Updated: Mar 25, 2019
In order to tell the story of JXC813D, or P6B-12 as she is also known, it is necessary to delve a little further. Rover received an offer from General Motors (GM) in the summer of 1964 to buy the license to the Buick 215 aluminium V8 engine for $500.000, with an additional $10 for the first 50.000 engines produced. Rover found this agreeable, and according the entry in the Board Papers it was agreed that the General Manager and Managing Director should visit GM to discuss the proposition in greater detail. Over the next few months the final details were hammered out by Rover and GM, following which GM sent a shipment of engines to Solihull, arriving in the summer of 1965. These engines were built-up engines. Rover first used the engines to fit into three cars on HXC-C registrations, and to refit DXC11B with a V8. These were a continuation of the P7 programme. Within Rover, these engines were referred to as ‘2158’ engine, meaning 215 cubic inches. and eight cylinders.
Queue 1966, and P6B development shifted into higher gear with the launch of a series of prototypes. Most of the second half of 1965 had been spent on getting to grips with the engine design and its ancillaries; the engine had now been properly anglicized ready for mounting into a series of road-going prototypes. These turned out to be the JXC-D series. The JXC-D series, ranging from JXC806D to JXC823D, were all based on 2000 production-spec base-units which were built up by the Experimental department. Here’s where things get a little more complicated. Since before the 2000 entered production in the fall of 1963, Rover were playing around with the idea of launching a 2000 Automatic. Multiple 2000s and P7s were built as Automatics, necessitating a wider transmission tunnel. However, 2000 Automatic didn’t enter production until the tooling was approved, which didn’t happen until early 1966. Hence, the P6B prototype programme used standard 2000 base-units which were manually converted to have a wider transmission tunnel in case an automatic transmission was fitted, as in 813’s case.
On April 1st, 1966, P6B-12 was registered as JXC813D. City Grey, with 2158-30 fitted and the type described as ‘P6B Prototype’ in the Solihull Vehicle Registration Office’s files. She was part of the fourth batch of cars, with 806 and 807 registered in January, 808 and 809 in February, 810 and 811 in March and 813 along with 812, 814, 815, 816 and 817 registered in April.
JXC813D was used to see where ancillaries could be placed. Earlier mock-ups and most of the other P6B prototypes had enclosed inner wings, like the 2000. JXC813D, however, has the inner wings opened as on later production base-units. In here, they placed the servo on the nearside instead of the offside. Cars with enclosed inner wings had the servo mounted above the exhaust manifold, restricting the amount of space and possible heating the up the brake fluid. Additionally, and this might have warranted the need for extra space, 813 was fitted with air-conditioning.
In late 1966 she received a respray by the factory prior to departing to North America. We can only guess as to why she was resprayed, but two reasons seem highly likely. The first, is that her sister, JXC818D would go along, and having two City Grey cars of the same make and model would have made the convoy even more suspicious. The second reason is that they might have wanted to test the air-conditioning with a more normal colour, rather than City Grey. Hence, she was resprayed in Zircon Blue. During the restoration multiple areas, such as under the door hinges, the rails for the door rubbers and the inside of panels were found to have not been resprayed and retained the City Grey colour. The inside of the bootlid was purposely left City Grey.
During the trip in North America it is known from the account of the son of a development engineering for the Rover Motor Company of North America that the convoy included 4 cars, two 2000 TCs and two V8s. JXC818D was officially imported into the US and might have stayed; JXC813D wasn't imported but used DTM77, a New Jersey manufacturers' license plate, which is still in use to this day by Jaguar-Land Rover.
The purpose of the trip was to test two cars with different air-conditioning systems tested, JXC813D with a system Delaney-Gallay and JXC818D with a Smiths system. The system utilizes vacuum for variable control of the temperature, and electronic controls to regulate fan speed. Highly advanced for the time, and on a NADA 3500S that is in the family; very cold. However, JXC813D also features an air bleed, for demisting the side windows from the fascia vents, utilizing an elbow pipe to an eyeball vent on either side of the dash rail. A rather simple solution compared to the heated side windows that Triplex dreamt up. A set of those windows still survive today, and are rather unique.
In July 1967, William Martin-Hurst flew out to Houston, Texas to witness the trials. He stated to the board that neither system was satisfactory, but that the visit emphasized the need for testing in hot weather conditions rather than in a hot room. The tests were to continue, and both suppliers were confident that with little modification good results would be obtained. From the South, they travelled through desert temperatures all the way up north to the Yukon and back, probably visiting multiple dealerships and representatives along the way. Somewhere at the end of trip 813 was damaged, as indicated by the massive dent in the bonnet of the car, which caused it to jam and she got shipped back to Solihull in November of 1967.
On return to Solihull, things amount to a bit of guesswork as the next documented and thus verifiable entry in her history is the sale to G.E. Taylor, a buyer in the purchasing department at Rover is listed in 1970. However, significant changes in her specification occurred in that time. She was converted to RHD, received a new Ebony interior, a new wiring loom and the Buick 215 engine was swapped out for EXP3A, a hugely significant block. The date stamp on the block reads 29/6/67, months before any series production of engines for the P5B, and almost a year before P6B entered full production in the Spring of 1968. Also removed were the five-dial round gauges, the ball-air vents in the dashboard and the car was converted to a production brake system. Funnily enough, the lighter coloured furflex was retained.
After two changes of ownership in the 1970s, from Solihull to Kenilworth in 1972, and from there to Holbrooks, Coventry in 1977, Mike Beetham acquired the car in the early 1980s. It was parked up in a barn in Shropshire and remained there for the next 32 years until exhumed in 2014.
On seeing and buying her in 2014, we didn’t really know what she was. All of the above details we found out later. The definitive clues to her identification lay into the air-conditioning radiator mounting brackets, her bespoke grille with cutouts and enclosed sides, the furflex and last but not least, the holes in the ducts underneath the dashboard with the elbows inverted into them! Also, on removing the vertical trim on the dashboard, she revealed the cut-outs for the eyeball vents! Pictures from BMIHT showed her boot area, and in there the electric, twin-SU fuel pump as used on the rally cars and a bigger battery placed on the boot floor were interesting, but on the battery box ‘813’ was written with chalk which identified her as the car that went to North America and the pictures we had for so long.
Later, we received more pictures of her on test, of which some are attached to this article.
The amount of work involved was grossly underestimated, with a seized engine and standing since 1982 it was a difficult task to bring her back to life. The engine was shipped off to John Eales of JE Developments, a renowned engine builder who with much effort managed to remove the entire liners with the pistons still in them. Top hatted liners were fitted, along with new pistons and all the usual. What was retained were her own crankshaft, carburettors, cylinder heads and inlet manifolds. The bespoke engine mount brackets proved to have been fitted with narrower rubber ones, which were subsequently sourced and replaced. New transmission cooler lines were made, and the original radiator was re-cored. Funny thing is that everything on her is date stamped, be it from the radiator to the inlet manifold. With the car stripped down and ready for paint in 2016, the suspension was rebuilt with new Metalastik bushes, new shock absorbers but her own springs. She sits differently than most P6Bs and wanting to retain that stance it was a gamble to refit them. The car seems stiffer than a 3500S Automatic, that’s for sure. On inspection of the suspension, some items such as the rear crossmember seem bespoke. The differential, albeit it a standard ratio, doesn’t have a number or date stamp – as is common with cars from the Experimental Department.
After almost two years of assembly and a lengthy paint process where the panels were brought to the painter as sets, the car finally saw the light of day under her own power in the late Summer of 2018. Further testing and further refining were done over the fall, and unfortunately, she is now for sale. I (Andries) don’t really have another choice. Personal decisions in life have seen me move to North America, and I feel like the car needs to remain in the UK. This is not only for the registration, which I’d lose as soon as I attempt to export it, but it is also a car that deserves to be in the UK and out and about on country roads, shows and meetings. Her significance lies in her engine, her history and her restoration. She has all the potential to carry the banner for P6, along with a few other truly great cars, to finally show the masses how great these cars really are. I hope she will do that, and I hope she will inspire people to cherish their cars.
This article featured in the February issue of the P6 Rover Owners Club in the UK. With thanks to Michael Green, who's father shot these pictures as Product Development Engineer for Rover North America back in 1966.