Hard road to world success

By Phil Hanson

Phil Hanson looks at the life and times of the mighty Range Rover

1971 Range Rover classic. Photo / Supplied
1971 Range Rover classic. Photo / Supplied

In June 1970, Land Rover changed the way the world thinks of four-wheel-drive vehicles when it unveiled the first Range Rover.

It could have happened much earlier. Land Rover had been looking at the idea of an upmarket off-roader since the mid-1950s and even built prototypes on the Rover P4 car chassis, calling it the Road Rover.

But Land Rover bosses had other things on their minds and shelved the project until 1966 when engineers Spencer King and Gordon Bashford tried again with a design based on a 100-inch chassis and the powerful but relatively light alloy V8 engine recently bought from Buick.

Pre-production vehicles were called the Velar.

King, widely acknowledged as the father of the Range Rover, died in 2010 aged 85 - 20 years after the company introduced a special CSK edition of the Range Rover, celebrating his design genius.

Luxury off-roaders were already established when the Rangie appeared. Americans had been enjoying the luxurious V8 Jeep Wagoneer, the odd-looking Jeepster and a top-spec version of the Chevrolet Blazer.

The genius of King and his team was to create a lean and purposeful full-time 4WD that looked good to people of any nationality, rode and handled well on road, yet had the best off-road ability of any production vehicle in the world at the time.

But in the early days, the Range Rover's luxuriousness was more implied than explicit.

Its interior could be hosed down - promoted in advertising as a plus. It had only two doors and lacked an automatic transmission.

A four-door was introduced in 1981, and an automatic the following year. By the late 1980s the top Vogue SE not only had full carpet but air conditioning, four-speed automatic transmission, Connolly hide upholstery and an electric tilt slide sunroof.

History now tells us that the Range Rover suffered from corporate neglect, penny-pinching and poor decision-making, yet succeeded despite all that.

A new Range Rover finally appeared in 1995 although, for a while, it was built alongside the original.

By now, it had well and truly morphed into a luxury vehicle, a position in life that new owner BMW was determined to continue and enhance.

The P38 was shortlived, replaced in 2002 by a radically new design. Its development programme was claimed at the time as the most expensive ever for a vehicle.

Today, some people still consider the "classic" better than any successors from the brand's BMW, Ford and Tata owners and top examples fetch good money.

The original shape has also become a favourite of hardcore off-roaders, such is the suitability of its basic design for serious trail-bashing.

- NZ Herald

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