Early Range Rover prices are ris­ing — Donn ex­plains why th­ese unique ve­hi­cles are des­tined to be­come de­sir­able clas­sic cars

New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS -


eing first is not al­ways the best out­come. Pic­ture this: you are on Coro­man­del’s Hot Wa­ter Beach with a brand-new Range Rover stuck in the sand with an in­com­ing tide, and there is no one around. It’s 1972 and the ve­hi­cle in trou­ble is one of the first Range Rovers to ar­rive in New Zealand … Yes, I al­most be­came the first in our coun­try to strand a Range Rover off road. It was a quiet Sun­day at Coro­man­del, and I had night­mar­ish vi­sions of phon­ing the dis­trib­u­tor on Mon­day morn­ing to give them the bad news that their Lin­coln Green Range Rover GC8335 was lan­guish­ing in the sand, half sub­merged in salt wa­ter.

There was only one thing for it. Tempt fate by head­ing down the soft sand, ever closer to a glow­er­ing ocean, then crank up suf­fi­cient speed and climb back up the beach to safety. It was a gam­ble that worked, and a highly re­lieved driver set forth back to Auck­land in the late-af­ter­noon sun. Our happy crew was now only con­cerned by the devel­op­ment of a noisy whine that sounded sus­pi­ciously like dif­fer­en­tial lock prob­lems.

I deemed it pru­dent to make no com­ment about our beach dra­mas to the lo­cal dis­trib­u­tor, New Zealand Ley­land Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion, and they never told me what was awry with the trans­mis­sion. Much later it was re­vealed an oil seal be­tween the gear­box and trans­fer box had failed, as had an axle bear­ing.

Not a good start for a near-new ve­hi­cle, but clearly a bap­tism by fire. How­ever, we had en­joyed a week­end of clam­ber­ing over a Coro­man­del farm, ford­ing streams, and cruis­ing the open road in a ma­chine des­tined to be­come a mo­tor­ing icon. Decades later GC8335 was still giv­ing ser­vice.

Crunch­ing the Num­bers

This demon­stra­tor was an early ex­am­ple off the Soli­hull line in a year when the pro­duc­tion to­tal of 5510 hardly scratched the sur­face of the car’s sales po­ten­tial. It was launched on June 17, 1970, and a mere 2623 Range Rovers were built be­tween then and the end of 1971, so un­sur­pris­ingly New Zealand was well down the peck­ing or­der for de­liv­er­ies. By the time this first-

gen­er­a­tion model ended pro­duc­tion in 1995, a to­tal of 317,615 so-called Land Rover Range Rover Clas­sics had been made, although some sources quote 325,490. The car’s best year was 1989, when 28,509 were built, and only 4000 rolled off the line in the last year of pro­duc­tion, as the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion P38 gen­er­ated more at­ten­tion.

How­ever, it says vol­umes for the Clas­sic’s pop­u­lar­ity that Bri­tish Ley­land con­tin­ued pro­duc­tion for al­most two years af­ter the P38 Range Rover had gone on sale.

Most ve­hi­cles came from Rover’s Soli­hull plant in the Mid­lands, but the Aus­tralians ran a com­pletely knocked down (CKD) as­sem­bly pro­gramme for the first-gen­er­a­tion Range Rover from 1979 un­til 1983, build­ing the cars at En­field in Syd­ney. Smaller CKD as­sem­bly was also un­der­taken in Costa Rica and Venezuela in 1974.

For more than four decades my dream col­lec­tion of cars has al­ways in­cluded at least one Range Rover. Each gen­er­a­tion has its own charm, but none more so than the orig­i­nal two-door with its sim­plic­ity, func­tion and, ar­guably, the best looks of any Range Rover. That the car would be­come a costly luxury fash­ion state­ment was never the in­ten­tion, but a re­flec­tion of con­sumer de­mands. Twenty-four years af­ter the launch of the model Charles Spencer King, the tal­ented en­gi­neer be­hind the ma­chine, mused, “The Range Rover was never in­tended as a sta­tus sym­bol, but later in­car­na­tions of my de­sign seem to be in­tended for this pur­pose.”

In the first decade of pro­duc­tion, Range Rovers were rel­a­tively Spar­tan beasts, with plas­tic floor cov­er­ings (ideal for wash­ing out af­ter a day on the farm), heavy­weight vinyl– cov­ered seats, chunky door han­dles, Rostyle steel wheels, non-re­clin­ing front seats, limited equip­ment and clonky trans­fer boxes.

It took 11 years for Bri­tish Ley­land to be per­suaded into of­fer­ing a four-door ver­sion, and it was in­evitable that the ve­hi­cle would head up mar­ket with au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and all mea­sure of luxury equip­ment.

When the first ex­am­ples ar­rived in New Zealand in 1971 they re­tailed for $6813, ris­ing to $7434 the fol­low­ing year and $7683 in 1973. With high in­fla­tion, the Range Rover broke the $10k bar­rier in 1974, and by the mid ’80s the new list price topped $70,000. Un­til 1974 the value of used Range Rovers ac­tu­ally ap­pre­ci­ated for their lucky own­ers.

The last of the Clas­sics were sold in the mid ’90s with eye­wa­ter­ing re­tails of $114,990 for a man­ual, $119,990 in auto trans­mis­sion mode, and $139,990 for a top-spec Vogue SE.

As a swan song for the two-door ver­sion and a trib­ute to Spen King, a limited-edi­tion spe­cial, badged CSK, was launched late in 1990. Buy­ers snapped up the 200 units and most went to UK own­ers. Four went to South Africa, three to Australia, and New Zealand re­ceived 12, re­tail­ing at just un­der $100,000. Australia pro­duced 400 of the CSK mod­els, but they were based on the four-door Vogue.

The sig­nif­i­cance of the Uk-built CSK, apart from its rar­ity value, is that it was the first Range Rover to em­body sus­pen­sion changes that made this unique SUV a much bet­ter high­way propo­si­tion — changes later adapted to other Range Rover mod­els.

Me­chan­i­cal De­sign

Sadly the three men re­spon­si­ble for the orig­i­nal Range Rover — Spen King (en­gi­neer­ing), Gor­don Bash­ford (en­gi­neer­ing) and David Bache (styling) — have all passed away. Bache, who went on to style the Rover SD1 hatch­back, was so im­pressed by King’s ini­tial styling ideas and draw­ings that he made min­i­mal changes to the even­tual body shape. This is a rare car in that its body was shaped by the en­gi­neer­ing team rather than a styling di­vi­sion.

The ven­er­a­ble ex Gen­eral Mo­tors pushrod 3.5-litre al­loy V8 fed by a pair of Zenith-stromberg CD2 car­bu­ret­tors pro­duced a mod­est 97kw (130bhp) and was up­graded with fuel in­jec­tion in 1985, boost­ing power to 123kw (165bhp). A three-speed Chrysler Torqueflite au­to­matic op­tion was avail­able from 1982, and the fol­low­ing year a five-speed man­ual gear­box re­placed the four­speeder. From 1978 the car could be or­dered with an op­tional Fairey over­drive unit. In 1987 a four-stage ZF auto re­placed the three-speed com­po­nent. At the tail end of 1989 the V8 was in­creased to 3.9 litres, while anti-lock brakes were in­tro­duced. A long-wheel­base Vogue four-door ar­rived in 1992 with air sus­pen­sion (which can be trou­ble­some) and trac­tion con­trol, and in 1994 airbags be­came stan­dard and the newer R380 gear­box was fit­ted. With an eye on the Euro­pean mar­ket, the 2.5-litre Ital­ian VM turbo-diesel four-cylin­der en­gine be­came an op­tion in 1986. This was re­placed six years later by Land Rover’s own sim­i­lar-ca­pac­ity 200TDI, and then in 1994 by the 300TDI which was also 2.5 litres, and was smoother and qui­eter. >

Two ver­sions of the VM — pro­duc­ing 84kw and then 89kw (112/119bhp) — gave mod­est per­for­mance, while the 200TDI pro­duced no more power, and the 300TDI only im­proved to 91kw (122bhp). Lit­tle won­der th­ese diesel Range Rovers were hardly inspiring per­form­ers.

Diesel Range Rovers were not of­fi­cially im­ported into New Zealand un­til 1993, and the first man­ual-only ex­am­ples cost $115,000, or around $5000 less than a petrol Vogue V8 auto.

Four Cars in One

At launch in 1970 the first two-door Range Rover was launched as ‘four cars in one’ — a luxury car, a per­for­mance car, an es­tate and a cross-coun­try car. With the four-speed gear­box and com­bined trans­fer gear­box giv­ing eight for­ward and two re­verse ra­tios, there was a gear for ev­ery sit­u­a­tion. Per­ma­nent four-wheel drive had been achieved by in­cor­po­rat­ing a third dif­fer­en­tial, be­tween the two driv­ing axles, which could be locked at the flick of a switch to pro­vide even bet­ter ad­he­sion.

Driv­e­line back­lash is com­mon on pre-1986 mod­els, but the chain-drive trans­fer case with vis­cous-cou­pling dif­fer­en­tial lock that was in­tro­duced in 1989 is ex­tremely re­li­able.

The self-lev­el­ling Boge Hy­dro­mat de­vice was a strong sell­ing point, along with four-wheel disc brakes and the sturdy beam axle and coil spring sus­pen­sion that gave such a good ride. On early mod­els you had to pay ex­tra for the Ad­west Vara­matic power as­sis­tance for the Bur­man re­cir­cu­lat­ing ball, worm and nut steer­ing. The long-wheel­base four-door came late in Clas­sic pro­duc­tion and was heav­ier, had a worse turn­ing cir­cle and didn’t look as sharp as the other ver­sions.

The sep­a­rate box-sec­tion steel chas­sis had the strength of a Land Rover, and the dou­ble-skinned al­loy outer skin was key to the lack of rust­ing. How­ever, the body shell is fixed to the chas­sis with lots of bolts (likely to be rusty in old age), and there are weak spots around the front and rear cross­mem­ber, outrig­gers and coil-spring mounts.

Nat­u­rally, in­ner and outer sills are cru­cial to the shell’s strength, and the steel tail­gates are prone to rust. You might joke that the tool­kit is com­pre­hen­sive be­cause you will need it, but the con­tents are still im­pres­sive, and com­prise pli­ers, screw­driver, tyre gauge, box span­ner, tommy bar, six span­ners, wheel brace, grease gun and jack.

Ig­nore the poor panel and bon­net fit since this is com­mon to all first-gen­er­a­tion mod­els, and the gear whine on early ex­am­ples largely dis­ap­peared in 1983 with the ar­rival of the five-speed gear­box. Never use the park­ing brake for emer­gen­cies as it feeds through the var­i­ous joints, and causes the ve­hi­cle to slam to a halt if en­gaged on the move. Idler gear bear­ings in the trans­fer box are prone to wear, and while the V8 is ex­tremely re­li­able, regular oil changes are ad­vis­able and help re­duce pre­ma­ture camshaft wear.

Driv­ing and trav­el­ling in a Range Rover is a spe­cial oc­ca­sion, from the climb up into the cock­pit and onto the air­craft-style front seats to ad­mire ex­cel­lent all-round visibility. Lack of power steer­ing on some early mod­els is a trial at slow speeds, and gen­er­ous body roll may be a con­cern. Weigh­ing in at around 1900kg, this may be a tall ve­hi­cle with heavy beam axles and ’60s tech­nol­ogy, yet at launch it rep­re­sented a new breed of du­alpur­pose car with good grip in all con­di­tions.

Ap­pre­ci­at­ing Clas­sic

Twenty years elapsed be­tween my road test of an orig­i­nal Range Rover and the two-door CSK I drove in 1992, but I still en­thused over what was the best luxury 4WD ve­hi­cle in the world. By the ’90s al­most all new ex­am­ples sold in New Zealand were au­to­mat­ics, and while the Ja­panese had im­proved both the of­froad ca­pa­bil­ity and spec­i­fi­ca­tion lev­els of their SUVS, they were still un­able to match the im­age and mana of the first­gen­er­a­tion Range Rover.

This is a car that drives well in old age — a tri­umph of de­sign en­gi­neer­ing, marred only by some­times iffy qual­ity, poor-fit­ting trim and com­po­nents with less than ideal re­li­a­bil­ity. You will need to per­se­vere with heavy fuel con­sump­tion, but be re­as­sured that your Clas­sic Range Rover is a min­i­mal de­pre­ci­a­tor, un­like ev­ery­day cars. In fact, the val­ues of first-gen­er­a­tion ex­am­ples are clearly mov­ing up.

Not ev­ery­one, of course, ad­mires Range Rovers. One ob­server de­scribed them as “A shock­ingly un­re­li­able, over­priced piece of Bri­tish non­sense.” How­ever, de­spite its well-known flaws, the orig­i­nal Range Rover has be­come an au­to­mo­tive icon with its time­less looks, prac­ti­cal split-tail­gate ar­range­ment and bril­liant float­ing-roof de­sign. Not to men­tion out­stand­ing off-road man­ners and a cer­tain charm no other man­u­fac­turer has been able to em­u­late.

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