Five Tri­als – fall­ing in love with the orig­i­nal Range Rover

Five decades on from Rover’s de­ci­sion to use V8s across its range, we still reckon that the en­gine found its nat­u­ral home in the most adapt­able clas­sic ever built

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - THIS WEEK -

In its half cen­tury in UK ser­vice, the Rover V8 has be­come a sort of au­to­mo­tive Bruce Forsyth, pow­er­ing all sorts of house­hold names.

In much the same way that you’d in­stantly recog­nise Bru­cie whether he’s on Strictly Come

Danc­ing or The Gen­er­a­tion Game, you’ll be fa­mil­iar with the Buick­sired mas­ter­piece, whether it’s rum­bling in a P5 or bel­low­ing in a TVR. But it’s in the Range Rover where the V8 re­ally starts to show off. This is where 3.5 litres of alu­minum pushrod per­fec­tion re­ally plays its cards right.

After clam­ber­ing up into this 1970 two-door model – the only fac­tory for­mat in which you could buy the Rangie dur­ing its first decade on sale – you’re in­stantly aware of the sparse, echoey cabin. Don’t for a mo­ment think that the David Bache-penned styling makes it a P6 on stilts. The bouncy PVC-trimmed seats are com­fier than own­ers of the con­tem­po­rary Land Rover Se­ries IIA would have been used to and there are door cards to pro­tect the in­te­rior from the Ba­hama Gold paint­work of our test car. But it’s still a min­i­mal­ist af­fair, with rub­ber floor mats and a sim­plis­tic dash that com­prises two di­als, some fairly rudi­men­tary heater con­trols and not much else.

All of which means that there’s pre­cious lit­tle to soften the V8’s bari­tone rum­ble when you reach for­ward and flick the ig­ni­tion. It’s a won­der­ful, deep-throated sound that seems to ric­o­chet off the door pil­lars and rip­ple gen­tly through the footwells. It’s con­sid­er­ably more vo­cal than it is in the later four-door mod­els with their in­creas­ingly thick lay­ers of trim and sound dead­en­ing to in­su­late you from the out­side world – in its orig­i­nal form the V8 is for­ever singing to you. Yet un­less you re­ally prod your muddy right boot into the footwell it’s never over­bear­ing or irk­some.

The best way to un­lock the mo­tor’s tal­ents is to avoid thrash­ing it and take ad­van­tage of its seem­ingly end­less re­serves of torque, which are served up from just 2500rpm. You swap cogs us­ing a long, spindly gear­lever that ex­tends so far up from the trans­mis­sion tun­nel that it feels like it’s of­fer­ing you its palm for a hand­shake. And while it feels like the ra­tios are yards apart, the changes are smooth and en­tirely suited to the car’s in­her­ent easy­go­ing char­ac­ter.

Be­fore you know it you’re cruis­ing at 40mph down sweep­ing coun­try roads and while you can al­ways hear the gen­tle whine of the four-speed trans­mis­sion back­ing up the rum­ble of the V8, it’s a pleas­ant place to be. The high driv­ing po­si­tion and slab sides mean that the driver al­ways has a com­mand­ing view and while the en­gine is tuned for low down torque rather than out­right grunt it never feels par­tic­u­larly trou­bled when you ask it to keep up with mod­ern traf­fic.

The coil sus­pen­sion must have been a rev­e­la­tion when it was in­tro­duced to the welly-wear­ing out­door set back in 1970 – you feel the bumps and rat­tles more than you do in later Range Rovers, but it’s leagues ahead of the leaf- sprung Land Rovers they were more used to.

It also plays its part in mak­ing cor­ners less daunt­ing than you might ex­pect of a gi­ant shod with chunky Miche­lin tyres de­signed more for muddy slopes than sweep­ing left-han­ders. Point the Range Rover’s clamshell bon­net into a bend and yes, there’s a fair amount of roll, but it main­tains a quiet com­po­sure as long as you don’t take lib­er­ties, and im­me­di­ately set­tles down again when you exit the cor­ner. The unas­sisted steer­ing is weighty and re­spon­sive too, and doesn’t give you any cause for con­cern.

The ef­fec­tive­ness of Soli­hull’s fam­ily-friendly mud-plug­ger and the love­able V8 made it even more suc­cess­ful a part­ner­ship than Bruce was with The

Gen­er­a­tion Game – the Range Rover main­tained the same ba­sic shape and pow­er­plant for 26 years whereas Bru­cie man­aged a rel­a­tively pif­fling 11.

In short, this is a part­ner­ship honed to ab­so­lute per­fec­tion. Didn’t they do well?

reg­u­lar ser­vic­ing keeps the V8 re­li­able and Diy is rel­a­tively easy thanks to am­ple space around – and un­der – the en­gine.

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