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Land Rover Range Rover (1970 - 1996)

Last updated 5 June 2013

 
5

Model Timeline

June 1964
Rover looks to build a new vehicle to increase sales in the USA

Thanks to the success of the newly-launched Ford Bronco and Jeep Wagoneer, the big growth area was in this market. 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 in this market.

One thing that King felt in developing a suspension system for any car designed for this market, was the need for massive wheel travel and low-rate springs (which went against the thoughts that Brian Sylvester had in the direction of interconnection) 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.

February 1965
New V8 chosen to power the latest off-road Rover, codenamed 100-inch Station Wagon

Engine-wise, there was no contest: the V8 engine had been recently bought 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 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 syste, 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.

David Bache always wanted the 100-inch Station Wagon to look more like a car, less like the boxy and utilitarian device that was the Land Rover. This early clay model shows the way he wanted the design to go.

David Bache always wanted the 100-inch Station Wagon to look more like a car, less like the boxy and utilitarian device that was the Land Rover. This early clay model shows the way he wanted the design to go.

January 1967
First 100-inch Station Wagon mock-up built

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.

As can be seen in the accompanying photograph, it was this prototype 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.

Accident in design: the 100-inch Station Wagon prototype was built up under the close scrutiny of Spen King and Gordon Bashford, and the body style in this photograph was intended only as a temporary measure in order to clothe the running gear, whilst David Bache devised the definitve design. However, the management of the company liked this proposal so much, they asked for it to remain, with only the lightest of changes.

Accident in design: the 100-inch Station Wagon prototype was built up under the close scrutiny of Spen King and Gordon Bashford, and the body style in this photograph was intended only as a temporary measure in order to clothe the running gear, whilst David Bache devised the definitve design. However, the management of the company liked this proposal so much, they asked for it to remain, with only the lightest of changes.

As recounted many times elsewhere, 1966 marked the time when the Rover Company was bought out by the 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 (as they were the Rover P8, that was also under development at the time) 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 style into something more stylish.

September 1967
100-inch Station Wagon full-sized prototype built

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. The concept was good – and everyone within Rover knew that this time, they had got everything right. David Bache, meanwhile, worked on his task of cleaning up the design, but as can be seen in the styling photographs, very little was changed, and certainly nothing fundamental.

As can be seen in this image, the David Bache studio worked on the original design, simply adding style in the more obvious areas. A more definite grille/headlamp arrangement was worked on, whilst some other detailing was tidied (look at the window surrounds, side swage lines and rear lamp clusters). This model was also badged a "Road-Rover" in deference to the older design study, but at the time (September 1967), it was still known simply as the 100-inch Station Wagon.

As can be seen in this image, the David Bache studio worked on the original design, simply adding style in the more obvious areas. A more definite grille/headlamp arrangement was worked on, whilst some other detailing was tidied (look at the window surrounds, side swage lines and rear lamp clusters). This model was also badged a "Road-Rover" in deference to the older design study, but at the time (September 1967), it was still known simply as the 100-inch Station Wagon.

March 1968
David Bache restyled the prototype

By early 1968, the David Bache restyle on 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 name was originally used on the P6 BS. Mike Dunn was asked to make a name using letters from Alvis and Rover, and came up with the now legendary moniker. The Spanish word Velar, and Italian word velare, which means to keep secret or hide away, was the inspiration behind the name. When it came to registering the prototype Range Rovers, they were badged as Velars to keep the press away, but also registered as Velars on the V5. When the tax was renewed on the cars, they were all changed to Rover Range Rovers on the V5.).

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.

June 1970
Range Rover launched to the press

Finally on 17 June 1970, the Range Rover was launched to the press. It has passed into history that they loved the car one and all, but that was probably down to years of defining then refining the project, whilst sticking to the design they had arrived at, without undue modification. The result was that demand 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 breadth of ability that the it possessed.

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 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.

There is not a lot to be said that hasn't been already about the style of the Range Rover. Quite simply, this 1970 car was just about perfect in every detail (picture supplied by Graham Arnold).

There is not a lot to be said that hasn't been already about the style of the Range Rover. Quite simply, this 1970 car was just about perfect in every detail.

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”. CAR magazine commended it in their 1971 car of the year issue (it came second behind the Citroen GS) and soon after, it won the Dewar trophy for “Outstanding British technical achievement in the automotive world”.

It seemed that everyone did indeed love the Range Rover. Autocar magazine loved it as well, and in its November 1970 Autotest, it concluded: 'We have been tremendously impressed by the Range Rover, and feel it is even more deserving of resounding success than the Land-Rover.'

January 1971

The French honour the Range Rover

A model Range Rover is exhibited in the Louvre museum in Paris as an example, 'of modern automotive art'

January 1972
Range Rover becomes the first vehicle to cross the Darrien Gap

January 1973
First major revisions

Optional power steering, brushed nylon upholstery and inertia reel seat belts added.

January 1974
Trim upgrades

More interior luxury, with better carpeting on the transmission tunnel and two roof-mounted interior lights.

January 1975
More options added

First option pack includes power steering, tinted glass, front seat headrests and front inertia reel seat belts British Leyland knew it was on to a winner, and ensured that the price of Range Rover 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 modifcations to the design, people continued to clamour for it.

To give you an idea of how slowly other manufacturers were at taking up the Range Rover challenge, when Motor magazine tested it in 1975, it was quick to point out the fact that the Range Rover remained unique in the market. 'As we said at the beginning, the Range Rover is unique but not just because of the concept but also because it is a brilliant blend of compromises – it does so many things so well. It isn’t perfect, but there are so few cars which even begin to compete. We love it!'

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 – the Range Rover would have to fend for itself.

January 1976
Range Rover tweaked

The single tailpipe is replaced by the more efficient twin version. Transfer box gearing is raised by five per cent to improve fuel economy.

January 1977
Better view back

Optional exterior mirrors migrate from the bonnet to the doors.

January 1978
Gearing improvements - at a price

Fairey overdrive a new optional extra to aid economy and restful cruising and windscreen wipers are painted black.

March 1979
Land Rover becomes a separate company within BL

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 “Leyland Cars” one-badge-fits-all policy, it was only right that Land Rover should be separated from Austin-Morris and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph – so the formation of Land Rover Limited, as a separate and autonomous company in 1979 marked the beginning of some real investment in the company.

Testing the water: Land Rover watched with interest the world's reaction to the Monteverdi five-door conversion, which showed that the Range Rover's style would not suffer unduly by the addition of two extra doors.

Testing the water: Land Rover watched with interest the world's reaction to the Monteverdi five-door conversion, which showed that the Range Rover's style would not suffer unduly by the addition of two extra doors.

Interior of a 1983 factory four-door version shows that the idea of a Range Rover with bare, utilitarian trim and hose-clean flooring has been consigned to history. This version was sumptuous and deeply carpeted - very similar, in fact, to its contemporary, the SD1 Vanden Plas.

Interior of a 1983 factory four-door version shows that the idea of a Range Rover with bare, utilitarian trim and hose-clean flooring has been consigned to history. This version was sumptuous and deeply carpeted - very similar, in fact, to its contemporary, the SD1 Vanden Plas.

Outwardly, 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.

May 1980
Monteverdi five-door Range Rover launched

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. Of course, Land Rover cannot have been encouraged by the Monteverdi’s pitiful sales (it was painfully expensive though), but the reaction to the five door concept added impetus to plans to introduce their own version.

Rover had produced this four-door prototype Range Rover way back in 1972 - looking almost identical to the finished article. Sadly, the company did not have the resources with which to get it into production.

Rover had produced this four-door prototype Range Rover way back in 1972 - looking almost identical to the finished article. Sadly, the company did not have the resources with which to get it into production.

September 1980
Schuler launches Range Rover automatic transmission conversion

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 self-shifter never appeared.

Thanks to the specialist market, however, Land Rover could test the market’s reaction to this (by approving it). 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 devlopment programme based around the venerable Chrysler Torqueflite transmission.

October 1980
Range Rover In Vogue special edition launched

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 a classical one: 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 photoshoots.

1980, and the scheme to improve the car's frontal aspect bears fruit. Management decided not to pursue the project...thankfully.

1980, and the scheme to improve the car's frontal aspect bears fruit. Management decided not to pursue the project...thankfully.

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 (Carbodies, for example, would order in the front door lower panels for their ill-fated CR6 Taxi-cab project)

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, bit 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 shutlines.

July 1982
Factory autos and five-doors now in production


The automatic duly followed in July 1982, which proved to be better than most commentators had been expecting. Further 'In Vogue' models were produced to showcase the new models, and thanks to their success (and higher price) the Vogue became a production model in its own right in 1984.

January 1983
Range Rover five-speed launched

The ageing four-speed manual gearbox is replaced by the LT77 five-speed gearbox as used in the Rover SD1.

August 1984
Vogue production model launched

January 1985
Transmission improvements

Vogue models are fitted with fuel injection and the German ZF four-speed automatic gearbox replaces the American GM three-speeder.

January 1986
Range Rover gets VM diesel

At last, a diesel option is available. Unfortunately, it is the unloved 2.4L (later 2.5L) Italian VM unit rather than the stillborn 'Iceberg' V8.

January 1987
Front end restyle

The metal grille with horizontal slats becomes plastic with vertical slats, bonnet hinges are concealed and new bumper end caps are fitted. The tailgate lock moves from outside to inside. All V8s are now fuel injected. The Range Rover is launched in North America with a similar specification to the UK.

January 1988
More tweaks

The chain-driven transfer box is introduced, central locking extended to the tailgate and the Vogue SE is the new flagship with standard leather trim, air-conditioning and ZF auto ‘box.

September 1989
3.9-litre V8 replaced 3.5

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. Sales continued to hold up well past its 15th birthday – and the introduction of the 3.9-litre engine and revised dashboard in 1989 ensured its continued appeal.

January 1990
CSK special edition launched

The two-door CSK (named after Charles Spencer King, the creator) model is announced, all of which utilise a 3.9L V8 with five-speed manual gearbox. An instant classic is created. A polyurethane safety fuel tank is fitted to all models and front/rear anti-roll bars are made standard on Vogue/SE models.

January 1991
All models receive anti-roll bars and the manual gearbox is slightly upgraded.

May 1992
Long-wheelbase Range Rover launched

In 1992, and just two years before its replacement was due, the long wheelbase version appeared. This model with a 108-inch wheelbase (similar to what Gordon Bashford wanted when he sketched out the five-door model for Land Rover back in 1979) had its length added in the rear door area only, but to many people’s eyes, it was an improvement over the original. It certainly looked more balanced…

The rear room in the LWB Range Rover of 1992 was truly impressive. The car's transformation from utility vehicle to luxury saloon, arguably, was complete.

The rear room in the LWB Range Rover of 1992 was truly impressive. The car's transformation from utility vehicle to luxury saloon, arguably, was complete.

This longer model, denoted the LSE also benefited from the addition of an entirely new air suspension system known as ECAS (Electronically Controlled Air Susupension) sported some very sophisticated features. Apart from the added refinement afforded 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 over 50mph). It also made loading and unloading a doddle because the vehicle dropped to its lowest setting when the car was at rest.

The long wheelbase Vogue LSE is powered by a 4.2-litre 200bhp V8, has traction control and air suspension – effectively a ‘mule’ for the imminent P38. Petrol-engined cars are fitted with catalytic exhaust systems. The VM diesel is ditched for Land Rover’s own 200 Tdi version as used in the newly landed Discovery.

September 1994
Range Rover P38 launched, Classic remains in production

The smooth dashboard is introduced complete with twin front airbags. The diesel option is uprated to the 300Tdi. The Range Rover continued in production for some time after its replacement, the P38A Pegasus model was launched, in September 1994, and one can only surmise that even after the introduction of the new car, the Classic Range Rover continued to sell well because it was a tried a tested model which still looked so very, very good.

In its time, the Range Rover has been called many things, including the “Best 4x4xFar” and, “The Rolls-Royce of off-roaders” but one legacy it did leave was the trouble the company would have in replacing it. Certainly, the P38A was a better car, but somehow it never quite looked as good – a fact that can be seen in the two car’s production runs: over 25 years for the original, seven years for its replacement.

February 1996
Range Rover Classic production ended

Production ceases, and Noel Edmunds drives the last - the 317,615th - car off the line. At the beginning of this story, the Range Rover was described as iconic… in many ways it was. Its contribution to automotive history can be seen in the multitude of posh off-roaders available today such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz M Class… before the Range Rover, the idea of a luxury off-roader would have been laughable; now it is accepted as much as front wheel drive is for small cars. Indeed, the Range Rover was an important car and it still is… another car, of which the British should be justifiably proud.

The official long wheelbase conversion appears not to have harmed the Range Rover's balanced looks one bit.

The official LWB conversion appears not to have harmed the Range Rover's balanced looks one bit.

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