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.