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
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.