Rover P4 105R from the days automatics were a curiosity
By Jacqui Madelin • 15/02/2015
This is a family love affair that spans the generations, writes Jacqui Madelin
Mark Hendry's a Rover nut, and clearly he's infected his son, Russell. Packed into his garage are two Rover P4s, a stripped Rover 75 Cyclops, another elderly Rover he's taking care of for someone, and an ageing Land Rover.
"But that's Russell's; I'd like another car but Russell's not letting it go, so we've done a full rebuild on it," said Mark.
Russell smiles - he's got five years to go before he's allowed a driving licence, but he already has the car sorted.
Mark Hendry has passed on his passion for the shape and engineering of the Rover P4105R to son Russell.
I'm here to admire the 1958 Rover P4105R, built in the UK and sold new in New Zealand. This was the mid-size luxury sedan of its day, and a list of the model's notable owners included Grace Kelly. The P4, or "Auntie Rover", covered the Rover 60, 75 and 80 cars, the first of them coming out in 1949.
This 105 model was announced in late 1956 and was fitted with a 2.6-litre straight-six engine with twin SU carburettors, producing a heady 80kW. The S got fripperies like a cigar lighter, but this R had the Roverdrive auto, back then the only British-built automatic gearbox. A two-speed unit with overdrive, it was reputedly capable of 151km/h, and could accelerate from zero to 100km/h in 23.1 laid-back seconds.
Mark bought it when Russell was two weeks old as a daily runner in need of TLC. He immediately rebuilt the drum brakes, then drove it until the ailing engine mandated a rebuild. That was completed three years ago to the original specification, bar a fractional rebore and new pistons. Some of the original parts were hard to find - "the camshaft bearings were a struggle."
The engine's immaculate but overall the car boasts a lived-in patina, and "Now I need to do the rest of it!" He plans a repaint and new seat leather, to original colours, but is waiting until Tamara (6) is older, "as she jumps around". It seems a shame to lose the marks of a history well lived, but as he says, "There's a point at which it becomes wear and tear, and it's crossed that line."
The previous owner fitted seatbelts and Mark used to use this as his everyday car, but as it ages he's more aware of the risk - like having the badge stolen, as it's hard to replace. Still, he commutes in the Rover on fine days, and the family have toured the Coromandel on holiday in it. Fortunately it's not as thirsty as the Land Rover, "that's terrible!"
Russell says the kids like the car, though mum's not so keen, apparently she'd prefer "something less formal". Clearly the "doctor-lawyer owner" aura still clings.
What sold Mark on Rovers? "My dad is a Jaguar enthusiast and I spent my childhood dragged round car shows and swap meets." He first saw a Rover at a show, "and the more I found out the more I liked the styling, the shape and, as I got to know them better, the engineering." He had a P4 at uni, "I was broke, so it never got worked on, and I sold it."
A few years later he spotted this P4 at an auction. "The auctioneer told us it was the only one with this gearbox in New Zealand, which made me want it even more. We paid $3500 for it."
Hmm, talk about affordable classic - but it must be hard to keep going? Apparently not, though as the oil lubricates the engine and gearbox it swallows 11.93 litres. The 15-inch tyres are still no trouble. "And so much of the mechanical stuff is common to Land Rover, so they're easier than most cars to get bits for, and everything is built bigger and stronger than it needs to be, so it's under-stressed all the time.
"The rotor arm in the distributor and the caps are getting harder, Repco has to order and couldn't get a rotor arm last time. We've now got a stash of our own parts, we're starting to stockpile them."
There are a few quirks under this car's conservative skin. The bonnet, boot lid and doors are aluminium to keep weight down, "as the massive chassis is basically a Land Rover design, so it's heavy," tipping the scales at 1543kg.
Those little chrome widgets above the front lights aren't just a styling exercise, they reflect the lights so you can check they're working. But the handsome analogue clock doesn't go.
"When new, the electrical system was positive earth, and some private owners convert to negative earth for a modern radio - there's one in here, under the seat. The only thing that stops working is the clock. There are boffins who make it work, but I haven't got round to it."
The Rover's notably comfy, and it's not just the seats. "Road testers of the day commented on how smooth the gearbox was, autos were new then, they were almost like witchcraft and weren't even autos, they were 'two pedal control'."
I think Russell wishes they really were two-pedal control. By the look on his face, it's not only Mark's Land Rover he wants to drive.