Storage Field Classic: The Very Advanced (But Mostly Forgotten) Rover 2000TC

(first posted 11/7/2012)      Before BMW had the European sports sedan genre covered, there was the Rover 2000TC. Based on a lively, rear-wheel drive platform, it combined impeccable handling with a dash of classic British luxury. Taking a strategic cue from BMW’s 1600/2002 range, Rover used their 2000/2000TC line to inject a little life into a familiar and rather staid line up. Although the Rover 2000TC, unlike the BMW 2002, is relatively unknown to North American enthusiasts, it might well be even more worthy of our attention.

Before their P6-generation 2000, 2000TC, 2000SC, 3500 and 3500S, Rover’s place was similar to that of Buick in recent years. They sold to a well-defined niche of conservative, established, and fairly well-off buyers in the British social strata. They were hardly exciting, but were comfy and well-built motor cars; to emphasize the point, the P4 cars were even nicknamed “Auntie”.

In the 1960s emerged a new breed of buyer: The middle-rung executive, a younger and perhaps slightly less well-off buyer. Although most of them probably couldn’t afford the upkeep for a big Jaguar saloon, they nevertheless demanded cars with a degree of luxury and a dash of sport.

Faced with an aging buyer demographic, Rover went from old and stodgy to daring and adventurous: Engineers, not salesman or accountants, were now in charge. With the P6, Rover threw caution to the wind and developed one of the most advanced saloons of the time: It truly was a clean-sheet design, with monocoque double-skinned construction, an overhead cam engine, sophisticated suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and an array of safety features. Released in 1963, the new Rover 2000 created a stir, and captured the European Car of the Year award in 1964.

The new, 2.0-liter, 104 hp OHC engine, which had been designed specifically for the P6, featured a Heron head–a completely flat cylinder head with combustion chambers cast into the top of the piston. An uprated, 124 hp version with twin carbs powered the new-for-1966 2000TC model.

Confirming the 2000TC’s status as a proper sporty sedan was a standard tachometer. Because production issues limited the number of dual-carburetor intake manifolds Rover could produce, the 2000TC was sold exclusively outside the UK until October of 1966. The single-carburetor model was renamed 2000SC.

In one of its many nods to safety, the P6 was among the first cars with engine mounts designed to allow the engine to be pushed down and away from the passenger compartment in the event of a collision.

Much of the 2000’s advanced design appears so unconventional as to approach French levels of oddity. Consider the front suspension: It is somewhat like a MacPherson strut modified with a bell crank and remote springs, a design intended to maximize the width of the engine compartment. And why? Well, at the time Rover was heavily experimenting with gas-turbine motors, which aren’t exactly known for being skinny. The gas turbine was cost-unfeasible and never saw production, but the extra under-hood room would be well utilized later, for the 3.5-liter V8-powered Rover 3500 (to be covered in a future CC).

The rear suspension is a semi-independent design with a modified DeDion setup. As a DeDion rear suspension, the differential is fixed to the body (to reduce unsprung weight) and connected to the wheel hubs by flexible joints. As with other DeDion suspensions, the Rover 2000’s has a rear tube connecting the two wheels; atypically, it employs joints that allow some variation in track width while retaining a fixed wheel camber. The result is a rear suspension that doesn’t suffer from the camber changes that plague some fully-independent designs, and is also much more compliant than a live axle.

A tail light on the front? It may look that way, but the idea is to let the driver see the top of the signal light from behind the wheel.

Check out these rear bucket seats! You may have to use your imagination due to their sorry state, but what a car this would have been back in the 1960s. Most other cars of the day would have a rear bench in order to advertise five-passenger seating. Even the rear seats offered three-point seat belts as standard. Just the car for an upwardly mobile mid-level executive in the swinging 60s.

Let’s move up front, where things look to be in much nicer shape. All the gauges and switches are easy to read and reach. Eschewing the traditionally British timber slab, this padded dash has only a hint of wood.

I came across these import papers while searching for the registration to positively ID the model year. According to this document, the owner left Calgary, Alberta for London, England in 1966, and brought this Rover back with him when he returned in 1969. Since it’s a 1969 model with left-hand drive and  premium features like the IceLert sensor, it seems he took advantage of the move back home to bring a new car with him. For the record, the Rover was valued at $3,600 when it entered Canada. Oddly enough, his personal immigration papers had also been left in the car; indeed, a unique place to store one’s documents but then again, the 2000TC is a unique car.

In the brake department we find more surprises. The front discs, which are rather large for the time, were later equipped with three-piston calipers for the V8 version. The rear discs are mounted inboard, and are operated on by the hand brake, thus avoiding the need for a secondary drum brakes. The brakes were controlled by not one but two master cylinders, which are mounted rather unconventionally in that wide engine compartment. There’s power assist, of course. While my friend and I were scouting auction cars as possible purchases, just the sight of those dual brake cylinders was enough for him to utter, “Yeah, this is a no” before he closed the hood.  Contemporary road tests reported fantastic brake feel and performance, but I certainly wouldn’t want to overhaul the system on a knackered example. Somehow I doubt that many mechanics appreciated those inboard rear brakes at servicing time.

Press reaction and initial sales were very strong. Here was an almost no-compromise car built by engineers that enjoyed driving. The Rover undercut and outperformed the Jaguar Mk2, and was much more advanced than the concurrently released Triumph 2000, but it wasn’t without flaw. The double-skinned body structure–designed to allow easy replacement of a rusted or damaged outer skin–turned out to have some significant flaws.

The hidden inner structure rusted first, creating a reasonably solid-looking car that was a rust bucket underneath. The SOHC four-cylinder engine was reasonably powerful but noticably less refined than its competition, especially at higher revs. The biggest domestic competitor, the Triumph 2000, had a less powerful, but silky smooth, inline six. To compensate for the engine’s lack of smoothness, Rover fitted a numerically low differential; while this allowed a higher top speed (over 100 mph, even in the basic 2000) it somewhat hampered acceleration.

Due to the advanced rear suspension, trunk space was at a premium.

The full-size spare ate up even more trunk space, so Rover developed an optional deck-lid mounting kit. Now that was a throwback to a previous era.

In the UK, the P6 was very successful, and was sold until it was replaced in 1977 by the much more conventional and aerodynamic SD1. All in all, it was an impressive 14-year run with only minor changes, notably a 1973 bump in engine size to 2.2 liters. In North America, however, the outcome was much less satisfying. Again, initial reviews of the P6 were very enthusiastic, but the cars proved to be more trouble- prone in the hands of American drivers, who demanded reliability, drove many more miles per year, and generally disdained high maintenance. Matters weren’t helped any by Rover’s extremely poor dealer support. Rover finally pulled the plug after selling just 1,500 units in 1971. Rover’s image was substantially dinged by the 2000TC, and the nameplate would never recover despite repeated efforts.

Related: CC 1970 Rover 3500S V8 (P5)