(first posted 6/27/2014. Calvin Mehlert, who had a distinguished career in the Foreign Service, passed away on January 2, 2018)
When Calvin Mehlert, age 86, left San Jose behind the wheel of his 1970 Rover 3500S this past May (2014) and pointed it north towards a British Car Show in Vancouver, B.C. 1200 miles away, he had half a mind to sell it there and fly home. But then something along the way changed his mind. Maybe it was because the Rover didn’t overheat in almost 100 degree weather, practically miraculous for one of these cars. Or maybe it was the pure joy of driving his “mistress” of twenty years up the Pacific coast. I’d like to think that our chance encounter with him along the way and gushing over his splendid and very rare Rover might have played a very small part.
I didn’t know how this story would end, whether he did or didn’t sell the Rover in Vancouver, until he e-mailed me after their return home – in the 3500. Cal and his Rover mistress are now firmly in it for the long haul, and he’s going to share their love story with us today, after we first take a look at his car and its history.
On our recent road trip back from California this past May, on the 101 somewhere north of Brookings and south of Port Orford, Oregon, I noticed the distinctive outline of a vintage European sedan up ahead. For a moment I thought it might be a Peugeot 404, but it was too wide. It had to be a Rover, and as I got closer, the V8 emblem on the right became recognizable.
Now there’s a car I’ve long wanted to find and write up! These are super rare; very few were ever sold in the US, and how many are still roadworthy? I certainly didn’t expect to see one out here, on one of the most remote stretches of the coast. So I peeled off a few shots, for an Outtake. As we passed, I could see an older couple in the front bucket seats.
Port Orford is a quiet little hamlet with a natural harbor, and just about the most unspoiled town on the whole Oregon coast. We had no reservations, but I noticed a motel up on top of the bluff, with what had to be great views. There were vacancies, and just as I was finishing checking in, what should drive up and pull in next to us at the office? The very same Rover V8.
I introduced myself to Calvin and told him I’d love to get some shots after they checked in. “Cal”, who looks and acts more like 66 than 86, was very obliging, and drove the Rover to the curb next to the bluff, for some nice shots in the early evening light. And then we all walked down to the little fish-shanty restaurant on the dock for a fresh ling cod dinner, where Cal regaled us with the stories of his Rover affairs that go back all the way to 1969 as well as other snippets of his colorful life in the Foreign Service.
But before we hear Cal’s story in his own words, let’s take in the subject of his enduring love. David Saunders covered much of the P6’s unique and very advanced design in his Rover 2000TC article here, so I’ll stick to some highlights as well as the specific changes to the V8.
The P6 arrived in 1963, after a drawn-out development process. No doubt Citroen’s radical DS of 1955, with its “base frame” construction (self -supporting monocoque, with non-structural exterior body panels) influenced the Rover engineers, as well as their infatuation with the gas turbine engine, which they had been developing since the 1940s and hoped to use in a production passenger car. It’s fair to say that Rover set out to create their own “DS”, and although it shares certain aspects in common, including some styling elements, in most other ways it’s very different and quite unique.
The P6’s unusual long-travel front suspension incorporated struts, bell cranks, and horizontal coil springs, and was designed to accommodate a low and wide turbine, but that was not to be. Instead, a new two-liter OHC four found its way there, in the 2000 and 2000TC (twin carb).
At the rear, the Rover engineers developed a De Dion semi-independent rear suspension, which involves a rigidly mounted differential, half shafts, and wheels connected via a hollow tube. The De Dion was a compromise between a live rear axle and a fully-independent one, at a time when independent rear suspension technology was still immature, and offered benefits of both approaches without their vices. The rear disc brakes are inboard, to reduce unsprung weight.
All in all, the Rover P6 was an exceptionally advanced car for its times, including many passive safety features. Unfortunately, as is wont to be the case, its complexity also led to reliability issues. Especially so in the US, where expectations for reliability are as high as the distances typically driven, the Rover’s reputation, relatively high price for a four cylinder sedan and the lack of a strong dealer network amounted to weak sales and a weakened reputation.
To address the four-cylinder’s performance issues, a six cylinder version was considered. It would have required a new longer nose and beefed up suspension to carry the additional weight. A better solution presented itself accidentally when Rover Managing Director William Martin-Hurst came across a Buick aluminum V8 engine on a visit to Mercury Marine in 1964. He bought the engine and had it shipped back to England and installed in a P6. The compact 215 cubic inch (3528 cc) V8 fit perfectly in the engine bay, and weighed only a few pounds more than the four cylinder.
The rights to build the Buick V8 were bought from Buick, which had abandoned it after 1963 in favor of a cheaper and less problematic cast iron evolution of its design. It took some changes to adapt the aluminum block to Rover’s production methods and needs, such as sand-casting the block instead of GM’s die-cast method.
With twin S.U. carburetors, the Rover 3500 engine was rated at 184 gross/146 net hp; a substantial jump over the four, and much more amenable to being teamed with an automatic transmission (Borg-Warner 35), which all 3500s had, until 1971, when the European-spec 3500S became available with a four-speed stick. All US-bound 3500 cars, even though they had the “S” in their designation, came only with the automatic. Performance was lively for the times, with a 114 mph top speed and a 0-60 time of about 10.5 seconds.
European-spec 3500s were only subtly different externally from the 2000, with a deeper valance below the bumper for a larger radiator, and some fairly discrete “V8” and “3500” badges, as well as a few other details.
But NA-bound versions were instantly recognizable by their prominent triple hood scoops. No, Rover wasn’t trying to make it look competitive with all the hood scoops popping up like acne on so many American muscle cars of the time. They were not only fully functional, but more like necessary, actually.
The center scoop fed the engine air intake, in the usual manner. But the other two were an effort to combat high under hood temperatures. The thermal challenges of the Buick aluminum V8 were already known, but with all NA-bound 3500s coming standard with air conditioning and power steering as well as the automatic, beating the heat was a serious problem. Given the climatic challenges in the US, along with traffic jams and long freeway runs, Rover must have felt that moving more cool air through the rather cramped engine compartment was another step to prevent overheating. These two vents are to be opened and closed with the seasons. Despite them, 3500s still had a rep for not staying cool, regardless. More on that in Cal’s account.
North American 3500s also came with “Icelert”, a sensor mounted on the front grille that warned of sudden temperature drops and resulting possible road icing. And the little extension on the top of turn signal lens allowed the driver to confirm that they were actually working.
The 3500S sold very poorly in the US, and was discontinued after just three years , in 1971. It was a combination of factors, including Rover’s damaged reputation from the 2000, sketchy service and parts, and the P6 was hardly fresh-looking anymore by then. For about the same price as the 3500S ($5398), one could buy a much more modern-looking BMW 2500 with its silky and powerful six. Rover looked to be in precarious shape in the US, and tried one more comeback with the SD1 3500, but that turned out badly in the US too.
Let’s Cal tell us the story of how he became a Roverphile:
In 1969 when on home leave from the US Embassy in Taiwan and en route back to Taipei, I asked my friend Lord Michael Lindsay of Birker, to recommend a used car to take back to Taiwan. Michael was the 2nd Baron of Birker having inherited his title from his father “Sandie” Lindsay, knighted for his writing in philosophy in 1945.
By 1969 Michael had retired from professorships at Australian National University and American University, Washington, D.C., and was occupying himself writing and on maintaining a stable of veteran Citroens in his backyard. One dark night Michael took me to an impressive mansion in the Virginia countryside, surrounded by a menacing wrought iron fence with a telephone-operated gate. A word from Michael, and the gate ground slowly back while lights from the mansion roof flooded the driveway approach. We approached long low stable-like garage with six sections, each of which housed a classic automobile of some sort. An agent approached to explain that there was a 1969 Rover 2000 SC for sale, emphasizing delicately that this was just the poor cousin of the more elegant cars inside. We quickly settled on a price of $1750 and my lifelong subservience to a Rover Mistress had begun.
Rover 2000CS image: classiccarcatalog.com
Bravely I had the State Department ship her off to Taipei where she held up pretty well. Here the only “foreign cars” were American and a scattering of Japanese impertinences. When she suffered a severe internal breakdown, a Chinese army engineer friend – a genius in fact – spent time looking into every best stethoscope guide she could find, purchased one with the last bit of her money, examined her body with the stethoscope and eventually performed a kind of endoscopy on her flanks. She felt just fine after that and went on to take us up into the 14,000′ Taiwan mountains, scrambling over rocky, icy and snowy dirt roads as if she had chains (which don’t fit Rovers) all thanks to the de dion tube suspension with its capacity to keep tires close to road irregularities.
In 1970 I was off to the next post, Bangkok, Thailand. Encouraged by her survival in Taiwan in an environment sans Rover parts and mechanics, my Rover came along, again bumping over the back roads with hardly a complaint. This time the only reputable foreign repair facility in Bangkok was an auto repair school run by European Roman Catholic priests. These fellows were delighted to have a British exotic to play with – and teach on – and never failed to put her in running condition.
In fact, she lasted until a year later her transmission gave up the ghost in a San Francisco parking garage and I was into the Yellow Pages for help. Here for the first time I saw the name of my to-be benefactor and close friend, Sigismund Heinlo. Sig told me to drive no faster than 15 m.p.h. down to his garage in San Mateo. She broke down completely anyway en route and I learned that a replacement transmission would cost $1200. Hey, man, you’re talking State Department foreign service officer pay so I sold her to Sig and appropriated my mother’s Toyota Corolla for my next assignment, Monrovia, Liberia.
We left our Rover 2000 abandoned in the wilds of San Mateo, California, about 1970, where her ghost is said still to haunt the premises of Sig’s deserted garage on Railroad Avenue.
My son and I enjoyed two years’ association with these fine people only to be moved on to the next assignment, the Department of State, Washington. (I must add a sad footnote: six months after we left, the six main tribal elements, their mutual hostilities having been held in check for years by President Tolbert and his predecessors, assassinated Tolbert and fell to cutting one another up – African-style. Today, Monrovia is in a relative peace under the leadership of a lady President. Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, U.S. educated former minister of finance.
The New Rover 3500s Age for me began in 1984 when, cruising the quiet, tree-lined streets of Mill Valley, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, I saw her parked along the street: a 1970 3500s placarded for $3500. I confess that my association with her younger sister years before had left me with a craving that could only be satisfied with another possession. We settled on $3,000 for this example of how having always been very well cared for (i.e, kept garaged) can preserve the appearance of a mistress – and enhance her gratefulness as expressed in her performance. (“Well-cared for”: – this list is far from all -inclusive: Sig Heinlo’s Engine rebuild; John’s brake and many other expert contributions.)
We will not discuss how much keeping this mistress has cost in the last 20 years. Say only that her good fortune has been (1) that she has been cared for by the best (Sig Heinlo (d.) and his assistant (John Arts) and the latter’s skilled staff;) and (2) supported with parts and guidance by the incomparable Ruth Burgess (All British Cars, Vancouver, Canada, (now retired) and those now running that show.
The Bottom Line is that this Rover has made two 2,400 round trips from San Jose, California, to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (2008 and 2014) without the slightest mechanical problem. In fact, this last trip, May 2014, was done just after a total and thorough revamping of the cooling system by John’s Jag Service, San Francisco, which resulted, on our trip, with an engine temperature gauge needle which never once wavered between the gap between the white zone and the green zone when the ambient temperature was pushing 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the Rover was going 75-80 mph. Rover owners will recognize how remarkable (even miraculous) this is.
When I started this trip, I had half a mind to sell her. More and more I realized that the price I held in the back of my mind of $10,000 US was not going to be offered, if for no other reason that the offering never reached the public either on the Rover View or on the website of the Rover Car Cub of Canada.
Also, how would you like it if you could not stop for gas or for a meal or at the end of the day without someone coming up and saying either “Such a beautiful car, what is it”? Or, “I had a friend who drove one of these. Great Cars.” Often there would follow a more informed comment on why the car was “great”: de Dion rear suspension; front-end crash protection; a hundred other engineering innovations which made this car great. (Or, as one of my fellow Rover Club members commented, “Ever had anyone stop you to comment on any other car?”
Sell it now? I’d rather cremate it and have it interred with me.
The next morning after packing, we bid Cal and his lovely wife Nguyet goodbye, and wished them a happy journey to Vancouver. I had a hard time imagining Cal selling the Rover there, but Nguyet was rather in favor of that, and we didn’t know the outcome until I e-mailed him to ask. The story you just read was his response.
As the Rover V8 gently burbled off into the morning fog, we felt very lucky to have met the three of them. But that’s what road trips are all about: unexpected and serendipitous encounters, as well as the opportunity to renew bonds with our life partners, human and automotive.
Related reading: Rover 2000TC CC Rover 3500 SD-1 AUWM Rover 2000-3500
My oh my, this is amazing! This is the essence and true meaning of CC! Bravo Paul! Bravo Cal!
Fantastic! This article is a complete home run with the car, the story, and how you encountered it.
Mr. Mehlert is to be commended for keeping his car at a point when most people would want to dispose of it. May he have many more miles behind the wheel.
In fact, I would sell her. The only condition would be the one imposed on me by the first owner: a solemn promise to keep her in a garage as he had done. The results are (1) unworn upholstery; (2) no rust.
Love to have it if it’s still for sale…. Here’s my web site and you’ll see that we’ll keep it as it should be. http://www.offroadexperience.com/wcb
I really want to like the P6, but there are just too many ungainly design details about. Ones with the boot mounted spare are particularly offensive to my senses. It’s hard to imagine these sharing showroom floor space with the gorgeous by comparison P5.
I forget now, what was the reason for the tire mounted on the trunk?
I always thought it was considered a “sporty” touch inspired by long distance rally competition of the day, but I’m not positive.
The trunks were very small in this car. Therefore, owners who took them on long trips often install the outside spare tire kit. There were lots of these cars around on Vancouver Island when I was a kid. A lot of people have come from the UK in the 60’s and their motoring in tastes were coming from home.at least until they realizeD the bang for the buck with a lot better with American stuff.
Most succumbed to the British disease, and the fact that finding anyone who actually know how to work on them was very very difficult outside of Victoria BC.
The small trunk was almost certainly a function of the de Dion rear suspension, which takes up space like it’s a virtue.
I guess this has been the most difficult car for Rover themselves, leaping from traditional British cars, made for ‘decent middle class ‘ people, this was aimed at the new young executive who all of a sudden appeared in the sixties.
And in this case, Mr Calvin Mehlert fullfills the marketing strategy they had in mind.
British police had tons of them on the road,as patrol cars.
What’s also worth mentioning is Rover were experimenting with their gas-turbine engine, an experimental car called the JET- 1, ran alot of trials in the fifties and they even entered the BRM-Rover race car at Le mans 24 hours in the sixties, powered by a gas-turbine.
The engine bay of the P6 and the complicated front suspension are a result of the fact that Rover were still considering a future transplant for the gas-turbine engine for the P6 as a production car.
That is probably why the Buick V8 could be shoehorned in the engine bay of the P6.
One of my uncles had a 3500 in BRG and tan leather. It was a nice looking machine. Being a banker he chose to have the engine fitted with LPG (propane) as a dual fuel ‘economy’ alternative. LOL. That was a BIG mistake. It cost him endless money trying to keep that engine running well with the LPG fuel. The cylinder head valve seats suffered recession and ‘drop-outs’ and no manner of means to find a solution that worked was forthcoming. In the end he gave up on his polished cherished baby and sold it. The replacement was a ghastly underpowered Mk 2 Triumph 2000 automatic, another disappointment for him. He didn’t keep it long. I seem to recall a succession of plain jane Renault saloons after that..
But when he still had it, that shiny BRG 3500 was his pride and joy. It would have run just fine on straight petrol but there you are .. .. .. (sigh) bad LPG bad
We performed literally thousands of LPG conversion over the years. We always found that dual fuel conversions really don’t work well. The advance curve of the ignition timing is not compatible with both fuels; British cars tend to run hot anyway so I would not recommend LPG in any of them. Single fuel LPG systems always works best on big American v8’s especially Chevy small blocks and Oldsmobile 307’s.
Absolutely! My own ‘CC’ is a so-called ‘160HP’ 1969 225 Valiant (Aussie) manual trans and it runs 100% on dedicated LPG and has done since conversion during 1971. It doesn’t even run the Carter twin choke carb since then, just a big ‘spout’ with a butterfly valve. Static ignition is well forward as the CR is still original at 8.4:1 but it doesn’t have any reversion and in fact doesn’t have any issues whatsoever actually.
It is much more powerful than the petrol powered equivalents still running around.
A Valiant Regal 265 auto owner chick who drove the VF couldn’t believe it had more power under the foot than her ‘Hemi’ VH which also had a bunch of triple side-drafts hanging-off one side of that truck engine!!
But to be fair that VH was somewhat ‘tired’.
On 99 to 104 octane LPG the overtaking TED as they call it is ridiculously short at motorway speeds, and doesn’t feel ‘safe’ by today’s standards as I have kept the Valiant shod on it’s original wheels and tyre sizes (skinny 185’s).
The rear ‘digs’ in and has a tendancy to want to ‘swing out’ under full throttle. There is nothing wrong with the shocks, but those feudal cart springs and grossly heavy solid axle at the back don’t help with the inspiration of confidence (I have taken all restriction out of the exhaust system, ie long tuned headers and just one straight through muffler, and it ‘feels’ much more powerful than a VG 318 Regal Safari auto I used to drive).
Much of this though I put down to the extra energy coming from the LPG fuel being burnt.
To keep valve seat recession at bay the VF has been running a top-end combustible vacuum oil-feed system known locally as ‘Moreys’ right from conversion days.
The guy who converted it was an LPG mechanic and he kept the car for 31 years, only selling to me because his wife had tired of trying to ‘park’ it when shopping lol.
Their replacement was a Honda Civic of the day back in 2004.
A few mates ran LPG conversions in Aussie usually on F series Fords to combat attrocious fuel consumption a gas cam, headers gas carb and 120 degree thermostat seemed to be the answer to performance and longevity, some of those trucks did massive annual mileages often towing most of the time without problems.
I feel you need to write us a post on your Val’ Craig…!
haha, what about this one? 🙂
…here she is Scott 🙂
The first one’s not quite to my taste – I suspect it doesn’t have a/c 😉 – but your Valiant’s very clean looking. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I’m sure you can sling a few words and pics of it together and send ’em to Paul!
Scott, neither has a/c!! LOL!! ..but i love “fun” cars ..the rat rod pick up is heaps of fun ..runs a 327 with deuce set-up through a turbo 400 ..has Model A suicide doors (two door had them right?) turns every head everywhere it goes (mutha thumpr) loud haha
Model A did not have front suicide doors. Something else perhaps? Or maybe re-engineered hinges and latches.
here’s a side on
Ah yes, but US Valiant/Duster a/c would bolt onto the Valiant you see! Is the pick-up yours and here in NZ? Although not my cup of tea I do find the time and effort (and engineering!) that goes into these type of builds to be respect-worthy. Now, how you getting on with that thousand word article on your Valiant? 😉
The ’29 is coming over to me in a shared container from Carroll Ohio. You have no idea how exacting US Customs is to get something exported over the border. Apparently it is easiest to go over there and use your passport to be ‘seen’ as a one-time ‘temporary shipper’. It has a rain deflector/sun visor a la Model A which reduces the present stark frontal appearance somewhat. Those are discs at the front by the way so it can stop if needed..lol
Hey, the VF has ‘power nothing’! 🙂 Fitting it up with a/c would slow it down a tad and we can’t do that .. but .. i’ll sell it to you if you like ..10 years is a good time to keep a CC ..it’s time for a new owner now .. sorry Val..xo
aaah ..’34 Ford two door is the one..! 🙂
Anyone who asks what the allure in owning a classic needs to read Cal’s story. It truly sums up what that relationship is like. People view their cars in a completely different manner now.
I looked at one of these about 15 years ago that had been sidelined by the typical overheating issues. Although complex, they were fairly solid cars. I particularly like the phrase “British exotic”. That seems to take on new meaning whenever I have work to do on mine.
I nominate this piece for the 2014 Curbie award. This one has it all – a rare find, delightful owners and a truly compelling story, all ably brought together in PN’s inimitable way.
My own car ownership history has been wide but shallow. Perhaps this is why I love these stories that involve a deep, long term relationship with a single car. Is there anyone here who would not have loved joining these four (or five?) for that seaside dinner?
I agree. This is fantastic from start to finish. Hats off to Calvin for keeping the car mobile all these years.
+1. Just fantastic. Enjoyed each word of the history
+2 This was a most fortuitous find by Paul and an excellent read.
Great story with universal appeal. I think there’s a little bit of Cal in every old car owner. Nice job Paul
+3 One of the all time greats, nearly brought a tear to my eye! The whole thing is almost surreal – if I had encountered this car and its driver amongst such majestic scenery I’d have figured I was dreaming, or dead. It’s like stepping into a world that’s only slightly different from ours, but so much more interesting!
I agree with you all. Great car, compelling story and the usual excellent writing by PN. CC of the year indeed!
Man, if I make it to 86, I hope I’m still as youthful and sprightly as that dude! If I’m not still driving old junk, it won’t be worth making it. 🙂
My dad had one for 12 days before he rolled it on an icy road. He was unharmed, which the recovery service people had a hard time understanding. Needless to say, his did not have Icelert, and I did not know it existed until today.
The hood scoops were (sort of) functional, but to some extent, that stuff and some of the other North America-specific touches were J. Bruce McWilliams (then the head of Rover’s U.S. sales organization) promotional gimmicks. A lot of that stuff — mag-style wheel covers, pinstriping — is regarded with varying degrees of horror by British P6 fans, although I can’t say that the awful plastic grille or hood bulges on late British cars are any better.
Great story, great car, and I suspect a great guy. Well done Mr Mehlert – keep it and enjoy it.
Wow! Great story. What a car! What a life!
If Cal ever decides to write a book about his life I sure would like to read it.
My Uncle Will Mum’s younger brother had a few P6 V8s.There wasn’t much danger of overheating in the UK even before global warming.Uncle Will was the thrusting young executive Rover was aimed at and he was a fan til a disastrous SD1 sent him to BMW.Rovers were for the sort of people who if they were American would drive an Oldsmobile,cars a step up from Fords, Chevys and Plymouths and English Fords,Vauxhals and Hillmans without the flashiness of a Jag or Cadillac.I quite liked these though they didn’t look different enough from the 2000.I’m one of the few who disliked the SD1.
I never thought I’d say it but that spare wheel makes the Mopar toilet seat look good!
Yeah, it’s funny to read all the descriptions of Rover V8s on here as being disastrously unreliable, when Triumph Stag owners in the UK would routinely fit them as the reliable alternative to their overheating V8.
Of course in a car with no A/C etc in a country where anything over about 77 fahrenheit is slightly unusual, overheating isn’t quite the same problem.
I met a Swiss guy who had a Rover SD1 Vitesse in the 90s and used to thrash it around mountain roads at highly illegal speeds. His line was “you just couldn’t break this car”!
A Triumph Stag(purple one please) was on my wish list as a teenager.I’d daydream Latin and Physics classes imagining myself driving my Stag to work on the perfume counter at Boots.Sadly another own goal for BL as it was an attractive car
The V-8 itself wasn’t really the reliability issue except insofar as its cooling capacity was concerned. And the V-8 was in some respects easier to maintain than the four in the Rover 2000 — V-8s had hydraulic lifters, whereas the four’s valve clearances had to be set with shims, something I think required removing the cam.
I don’t know if they’re more lenient going the other way, but if a Canadian sells or scraps a vehicle while visiting the US, they have to clear it with Canada Customs or they get rather upset. Certainly not impossible, but if Cal wanted to sell his car in Canada, some planning would be required beyond exchanging funds and signing over the title.
Interesting story, I don’t really understand how you fix a car with a stethoscope and perform and “endoscopy on the body”….but still interesting.
It seems like a bad analogy, since an endoscopy is an exploratory procedure, not a “repair” procedure. It doesn’t even hint at what the problem actually was. I chalked it up as someone who doesn’t do their own repairs describing what a mechanic does. 🙂
I had to read it a couple of times and I was still..huh?
The one car that was a constant in my ever-changing lineup of cars during my years at University (and for a few after) was a 1972 Rover 2000 automatic. It was slow, having the single-carb 2-litre mated to the ubiquitous Borg-Warner 35 slushbox, but cruised well at 70-75mph and was a generally-reliable runner. It was also hands-down one of the best cars I’ve ever driven on ice and snow.
One thing I will say, though: they are not the complexity nightmare that they are made out to be – and, frankly, I’m a bit puzzled as to why this reputation is being applied to them. Different, yes, and they do have their share of quirks, but despite the radical-for-the-time engineering there really isn’t much on them that should be beyond a competent home mechanic. The overall layout is fairly conventional when you get down to it, and engines and gearboxes aren’t anything particularly exotic once you start looking into them. The suspension is certainly unusual, but not beyond the understanding (or capabilities) of mortal man.
One thing I will agree on being a complete pain: changing the rear brake pads and / or discs. Your choices are basically to either drop the rear axle or cut a hole in the box section above the differential and get at them that way. Someone may have improved upon this process in the 16 years since I last owned one, but that was one job that I finally took the car to the shop for after spending a frustrating DIY weekend trying to change pads without a lift and not wanting to make a hole to get at them.
A bit of trivia about the boot-mounted spare: the bootlids for cars with the exterior spare mount are substantially different to ones without it. It’s much easier to replace the entire thing than it is to try to add in all the necessary bracing; without it, expect a seriously-dented bootlid with a top-mounted spare waiting to tear itself out on a curve. Not the voice of direct experience on this one, but I did know someone who tried to convert to an external carrier with no bracing and disastrous results. Still, a very useful item to have.
Oh, and if you ever do own one, be careful when parking it facing a wall – the leading edge of the bonnet sticks out slightly further than the bumper. That one I did learn the hard way.
Boot/trunk lid is aluminium as is the bonnet but the carrier ones were steel or heavily braced to carry the weight.
No they are still aluminium but have an internal stiffener. And also a handle and prop which the standard one does not.
This is a terrific story about an owner who is as interesting as his car. I never saw these around our town in the 1970s – they were simply too exotic for the area. I do believe that Corgi or Dinky offered a decent quality diecast model of this car.
That was Corgi. I had one. It was a medium metallic green with a huge tinted plastic sunroof to show off the interior. It had the boot-mounted spare in an opening soft plastic cover, and came with removable wheels with little fold-down jacks behind each wheel which latched the wheel in place when raised.
Still have it somewhere.
I did a Mini CC on one in my collection: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/mini-cc-corgi-rover-2000tc-got-a-flat-buddy/
De Dion rear suspension combines the complexity and fragility of IRS with the lack of independence of a live axle. While it does have reduced unsprung weight relative to a live axle and offer better geometry than a then-typical swing axle IRS, there are lots of good reasons why De Dion has been adopted by so few and even those abandoned it.
The benefits simply didn’t justify the cost. But let’s remember IS in those days meant either swing arms or semi-trailing arms, neither paragons of predictable handling.
Jaguar, Corvette, and even Corvair had upper and lower control arms by that point. Semi-trailing arms really weren’t that bad in my experience either, provided the engine was in the front.
I have had a couple of wacky experiences with semi-trailing arms in wet weather that weren’t exactly confidence inspiring.
Indeed, the Corvette got a multi-link IRS, as did the Corvair. In the case of the Corvette, there was plenty of profit in the car, so no problem with the cost of the IRS. In the case of the Corvair, it was to deal with the car’s oversteering problem and resultant bad press. In fact IRS was pretty rare in those days, usually only high end cars.
IRS was only rare in the US. The rest of the world’s econoboxes were mostly rear engined, and that meant some form of IRS. Think VW, FIAT 500, 600, 850, Renault Dauphine & R8, Simca 1000, NSU, Skoda, Zaporozhets, BMW 600 & 700, Subaru 360, and the Sunbeam Imp. I’m probably forgetting a bunch. Even the front engined Triumph Herald had IRS.
By my age…this Rover became the ethalon for British cars. The first ever recognized watching them on british television serials as a lil’ kid during the ’70’s. Thanks for posting the story…
Sweet looking car. I’ve always liked the Rover P6. If only British Leyland hadn’t fucked things up for the car and the British car industry. But I reckon that’s to be expected from Britain during the 70s, eh?
This story was the perfect way to start the morning kudos to Paul and Cal. I’ve read a few articles on the P6, not many, but this was the first time to learn that those hood scoops had a summer and winter setting. Fascinating.
CC Carma! What a tale. I know Port Orford well; my family would vacation there all the way from Coos Bay once or twice a year and stay at the Battle Rock motel.
Fun story and a great read, and a really amazing encounter. I know absolutely nothing about these cars, other than the fact that you would see a few around L.A. back then. I worked a summer job with a British architect in 1969-70 who knew these cars well, he always said they were a POS, now I can see why. I thought they had an intriguing kind of look, and I loved those unique door handles with the pull handle separate from the pushbutton latch, very cool.
I’ve got to admit that having owned a two year old car that needed a transmission that cost about two thirds as much as a new economy car would not have inspired me to own another of the same make.
British and European design floor me, I just cannot, with very few exceptions, wrap my arms around foreign iron, but clearly this car has been and is a labor of love, and that transcends any and all boundaries!
A wonderful account, an interesting car and a classy couple. Thank you!
Like cjiguy I enjoyed seeing this P6, but I’m still on constant lookout for a P5 – one of my all time car lusts. I haven’t seen one curbside for years, but there has to be at least one in Vancouver. Patience 🙂
+1 the best looking Rover ever
But only in P5B form.
One of my high school teachers had one just like it. same colours and all. The best teacher’s car at my school by far, and easily trumped the principal’s old ’56 Chevy sedan!
Terrific story of a man, his wife, and his mechanical “mistress”. Definitely the essence of CC, and what an alluring car it is! Exotic to most Americans, especially those of us too young to remember these as new(ish) cars. I’ve only ever seen one–it passed by as I was having lunch near the beach in Nags Head, NC in 2012. That triple hoodscoop is one of the most distnictive features despite its being present only on NA-market cars!
A terrific CC Friday Feature Car! Love this effort to create an American car from British stock. The power windows are also quite the surprise. Amazing those little extensions on the turn signals are still present.
I hope to be as adventuresome at 86 as Cal.
I noticed the power window controls too, probably because they stand out as being so different from all the other components in the interior.
It looks like they slapped on some GM power window switches wherever there was room and ran a wire to them.
I was thinking the same thing – those look so much like old GM power window switches, and the location appears to be dictated as to where there was space rather than convenience.
Like Don W., I used to see a few of these around LA in the early 70’s. They seemed to stay on the scene a few years longer than that terrible Le Car featured yesterday. The only folks I knew who owned one of those got rid of it as quickly as possible.
Yes, I picked up the GM vibe as well. Didn’t go there as I am not sure of when this control went out in favor of, say, the typical ’73 control. Looks almost ’50s to me.
They are exactly that, GM parts. Power windows were not offered on UK cars but were considered essential in the US.
If I remember correctly, this is the same car that Princess Grace was killed in back in 1982, the car went over a cliff, supposedly the Prince of Monaco had the car crushed and cubed and then dropped out in the middle of the Med by helicopter.
I really, really like these cars. Surprised they didn’t do well in the States actually, as they were from a period when Rover still built their cars well. Plus, reasonable sized saloon (but smaller and lighter than the local fare) V8 and RWD.
How could that not appeal to the US public?
Personally, I want a series 2 with the eggcrate front grille a 3.9l EFi RV8 making about 220-250bhp and the 5-speed LT77 from an SD1.
Yes please 🙂
For what these cost in the States, you could buy something much larger and more powerful that was less demanding of service and which could be repaired by any idiot in any gas station.
Yeah nice cars and not particularly unreliable if you bought the right one and maintained it, The manual V8 was junk as they used the gearbox from the 4 cylinder car and just fitted an oil pump to try to cope with the extra torque it couldnt. Best cure is the SD1 % speed but of course you couldnt do that originally.
Still plenty of them on the road in NZ I coulda shot you one any time Paul but I know you like to find your own, the sheer number of survivors points out just how popular they once were and Rovers werent cheap cars or easy to get parts for but where I come from they were always common NZs premier Rover Jaguar wrecking yard was run by a school friends father so Rovers were a common sight in my home town as were Jags most of the hippies drove Jags they were cheap and easy to fix.
It’s a real shame that Leyland Aus only started getting ambitious when BL was running out of money. The P6 was very popular in your hemisphere, and with a fully developed P76, and maybe SD1s that were put together properly, Rover could really have carved out a market in the land of V8 RWD 4-door saloons.
Yet another missed opportunity :S still, means they’re cheap to buy now, so not all bad 🙂
I got offered a SD1 3500 for $600 Aus my BIL at the time was parts manager at City Rover in Auckland he patiently explained what would be wrong and how much the relevant parts cost even at staff discount and cheap postage to Aussie it wasnt worth buying hatch locks were $540 NZ dollars and it needed that for a pinkslip(roadworthy) I didnt bother, bought another cheap Valiant and liked it.
Wow, killer story! Cal seems like an interesting guy for sure. I cant believe that the ‘purists’ bemoan those mag style wheelcovers….for hubcaps they actually look decent. Although the Magnum 500s on that one example nail it.
Hopefully his wife will learn to love it too..
Fantastic Paul, great presentation of a very interesting story.
I remember seeing a 2000 driving around the grounds of a car show stripped of all external panels, doors, roof – years ago now. I’ve always appreciated the P6 because the styling is so unique.
I also saw a Rover gas turbine from the early 1950s run hooked up to a dyno, happily on the outside of its soundproof (well nearly) room. I think it used 70,000 rpm or so, and a few years earlier it had thrown a turbine blade – it went through the concrete floor above, a brick wall or two and landed on a roof 100 yards away!
I encountered a Rover gas turbine at university in the early 1970s. It was one of the many types of engines we tested in our mechanical engineering (thermodynamics) labs. I remember running the turbine at 45,000 rpm, and the noise, even when standing outside the test cell, was incredible.
It’s certainly possible that it was capable of 70,000 rpm. I suspect we were limited to 45,000 rpm to lessen the chance of turbine blades being flung about the lab (and beyond).
The turbine itself was quite small, but I can imagine that all the extra stuff that would be required to make it quiet and safe from auto-destruction, were just two of the factors that doomed it for automotive use.
You could be right about the rpms, it was 15-20 years ago now.
More recently (say 5 years ago) I saw some jet dragsters run – from as close as 10 metres away! That was an experience.
How’s your hearing? 🙂
Great story, glad to have met Cal and Nguyet through CC. I’m another who is surprised at the poor reputation the P6s gained in the States. My father, who remains one of the least patient and most mechanically unsympathetic people you could meet, had two 3500 sedans. Both auto, the first was white with tan Ambla, the second one was a NZ built car with a green cloth interior and avocado paint. I always thought they were exceptional cars with cool detailing – they were very solid and slow off the mark, felt like a full size car shrunk around you like a R107SL. 20 years ago Balwyn (in Melbourne) was full of these still in original ownerships. I once met an owner I knew only by sight (we called him Mr Metal Grille because of his Series I car – real name Mr R Davey) and asked about his white Rover only to be told “It’s French Ivory”. It was in better shape than him as it happened. He died shortly afterwards. Where are you now KLM 350? Of course the P6s didn’t survive the demographic change heralded by poxy McMansions, trophy wives and wretched 4WDs. Ooops, sorry for the rant. Back on topic, these really are fine cars for the right owners. Also used in film “Gattaca” for their timeless styling beside the DS ‘vert. Buy! Buy!
Excellent story. Very much the kind of story that Peter Egan used to write for R&T.
I have seen exactly 1 Rover in the metal. I forget if it was a 2000TC or a 3500. Saw it in the roof parking lot of Cobo Hall in Detroit during the auto show, so was probably driven by a Rover rep working at the show.
And, yes, I have 40+ year old Rover brochures in my collection. Rover reprinted an R&T road test of the 3500.
I also have the pricing for overseas delivery. At US POE, the 3500S ran $5,398.00. Price at the plant in Sulihill was $4,198.00. Estimated shipping to Newark was $255. US Customs duty $150. US excise tax $322. By going to England to pick up your ride, you saved $473!
I get something of a Peter Egan vibe here too. His column was always my favorite part of the magazine.
What a wonderful, and wonderfully written, post Paul! As others have said above, it’s the absolute essence of CC. Kudos to Cal and Nguyet too for sharing.
Plenty of P6 (and P5) Rovers still around here, it’s always such a delight to see their elegant (albeit quirky) style as they burble deliciously by. I’m very envious of the NA P6, not for the hood scoops or the multiple (why?) indicators at each front corners, but for the power windows and factory a/c. I believe were only available in NA, and they (well, the a/c specifically) would make a P6 so usable today.
There’s a grey restomodded P6 driving around Melbourne at the moment, apart from that I see the occasional black grille version. Love the silvered grille and absolutely love the story.
The owners comments about being “buried with the Rover” reminds of the curious times when that does happen, which here in the US is not as uncommon as it might seem, there was the lady buried with her Corvair a couple of years ago, the old man buried IN his 1973 Catalina, a woman buried with her 76 Eldorado convertible, and the most famous, Sandra West, the oil heiress buried in her 1964 Ferrari 330GT down in Texas in 1977.
Excellent article on a much maligned motor. In Britain the 2000s are worth zip and the 3500s struggle to make much even in tip top condition. Seems strange to me, surely such an interesting historical vehicle should be worth more!? That’s old cars though!
Rust and complex mechanics keep the prices down due to restoration costs.
Want to blow money on a British V8? Then buy a Stag. Thats what every one does in the UK.
ill have a 3500S manual shift though ,with a crate of clutch plates.. V8s power chewed them up!.
Fantastic article. It was my pleasure (sort of, it was actually a daunting task, and involved more than a few cuts, and a broken finger from a broken bolt) to restore your cooling system to the proper specifications. You have been a great client over the years Cal, and I can speak for all of us here, “We hope to see you, and your P6, for many years to come!”.
John’s Jaguar Service Inc.
San Francisco, Ca
We currently have 4 clients with Rover 3500S vehicles, and a couple 2000TCs as well!
I have a 1970 3500s Rover in the Pacific Northwest. Stored at my parents in eastern Oregon so it’s not exposed to as much damp in Seattle. Such a beautiful car. There is also one at the Lemay Estate in Tacoma, although its 2000 Tc and in poor shape.
There is a neat little 3500S at the body shop we frequent. Apparently its been there for over a year, as a personal favor by the shop owner to the owner of the car. According to the shop owner, the thing is just one big money pit, but he’s still trying.
I’d like to buy this 3500S, having grown up in the test cars and later R driving mums 3500S… Dad worked for Rover Motor Co in Brisbane, CA. I own WestCoastBritish.com since1981
Calvin Mehlert died on January 4, 2018 at age 89
The front end of these always reminds me of a 1963 Plymouth.
I saw one of these at an independent garage on the Danforth in Toronto several years ago. It looked to be in decent shape, and I can imagine that an independent shop specializing in obscure imports would be the place to keep one of these alive. It sounds like Mr. Mehlert had a good mechanic who helped him keep that Rover running reliably.
I’d take the Plymouth over the Rover!
I wonder if this car is the same model immortalised by Gordon Baxter in his c/d piece about old herpes? It would be a oit the right age, obscurity, and the right level of premium yet unreliable. I think someone did say at some point old herpes was a Peugeot but this would make sense.
That was a Peugeot 504. He revealed it in his anthology, “The Best of Bax.”
Remarkable and inspiring story!
We were blessed with some beautiful looking cars then, the Rover 2000 range, the mk2 Triumph 2000, and several dogs of course. The larger engined versions of these cars were very desirable, especially the Rover. A 3.5S was just sex on wheels. Compared to the dowdy old P5, it was gorgeous and a great big, for the UK, all aluminium V8.
So there we were, a bunch of hippies who’d travelled to the free festival in my old Mk2 Consul estate to camp out in Mrs Windsor’s back garden, sitting around chilling out, when my mate turned up in his dad’s brand new Rover 3.5S. We piled in and wafted off to a posh riverside pub in Cookham, soaked up some evening rays as the sun set picturesquely over the river, as we quaffed some fine ales. A sybaritic ride back to the site and and time to roll another one and wait for the next adventure. Happy daze indeed!
My father traded in his well liked Hillman Minx convertible for a Rover 2000. I was impressed and found it to be the greatest handling car I could imagine. The unique front suspension didn’t dive when you stomped on the brakes. The car just rushed to a stop. After a couple of years he drove the Rover to a Porshe dealer and took a test drive. When he got home he said he’d always wanted a Porshe but when he got back in the Rover he liked it better. Soon after that he came home driving a 2000TC.