The Rover P5 was first introduced in the late 1950s as post-war design No. 5 and when production was ceased in 1973 there was nothing to replace it as a car so ideally suited for ferrying around highly paid public servants.
The Rover P5 was a Rolls-Royce for the middle classes and, had the air of a solid means of transport and a self-effacing dignity not replicated in any other car built in the 1970s. In fact they were still used by the British public service’s high-ranking officials well into the 1980s.
As cars aged they were replaced from a supply of the last production of P5s which had been kept in storage.
The Queen had a 3.5-litre P5 saloon – which, rumour had it, was her favourite car – and she often drove it around Windsor. Harold Wilson had a special ashtray fitted to his P5 to cater for his pipe.
Although it was a development of the P4, the P5 dispensed with the separate chassis but still retained the sluggish straight-six 3.0-litre engine of 1958. This engine struggled to reach 160km/h in automatic form even though it had been progressively modified to yield 100 kW output and at times proved an embarrassment to Rover. In 1967 it was dumped in place of a V8 engine.
The aluminium V8 engine was acquired from General Motors as an end-of-line bargain in 1966 when GM dropped their compact Buick after a brief flirtation with small cars in the early 1960s. With a 137 kW output the 3.5-litre engine was a perfect fit under the bonnet of the now styled P5B and not only gave it a boost in top speed to 177 km/h but also a new lease of life. Suddenly the P5 was the car it always should have been.
Inside the P5 retained the traditional African cherry wood dashboard, the thick Wilton carpet under foot and leather almost everywhere else. Truly it gave the impression of an Edwardian drawing room on wheels, making its power-broking occupants feel at home. The neat tool kit fitted into a slide-out tray in the centre of the dash seemed a rather incongruous extra.
Being well priced the Rover P5 3.5-litre model always sold well right up to 1973 when production finally ceased after 20,000 cars had been built.