour, too.

    Coincidentally, a P5 passed me by a few days ago and made me smile. It was a saloon, though (in dark green, a very suitable colour as well), and it was too fast for me to perceive any odour. I’m sure I’d have liked it.

    1. In a dry climate the smell might be okay. In Ireland it has a touch of the stables or sodden workshop. A Rover in Switzerland must look intensely English and have few connotations of staidness.

  6. The P5B is a lovely car. I would love to have one in the garage, were that garage not to be full of children’s outdoor toys and bits of wood retained for a project that never materialises.

  7. i had the pleasure of restoring a p5 saloon 30 years ago and as i recall it was nearly 16ft long and weighed 32oo cwt.it was a monster of a car and i currently drive a vw polo. there is no compairing them in size

    1. Hello Joseph: thanks for stopping by. Did you restore your own car or was it a commercial job? And 30 years ago is only 1987. The P5 was at that stage just “an old car”, right? Was this car a special version or did it have history? You say there is no comparing the two cars in size: well, the Polo is probably about as roomy inside as the P5, I daresay.

  8. I’m concerned about the 3200cwt. That’s 160 tons, which must be nearly as much as the last generation Land Rover Discovery.

    1. 3948 lbs is what Wikipedia claims. I presume Joseph meant lbs. In cwt it´s 31.23.
      I am not an expert in imperial measures – they stopped using when I was about five years old.

      Notice that the P5 is around 1600 kg, the same weight as a Ford Mondeo. And a Renault Talisman.

  9. i stand corrected on the weight ,as i recal it was probabably a misprint in the log book looking at conversion charts now,it was in 1983 when i restored the car for myself, i bought it from the family doctor over the phone not having seen it since the late seventees , it had been lying up outside his house for eight years but was reasonabally solid but whit rust in the uasual places, i spent about two years getting the car restored and i sold it a few years later.a truly gorgeous car inside and out and mine was a burgandy one like the one spotted in Thurles above except mine was a saloon not a coupe.

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