The History of the Rover P4

The Rover Cycle Company was started in 1894 and by 1902 had progressed from pedal cycles to motor cycles. By 1906 the company was making cars and the name changed to The Rover Company Limited. The company struggled in the depression of the thirties but the re-establishment of the company started when Spencer Wilks and later his brother Maurice built up a reputation for quality cars with superb engineering up to the outbreak of the second world war. After the war all companies were struggling to update their model range but Rover, like many other car makers, re-launched their pre-war range of 10, 12, 14, 16 and 20 horsepower cars. These were developed into the 60 and 75 in 1948 and incorporated the engine destined later for the P4 featuring overhead inlet and side exhaust valves, otherwise the cars looked very similar to the pre-war models although there were a number of detail changes brought in by their designer Gordon Bashford.

Meanwhile the Wilks brothers were looking to develop a new range of cars as the 60 and 75 were only seen as stop gaps and their ideas were heavily influenced by the American cars of the period which had not suffered such a total cessation of devlopment as British Companies. They were particularly drawn to the Loewy designed Studebaker Champion and two cars were soon at the Rover works for evaluation. The body was of similar size to the Bashford 75 and prototype bodies were produced for that chassis and known informally as Roverbakers. The design was developed into the new 75 model which was the first of the P4 range. It was only subsequently that enthusiasts referred to the pre-war cars as P2's and the post war 60 and 75 as P3's.

The new car incorporated the 2106cc inlet over exhaust engine of the P3 75 but with twin carburettors and other detail developments. The freewheel feature of the earlier cars was retained and there was a high aluminium content in the body due to the steel shortages of the time. The initial price was 1106 and was seen as one of the outstanding cars of 1950. The styling featured a centrally mounted spotlamp which was received with mixed reactions and coined the nickname "Cyclops". This feature was soon dropped and no doubt helped to overcome the cooling problems which had affected the car. A four cylinder model, the 60, was introduced for 1954 but was not very successful being seen as a downmarket 75 for nearly the same price. Also for 1954, the 90 was introduced with a 2638cc engine and became for many the "definitive" P4. Development continued, however, and the body was re-styled in 1955 by David Bache; the boot was enlarged and new front wings incoporating flashing indicators appeared. In 1957 the 105R and 105S models appeared as new top-of-the-range models and the former introduced a novel form of semi-automatic gearbox which worked well but did not achieve popularity and was dropped; the 105 continued for another year.

For 1960 the model range was concentrated onto two models; the 100 which featured a short stroke version of the new P5 seven bearing engine of 2625cc and the 80 which was a four cylinder car having a 2286cc pushrod engine from the Land Rover. The 100 is seen by enthusiasts as the pinnacle of P4 development. For 1963 the 80 was dropped and the 100 was replaced by the 95 but without overdrive. The top model was the 110 which incorporated the Weslake cylinder head modifications from the P5 and developed 123 bhp, the most powerful P4 and still today a relaxed high speed motorway cruiser.

A total of 130,342 cars were produced and the last Rover P4 rolled off the line in 1964.

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©B.Kensett 2014