AFTER THE WAR - A NEW FACTORY AND NEW CARS
By Kevin Phillips
Towards the end of 1944 Rover Management started to concentrate more and more on future car production. It was imperative to get back into car production as quickly as possible, and to achieve this it would be necessary to resume production of the last pre-war models.
The latest modifications to this range of cars had only just started to be sold before the war had stopped production, so these cars would eventually become the new range of cars for 1946.
The Helen Street Works had been heavily bombed on two occasions during the war. It had been patched up to allow the majority of the plant to continue operating for war-time production, but it would take a great deal of time and work to enable it to return to full time car production. Rover had been offered first refusal on the purchase of the Solihull 'Number Two' Shadow Factory, if and when the British Government decided to vacate it. By the end of 1944 the decision had been made to centre future car production at Solihull, while the Helen Street plant would be patched up and sold.
The Company had applied for Government permission to resume post-war private car development and production, but had been refused. This decision was later reversed, and shortly after, the Solihull Factory became available. Rover very prudently took up the opportunity of purchasing nearly 200 acres of agricultural land surrounding the new site, a brilliant long-term move for which latter day management would have been eternally grateful.
For post-war production the allocations of steel were so low that the first permit allowed for only 500 10 HP cars, 500 12 HP cars, 100 six cylinder models and eight new development vehicles. To kick-off production a small 'pilot-line' was set up at the Clay Lane factory where a mere handful of four cylinder cars were built, the first post-war Rovers being two 10 HP saloons that were dispatched in December 1945. In the meantime work was proceeding at full speed converting Solihull from an aero engine plant to a car builders delight.
Supplies of sheet steel were now rationed according to a company's export potential and the British Government had stipulated a 'one model' policy from each car builder. This was in keeping with Rover's own policy of one model range, and with the exception of the prestigious 20 HP car, all of the 1940 model Rovers would soon be back in production.
The newly converted Solihull premises were officially opened by the President of the Board of Trade in February 1946, and shortly there-after, the 10, 12, 14 and 16 HP cars started rolling off the production line as six-light, four door saloons. Four-light sports saloons were soon back on offer for the 12, 14 and 16 HP cars, and later an open tourer 12 which was theoretically reserved for export.
These cars would quickly bring Rover back into car production, but what they really needed was a completely new car. The problem was the scarcity of sheet steel supplies that were available to the company and the need to get a new car into production as quickly as possible.
The Rover 'M-Type' had been in development from early 1945 with a prototype running during 1946. This was a little car having a tiny wheelbase of 77 inches, was 13 feet 4 inches long, and powered by a compact version of Rover's latest engine design. Its little 699 cc four-cylinder engine had a sloping head, inlet over exhaust valve gear, and put out 28 BHP at 5,000 rpm. The car had a platform type of chassis fabricated from light alloy pressings, a front suspension of coil springs, with the live rear axle also being suspended by coil springs, radius arms and Panhard rod.
The futuristic styling incorporated a full width nose with recessed headlamps, which would later be seen on the early P4 models. Three prototypes were built as little two-door coupes and were constructed almost entirely from light alloy pressed sheet steel. Open tourers were also planned, to be built later, once the coupe had proved a success. Initial production estimates were 5,000 M-types per year along side 15,000 P2's.
Although the M-type was a very serious project, it was unfortunately over taken by events. It was considered that Rover customers were not ready to accept a new car with radically modern styling. The British Government had placed pressure on all car companies to adopt a one-model' policy, and there was the need to build more vehicles with a greater export potential to ensure the continued supply of scarce sheet steel supplies. At this stage start-up of the Land Rover project had taken place, and this was considered to have a far greater export potential for the Rover Company. By the end of 1947 the M-type project had been cancelled, with only the three prototypes having been built, the last of which survived into the 1960's.
This new car would have a new box section chassis with coil spring independent front suspension, and a completely new full width body as was the latest trend from across the Atlantic. It was quickly realised that it was going to take quite some time to get this new car into production, and Rover were concerned that sales might suffer should they keep producing their pre-war cars in the meantime.
As a result the new car would take second priority and would become the P4, while a new and half-way modernised car would be developed as quickly as possible to replace the pre-war P2 models, and would be code named P3.
The new P3 model was to be a P2 with a new front end based on the American styling trends of 1942. The full width front had wings blending into the radiator grille panel, and various styling modifications were tried using clay grafted onto a full size P2 body. Some of these designs were truly grotesque and the full width front in the 1942 American idiom always looked comical grafted onto a pre-war Rover body.
These new designs were quickly abandoned and the P3 that finally appeared was very similar in looks to the P2 that it replaced. Instead of the Ash-framed body of the P2, it would have an all steel body supplied by Pressed Steel and assembled by Rover. The wings and bonnet from the P2 12 were used, the interior was 2 ½ inches wider and the wheelbase was reduced by 4 ¼ inches.
The new car was fitted with the latest inlet over exhaust sloping head engine, coupled to the existing production gearbox which had been re-designed for the P2 models. As the existing chassis frame would have to be modified, a new box section frame with independent front suspension was used. This frame stopped short of the rear axle, the front of the half elliptic leaf springs being attached to the rear of the chassis frame, while the rear of the springs were shackled directly to the steel body work with only local reinforcement. In theory this would solve the problem of the limited rear wheel rebound movement of the underslung P2 chassis, but in practice it became the Achilles Heel of the P3. The rear body mounting points suffered from stress fractures and rust attack, and many P3's had reduced lives due to this design weakness. When considering the purchase of a P3 model it is important to check inside the boot and under the rear guards, where metal fatigue and stress fractures around the rear spring mountings may be easily identified.
The P3 replaced the P2 models in February 1948 and were available in both four-light and six-light body styles. Two engine sizes were available; the four-cylinder 1595 cc '60' replacing the P2 12, while the six cylinder 2,103 cc '75' was a replacement for the P2 16. Visually both inside and out, the cars were the same as the P2 models they replaced. The use of plain door trim panels and leather seat facings, in place of the more expensive ribbed type cheapened the car, and not surprisingly, the P3 seats were not as comfortable as both the P1 and P2 models they superceded.
With the launch of the P3, Rover were able to adhere to the one model policy and still develop a new vehicle that would have great potential for export, thereby guaranteeing their much needed supplies of sheet steel. This new vehicle entered production in July 1948 and became the world beating Land Rover.