Curbside Classic: 1977 Range Rover – Success At Face Value

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I came across this pristine Range Rover parked very close to home. This shape has long been an object of my adoration, and my eyes popped when this example presented itself. So, having captured it for CC posterity, I can now indulge in an extended analysis of this highly influential automobile.

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The JET 1 was a Rover prototype ultimately capable of 152 mph. Debuting in 1949, it was the first public manifestation of a gas-turbine programme within Rover that had commenced during the war and continued until the mid-1960s, culminating in a passenger car conceived for series production and a Le Mans racer.

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Its shape was based on Rover’s first new post-war car, the P4.

When launched in 1949, the P4 emerged as somewhat of a surprise. The local press were proudly hailing the Austin A90 Atlantic with its flowing wings as the ‘new English Line’. Instead Rover had delivered something at odds with that aesthetic; a square-rigged shape derived from the 1947 Studebaker with curiously modern details such as the centre-mounted headlight. A brave step for this conservative upper middle-class brand.

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Before the P4 was launched another programme was rushed through development.

With excess manufacturing capacity, a weak domestic market and the UK government’s insistence upon export products, Rover decided to build a utilitarian vehicle based on the Willys Jeep.

The 1948 Land Rover was originally conceived as a stop-gap; a nightwatchman as CC correspondent Roger Carr has so aptly described it in cricketing parlance, or a perhaps a pinch-hitter for those in the land of Mickey Mantle.

Not quite as exciting as a gas-turbine.

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The Willys Jeep had emerged from the war victorious. This light and nimble 4WD vehicle would come to represent the US forces more evocatively than any helmet shape or uniform could. After the war, civilians would jerry-rig a weatherproof body around surplus Jeeps, and in 1946 Willys made a significant stride in the evolution of the modern SUV with their all-steel ‘Station Wagon’ model. Initially a RWD, it was not too long before a 4WD version came to market.

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Upon the launch of the Land Rover, the 80” Station Wagon was also made available. This wooden-bodied variant by Tickford was not a success, with less than 650 sold during its two year lifespan.

Despite this minor setback, the nightwatchman Land Rover continued at the crease, piling on the runs as the spectators cheered from the pavilion in pride and amazement.

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In 1951, the Road Rover was created to complement the Land Rover. Although bearing similar front wings to the ‘Landie’, the Road Rover was in fact based on a shortened P4 RWD platform. Crudely shaped in flat aluminium panels for ease of manufacture, the first Road Rover did not proceed past development mules. It was noted for its sprightly performance, a product of its light weight coupled with low gearing; and employees Gordon Bashford – the vehicle’s developer – and Spen King found themselves in possession of Road Rover mules for their own use.

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In 1957, the Road Rover Series II was prepared. Although still rather crude in detailing such as its external door hinges, it was a more serious attempt to make a shape akin road cars. It bears similarity to Rover Chief Stylist David Bache’s 1958 P5 sedans, but he denies authorship and I cannot trace who laid down the lines for this body.

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These scale clays give a better indication of the Road Rover II’s Chevrolet Nomad origins, but it’s the image shown bottom right that’s most telling. This is not a Rover styling model. It’s an over-scale prototype produced by Mettoy for the inclusion of the Road Rover in their Corgi Toys die-cast range.

With the Land Rover’s volumes exceeding those of their passenger cars, Rover had great hopes in the Road Rover. To such an extent that they had supplied Mettoy with top secret plans for this new model. Rover clearly intended for this vehicle to be a flagship of sorts.

Ultimately, the Road Rover programme did not proceed to production.

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By 1966 Charles Spencer ‘Spen’ King (above) was head of Rover’s New Vehicle Projects team. One of his assignments was the 100 inch Station Wagon, known internally as the 100” S/W. This was not a continuation of the Road Rover programme, nor was it part of Land Rover’s development. It was a fresh-sheet project calling for a vehicle as comfortable, silent and attractive as a road car, yet with all the off-road capability of a 4WD.

Coincidently, Rover had asked employee Graham Bannock to conduct some comprehensive market research on the Land Rover. The findings showed that the Land Rover, nearing its 500,000th unit, commanded a third of the world’s market for vehicles of its type. Bannock was surprised to discover an emerging trend, with owners using these vehicles for recreational or road use as opposed to specific agricultural duties as had originally been intended. These findings reaffirmed Rover management’s decision to proceed with the 100” S/W.

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With Gordon Bashford and a team of 20 engineers, work on the 100” S/W commenced. As King, in discussion with journalist Anthony Curtis, related; “I realised that a modern motor car suspension, particularly in terms of its rates and travels, could be astonishingly good in cross-country motoring.”

Curtis continues; ‘The Range Rover showed that live axles, given proper location, generous travels and soft springs had unsuspected virtues. But very careful design and development was needed, the front suspension in particular incorporating a number of subtleties which together make an important contribution to the excellence of the Range Rover’s handling.

‘To minimise intrusion into the engine space, for instance, an ingeniously-designed single pair of leading control arms simultaneously resist the braking and engine torque reactions imposed on the live front axle while at the same time providing it with fore-and-aft location. Lateral location is provided by a Panhard rod of the same length as the steering drag link, mounted parallel to it, and fixed at its inboard end to the chassis via the steering box. In this way bump-steer is kept to an absolute minimum.’

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The vehicle was to feature a ladder frame chassis, rigid steel frame and unstressed aluminium skin. The 4WD system was permanent with high and low ranges, at the rear was a self-levelling unit and there were servo-assisted disc brakes all round. The aluminium 3.5 litre V8 engine had a compression ratio of 8.5:1, producing 135bhp @ 4750rpm and 185lb/ft @ 2500rpm.

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The V8 derived from a 215 cu inch Buick engine. Rover Managing Director William Martin-Hurst had been visiting Carl Kiekhaefer’s Mercury Marine with the intention of selling Rover’s gas turbine technology (although Mercury turned out to be more interested in the diesel Land Rover engine for the Chinese market), and had stumbled upon the Buick engine as adapted for marine use. Martin-Hurst was mindful of approaching Chrysler during that trip for one of their small capacity V8s to use in Rover road cars, but when he saw the Buick mill he found exactly what he was hoping to source.

It first found its way into the P5 road car, but it was another Rover V8 project that would be more directly analogous to the Range Rover story.

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The 1967 Rover BS (‘Buick Sport’) mid-engined sports car was developed by King and Bashford in their spare time along with some engineers from the newly acquired Alvis company. The styling department at Rover was too busy to help, so the team shaped the prototype themselves. Although it was to receive a makeover from David Bache before the project was cancelled, the original shape as depicted above was a remarkable effort for this cadre of styling ‘amateurs’.

The flat planes with creased edges contrasted with the softer forms that had emanated from Bache’s studio. The proportioning and line made for a handsome vehicle. Of particular note is the tall and airy greenhouse providing excellent all-round visibility, a characteristic not shared with the more exotic mid-engined cars emerging from Europe.

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Gordon Bashford sketched out a body for the 100” S/W test mule. According to King, things “sort of evolved naturally – the shape just came as we worked out what was needed in terms of space.” The flat plane and creased edge language of the BS was used, and the sketches also addressed some elements of the vehicle’s packaging such as the pod-style instrument binnacle for the dash.

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Meanwhile, David Bache set to work on the final production shape. Although crisper than his P6, it still featured enough curvature to demonstrate a familial resemblance. His shape also anticipated the styling upgrades that were to be included on the 1970-onwards P6 range, namely the use of a black-themed strip face.

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By 1967, a full-size prototype had been built. The driver sat high in the airy greenhouse, allowing for superb visibility all-round and – importantly – downward where the wheels met the sometimes tricky terrain. It proved so attractive that it was decided to use this body as the basis for the production model.

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To David Bache’s eternal credit, going with this shape was his decision. His adroit attention to the detailing capped off one of the finest-looking vehicles to emerge from Great Britain. An instant archetype and a timeless classic.

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Production prototypes bore the letters ‘Velar’ above the grille in an attempt to disguise the manufacturer, and the naming the vehicle ‘Range Rover’ was one of the last decisions made before putting the vehicle to market.

In June 1970, the Range Rover was launched to a rapturous reception.

Range Rover Press Demo at Falmouth 1970 R-9833-54

‘The Range Rover makes use of the same very light 3 1/2 litre V8 that has featured in the Rover 3.5 and 3500 cars for some time, detuned and recarbureted so as to run on any petrol and on any gradient. Four-wheel drive at all times (not using the Ferguson type employed by Jensen) gives this new Rover outstanding traction to match the high performance assured by the engine, and a surprisingly effective suspension system ensures ride and handling are up to the same exceptionally high standards.’

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‘Both axles are carried on radius arm systems and both have 8 inches of working travel, coil sprung and controlled at the rear by a Boge Hydromat road-pumped self-levelling strut. It is this last item which allows the suspension to be designed for comfort and handling, without worrying about the effects of the 1,500 lb payload which is carried entirely by the rear axle. In sum, this go-anywhere car (and it is fit for anywhere, having the mobility and the smartness) is quite brilliant, full of admirable details and adequate to an incomparable variety of duties. It is fair to rank it as one of the three most outstanding cars to be introduced anywhere in the world in 1970.’

L.J.K.Setright. The British Motor Industry, World Cars 1971

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It was first offered in six hues that perfectly complemented the lack of ostentation in the styling; Tuscan Blue, Masai Red, Bahama Gold and Lincoln Green. Our CC is in Sahara Dust and Davos White was also available. The blacked out rear pillar (in vinyl) which first appeared in 1974 is, for me, the preferred treatment.

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As demonstrated by our feature CC, the interior was not so much opulent as it was pragmatic. The luxury with which this vehicle would come to be associated was preceded by a sense of the Scandinavian; spacious, sophisticated yet austere.

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Emergency services took a shine to this extremely capable on-and-off-roader. It was included in police fleets around the country. And – as is shown bottom left in this (most likely) Swiss example – also abroad.

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The body-on-frame basis of the Range Rover made it an almost endlessly customisable option for ambulances as well.

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A six-wheeled version was built by Carmichael for use as fire tenders and rescue vehicles requiring a longer rear platform. The rearmost axle was not driven for the 400-odd examples built, but I believe there were a handful that did actually have a 6WD arrangement. Carmichael was to also produce ‘civilian’ 6 wheelers.

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The Queen received a customised Range Rover, as did the Pope. And, if you had the money, you too could have a Range Rover prepared to almost any configuration, or taste.

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The Range Rover would be a boon for coachbuilders, but it also signalled the demise of another of their staples – the shooting brake.

In automotive form, the shooting brake was a bodystyle for the well-to-do; built over a prestige chassis to be used on rural properties to ferry hunting dogs, long-barrelled guns and the occasional guest. By the time the Range Rover appeared, the shooting brake had become a shadow of its former self – driven by the type more likely to spray you with Brut 33 than with buckshot.

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While development of the 100” S/W vehicle was progressing, Graham Bannock had conducted some anonymous market research specific to this new vehicle. 500 people participated, including 200 who owned station wagons and only 50 who were Rover owners. Participants were presented with the following description:

‘A new vehicle which would combine the comfort and appearance of a saloon car with a stronger more robust estate car that can go easily over non-paved roads, country tracks, or over the beach.’ 70% expressed a positive view of the mooted vehicle.

As had been happening around the world since the war, the British station wagon – or estate car – had evolved into a family affair more commonly found in the lower-caste brands. Rover road cars had not followed this trend, although one could purchase the coachbuilt P6 Estoura with its awkwardly sloping rear roofline.

1962 Ferguson Michelotti

There had actually been an earlier British attempt at a comfortable 4WD station wagon. It was the brainchild of Harry Ferguson and this 1962 example was styled by Giovanni Michelotti, no less.

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Ferguson – of tractor fame – was an ardent proponent of all-wheel-drive himself. After breaking with Massey-Ferguson, he continued his efforts with a company called Harry Ferguson Research focusing AWD around roadholding and safety. The R4 saloon was an early attempt at an AWD car, and the R5 wagon was the next step in this progression. Although I cannot find any information about the Michelotti car, I suspect it was a reskinned R5.

Ferguson would abandon his bespoke creations to focus his efforts on the cars of others. He built a number of AWD Ford prototypes, including some Mustangs and this Zodiac 6 wagon as tested by the Lancashire County Constabulary. Ultimately his system would find use in the Jensen Interceptor FF.

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On the domestic front, it seemed the only rival for the Range Rover was… the Land Rover.

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Across the pond, Jeep had delivered another significant step in the progression towards the modern SUV. Launched in 1962, the Wagoneer received a styling refresh with a more car-like face in 1964 and marketing to reflect its urban aspirations.

But it lived in the land of the giants. While these fullsize pickup-based passenger vehicles were small in comparison to the US standard-sized cars back then, they were oversized for almost all urbanised export markets. However, this model was certainly on Rover’s radar when the 100″ S/W project commenced.

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Almost identical in footprint to the Range Rover was the 1960 International Scout. These, along with the subsequent Ford Bronco and short-lived car-face Jeep Commando, could best be described as ‘recreational’ as opposed to ‘comfortably urban’.

As part of his research into the Land Rover, Bannock had visited the US to discover the Landie had good penetration into that market. But the Range Rover was only imported to the US in small, ‘unofficial’ batches. This appears to be for a combination of reasons; the investment required in meeting safety and emission regulations was perhaps too onerous for parent company British Leyland (the Land Rover was withdrawn from the US in 1974) and demand elsewhere was more than sufficient to meet supply.

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By the time the Range Rover was officially released in the US in 1987, it had already made its mark there. The sub-fullsize category had started to splinter and mature, one result of which was the downsized 1984 Jeep Cherokee (above) which was to sit underneath the larger 1993 Grand Cherokee – both being influenced by the Range Rover aesthetic. Their jeep-face continued with the Wrangler.

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During the 1970s the influence of the Range Rover was still a meandering stream. To find the first instances, we follow the money.

In 1976, Peter Monteverdi of Switzerland placed a bespoke Fissore body on International Scout II underpinnings to create the 1976 Safari. It bore more than a passing resemblance to the Range Rover and – with luxurious fittings and an exorbitant pricetag – also found favour amongst the moneyed European elite as well as in the Middle-Eastern markets.

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Monteverdi supplemented the Safari with the cheaper Sahara (top right), a short or long wheelbase Scout II body with new face and plusher interior.

Compatriot Willy Felber; creator of custom body desecrations upon Ferrari, Lancia and the Pontiac Firebird, followed suit. The Felber Oasis (top right) was a refaced, nay defaced, Scout II body with upgraded interior. Unlike the Sahara, Felber also changed the Scout’s distinctive rear pillars and it looks like the roof is actually fixed. When the Scout was discontinued, Felber created the Oasis Mk.II on the Chevy S-10 Blazer.

In Germany, Erich Bitter had already tried an upmarket and refaced K5 Blazer in 1976 (bottom left), but the project never went past this first prototype.

As we saw earlier, this hyper-prestige market was also occupied by custom-built Range Rovers but found probably its most insane iteration in the Lamborghini LM002. Conceived for the US Army as the proto-Hummer Chrysler-engined Cheetah, it was repurposed with a 4 litre V12 engine and luxury interior and struck oil money. This sole wagon version was prepared for the Sultan of Brunei.

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Similar to the LM002 was the 1979 Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen (hehehe). Initiated at the suggestion of Daimler Benz shareholder the Shah of Iran as a military vehicle, it was also released to the civilian market.

The product of eight years development in conjunction with Steyr-Daimler-Puch, it is clearly a Land Rover type with better ergonomics but deliberately rudimentary in appearance. Yet it persists to this day in civilian guise but with vastly improved appointments and an undiminished desirability.

And the Australian Army, for one, has just replaced its fleet of Land Rovers with these.

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The mid-1970s VW Project 1021 came very close to production. Volkswagen of South Africa were tossing up between manufacturing the Golf or the cheaper option of retaining the Beetle. The brief to stylists Tim Fry and Reg Myatt was for Beetle variants in pickup and wagon bodies that looked like the Range Rover – the wagon having a single door on one side and two on the other. Six prototypes were prepared, passed through crash testing and approved by Wolfsburg before the decision was made to go with the Golf.

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Italy brought us the Moretti ‘Sporting 4×4’ based on Fiat Campagnola underpinnings – probably the single most blatant attempt to mimic the Range Rover’s styling.

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In France, the Range Rover had found itself sitting inside the Louvre in 1971 being celebrated as an ‘outstanding piece of modern sculpture.’

It also appears to have provided some inspiration for another significant step in the evolution of the modern SUV; the 1977 Matra Simca Rancho.

The donor vehicle was the humble front wheel drive Simca 1100 hatchback. Behind the front doors on a lengthened platform was a fibreglass body styled by Antonin Volaris. This car, aimed at a younger-skewed urban/recreation market, referenced the Range Rover’s boxy, crisply faceted and airy language with some extra touches. It took the blacked wheel arch flares of the Jeep CJ-series and added side molding ‘armour’ to create a ‘style-over-substance’ off-road aesthetic.

Which is not to say the Rancho was incapable off-road, but the look it delivered served to amplifiy the message. A 4WD variant was planned, however the Rancho was not adequately supported by a succession of corporate parents and production ceased in 1984.

This car would in turn come have its own influence on others.

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Peugeot had effectively provided the French Range Rover without the need for 4WD. These middle class sedans and wagons had demonstrated their thorough competence on the challenging terrain of Africa since the colonial days. The 1979 504 Loisirs (leisure) concept from Heuliez was an over-the-top Rancho and the 1980 Dangel 504 4WD conversions could take you where even the standard 504 couldn’t.

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By the end of the 1970s, Japan had a very broadly applied 4WD industry.

The 1971 Subaru AWD wagon marked yet another significant step in the evolution of the crossover. And like the Range Rover was to be sui generis for a long time.

From the mid-1970s, Suzuki and Daihatsu offered some micro-sized 4WD pickups and wagons marketed as both commercial and recreational vehicles. Towards the end of the decade, the Hilux class of pickup had spawned a 4WD and a steel longroof was not far off.

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The 4WD had been part of Japan’s automotive output for some time. In 1951 the US asked Toyota for 100 Jeeps built to Willys Bantam specification for the Korean War. These were continued as the special order only BJ series but apparently Jeep (and local licencees Mitsubishi) took exception and Toyota started modifying it with their own body and componentry. They were named ‘Land Cruiser’ in 1954.

1955 saw the all-Toyota FJ series for the consumer market which was soon joined by the Nissan Patrol 60 series. As with the Jeep and Land Rover, these Japanese 4WDs were available in a variety of body styles; open and closed cab, and short and long wheel-based pick-ups and wagons.

In 1967, Toyota joined Jeep in offering a car-faced 4WD wagon alongside its jeep-faced offerings. Though not quite as car-faced as the Jeep Wagoneer, FJ50 (bottom) signalled Toyota’s growing understanding of the 4WD product diffusion it was to eventually master.

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Although British Leyland had prepared a four door prototype in 1972, a lack of funds precluded its development. Monteverdi produced a number of very expensive four doors sold through Rover channels before BL finally put a cheaper ‘factory’ version to market in 1981.

It was built over the same 100” wheelbase resulting in awkward proportioning. The distinctive door handles, a small but effective styling element of the original, had to be discarded. Nevertheless, it was a great success, with demand for this variant soon outstripping that for the two door. In 1992, the LSE was launched, featuring a 108” wheelbase with longer rear doors. The engine was enlarged to 3.9 litres in 1990 and the LSE received a 4.2 litre version.

Levels of luxury had gradually accreted in the Range Rover culminating in the 1984 Vogue. The models sent to the US went standard with air-conditioning, automatics and cruise-control.

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The Cleanfoot Paradox

Toorak Village sits on the edge of one of Melbourne’s innermost old-money suburbs. Although this photo was taken in the 1930s, not much has changed. The trams are newer, the shop windows more garish, but the tudor facades and low-rise silhouette remain.

For a very long time, Australia lived ‘off the sheep’s back’, whereby our economy was heavily dependent upon rural output. This is where a lot of our old-money came from, and many denizens of Toorak have maintained rural holdings long after our economy has stopped depending on them. One legacy of this history was reduced import tariffs for certain 4WD vehicles. That the Range Rover fell under this classification only added to its appeal.

While it may be chauvinistic and overly reductive to describe things in these terms, it was the Toorak housewife who gave the urban SUV much impetus. The Range Rover was the enabler; already sitting in the driveway, easy to pilot thanks to its car-like dynamic, easy to load for grocery runs down in the Village, easy to offoad offspring at the schools nearby and not unattractive to be seen in. During the 1980s, an alliteratively brilliant term emerged to describe this phenomenon.

Toorak Tractor.

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The Toyota Land Cruiser gave the Range Rover its first serious challenge on this paved turf.

The 1980 FJ60 series was a marked refinement over its FJ50 predecessor. Strip-face notwithstanding, it was not a slavish replication of the Range Rover aesthetic. But it was still attractive, well-appointed, well-mannered on the road and also a superb offroader. And cheaper than the Range Rover.

While snob value can be said to be a factor in the appeal of the Range Rover, things were (as ever) not so simple. There is a particular subset of ‘old-money’ that can be characterised as ‘frugal old-money’. This is a higher form of snobbery, whose holders eschew conspicuous consumption in favour of conspicuous economy despite their wealth. I like to think of them as the ‘frayed-tweed set’, and they were starting be seen behind the wheel of a Toyota Cressida.

For them the Land Rover Wagon was more than adequate, but the FJ60 Land Cruiser became another way to demonstrate their disdain.

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Australia provided an ideal market for this confluence of 4WD brands. Our umbilical relationship with the mother country had British cars ever present, and our physical proximity to Asia gave us early-adopter exposure to their emerging motor industry.

By the late 1950s Land Rovers, Land Cruisers and Patrols were working side-by-side on the massive Snowy River Hydro-Electric Scheme that would also employ tens of thousands of recently arrived European migrants. And the hardworking diligence of these newcomers earned the (initially grudging) respect of the colonial occupants.

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In the wake of the FJ60 came a tsunami of Japanese Range Rover lookalikes; the Holden Jackaroo (née Isuzu Trooper) and the Mitsubishi Pajero (Montero/Shogun), the Nissan Patrol and its later-to-the-party badge-engineered sibling Ford Maverick.

Though these were primarily aimed at the high-volume US, there was always going to be a market here for the right-sized comfortable 4WD wagon. It would facilitate our love of recreation in this vastly expansive great outdoors; carrying our families and towing our caravans, boats and trailers. Traditionally the domain of our standard sized cars – the Ford Falcon and Holden Kingswood/Commodore – the new wave of Japanese 4WD wagons would allow for urban use as well as even deeper off-road excursions at a more accessible price point than the snooty Range Rover.

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But another demographic took a shine to these vehicles; and not because they suddenly found the urge to get their tyres dirty. Even if one could not actually afford rural holdings, it was now possible to emulate one’s betters on the road and let assumptions be made. Before long there were some in the inner-aspirational suburbs trading their aspirational wagons for an aspirational 4WD wagon.

And then the paradoxical ‘cleanfoot’ user emerged within other demographics over here, less for their social pretensions and more for other reasons – but not because they had any specific need for an off-road ability.

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The Chelsea Tractor certainly existed in the UK before the term was coined and with the Matra Rancho we get a deeper understanding the cleanfoot. In the 1970s Fergus Pollock of Chrysler UK worked with Antonin Volaris to come to the famed ‘orange drawing’; the mooted replacement for the Rancho. Whether or not this was planned with 4WD, we can see a shift in emphasis to people-mover.

The rise of the van-based passenger vehicle in the 1980s also played its part in the cleanfoot; giving the direct experience of an elevated driving position to those would never have bought a 4WD.

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In the US the cleanfoot user had found its gateway in 1935 with the aptly-titled Chevrolet Carryall Suburban. It was initially RWD only but by 1957 these were available with a 4WD option. As was the case with International (middle row), Dodge (bottom left) as well as the Jeep up until 1971.

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During the 1970s, the sub-fullsize US recreational vehicles had mostly grown to be short wheelbase versions of their seniors. In the early 1980s they were downsized in the form of the Ford Bronco II and Chevy S-10 Blazer, as well as the Jeep XJ Cherokee. The Scout III (above) did not make it to production when International discontinued their passenger vehicles in 1980.

Despite the US manufacturers’ prolonged exposure to this type of consumer, they appear to have been spurred into action by the incoming Japanese Range Rovers.

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By the turn of the millennium, this regionally disparate cleanfoot mindset had coalesced into global cross-manufacturer categories. When Toyota released the Rancho-armoured 1994 RAV4 in both 4WD and 2WD, it typified the semantic transition from ‘recreational’ to ‘lifestyle’.

Meanwhile Subaru and Audi were heeding Harry Ferguson’s lessons…

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There is the ongoing discussion of the ‘appliance’ versus the ‘enthusiast’s automobile’. As has been noted within the CC community – this is not a binary condition; it occupies more of a spectrum.

In terms of this new vehicular norm – the loosely-defined crossover/SUV/CUV/4WD/AWD/2WD lookalike – there are multiple factors at play. For some its a necessity, for others an indulgence. Some may take their vehicles deeply off-road, others don’t leave the paved surface. Some may favour the visibility afforded by a higher driving viewpoint, while others may bask in self-important hauteur over the standard car. For some it’s about increased cornering velocity, for others it’s added precaution. Some may appreciate the ease with which they can attend to their children in the rear seats, while others may prefer the more upright seating position for themselves. Some may be beholden to neighbourly one-upmanship, others to a broader association with the outdoors. Some require extra durability, others because gangsta. Some may have too much money to spend, others not enough.

For some it’s a personal statement, but for others it’s just family transport. Our purchasing decisions are the product our individual biases – cognate and unconscious, real or imagined – which sit in combination, and not in mutual exclusion.

I think what presently underpins the rise of this type of vehicle is an enhanced sense of security or privacy. This might be evident when comparing the original Range Rover and its present Vogue sire. Proportionally speaking, the greenhouse has diminished and the body has expanded in all directions. Robust practicality has been replaced by a stylised fortress on wheels.

Where the original Range Range seems to welcome in its surroundings, the new one appears to rebuff them.

1917 Ford Model T

4WD had been invented in 1893 by Joseph Diplock, and the 1900 Lohner-Porsche had an electric motor driving each wheel, but I suggest the ur-crossover was the Ford Model T; a light and nimble urban vehicle that was conceived from the start through Henry’s agrarian bent to cross over into off-road use.

How significant the 1970 Range Rover was in the continuum to the present day comes down to your own perspective.

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The thankless task of producing a new Range Rover shape was long coming. A refresh – for want of a better term – was considered and rejected in 1980 (bottom left).

In 1994, the P38A Range Rover replacement was launched. It was attractive, and still as capable both on and off the road. But consumer affection for the original shape was so strong that it survived until 1996 as the Range Rover Classic.

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Despite its consistent market presence, Range Rover has been owned by a host of manufacturers.

British Leyland Motor Corporation swallowed up Rover in 1967, during the Range Rover’s development. In 1978, Land Rover (and its Range Rover brand) was separated within British Leyland from Rover. However, it was part of the Rover Group when taken over by British Aerospace with the demise of BL.

In 1994, BMW bought Rover Group which included the Land Rover stable and Jaguar as well as others including Mini. The Rover Group was known internally (and unflatteringly) at BMW as ‘The English Patient’, and in 2000 it was broken up. Land Rover and Jaguar were sold to Ford. BMW kept Mini.

In 2006 Ford sold Land Rover and Jaguar as well as rights to the names ‘Rover’, ‘Daimler’ and ‘Lanchester’ to Tata Motors of India, who retain ownership to this day.

Since then Tata have done a superb job with Range Rover, sustaining its position in the face of a tidal wave of prestige challengers. Soon we will have a Tesla, a Bentley and a Maserati in the category, and Tata has sufficient confidence in Range Rover to announce a Jaguar SUV (above).

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Although Tata bought a solid range of products, the real value lies in the brand equity, or in quainter terms, the goodwill.

And a lot of the Range Rover goodwill is conveyed by that handsome face. Early in its life, this look was considered for the stillborn Rover P8 saloon. Top right is the SD5 prototype; a Land Rover variant bearing more resemblance to its uncle than to its father.

The 1989 Discovery was the first Range Rover diffusion product put to market, with a styling nod to the Rancho. This was followed by the 1997 Freelander, again with ‘input’ from the Rancho. While both these vehicles were marketed as Land Rovers, they were far more visually reliant upon the Range Rover.

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Today, there are seven distinct product lines in the stable. Six of them carry the same face, whether branded Land Rover, Discovery or Range Rover.

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As for the seventh, its eyes wandered outward in 1968 where they have sat since – long enough to be even more familiar than the original – but I wonder whether the recognition prompt might also be in those cheekbones.

BMW’s canny stewardship of MINI and Rolls-Royce are ample evidence of the value of a face. Tata has proven the same with Range Rover. But with the final Defender having left the Solihull production line, and with the 2011 DC100 concept bearing so little similarity to its forebears, is Tata about to squander this valuable facial asset?

Does Tata see the value, as Jeep and Toyota still do, in keeping both a car-face and a jeep-face?

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The alterations to the Range Rover face over time have made for fascinating viewing. Every element of the strip has been completely changed from the original – headlight/setting, turning signals, grille grain and texture, bumper and even the strip’s silhouette, and yet resemblance is retained. That clamshell hood with lettering and castellated cheekbones definitely plays its part.

A masterclass in visual evolution. Having said that, their product-line differentiation is increasingly lacking – which might actually be the point.

The latest version broke more ground by sloping the face plane back. I recall hearing an interview with someone from Land Rover who spoke of much internal wringing of hands over this decision, but it doesn’t seem to have put the buyers off.

One clever touch can be seen in the Vogue’s profile shot with the optional detailing – matt silver in this case but also available in black for lighter-coloured models. The three ‘vents’ in the front door are clearly referencing the original door handles and can be specified without the lower lengthwise highlight. But with the lower highlight it looks like an external exhaust manifold and pipe. Interestingly, most of the ones I’ve seen on the road have the lower highlight without the highlighted vents.

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Over here the original Range Rover suffered the fate shared by many a Mercedes-Benz W123 and Volvo 240 wagon; a handmedown that became an increasingly tatty presence on the road. Or else they were exiled to the farm and used as paddock-bashers. Which makes survivors like this extremely rare and increasingly valuable.

The current owner bought it from its first owner, a family friend who had treated it with respect for 30-odd years and it remains unrestored.

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It now shares garage space with a host of Range Rovers up to a 2009 Vogue, as well as a Defender workhorse and a 2014 Toyota Land Cruiser company car. But when the weather’s ideal, our Range Rover connoisseur loves to drive this and I would see it quite often before he moved his offices elsewhere.

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This Range Rover doesn’t appeal to me because of its capabilities or for what it might represent.
I love it because it is still better-looking than pretty much every other vehicle on the road.

Or off it.

My thanks to John H, Roger Carr and Ed Stembridge for their help with this piece.