Buyers Guide

Advice for buying a Rover P5 (3 Litre) or P5B (3.5 Litre)...

Why are you buying?

Rover P5 and Rover P5B Buyers Guide. The Rover P5 and Rover P5B are incredibly well-built cars, certainly better made than most cars of the 1950’s and 1960’s. However, the youngest P5B is now 42 years old, so it pays to take your time when going through the buying process. No matter how good a car you think you’ve found, there will always be another available in the near future that may be better, so never rush into a purchase. And NEVER buy the first car you see!

If you’re buying your first classic car, I suggest you have a good think about your motivations. If you’ve owned a classic before then I suggest you skip this section, but for anyone else, read on…

…why? Well, buying a classic car is rather more like adopting a new hobby than, say, buying a new car. To get the most out of classic car ownership you really need to make a commitment to learning about the cars (not necessarily how to fix them, but that helps) and expending some effort into looking after them (at the very least cleaning and polishing). No classic is ‘easy’ to look after – you can’t just drop them off at the nearest dealer and expect everything to go well – few modern garages have the skills needed to look after a classic, and some parts can be tricky to source), although the more popular classics (MGB’s and Mini’s for instance) do at least have well-developed support, service and parts networks.

Perhaps you’re buying as an investment? It’s true that some classics have proved to be excellent investments; if you had bought an Aston Martin DB5 25 years ago you’d have seen its value increase more than tenfold. As with property, shares or gold, the best time to buy is when a classic model is undervalued, and that demands extensive knowledge, foresight or luck. Many models languish in the cheap-and-cheerful market for many years, and some never become particularly valuable. There’s little logic to this – Rover P5 and P5B’s are almost universally respected and loved and are quite rare, yet they haven’t really risen in value, and may never do so (although this may also be an ideal to buy one). Fashion, image, emotion, nostalgia play as much a part in a classic models value than any sort of market logic.

In any case, buying a classic car for speculative reasons is like buying a beautiful painting and keeping it in a safe. Cars are designed to be driven, and deteriorate quickly if they’re locked away unused. And anyway, driving a classic is one of the main pleasures of ownership.

Rover 3.5 Litre Coupe White ROS QuarterMaybe you have dreams of breezing-down sunlit country roads? Yes, that does happen, but traffic congestion, bad weather and inconsiderate drivers happen just as much when you’re driving a classic as any other time (although most drivers are more considerate to classics, as long as they aren’t travelling behind them – there seems to be an inherent assumption that classic cars must be overtaken!).

If you’ve never driven an older car you may also be surprised at how different they are to modern cars. Generally the controls are similar, although there was much more freedom to innovate before laws confined the scope of designers. Few classics are old enough to have electronic engine management (and certainly no Rover P5 and P5B’s), so there’s a skill to be learned in starting and warming-up an engine. If your classic doesn’t have power steering then the effort needed to park will be a surprise, and the lack of things like air conditioning, central locking and electric windows can take some adjustment.

Fuel consumption can be ‘interesting’. A P5 or P5B will do 16-18 mpg typically, even if driven carefully, so expect fairly high fuel bills (mind you, I once borrowed a V8 Range Rover and that was much worse).

It’s also very easy to be seduced by the prospect of low-cost home maintenance, relatively cheap insurance, zero Vehicle Excise Duty on historic vehicles, and zero depreciation, but classics need regular servicing and maintenance to maintain their value in normal times, and may need considerable expenditure to sort-out poor maintenance or ‘bodged’ repairs.

The Environment

Surely classic cars pollute more than a modern car? Well, yes and no. They certainly use more fuel than most modern cars, but a significant portion of a cars energy consumption over it’s lifetime is expended in making the car in the first place (30-50%). Driving a classic means you avoid this significant energy use, and it is the ultimate ‘make do and mend’ solution.

There will be more pollutants emitted from the exhaust than a modern car, as Rover P5 and P5B’s don’t benefit from electronic engine management and catalytic converters, but then most classic cars are well maintained and this can at least be minimised. To see the amount of particulates some modern diesels emit makes it clear that modern isn’t necessarily better for the environment.

Servicing and Maintenance

All-year round use can be much harder if the car requires frequent maintenance. Older cars generally need more frequent attention, so that even a 1960’s classic will need servicing every few thousand miles. If that matches your annual mileage it shouldn’t be too onerous, but bear in mind that a V8 engine will always be more expensive to service than a four-cylinder.

How handy are you with a set of spanners? If the answer is not at all, a basic car maintenance course is recommended; taking your car to a specialist for an annual service and MoT is one thing, paying someone £40 per hour to change a bulb is quite another.

Access to a dry, secure and reasonably accessible garage is also almost essential, and not merely as a space in which to tinker and to store an accumulation of spare parts; on-street parking can be tough on classic cars. If you don’t have a garage at home (I don’t), the cheapest option is to rent a council lock-up – you don’t need to be a council housing tenant to do so (I’m not). It won’t have power, however, so cold and dark winter days can be character building!

Before Buying a Rover P5 or P5B

OK, if you’re still reading, now the enjoyable bit can begin. I’m assuming you’re here as you want to buy a Rover P5 or P5B, so check the price guides in classic car magazines to see what you can realistically afford. At the time of writing (mid 2015) you can get road-worthy P5 and P5B’s for less than £5,000, but they will likely need significant expenditure in the near future. £5-10,000 gets a car that is better and should be usable for some time to come, then £10,000+ buys some of the best cars. Some cars have sold for around £20,000, but they are either very low mileage and original or in show condition.

Read as much as you possibly can about the Rover P5 and P5B so you understand their strengths and weaknesses. Generally, in any old car originality is desirable (and more valuable) and any ‘improvements’ should be reversible, but no P5’s or P5B’s will have survived 40-50 years in showroom spec.

Subscribe to this site for regular news and updates, see below for detailed buyers guides, join the Rover P5 Owners’ Club, read the Rover P5 Club Forum, and attend club gatherings if you wish and speak to experienced owners. Being enthusiasts they are generally keen to pass on useful knowledge.

In terms of originality vs. modifications, I personally prefer originality or at least improvements that are easily reversed in the future, for the following reasons:

  1. Surely the main point of owning a classic car is the experience of ownership, including the bad points? To modernise a classic is to diminish it’s character and the whole point of ownership, so ask yourself why buy a classic at all?
  2. Most improvements will be a nightmare to maintain in the future. If you think finding a good rear bumper for a P5 is tricky now, how about sourcing a part for that cheap electronic ignition system you fitted back in 1991 to improve running?
  3. The P5B is quite rare, with fewer than 1,000 surviving, so it seems a great shame to mess around with such a rare beast – future classic owners will almost always value originality over modifications.

In terms of where to look for cars, the Owners Club has some cars listed, but the best site I’ve found in the UK is Car and Classic, which normally seems to have a good range of cars listed.

Buying a Rover P5 or P5B

With classic cars more than many other things, when buying, knowledge is power. Everything you’ve learned from the previous paragraphs will help you assess a car’s desirability and suitability. It can be useful to be accompanied by an impartial and genuinely knowledgeable friend or acquaintance, if only to get a second opinion and avoid the rush of blood of actually seeing and (maybe) driving a classic car impairing your judgement! Modern used-car inspection services are not helpful when buying a classic, and classic inspection services can be useful but very expensive.

I once read a book (can’t recall what it was called) which advised that you could get a ‘feel’ for a car within 10 seconds of seeing it, and I certainly believe that to be true of P5’s and P5B’s. I looked at several cars before I bought my P5B Coupe, and many failed this basic test. Does the car looked cared for and is it sitting straight on the road? Are the panels fairly straight, the panel gaps even (ish), the bumpers level, the car sitting square on the road? Is the owner evasive or happy to leave you to look around and under the car?

Rover P5’s and P5B’s do tend to hide rust well – often outer panels look acceptable but the inner panels are rotten. But they really are no worse than any other car for rust, and with a few pointers even a non-technical person can make an assessment of a car.

At a basic level, the most costly things to fix are worn-out or split seats, and the cars bodywork. Engine’s are relatively simple and parts are available, in particular for the P5B V8, and other mechanical items are fairly readily available. Regarding bodywork, the main areas to look at first are the D pillar (the rear pillar behind the rear doors down to the sill, the sills themselves, and the rear valence, which is double skinned so not the easiest ting to get repaired.

Whatever you do and whoever you take with you, a test drive is vital; a passenger ride is less than ideal but without insurance it might be your only option.

One of the better and more succinct buyers guides is available on the P5 Owners Club website. Here’s a link to their buyers guide:

http://www.roverp5club.org.uk/buyers%20guide.pdf

A good article on Classic Car 4 Sale’s website:

http://www.classiccars4sale.net/classic-car-review/aa-rover-p5

Here’s an article on Classic Car Mart:

http://www.classic-car-mart.co.uk/features/buyers-guides/799-rover-p5-1958-1966.html

Here’s another article that might be useful:

http://www.classiccarsforsale.co.uk/reviews/classic-rover-reviews/1503/rover-p5b-review/

Good luck!

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