The Rover P4 is a quintessential British classic from a time when the British car industry led the world, says Adam Sloman. But what if you crave classic style and diesel economy?
When it rolled off the Solihull production line back in 1960, this Rover P4 would have been fitted with a four-cylinder, 2.3-litre petrol engine, developing 80bhp, with a top speed of 85mph. With its lashings of chrome, wood and leather, the P4 was considered to be something of a poor man’s Rolls Royce, the sort of car your family doctor or bank manager would have driven at a time when diesel road cars were all but non-existent.
This example though, is today powered by something a little more familiar to diesel fans – a 2.5 litre turbodiesel engine from a Land Rover. Terry Negus has owned this unusual P4 for two years, having bought it in its converted state. He had been restoring a more conventional P4 95, when he received a call from the previous owner. “I know the chap who did the conversion and the subsequent owner” he says. The car had been off the road for a couple of years and was looking a little sorry for itself. “It hadn’t been used for a while, so I paid £300 for it. It’s cost me a little bit more since!” Once in his car Terry set about replacing the blown head gasket, renewing the brakes, repairing the exhaust and steadily working through an extensive list of what Terry calls “electrical issues”. Since then, however, the Rover has been a faithful, useable, practical classic.
The first conversion happened back in 1981, when then owner Malcolm Eddy decided to swap the car’s petrol engine in favour of a 2.2-litre, naturally aspirated Land Rover engine. A Land Rover dealer in Penryn actually handled the conversion, which, according to Terry, the previous owner felt was a bit sluggish. “It was economical, but I can’t imagine it was that great to drive. The dealer that had supplied the engine was aware of its shortcomings and in 1983 contacted Malcolm to offer him a new turbodiesel unit that Land Rover had just introduced.”
So, in ’83 the P4 got another engine, the one that still powers it today. The Rover now features the 2.5 turbodiesel engine, with 85bhp and 150lb ft of torque on tap. While the raw figures might not indicate a huge increase in power, the Rover gained a significant increase not just in torque, but also in fuel economy. “It was in use as a daily driver, and was costing just too much to run. In its current state it will do a good 40mpg on a long run, and around 35mpg in town.”
Of course history buffs will be well aware that the original Land Rovers were developed from Rover P4s and this historical link has benefits for this transplant, meaning the original Rover gearbox and overdrive system have been retained and many mechanical components are interchangeable between the two cars.
Unlike the previous owners, however, Terry doesn’t use the Rover as a daily driver, instead taking the car to the many classic car shows that happen across Cornwall during the summer months. “It can be hard work to drive,” he says. “There’s no power steering, like you’d get on a modern car, but it’s still great fun.” And while the P4 itself attracts considerable interest at shows, the unusual nature of the Rover’s engine generates even more interest. “People are always asking me why there’s a diesel engine in it, what the engine is from and what it’s like to drive. I get to meet a lot of different people because of the engine.”
There will be classic car purists who will no doubt gasp in horror at the idea of binning the car’s original engine in favour of a diesel powerplant, however in the case of this Rover the changes could easily be reversed and at least with its Land Rover power, it remains within the original Rover/Land Rover family. Most importantly though, Terry is able to keep another classic British car on the road, and that can only be a good thing.