Me and my motor - John Cumberlidge, Rover P4
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 October 2013
Years of work went into restoring John Cumberlidge’s shabby, vandalised Rover P4 into a transport of delight.
In its day, the Rover P4 was, says John Cumberlidge, the ‘poor man’s Rolls-Royce’.
‘It was the car which perhaps the bank manager or solicitor or MP might have,’ says John, a retired PC, who served in North Wales Police’s traffic department. ‘It was a car for the privileged few. It was beautifully built and Rover at that time had a good reputation.’
When it was registered in Morecambe in 1958, the P4 - with a six-cylinder, 2,230cc engine and two-tone coffee and cream paint job - would have cost around £1,300, this at a time when the average house price in the UK was only a little over £2,000.
That first owner cherished the Rover for 20 years, but it then passed through the hands of eight or nine people, spent time in the south of England, and by 1993, was sitting on waste land in Brymbo, near Wrexham, put up for sale by a young man who could not get it through its MOT test.
‘It was basically sound but looking a bit sorry for itself,’ says John, aged 66, from Bryn-y-Baal, near Mold. ‘I paid £300 for it, towed it to a friend’s premises and had it going in an hour.’
One huge problem was that the sumptuous interior - wood dashboard, all-leather seats - had been wrecked by vandals and the dials smashed. John solved that by buying a donor P4 and transplanting its interior into his car.
He set about a ‘rolling restoration’, running it while gradually bringing brakes, suspension, engine and bodywork back to pristine condition over a period of ten years.
One oddity of the P4 is the freewheel knob on the dash - a fuel economy device which, when engaged, allows the driver to freewheel and even change gear without using the clutch.
John’s car collection now includes not just the Rover but a 1969 Morris 1000 he’s had for 27 years and a 1996 Jaguar XJ6, plus his day-to-day transport, a Honda Civic. The two older cars are not only exempt from road tax but, since a recent change in the law, do not need a yearly MOT test either.
Testament to the Rover’s durability is that the Cheshire and North Wales branch of the Rover P4 Drivers’ Guild, of which John is regional representative, can muster 20 or so cars at monthly meetings.
‘They were fantastically well-built - far better than later models,’ he says. ‘They have a separate chassis, like the Land Rover, aluminium doors and bonnet and they seem to last forever. They are very comfortable and quiet.’