Celebrating 40 years of the Range Rover
PUBLISHED: 17:15 21 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:04 20 February 2013
In 1970 the first Range Rovers rolled off the Solihull production line to instant success. Forty years on the car has reached middle-age and is still a British design classic.
Cheesecloth shirts, bell-bottom trousers, hot pants, Hermans Hermits and the first Range Rover. In 1970 Britain was at the cutting edge of fashion, music and car design. While the Bay City Rollers were still in short trousers, engineers at Land Rover were working on a top secret car that would change the way we drove.
The car was designed by a team of engineers headed by Spencer (Spen) King, who had already worked on classics such as the Marauder sports car and the Rover P6 series. The brief was to design a multi-purpose vehicle which had the off-road capability of the Land Rover, was also suitable for high performance on the road, and which also offered the driver and passengers some comfort. I grew up bouncing around the back of Land Rovers and in the mid-1960s comfort was not something that was associated with this particular vehicle practical, yes; comfortable, no. Until Range Rover came along the two just didnt go together.
The Range Rover was an instant success. Motoring journalists loved the look and the feel of the car and so did the public those that could afford the 1,998 price tag. Bearing in mind that the average price of a house in 1970 was 4,975 the Range Rover was never a mass-market car. The first series remained in production for 25 years and 317,615 were made.
To today. This year sees the launch of the brand new Range Rover
And Im about to get behind the wheel70,000-worth of motor and theyre letting me have a go. But first I have to have a ride in the car to get the feel of it.
My instructor is Rod Gill, and youd be hard pressed to meet anyone more devoted to a car than Rod. Ive worked for the company on and off for 50 years, Rod tells me as we settle into the luxurious leather seats.
Rod started as an apprentice in the service department rebuilding the Series 1 engines and gearboxes. In 69 he worked on Range Rover development. What a time to go into the development side, working on a vehicle that no one had ever seen the like of before.
In those days Rod wasnt a Range Rover driver. But he is today as he bought and restored one of the first models. I wouldnt drive anything else, he says.
My immediate impression of this car is gizmo city.
In the middle of the dashboard a screen (thin film transistor instrumentation Rod tells me) is showing footage from a camera at the rear of the car as we go into reverse. There is no chance of bumping into anything with this and its pretty essential. If you turn your head to look behind to reverse you cant see anything anyway!
As Rod expertly manoeuvres onto the off-road course he tells me about the car. Its a 3.6 litre diesel engine. Diesel? But it purrs like a contented cat. I own a diesel that hacks along like an emphysaemic old bloke with a 40-a-day habit. It doesnt get any better than this, Rod assures me.
At this point were veering down a rather alarmingly steep slope. If I was driving I would be fumbling for the gear stick and jamming my right foot hard on the brake. No need, says Rod.
The vehicle is designed to do the work so the driver doesnt have to, he says. When you spend 70,000-plus on a car you dont want to be an anorak who knows the handbook inside out. You want to go to your point-to-point and let the car do the work.
Doing the work in this car could be anything from driving across the snowy plains of Norway, the sandy deserts of the Middle East, the rain-filled ruts of an Argentine estancia. This vehicle really is designed for anywhere. Rod shows me how just a touch of the gear stick changes the suspension to suit grass, rocks, boulders, snow, Sloane Square
Now its my turn. So far so good. I usually drive a manual but the automatic gearbox fazes me not one bit. The track tilts steeply to one side, I automatically steer to try and avoid the slope but Rod tells me to go for it slowly I edge up the slope and my seat belt clicks to prevent me slipping to the side. The maximum slope I would take this car on is about 35 degrees. This slope is probably only about 15 degrees, says Rod.
Really? It feels a bit more than that to me but the cars suspension has adjusted. All four wheels are gripping the ground. The car is doing the work.
Round the corner and were into a flood. Last time I had to drive through flood waters was in July 2007 and I was in a little Peugeot 206 having just rescued my children from their water-logged schools. How I wished Id had a 4 x 4 at the time. It was scary. Today its a doddle.
The thing with floods is that you need to know how deep the water is, says Rod. Look at the flood markers. Use your common sense. These are big vehicles but even a two or three tonne car can get washed away in deep water.
I inch forward. Keep the speed up, orders Rod. You need to have enough speed to push the water in front of the car to make a bow wave. You push the water away from the vehicle so its less likely to get into any critical components. And one thing you have to be careful about is sucking the water into the engine.
I get through safely and the rest of the course is quite frankly good fun. And then Rod lets slip the bombshell of the day. Hes taken hundreds of people off road both here and at Solihull and in his experience: Ladies generally make the better drivers. What? We ask him to repeat and he backtracks a little. Yes, he explains, women going off-road tend to be much more careful and dont take risks without assessing the driving conditions whereas men tend to be a little more gung-ho, wanting to thrash around the track la (or should that be au) Jeremy Clarkson. So there you have it.
I was totally bowled over by the new Range Rover. It really is a fabulous car and if I had anything approaching 70,000 stashed in the housekeeping tin at home I would be first in the queue.
The third Range Rover to be built in December 1969 when a blue car was urgently needed to complete the red, white and blue set of three needed for the publicity pictures. In 2005 the car was restored to its original specification.
Engine: 3,528 cc, V8 cylinder,
Power: 156 bhp
Top speed: 99mph (159 km/h)
Coachwork: 3-door estate
Price (new): 1,998
Stephen Laing, curator of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, says: When this car came out it was considered revolutionary. We acquired this car about 20 years ago from a Norwegian collector who had partly restored it. Its the car that was used in the original publicity materials.
Rod Gill: This was an off road car that was comfortable. It very quickly became a cult car and was being driven around London we had to change the suspension to cope with city driving. It was considered such a work of art it was put on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
In 1993 this Range Rover Vogue LSE rolled off the production line at Solihull. Since 2003 its been doing service in the Experience Heritage fleet having undergone a major body and engine rebuild, and a full repaint at Gaydon.
Engine: 3,950cc (4.0 litre) 90 degree V8
Power: 185 bhp (at 4,750 rpm)
Top speed: 112mph
Coachwork: 5-door estate
Price (new): 38,393
The 30th anniversary of the Range Rover was celebrated with this P38A originally built for the Japanese market. Unsold, it was shipped back to the UK in 2002 and converted to European road specification before being taken onto the Experience Heritage Fleet (the remainder of the unsold shipment was sold at auction).
Engine: 4,595 cc (4.6 litre), 90 degree V8
Power: 225 bhp (at 4,750 rpm)
Top speed: 130mph
Coachwork: 5-door estate
Price (new): 52,995
Where are they now?
The Range Rover was launched to the motoring press in June 1970. But 25 pre-production models had been built during late 1969 and early 1970. On 2nd January 1970 the first three were registered in London with the registration number sequence YVB 151H to YVB 175H.
YVB 151H (Chassis number 1) is on display at the Land Rover Centre Huddersfield.
YVB 152H (Chassis number 2) was converted to a six-wheel fire tender last reported to be still in use at Cambridge Airport.
YVB 153H (Chassis number 3) is on display at the Motor Heritage Museum, Gaydon.
Join the 40th Birthday Party
The Heritage Motor centre at Gaydon is hosting a weekend of all things Land Rover and Range Rover over the May Day Bank Holiday. On Sunday 2nd May there are two Heritage Runs, one for Classic Land Rovers and one for Range Rovers, from Lode Lane, Solihull, to Gaydon arriving from 11am. Over 150 cars will be taking part of all ages. Other events include screenings of Range Rover footage from 1970 onwards, talks by Land Rover project engineers about the development of the model and its launch, and the bar will be stocked with Slaughter House Brewerys Range Rover 40th Celebration Ale. Advance tickets (from 9 per day for adults) can be purchased from 01926 287728 (Monday-Friday from 9:30am to 5pm). Alternatively, tickets can be purchased on-line at www.hlrw.co.uk