1963? Clearly, as we have seen over the last few days, an important year in the United States, but possibly just as important in the UK, and Europe. It was the birth date for a new class of car, with 2 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.