P3 to the fore

The Rover P3 might look like some­thing from the 1930s that has to be mol­ly­cod­dled, but you need to be pre­pared for a few (pleas­ant) sur­prises when you drive one, Nick Larkin reck­ons

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Driving -

We’re al­ways warned never to be fooled by ap­pear­ances, but any­one could be for­given for think­ing that the 1948 Rover P3 75 Sports­man we are about to sub­mit to Five Clas­sic Tri­als is the car equiv­a­lent of a grand­fa­ther clock.

And cer­tainly, be­ing up­right, with lots of shiny wood and in­ter­est­ing me­chan­i­cals, clas­sic time­piece com­par­isons are cer­tainly apt where this car is con­cerned, though only one would re­ally fit com­fort­ably at the bot­tom of your stairs. Fur­ther­more, the Rover has rather more sur­prises hid­den un­der its glo­ri­ously tra­di­tional skin.

But this is not the sort of car you just jump in to and drive away – you need to change your mind­set first. What a beau­ti­ful ve­hi­cle this is, with its mag­nif­i­cent (and ap­par­ently orig­i­nal) green paint­work. It’s a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the best of an era when Rovers had the high­est en­gi­neer­ing in­tegrity, and al­most ex­pected sim­i­lar stan­dards from their own­ers. Never, ever, would swear­ing be tol­er­ated in­side this ve­hi­cle, even if the driver mist­imed a gearchange or for­got, when ap­proach­ing a po­lice­man on point duty, that the brakes were not fully hy­draulic. Use an iPhone in this car and you would prob­a­bly be ejected through the sun­roof.

The styling may be up­right but it’s slightly rak­ish too and the mag­nif­i­cent ra­di­a­tor grille, proud Rover mas­cot and huge headlights make the front end par­tic­u­larly dis­tinc­tive.

Clam­ber in­side, and the rear-hinged driver’s door closes with an evoca­tive muf­fled ‘clump’. It’s 1948 again, full stop.

The flat leather seats mean no slouch­ing and the vast steer­ing wheel, with its im­pos­ing Bake­lite cen­tre boss in­cor­po­rat­ing the horn switch, pos­i­tively dis­cour­ages lazy one-handed op­er­a­tion. In­stru­men­ta­tion is com­pre­hen­sive, with plenty of gauges – in­clud­ing for tem­per­a­ture and oil pres­sure – to keep you on your toes.

Turn the key, ac­ti­vate the starter and the 2103cc in­let-over-ex­haust-valve en­gine – the same one fit­ted to early Rover P4s – springs im­me­di­ately into dig­ni­fied life. Press the sur­pris­ingly light clutch, slot the stubby, easy-to-use gear lever into first, re­lease the hand­brake and the car glides for­ward, ac­com­pa­nied by de­light­ful vin­tage gear whine.

Hang on, though, for it all seems to get less vin­tage when you move into the syn­chro­mesh third and fourth gears, the ra­tios of which seem per­fectly cho­sen to make the best pos­si­ble use of the avail­able per­for­mance. There’s plenty of torque on of­fer too. The steer­ing wan­ders slightly but is over­all very good, the slight­est flick of the wheel pro­vid­ing in­stant cor­rec­tion. The in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion, al­lied to the sturdy chas­sis, gives an ex­cel­lent ride. Sharp bends can be tack­led with ease pro­vid­ing you an­tic­i­pate the car’s care­fully con­trolled un­der­steer. The power is there to get you out of cor­ners quickly.

These cars also have full steel body­work, and our test car was still rat­tle-free, even af­ter al­most 70 years. The en­gine isn’t silent but it’s cer­tainly not ob­tru­sive ei­ther. The brakes are well-set up and in­spire con­fi­dence, al­though you need to ap­ply a lit­tle more pres­sure to the pedal on than you might have been ex­pect­ing. The fronts are hy­draulic – which is re­as­sur­ing – but tra­di­tion­ally me­chan­i­cal at the rear.

This is the sort of car that puts you in­stantly at ease. It’s spa­cious, and su­perbly en­gi­neered for re­fined cruis­ing. But above all, it’s a Rover.

Pho­tog­ra­PhY Stu­art Collins

P3 re­lies on tra­di­tional leaf springs at the rear but still feels taut and con­trol­lable in all con­di­tions. Best qual­ity wood and leather, open­ing front wind­screen and sun­roof. straight back to the 1940s with you!

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