(first posted 10/19/2013) 1963 was an important year in the United States for new cars, but possibly just as important in the UK and Europe. It was the birth date for a new class of car, with two of the most conservative UK brands, Rover and Triumph, simultaneously presenting similarly configured and directly competing cars that even shared a name – 2000.
First to arrive, by a week, was the Triumph 2000.
This was designed to replace the post-war Standard Vanguard (one of the post war British ‘export or die’ cars, dating back to the late 1940s). The concept of the relatively compact, powerful, but refined 2 litre, 6 cylinder engine, independent rear suspension and well appointed car was an instant hit with the more affluent market that was emerging.
Triumph developed the car progressively, with a larger 2500cc engine (the Triumph 2500, surprisingly) and later a Mk 2 version with a longer nose and tail, and a new interior. Triumph also offered estate car options of both the 2000 and 2500, and the 2500cc engine was offered in the TR5 and TR6 roadsters, although the Triumph 2000 did not reach North America.
This car (though not the interior shot) is a 1966 2000 Mk1 estate, parked next to a 1969 Mk2 saloon. The estate was almost the first of the lifestyle sports estate, with an emphasis on style rather than the Volvo 145/245 emphasis on space. The dark green car is a 2500 Mk 1, also from 1966.
The Rover, known as the P6 range, was also a very strong product, combining smart modern styling by David Bache, who later styled the Rover 3500 SD1, an advanced ergonomically designed interior, a new OHC engine and a very competent chassis, including de Dion rear susepnsion and all round disc brakes. It was the first winner of the International (i.e. European) Car of the Year award.
The core of this car was a fabricated inner monococque (or baseframe as it became more widely known), to which all the outer panels were simply bolted onto. The idea of this was to permit the simple renewal of body parts when required, and to eliminate some of the problems of corrosion, as all the outer panels would not be structural. The front suspension was designed to take the load onto the bulkhead (the strongest part of any car) rather than the inner front wings, and consequently operated in an unusual horizontal fashion rather than vertically, and the rear suspension was a sophisticated and expensive de Dion tube design.
The white car is a 1964 2000; this is the specification as originally marketed with a single carburettor. Later, Rover added a twin carburettor version, known as the 2000TC, and an automatic option of the 2000SC.
It may have seemed adventurous for a Rover, but it actually was toned down significantly during the development, losing novelties like a flat four engine and hydropneumatic suspension, similar to the Citroen system in the DS. These were not the most startling advances planned for this car – that was to be a gas turbine engine, which Rover had been experimenting with the end of the war, and got as far as developing prototypes, including one in a P6 body shell. The installation of the gas turbine was also a factor in the front suspension layout. Elements of the Citroen influence can still be discerned in the styling though – cover the front and rear and compare the roof with the Citroen DS.
In 1965, Rover bought the rights to a V8 engine from Buick, who had determined that there were too many engine types in the GM range and production plans and were therefore happy to off–load one, even of relatively recent design – it dated from 1961. This was an aluminium design and therefore relatively expensive to make, and perhaps more complex or expensive than the American market demanded. The story goes that Rover actually spotted it in a boat!
The dark red car is an American specification 3500 V8, which has been returned and registered in the UK. UK specification cars did not have the bonnet vents or small marker lights and kept a rectangular, not square, number (licence) plate. The V8 did have the big intake below the bumper though.
Fitted into to the 2000 with an automatic gearbox only initially in 1969, to create the 3500, or P6B (for Buick), this engine completed the car as probably the best sports saloon in late 1960s Europe. Few cars in the class then had its 125mph capability. On the downside, it was quite cramped inside (4 seats only) and the boot was sufficiently small for Rover to do a good trade in boot lid mounted spare wheel kits.
This engine went on to have a long and distinguished history, being used in the Range Rover from 1970 right up to 2001, much of the British specialist sports car market in cars like the Morgan and the TVR, and in BL vans and their ambulance conversions.
Rarely has any car been timed so well, and for the much maligned British industry to produce both the Rover 2000 and Triumph 2000 at the same time is, now, seemingly a fantasy. Between them, they effectively made the big Austins, Wolseleys and Humbers obsolete, and challenged the Jaguar Mk 2, with its rather flash, new money image. Between them, they dominate the market for police motorway patrol cars until the mid 1970s, when the Rover SD1 took over. These were the first cars, and were successful, in a sector of the market that they defined, that Triumph and Rover lost controlling ownership of by the early 1970s and which by the early 1980s BMW could claim as their own.
Triumph 2000/2500 are still common in NZ they were a best seller when new and the Triumph was still in production after the UK versions ceased a special S version fully loaded was put out to use up the last CKD kits I shot one for Aaron Severenson its on the cohort, a clean high mileage original car nearly the last one made.
Make mine a V8 manual trans model please!
“Rover to do a good trade in boot lid mounted spare wheel kits.” – Gosh guys don’t you think it needs a real honest to god continental kit?
Install a Toyota Supra 5speed or a SD1 box the original was very weak and broke easily its was shared with the 4 cylinder model and had an oilpump fitted to cope with the extra torque of the V8, plus you get a more relaxed cruise in overdrive 5th, These cars drive well hanging a continental kit on is stupid all it does is unbalance the car those things belong on boulevardiers like Lincolns and thunderbirds and other wallowing junk.
Kiwi, I was being a smartass about the continental kit…
I used to get a lift to my part time job when at school in a Triumph 2000.Nice and comfortable and an attractive looking car.The Rover seemed staid by comparison,even the V8.My ex BIL had a Rover 2000 until the diff seized up and it rotted away outside his house until a shift it notice from the council appeared on the windscreen.
A sad end to Triumph was making the Acclaim,a Honda in drag.
The Triumph 2000 was definitely sold in North America. A friend of mine has owned a handful and I’ve seen a couple more for sale over the years. Much less common than the Rover but they were sold here.
Yes, they were sold here through mid-1968, although they sold poorly; American Triumph dealers didn’t really know what to do with them, since most of their customers came for Spitfires and TRs.
You look at such brilliance, and yet ten years later the British car industry was (terminally) on the ropes.
Cars that should be well appreciated – especially since just about the only other items of note to come out of England in 1963 were Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies.
Back in my college days (early 70’s) my then-girlfriend and I came very close to buying a used Rover 2000. However, we’d started to hear the cars reputation for reliability and (even worse) dealer and BL support, so we passed. I still get some twinges of regret on that decision.
You made the right decision.BL dealers would be thin on the ground in America and there was the infamous BL build quality,
Was this the gf that taught you how to autocross?
No. The autocross girlfriend was the one that the almost-bought-the-Rover-with girlfriend didn’t know about.
I ran into a Rover turbine (just the turbine, not the turbine car) around 1972, in one of the mechanical engineering labs at university. The lab contained a wide variety of engines for testing and evaluation.
I remember the small Rover turbine spinning at something like 45,000 RPM (IIRC), and making quite a racket, even when standing outside the test cell. Can’t imagine such a noisy device in a passenger car, even though I was not aware at the time that the turbine had been sourced from the eponymous car company.
Back in the mid sixties,it was not unheard of for rust to destroy a Ford in 6 years. However a Rover could out rust any Ford.
I had a teacher,that sold his 67 Rover, to his smokin hot, History teaching,girlfriend. Within about year or two, 1973 ?.. the then, ex girlfriend, in turn donated the pile of rust to the school auto body shop.
Funny how metal was a lot thicker then but rusted faster.I pushed a dent out of my niece’s Fiesta door skin with my hand.
The Triumph doesn’t do a whole lot for me, but I’ve always thought the Rover P6 was one of the smartest looking small sedans ever. The right 3500 TC would be pretty tempting for me — especially if they were offering to pay me to take it off their hands 🙂 I really like the trim dimensions (OK, maybe the “boot” should be bigger) and the styling that looks classy without being showy (I’d say the same of the Mercedes W114).
Such a shame about the Rover’s rust. And the reliability. And the dealer network. And a few other things…
Hey, pretty interesting stuff. That LHD Rover really intrigues me; it sort of went on a long holiday to the States, and then came back to home and hearth? Yeah, every car has a story.
The Rover was a Car of the Year here in the US, too. A magazine called Road Test gave the Rover that honor. Of the two cars, the Rover is the one that appeals to me the most, due primarily to that Buick V-8. The early Triumphs have a pretty odd-looking front end, but I like the way the front end of the later models resembles the Triumph Stag of that same era.
Growing up in Ottawa, Canada in the early 70s, I recall seeing the Rover 2000 and various current British cars on city streets. To a preteen’s eye, styling means a lot in the acceptance of a car. Unknowing of their performance, I found these models old fashioned and somewhat odd looking at the time. Like the Austin Landcrab profiled recently, I think the unfreshened styling of these models really hurt their acceptance in North America. I remember seeing the Ford Capri at the time (’72-’73) and thinking how much better it looked and reflected more modern design cues. Amongst the Vegas, Pintos and Novas, it would fit in and look good. The 2000 looked like the 10 year old design it was.
I understand that the Rover 2000/3500 was very advanced technically, but I believe it could have been more successful in North America, if they devoted more attention to freshening it’s appearance. It reminds me somewhat of the styling link to the 60s, that the AMC Matador sedan retained til the end.
It could have used an updating, what I don’t understand is all the boasting about the unstressed body panels being easy to change for a re-design and then never actually re-designing the car?
When they went to restyle / facelift the Rover 800 there was an edict to retain the current doors to save money. When they finished they found that the tooling was worn and needed replacing anyway.
Ironically, when they did facelift it, the main change was the grille, which they could have changed anyway.
I think the explanation was, in two words, British Leyland. Left to its own devices, Rover would probably have done more with this platform; for instance, they were planning a stretched derivative, the P8 (which probably would have been the Rover 4000), to replace the old P5, but it was canceled at the 11th hour because it would have come too close Jaguar. Also, the P6 went longer without a redesign or replacement than even BLMC intended, mainly due to money problems; the SD1 was supposed to arrive earlier than it actually did.
There was a kid at Loyola HS that drove a black Triumph 2000, with red leather interior. Very sweet car, and none too common. There were a few around, but they did not sell any too well in the US. I got to ride in it once or twice, and it left a very favorable impression, although with the automatic, it was not exactly a speed demon.
In my shady used car phase, I had one of these as a driver for a couple of weeks. The one I had was in perfect condition, I believe it was a 1971 TC 2000, with the horribly inefficient Borg-Warner automatic.
The interior was beautiful, with real leather thrones and thick carpets. The car was very solid and held the road very well. The brakes were also exceptional for the day. I also recall it was the last car I ever drove that had a hand choke.
The problem was the car was gutless with automatic. The car still had long gearing for motorway work and around town, it was a real slug. Once you got it up to 60 km/h or so it was a lot better but at low speeds it was hurry-up and wait.
These cars are poison in the used business, and that goes for pretty much any British car. They have just awful reputations, so nobody wants to take the time with them. Added to that finding anyone who even wants to wrench on them is a real challenge. Finally it means unloading it on some deranged English car nut for less than you have into it.
The Rover 2000TC was never offered with automatic, so auto cars were all the single-carb engine, which made the performance that much lazier. The later 2200SC had a bit more torque, which helped some, but they weren’t fast with manual shift, much less the B-W 35.
I believe the reason so many British cars used the Borg-Warner automatics, which were pretty far from the state of the art, was that they was manufactured in the U.K. and thus avoided import duties. It’s too bad, because a lot of these cars would have done much better with something like a Chrysler TorqueFlite.
GM UK used their French built trimatic on Vauxhalls while not as awful as the BW box it still ruins otherwise ok cars.
And then some brilliant politicians decided they should throw all British competitors in one pool called British Leyland .
They also became a member of the EEC back then so European import cars were no logner suffering from import duties.
The Japs and the Europeans simply took over the market.
great docu from Jeremy Clarkson, which explains a lot :
Yes, the Rover p6 had to be the riskiest used car purchase, which is why residuals were so poor. This wasn’t due to BL’s rather lax attitude towards assembly quality or rust. P6’s didn’t rust any worse than any 60s car. However, their design- with cheap to buy and easily sprayed panels bolted to the unibody meant that any idiot could tidy up a deathtrap in a few hours. In the era before cheap mig-welders, proper rust repairs were few and far between. Combining this with almost willfully difficult repair procedures. (see procedure for R’Ring rear discs), and these became cars to avoid.
The people who have them today are often retired engineers- my father in law being a good example, and they can be very reliable if owned by someone who understands the very high quality engineering and can keep it in shape. Owning a p6 really is like owning a Beechcraft Bonanza- very rewarding, but only if you have the skills or checkbook to keep it as it should be.
BL’s problems were exemplified by these two cars. These were very profitable cars for Triumph/Standard and Rover and natural competitors. Those in the market for an executive sports saloon in the 60s or early 70s had these two to choose from. (In the UK, the generation that remembered Nazi bombs were less than keen to buy a BMW neue klasse).
Thus, when BL merged Rover and Triumph and BMC and Jaguar, each division fought to keep its own products, thus meaning that every Triumph sold stole from the Rover division and vice versa. By the late 70s, BL did all it could to rationalize its product line in a quite sensible way, not accounting for style and taste in the 70s. However, the damage had been done. Left wing shop stewards and a right wing press that ran the nationalized company into the ground gave the legend to BL badness. Yet, it was never that bad compared to the competition. Vauxhall and Fords were unreilable and very rot prone as well as having similar labour relations difficulties. Continental cars were no better, Volvo and Saab as exceptions. Bad contaminated steel was everywhere, and ALL cars rusted in the mid 70s. By ’75, both were elderly designs, and BL rightly rationalized them into one car.
The SD1 was designed perfectly to its brief- simplifying some of the needlessly complex systems of the p6, blending Triumph engines and technology, while in a very modern shape for ’76. Sadly, it took six years to get the quality up to scratch, and even by the time they were adequately reliable, trim was so cheap, nasty and brittle that bits always broke off. Bumpers were made of fiberglass. A rather silly oil valve on 6 cylinder cars starved the head of oil and seized engines without warning. (although there are now workarounds to remedy this) They looked ratty very quickly, and became a car to avoid.
By this time, anti-German sentiment died off, just in time for the ‘big bang’ yuppie era. Brits bought 5-series BMW’s by the boat load and never looked back. Rover was well and truly dead, and like a Zombie, sold only to the ‘Buy British’ brigade for the next 20 years. A sad end, and one that is not the fault of any one person or faction. Everybody had a hand in BL’s demise- management, labour, the media and politicians, but if there was one reason, it was probably the English class system- where managers treated workers like lesser people, workers distrusted managers motives and often felt , and the school tie rather than competence moved you up the corporate ladder. Strikes were commonplace and indeed necessary with inflation in the double digits month-on month, which meant that literally without wage rises workers couldn’t pay their rent or eat. The problem was that this couldn’t be solved by management, as inflation was the result of monetary policy, worldwide economic upheaval, oil crises, and other factors beyond the control of either party. Sadly, had there been less mistrust between labour and management, the sides could have worked together to fight to save the company, but management and the media spoke to and about the workers as lazy drunken Trots hellbent on revolution, which did not work to engender any trust, and if anything, only hardened the positions of the more radical labour leaders.
A very sad tale, but the fact that plucky little BL stuck it out in one form or another until the 2000s says alot more than the monster GM with all of the same problems of BL but with all of the money and power in the world.
….and to say again, although your odds of getting a ‘bad un’ were dicey with Leyland, many people got ‘good cars’ assembled well and meeting the engineering spec set up by the very skilled engineers who designed them. A good BL car can be a very reliable thing indeed, and as the Friday cars have all been scrapped, any classic you find today is likely to be one of the good ones.
The P6 is certainly interesting, at a car show a few years ago the Rover club had one being driven around with all external body panels removed. I’ve also seen a V8 one with the triple-scoop hood, union jack roof panel and 4400S badging indicating it had a Leyland P76 V8 fitted. Not sure I would want to own one though. I also don’t mind the Triumph, but again the previous sentence applies!
A couple of minor corrections:
As David Saunders and Paul noted, the Triumph 2000 Mk 1 was indeed sold in the U.S. I don’t believe the estate was offered here, but the sedan most definitely was. It sold poorly and was dropped in 1968.
Triumph didn’t offer a 2.5-liter version of the big sedan until the 1969 model year. Therefore, while the green car’s plates mark it as a 1966 or early 1967 model, if it has a 2.5 engine, it didn’t come that way from the factory.
Although the 2.5-liter car was badged as a 2500, it was officially called the 2.5 PI, as it was initially offered only with Lucas Mk 2 mechanical fuel injection. Triumph did eventually offer a carbureted 2.5, the 2500TC, but not until several years after the Mk 2 car debuted; late in the run, there was also a sportier 2500S that effectively replaced the 2.5 PI in the lineup. The 2.5 PI was the quickest of the lot, especially with manual shift and overdrive, but the injection system could be a pain and, as with the Alfa Romeo SPICA unit and some of the Bosch systems, the metering unit was way too complicated for anyone but an expert to do much beyond replacing it (a very expensive prospect).
The blue car is a first-year Mk 2, which would technically be considered a 1970 model. The Mk 2 sedans are pretty easy to spot from the rear by the redesigned, longer tail; the Mk 2 estate actually kept the Mk 1 taillights, presumably to save a few pounds on tooling. (The estates were actually converted from sedan bodies by an outside contractor.) The sedan’s new front and rear clip were supposed to make it look more like the Stag, although delays with the latter meant the Mk 2 sedan arrived first.
As for the Buick aluminum V-8, it wasn’t exactly spotted in a boat, but William Martin-Hurst quite literally stumbled over a marine conversion of the engine while visiting Carl Kiekhaefer’s Mercury Marine in 1964. (Martin-Hurst was there to try to convince Kiekhaefer to license the Rover gas turbine for marine applications.)
Both the Rover and the Triumph actually sold pretty well through the end of production in 1977. (The four-cylinder Rover and the Triumph 2000/2500 continued until the six-cylinder Rover SD1 was available.) They didn’t have the market mostly to themselves the way they had previously, in part because the U.K.’s entry into the common market brought the prices of German rivals more into the realm of reason, which they had not been before. For example, when the Rover and Triumph debuted, British buyers paid more than £1,700 (with import duty and purchase tax) for a Mercedes 190C, while a Triumph 2000 with overdrive was £1,148 with tax and the Rover was £1,264 — a big difference in those days.
My father had a Rover 2000 in the 1970s, in a colour called Willow Green, which was a subtle pale yellow. There’s a photo in my Flickr stream:
He sold it and bought a Triumph Stag in the 1980s.
The Rovers and Triumphs are still very common sights in NZ (although most of the Triumphs are the Mk 2). Both are distinctive cars, both have their merits. With so many being sold here, the level of aftermarket knowledge and support is still high, and either the Rover or Triumph would feature in the top 10 of my cars-to-own bucket list. (Of course with my Dad being an ex-BL mechanic I may have a slight advantage!).
Not sure I would put the launch of these 2 low volume hardly ever exported cars ahead of President Kennedy in historical significance, but I then a have a history degree and not an engineering one. But the intriguing question for BL historians is how one company (from 1968) took 8 years to replace 2 models based around 2000cc engines that so obviously overlapped and thus cost huge chunks of extra cash in production, dealers, marketing etc with one model with a 3500cc engine that looked great but seemed to the punters to have been built and inspected in the dark – the SD1 of 1976. Someone should do a book.
Brian’s comments are spot on; I don’t think I’ve seen it ever put so accurately.
The Buick V8, whilst a very good engine wasn’t offered with the fuel injection it deserved; couldn’t a Bosch system have been bought in? I’d like to understand what the issue with the Lucas system was.
A family friend had a Rover 2000, followed by a 3500. My dad couldn’t believe he bought a second one after a ton of trouble with the first. Sadly, the 3500 was awful in that respect as well.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen 4 outside mirrors on a sedan before (first photo). Paranoia?
The Rover is an interesting car on many levels but it is the Triumph that gets me going.
In Mark 2 guise, Michelotti’s design is one of the most beautiful sedans ever. Ite car still looked relatively modern by the time it ceased production.
Thank God the dashboard design was updated as the Mark 1 had a ghastly design.
The Triumphs were assembled here on Australia and were quite common back in the day. Therefore it’s always been a mystery to me that the wagon was not also sold here, and that it was in the smaller New Zealand market (Kiwi contributors please advise if this is not correct).
Make mine a 2500S wagon with a TR6 PI engine and overdrive.
The Rover 2000TC splashed egg on the face of US car magazines such as Road & Track and Car and Driver. They were effusive in their praise upon initial testing, only for the majority of their readers who took their advice to hold forth at length on what a disaster Rover 2000TC ownership amounted to. When the automatic 3500 V8 came along, the magazines were almost vociferous in their criticism, having been embarrassed by their endorsement of the 2000TC.
There are a number of Rovers that I quite fancy – this 2000 (pre facelift for me, pls) being one. But the Triumph 2000 is the only postwar Triumph that really is of any interest. Mk1, mk2, Estate, 2500, it’s all good.
The 2-litre class was once something British carmakers were excellent at, as these cars show. These came out just before they completely lost the plot in the ’70s.
Nice cars both on paper, but with terrible reputations for reliability in the US, where minimal maintenance is a given. Rover was often listed as having the worst repair record of any car on sale here. The Buick engine was a great enhancement though, even as BL took over and made things even worse for Rover and worse both with lack of investment.
A case of great styling minds thinking alike? 1963 Plymouth:
I went to high school in Toronto and around 1965 the principal replaced his MGB-GT with a Rover 2000TC. He obviously liked British motors. I never sat in it but I remember that the interior looked gorgeous.