The Range Rover celebrates its 40th birthday. One of the most significant vehicles in the history of motoring, the Range Rover was the world’s first vehicle as good on-road as off-road. It was the first fully capable luxury 4×4 and was a milestone in the development of the SUV. From princes to politicians, from rock gods to rock climbers, from footballers to farmers, the Range Rover has always appealed to a diverse group of customers.
The Range Rover was announced to the world’s media on 17 June, 1970 (the press launch was in Cornwall, with the off-road testing in tin mines near St Agnes). The first Range Rover sales brochure spoke about ‘the most versatile motor car in the world’, and the ‘interfusing of Rover car comfort with Land Rover strength and four-wheel drive mobility’. The Range Rover went on to be the world’s first luxury all-terrain vehicle. But, although that first Range Rover had a luxury car ride and premium saloon performance, it certainly did not have the trimmings of a luxury car. That came quite a few years later.
The first Range Rover was a relatively spartan vehicle inside, with vinyl seat trim and vinyl and moulded rubber flooring to make it easy to hose out. There was no wood, or leather, or even carpet.
The key quality that gave the Range Rover its luxury road car feel, and its awesome off-road ability, was the long travel coil springs. Their long travel nature also made for fantastic axle articulation, a big advantage off-road. A rear self-levelling unit maintained handling and ride quality irrespective of load. The Range Rover was also the first off-road vehicle to use disc brakes front and rear. These were necessary because of the vehicle’s considerable performance: 96mph top speed made it the fastest, and quickest accelerating, 4×4 on the road.
The performance came from the brawny aluminium 3.5-litre 156bhp V8, a modified version of a Buick/General Motors design. The engine, also used in a Rover saloon, was ideally suited to the Range Rover: it was light, powerful, torquey and mechanically simple. It was allied to a four-speed manual gearbox. The two-speed transfer gearbox gave, in effect, eight speeds. A centre differential allowed for permanent four-wheel drive. Again, this was unique. All other production 4x4s of the time, including the contemporary Land Rover, had selectable 4×4. The centre diff could be locked for enhanced off-road prowess.
There have been three generations of Range Rover. The original, now known as the Classic, went on sale in 1970 and continued in production, with numerous upgrades and a multiplicity of variants, for just over 25 years. The second-generation vehicle, known as the P38a, went on sale in 1994 and was replaced in 2001 by the current model, the L322.
A second model line, the Range Rover Sport, was launched in 2005, aimed at more sports-oriented driver-focused customers. It has been a great success, and in 2007 was Land Rover’s biggest selling vehicle worldwide.
Later this year, a further member of the Range Rover family will be added, taking the portfolio to three model lines. The all-new compact Range Rover to be revealed at autumn‘s Paris Motors Show. The new vehicle will be smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient, tying in perfectly with the Range Rover brand’s commitment to environmental sustainability. Yet it will be no less premium, no less luxurious, and no less special than the other Range Rover models.