(first posted 1/2/2012)
Ah, the noble Range Rover.
In the mid-1960s, Rover looked West, and saw that usable 4x4s were beginning to gain traction (groan) in the United States. Wheels began turning (alright I’ll stop) in Britain, and 1970 saw the birth of what would become the archetypal luxury SUV. The Range Rover could accomplish anything a contemporary road car could, combined with an ability to tackle the roughest terrain. Short overhangs, long-travel coil springs, and the torquey Rover 3.5 L aluminum V8 (neé Buick 215) made it hugely capable both on the road and off, in a way that no vehicle of its time could match.
The press and public loved it immediately, and over its long life it spawned many imitators; none ever achieved the same combination of class and versatility the Range Rover could offer, although the Lamborghini LM002 at least took things in a slightly different (read: totally awesome) direction. By the time the original Range Rover finished its long production run in 1996, the SUV market had been booming for some time. The Gold Rush was on, and the Range Rover quickly shed its early seventies’ utilitarian starkness and became plush, like everything else in its genre else during the eighties and nineties.
I love these cars. Every time I see one I’m consumed with longing. I yearn to have one.
This one remains on daily driver duty, probably with a family. I’m sure the children love the comfort and the view from the large windows. Sorry I couldn’t get better photos of the interior. If I ever need to capture window reflections, I know which camera to use.
Teddy bears were an optional extra.
Door handles, like the controls in the cabin, can be easily operated while wearing gloves.
Understated detailing on a timeless frame, the Range Rover’s body was mostly designed by its engineers rather than stylists. The body was fashioned to enable the car to be driven on the road legally for testing, but the design was so good it stuck essentially unchanged for 25 years. In 1970 it was put on display in the Louvre as an example of modern sculpture.
The body was constructed out of aluminium panels hung on a steel frame. This and the lightweight Rover V8 helped to keep the weight down from the absurd to the merely ridiculous. On the road the Range Rover is no ballerina, tipping the scales at roughly 2000kg (that’s some 4,400lbs for those of you trapped in the 19th Century) and exhibiting alarming body roll in turns unless fitted with sway bars. The compromise of a silky ride and off-road height.
None of the Range Rover’s disadvantages stop me from wanting, no, needing one. I know that mileage, even with the later diesel engines, is poor. I know that they were indifferently built. Panel gaps, mismatched plastic and adventurous trim abound. Later models are complex and expensive to repair.
And yet it’s so universal. It’s too handsome to be hated, too understated to be ostentatious, too classy to be trashy and too accessible to be snobbish. It wouldn’t look out of place at a shoot, a London carpark, or in the Bolivian jungle.
The driver could be anyone from Prince Charles to a drug dealer. It was turned into a police car and even a Popemobile.
Welcome to the Layer Cake, son.