1970 Series 1 Rover 3500 V8 rebuilt to rev
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Brian Cooper has had his 1970 Series 1 Rover P6 V8 for nearly a year, after buying it from Christchurch the week before the Kaikoura earthquake, and by all accounts it has a bit of a history.
"This is hearsay, but it was an embassy car in Singapore, went back to the UK -- I'm not sure when -- and was restored there in the early 2000s, before coming here in 2006."
It's his first P6, but he's wanted one ever since he was young. "I was an apprentice, I used to lay bricks for a living, and the builder running the job had a new P6 Rover. Some concrete turned up to pave the drive, and he chucked me the keys to move it. The smell of the leather, the sound of the V8... In those days there was nothing like it," he said.
"I bought my first, a 1969 2000 TC, in my mid-20s. Red, with factory wires and cream leather: it was in better condition than this car. I had it a year and a half, and progressed, I had two Series 2 manuals, and another auto."
He sold the last of those six years ago, but kept coming back to the cars.
When he got this one, "It was covered in dust and gunk and was a bit sad mechanically, but driveable", so after it was transported north he drove it carefully home to the Bay of Islands, then back to Auckland -- equally carefully -- to Mal Clark, at Bygone Autos. "I had to do something, the motor was misfiring, and once we started, the job just got bigger."
A compression test showed the 3.5-litre engine had blown a couple of cylinders, and the news got worse the further they went into it. In the end, "It was pretty much a rebuild. We saved the crankshaft..."
So the crank was crack tested and polished, the heads were remachined, "And pretty much everything else -- con rods, pistons, valves and valve gear -- were replaced."
But not quite to standard; Mal runs a similar Rover in Targa, and as Brian wanted something a little more responsive, some of that experience went into choosing parts for the engine rebuild. So the car now has a fast road cam, an Edelbrock intake manifold and a Holley carb. Mal also went through the whole car mechanically, and replaced a couple of wheel bearings.
The rear suspension was powder coated and rebushed, and a fresh exhaust was fitted, "To the S spec, which was a manual and flows the exhaust gas better," and the fuel pump was replaced. Brian is very happy with Mal's work.
The only small fly in the ointment is the three-speed auto, "Which does strangle the motor a wee bit, but I'd like to keep it original -- though it doesn't kick down the way I'd like."
Otherwise the car is in excellent condition. Brian reckons the leather interior needs a clean and recolour, though the headlining is good, and he's found a couple of little rust bubbles in the paint, and is mulling over how much to do to that, given a repaint would erase the car's patina.
Clearly he's a bit of an evangelist for the model. "I've always been very impressed at the way it was designed and put together," he says. "How many family cars had independent suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes?"
And there's the fact it's unusual, an auto V8 in this condition. He prefers the Series 1, saying the front design is "more delicate, it reminds me of the TC, and when I saw this in this colour, I had to have it".
Brian wants to change the shocks to Konis, and fit a heavier sway bar and springs, for a tauter driving response. Given his previous car was a C55 AMG it comes as little surprise that he likes to drive briskly. "I like to punt it along, this has surprising performance." Top speed was reckoned at 183km/h, and it's certainly relaxed at the open road speed limit. "This motor likes to rev, and it's in top at 30km/h, it's got so much torque."
Brian admits he's got the car disease -- he reckons during his life he's had 50 or 60 from his first -- an Austin A30 -- through to Chevrolet trucks, and including exotica like a C4 Corvette. "I read about them and want to buy and experience them. Once I've had it, I want to move on."
But not this time. "I've had five of these now and I keep coming back. I'm going to keep this one. After all, the amount of money I've put into it..."