New Zealand Classic Car - - MOTOR MAN - Pho­tos: Jamie An­der­son


Ask Rus­sell John­son how many Range Rovers he owns and he’ll say seven, yet af­ter a mo­ment or two, he con­tra­dicts him­self — “No, prob­a­bly nine or 10.” Ei­ther way you’d be hard pressed to find any­one else in New Zealand who has as many Clas­sic model Range Rovers as this semi-re­tired Waikato dairy farmer. Yet surely there’s a rea­son for this al­most ob­ses­sive own­er­ship of a par­tic­u­lar ve­hi­cle? “I just like the things — it’s a dis­ease,” says Rus­sell, whose Land Rover ex­pe­ri­ence be­gan many years ago with a 1951 Se­ries 1 which was used on the farm. In 1990 one of his sons went hunt­ing with mates in a Range Rover, ven­tur­ing down a steep clay hill. When it came time to leave, the boys were too re­luc­tant to tackle such an am­bi­tious climb. Leav­ing their Range Rover where it was, they called on Rus­sell who ar­rived with chains and then pro­ceeded to sim­ply power up the in­cline with ap­par­ent ease. The res­cue even sur­prised the lo­cal sta­tion owner, who re­lated that only two ve­hi­cles had ever gone down the hill and been able to re­turn! So, when a well used, al­beit well priced, two-door Clas­sic Range Rover came up for sale at a lo­cal garage, John­son was hooked. Four of Rus­sell’s RRS are early two-doors which are to­day the most highly prized — the old­est an un­re­stored 1972 Lin­coln Green ex­am­ple. This ve­hi­cle, which has a rare steel bon­net, was among the very first ship­ment of Range Rovers to land in New Zealand, and was only the 114th to roll off the Soli­hull as­sem­bly line in the English Mid­lands. Re­mark­ably, it is just three units away from the Clas­sic I road-tested for mag­a­zine in 1972, which bore a chas­sis num­ber end­ing in 117. None of the John­son fleet is in pris­tine con­di­tion, as the op­er­at­ing Clas­sics work on and off road as they were orig­i­nally in­tended. The 1972 Clas­sic still has its com­pre­hen­sive tool­kit in­tact. When we called at the farm, Rus­sell had lined up four of his trea­sures on the front lawn in what was an im­pres­sive show­ing. He had an­other Ba­hama Gold ’72 two-door un­der a tree else­where on the prop­erty, but that rather sad ex­am­ple is des­tined only for spares. His new­est two-door was built in 1974, com­plet­ing a unique col­lec­tion of orig­i­nal Range Rovers, be­cause by the late ’80s the ve­hi­cle could only be ac­quired with four doors, apart from the limited-edi­tion CSK spe­cials. John­son’s Sa­hara Dust–coloured 1973 two door (chas­sis num­ber 1279) is ripe for restora­tion but still very orig­i­nal, and the col­lec­tion also in­cludes three ’89 four-door Vogues, a 1988 four-door diesel that found its way from Australia, and a 1988 four-door that will be a donor ve­hi­cle. The most re­cent Clas­sic is a 1994 ex­am­ple, built just be­fore the model was re­placed by the P38 sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Range Rover. When the mo­tor cooked on one of the 1989 Vogues, the 3.9-litre V8 was re­built with a longer-stroke crankshaft, boost­ing ca­pac­ity to 5.0 litres. Rus­sell is keen on other Rovers, too. He has a regular Land Rover and a tidy Nel­son-as­sem­bled Rover P6 3500 sa­loon that he ac­quired 37 years ago with a mere 17,000km on the clock. Then there’s a blue 1983 Rover SD1 Vitesse that still has an orig­i­nal Avon tyre and al­loy spare which has never left the boot. Look­ing af­ter such a large col­lec­tion is no mean feat, and 70-year-old John­son will ul­ti­mately hand the cars on to his sons, who are also keen car en­thu­si­asts. “Some­times I won­der why I don’t sell the lot and get a new Range Rover Sport,” he says, “then again, why don’t I keep all the Range Rovers and still get a Sport?” Ei­ther way, Rus­sell John­son stands as ar­guably the most avid Range Rover fan in New Zealand — pro­vided, of course, it’s a first-gen­er­a­tion Clas­sic.

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