January 15, 2010
1950 Rover 75 (P4). Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
Although a few pre-war designed Rovers arrived in North America in the late 1940s, it was the 1950 model, code named P4 and known as the Rover 75, that really established the Rover beachhead in Canada and the United States.
The Rover Co. Ltd. of Coventry, England, had a history stretching back into the 19th century. It had built Rover bicycles, and some three-wheeled motorized tricycles, and is credited with inventing the first “Safety” bicycle in which both wheels were the same size.
It also built motorcycles, and in 1904 introduced its first four-wheeled car. Over the years Rover built a reputation for reliable, if unexciting, cars but was virtually unknown in North America until the 1950s.
Following the Second World War some British auto manufacturers were falling under the influence of American styling. As the first post-war models arrived, some, like Jowett Cars Ltd.’s Javelin and the Standard Motor Co.’s Vanguard, had fastbacks resembling American designs. The Vanguard’s lines appeared influenced by the Ford, while the Javelin was a take-off of the 1930s Lincoln Zephyr.
Those British manufacturers such as Ford, Singer and Rover that were a little later with their new designs followed the “three-box” style that emerged in North America in the late 1940s. Rover is a good example of this, and its new P4 was influenced by the Raymond Loewy styled “coming or going” 1947 Studebaker.
Rover reportedly went so far as to import a couple of Studebakers for analysis, and even mounted a Studebaker body on a Rover P4 prototype chassis for testing. It fitted easily because the Rover’s 2,819 mm (111 in.) wheelbase was only 25 mm (1.0 in.) shorter than the Studebaker Champion’s.
The 1950 Rover 75 was introduced at London’s Earls Court Motor Show in 1949. Its Studebaker influence was clearly evident in the somewhat squared ends, notchback rear profile and rear-hinged “suicide” rear doors. Its “pontoon” type shape had the fenders integrated into the body.
The grille was comprised of thin horizontal bars dominated by a central fog lamp which soon earned the 75 its “Cyclops” nickname. This would last only a couple of years before being replaced by a more attractive vertical bar grille.
The 75 was a modern car except for a couple of throwbacks to the 1930s: mechanical rear brakes and freewheeling. The hydro-mechanical brakes were soon replaced by a fully hydraulic system.
The other anachronism, freewheeling, had an overrunning clutch at the rear of the four-speed transmission. To save fuel it disconnected the engine from the driving wheels when the car was coasting, which allowed clutchless shifting. But the lack of engine braking placed a heavy load on the brakes. A dash-mounted switch allowed the driver to lock it out. Freewheeling would disappear from Rovers in the mid-fifties when overdrive became available.
The 2.1-litre (128.4 cu in.) inline six-cylinder engine featured an aluminum head and inlet-over-exhaust valves (inlet valves in the cylinder head and exhaust valves in the block). It had twin SU carburetors and the little six developed 75 horsepower (hence the name). It was known more for smoothness rather than spirited performance.
On the inside the Rover was luxuriously appointed in the traditional British manner. There was lovely walnut trim, Wilton carpeting and leather upholstery that were the hallmarks of upscale English cars. A welcome feature on the instrument panel was a fuel gauge that indicated engine oil level at the push of a button. A nice touch was a set of tools nestled in a foam padded drawer under the driver’s seat.
Road & Track tested a Rover 75 in August, 1952 and found it to be smooth and quiet, if not very fast. In spite of its aluminum doors, hood and trunk lid, it had a test weight of 1,466 kg (3,233 lb), which took the six a leisurely 22 seconds to haul up to 96 km/h (60 mph). This wasn’t helped by the somewhat awkward column shift, which would be replaced by a floor shift for 1954. Top speed was about 129 km/h (80 mph).
The Rover P4 would last a remarkable 15 model years, the last one being built in 1964. During that period it received many improvements and came in several iterations in addition to the 75. These were the four-cylinder 60 and 80, plus the 90, 95, 100, 105 and 110, which were all sixes.
By the early sixties the Rover P4 had been superseded by the more modern P5 and P6 models, so production came to an end in May 1964. Over its long life more than 130,000 P4s had been manufactured, and some are still in service today.