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Original Range Rover 1970 - 1996

You may have heard of "market niche", every car manufacturer finds one for their vehicles to fit in...
Range Rover, however, not only found a market niche, it created one.

In 1970, Range Rover, initially created to boost US exports, was launched to critical and public acclaim. It truly was a completely new concept, a car based, comfortable, powerful, fully off-road able 4x4, with good road manners.

Range Rover Concept Development - Road Rover

The story of the Range Rover really begins in 1948 with the successful introduction of the original Land-Rover. The Second World War had left the Rover Company with a hugely expanded factory, but the company's range of quality cars did not sell in large enough numbers to use the vast shop floor efficiently. The Land-Rover plugged the production gap, as it immediately went on to become a huge international hit. The Land Rover's off-road ability was second to none, and the way it was designed allowed for easy repair by anyone with even the simplest tools.

The only thing that concerned Rover was the thought that demand for the Land-Rover would slow down as the economy improved, and the only way to maintain demand in this climate was to make the Land-Rover a more habitable place for the driver and passengers. This concept was investigated pretty much as soon as the original was created, and the first station wagon version of the Land-Rover was developed before the standard car even hit the market. With some extra equipment and less spartan interior fittings, the 80-inch Station Wagon, as it was called, was offered for sale at the end of 1948. Thanks to a high purchase price, however, the car was a sales flop (just 641 were produced) and it was withdrawn from the market in 1951.

Rover did not give up on the idea of a more civilised off-roader, and this concept was pursued further with the 1951 Road Rover.

Road Rover mock up
Road Rover mock up.

Road Rover Prototype on display at Gaydon

Road Rover 1 Prototype at Gaydon

This car's priorities were changed somewhat over the 80-inch Station Wagon, as sheer off-road ability was seen as a secondary consideration, compared with durability, practicality and on-road driveability. Gordon Bashford was the brains behind the Road Rover, and for one reason or another, development of the 2 wheel drive Road Rover continued slowly until 1955.

In 1956, the Road Rover was developed into a Series II version, and because of Rover's success with their new P4 model, it was decided to align it with the saloon models, as opposed to the Land-Rover. The main difference between the new Road Rover and its older counterpart was the body style: out went the utilitarian look, and in came a smooth, sophisticated look that tied it in nicely with the upcoming P5 model. Technically, the Road Rover also changed: the wheelbase was increased to 98-inches, the front suspension was independent (like the P5) and the front brakes were now discs. Prototypes were built and the Road Rover got very close to production, but it never happened.

Road Rover Series II Prototype
Road Rover Series II Prototype.
Pic. © Dave Neeson (Gaydon 2007)

Road Rover Series II Prototype
Road Rover Series II Prototype.
Pic. © Dave Neeson (Gaydon 2007)

Range Rover takes shape - the 100 inch station wagon

By 1964, Rover had turned their attention to the North American market, with the intention of developing a product that would significantly increase their market share over there. The conclusion was that, thanks to the success of the newly-launched Ford Bronco and Jeep Wagoneer, the big growth area was in this market... just what the Road Rover had been aimed at. By this time, Spen King had joined Gordon Bashford at the Rover Company, and it was both these men that put their minds to developing a car that would compete.

This time, unlike the Road Rover with its two-wheel-drive layout, Rover's management favoured a full four wheel drive system - but it needed to offer a favourable on-road/off-road compromise. One thing that King felt in developing a suspension system was the need for massive wheel travel and low-rate springs, because it would offer excellent bump-absorbency. More importantly, long suspension travel also ensured that the wheels would remain in contact with the ground more of the time, something essential for good off-road ability.

Engine-wise, there was no contest: the 3.5 litre V8 Buick engine had been recently brought into the fold thanks to William Martin-Hurst, and it would prove to be the ideal power unit for the new car. Torque characteristics favoured the bottom end of the rev-range and because of its aluminium construction, it weighed 200lbs less than the in-line 3-litre 6 cylinder engine that would have been used had it not been for the introduction of the V8. This was early 1966, and the project was still very much in its infancy, and yet it looked so promising that Peter Wilks gave the project the go-ahead for further development. Gordon Bashford devised the finer points of the car in the following months: a box-section chassis, which had long-travel suspension, low rate springs and the V8 engine. Unlike the Land Rover, the new car would have its four-wheel-drive system permanently engaged - primarily to ensure that the massive torque of the V8 was split evenly between two lightly loaded axles. The wheelbase of the new car was 99.9-inches, which was rounded up in the car's name - in a nod to the earlier project, it became known as the 100-inch Station Wagon.

The body was designed for simplicity of construction - being comprised of simple aluminium panels bolted to a steel skeleton. Throughout 1966, this concept was developed, and the first full-size mock-up was ready for January 1967.

Range Rover Prototype
Range Rover Prototype.

As can be seen in the accompanying photograph (above), it was this prototype that formed the basis of the eventual design, and although it had been pretty much styled by Spen King and Gordon Bashford simply to clothe the mechanicals, they had received assistance from the styling department in order to give it acceptable proportions.

1966 marked the time when the Rover Company was bought out by the British Leyland Motor Corporation, but it was not until the early months of 1967 that Donald Stokes' team actually scrutinized the new car. On the first viewing, Donald Stokes and John Barber were both tremendously excited by the 100-inch Station Wagon project and gave it the green light for further development. From this point, the future of the car was sealed - and whilst Peter Wilks' engineering department knuckled down to the task of finalising the mechanical specification, David Bache's studio was given the task of tidying the King/Bashford body into something more stylish.

By September 1967, the first full-size running prototype was built, but because it was based entirely on Bashford and King's original design, it looked spartan in the extreme - however it proved very capable in testing. David Bache, meanwhile, worked on his task of cleaning up the design, but very little was changed, and certainly nothing fundamental.

By early 1968, the David Bache restyle on the King/Bashford design was finalized, and signed off for production. Prototype testing was undertaken all over the world, and most of the time, the cars ran undisguised. The only acknowledgement to disguising its origins were the badges that it wore: VELAR. The Velar name was also previously used on Alvis prototypes to confuse casual observers and they used it on the Range Rover with the same intention. All of the seven prototypes and the pre-production units were named "Velars". Testing went well, and although it did not go quite well enough to meet the April 1970 deadline that British Leyland had wanted for its introduction, it still did extremely well - not only in off-road testing, but also in customer clinics.

Range Rover finally launched

Finally on June 17th 1970, the Range Rover was launched to the press.

Range Rover Initial Production Version
Range Rover Initial Production Version.

The demand for the vehicle was immediate and sustained - customer waiting lists were drawn up as soon as the Range Rover appeared. The situation was simple: the Range Rover was launched at a price of £1998, and at the time, there was no opposition that could offer the same breadth of ability. Not only was it a very accomplished off-roader, but it was also a commodious estate car and (as Rover would soon find out) something of a status symbol. People liked the high driving position, and although farmers and commercial vehicle drivers might have been used to this, to the buyers of prestige cars such as the Volvo 145 or Triumph 2000 & 2500, it was a completely new experience. Very soon, Rover realised that people were buying their new baby for many other reasons than its off-road capability.

After the Earls Court motor show in October 1970, British Leyland received the best working exhibit award at the show for the Range Rover chassis, whilst the Institute of British Carriage and Automobile manufacturers awarded it a gold medal for "best utility coachwork".

British Leyland knew they were on to a winner, and ensured that the price rises for Range Rovers soon exceeded the rate of inflation. The demand for it did not abate, and even though during the first ten years' of the Range Rover's life, there were no real modifications to the design, people continued to clamour for it. To give you an idea of how slow other manufacturers were at taking up the Range Rover challenge, when Motor magazine tested it in 1975, they were quick to point out the fact that the Range Rover remained unique in the market.

However, the Range Rover was a success in spite of British Leyland's involvement.
The company's lack of development on the Range Rover was shocking - but in reality, and rather like the Mini at the other end of the model range, its underlying excellence would allow the company this neglect. It had to be this way, because British Leyland were fighting a huge battle in the middle of the market, where the majority of sales were, and so the Range Rover would have to fend for itself. Customers continued to buy it, however, and did so because it was such a unique car. In 1979, the tide began to turn, thanks to Michael Edwardes - and with it came some long awaited development. Following Edwardes' reversal of the one-badge-fits-all policy, it was only right that Land Rover should be separated from Austin-Morris and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph. In 1979, the formation of Land Rover Limited as a separate and autonomous company marked the beginning of some real investment in the product range.

For Range Rover, the first signs of change came in 1980, when the marketing effort behind the Range Rover was increased, and whereas before, it was sold alongside the Rover SD1 in the past, this was changed so that it became a bedfellow of the Land-Rover.

Special Editions would also become increasingly important in the Range Rover strategy in the short term, but many engineering developments would finally filter through during the next few years. With the cash injection following the re-organization, much behind the scenes work was done on the engineering and marketing side of the Range Rover. Land Rover prepared three specials that would pave the way for full production versions if they proved successful enough. Rather cannily, Land Rover developed these models with the assistance of outside specialists, so as to minimize their own expenditure, and act as an insurance against failure. 1980 saw the introduction of the Monteverdi five-door conversion, and although Land Rover had approved the FLM Panelcraft version of the five-door Range Rover, it was the Monteverdi version that they liked the most. Despite the slightly truncated rear passenger doors compared with the final product, the overall view was that this Swiss theme was pretty slick and well executed. Land Rover Special Products approved the car for production, and offered it for sale through their own dealerships. Land Rover cannot have been encouraged by the Monteverdi's poor sales, but the reaction to the five door concept added impetus to plans to introduce their own version.

The next special was produced with the help of Schuler - and appeared in late 1980.
Ever since the development programme of the 100-inch Station Wagon back in 1967-68, it was always envisaged that an automatic version would be launched. Because of lack of finances and other priorities within the company, the auto-box version never appeared. Schuler actually prepared their automatic Range Rovers to include a transfer box and anti-lock brakes...
Once it became clear that the market would stand an automatic, Land Rover pressed forwards with their own development programme based around the venerable Chrysler Torqueflite transmission.

Finally, the third significant Range Rover special of the time was the "In Vogue" model, which was developed with the help of Wood and Pickett. The idea was simple: up-specify the interior and offer a range of special colours to make it stand out from the standard models. The choice of name followed the interesting marketing plan that involved lending a car to the glamour magazine Vogue and have them use the car as a backdrop for one of their high publicity photo shoots.

Although the five-door and automatic specials sold in tiny numbers, they were followed onto the market in 1981 and 1982 respectively, by the full production versions - and the Range Rover story moved forward into its next phase. Careful cost management and canny use of external contractors saw the five-door conversion, for example, completed at a fraction of the cost of what it could have done in-house. Throughout the 1980s, the Range Rover was now developed constantly, and in response to the demands of its customers. Arguably, the five-door model looked as good as the three-door model, but more importantly, it proved to be an infinitely more practical proposition. Buyers bought it in large numbers, and within months, it was outselling the original version significantly. Certainly, it was a very effective version, and stylistically more balanced than the Monteverdi version thanks to the superior execution of the rear doors and their shut lines. Next came improved transmissions, and the 4-speed gearbox was replaced by the LT77 5-speed gearbox, as used in the Rover SD1, Jaguar XJ6 and Triumph TR7 - this allowed for more peaceful motorway cruising, and slightly improved steady speed fuel consumption figures. The automatic duly followed in July 1982, which proved to be better than expected. Further "In Vogue" models were produced, and thanks to their success (and higher price) the Vogue became a production model in its own right in 1984.

Throughout the rest of the 1980s, the Range Rover continued to be improved year on year - trim was constantly upgraded, equipment levels improved and refinement increased, But it was not until 1986 that Range Rovers gained diesel engines from the factory. The more efficient 2.4 litre (2,393 cc) 4 cylinder VM Motori diesel from Italy was made available as an option for the heavily-taxed European market as the 'Turbo D' model, and were bored out to 2.5 litre (2,499 cc) in 1989. The VM engines were highly advanced and refined diesel engines for their time but were received poorly by the UK press, who tended to compare their performance to the V8 petrol models. To counter these criticisms Land Rover used a Turbo D Range Rover to set several speed and endurance records for diesel vehicles during 1987, including a continuous run over 24 hours at over 100 mph.

Sales continued to hold up well past its fifteenth birthday - and the introduction of the 3.9-litre V8 engine and revised dashboard in 1989 (the 3.5 litre V8 engine having passed down to the new Discovery model) ensured its continued appeal. In 1992, and just two years before its replacement was due, the long wheelbase version appeared. The long wheelbase 'LSE' model came with a 108-inch wheelbase and had its length added in the rear door area only. The rear room in the LSE Range Rover was truly impressive. The car's transformation from utility vehicle to luxury saloon, arguably, was complete. Also in 1992, the VM Motori Turbo D engine was discontinued in favour of the Land Rover 200tdi as the diesel option, which was installed until the end of 1994 when the Land Rover 300tdi became the diesel of choice, though of course by this time, the P38 Range Rover had arrived on the market.

The Range Rover LSE could in retrospect largely be seen as a test of how the upcoming P38 Range Rover would be received. To this end it benefited from the addition of an entirely new air suspension system known as ECAS (Electronically Controlled Air Suspension). Apart from the added refinement made possible by the removal of steel springs, the system afforded the benefits of variable ride height, which could be used to great effect at high speed (when the ride height was dropped above 50mph). It also made loading and unloading easier because the vehicle dropped to its lowest setting when the car was at rest. ECAS was carried over to the new P38 model, as was the LSE's wheelbase of 108 inches.

Club Link: Range Rover Register

If you can help out with more information or pictures of the original Range Rovers, please do so.

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Range Rover pictures

Range Rover - Original 3-Door Body
Range Rover - Original 3-Door Body.

Range Rover - 5-Door Body
Range Rover - 5-Door Body.

IFOR Range Rover - picture ©
IFOR Range Rover - picture ©

Valentino Ghi's Range Rover
Valentino Ghi's Range Rover.

Range Rover - facelift version
Range Rover - facelift version.

Range Rover Classic
Range Rover Classic.

Range Rover CSK

Range Rover CSK special edition

Range Rover YVB 155 H

Andrew Colville wrote:

In the pictures below is a 1986 Range Rover 4 door body and chassis , the car was custom rebuilt for one of my customers and fully hot dip galvanized. A second two door model ( my own) will also be galvanized , and fitted with a Td5 engine and late 1994 soft dash (under construction at this time) There were also S.A.S response range rovers built! I have had photos but can’t find them at this moment.

Website Link: Colvilles Land Rovers