Whoever it was at Rover that convinced
the powers to be to develop a "high end" Land Rover must have
had an accurate crystal ball, the resulting Range Rover
proving to be a huge sales success and spawning a love
affair for many with the notion of driving a large, expensive
fuel guzzling monster capable of obliterating pedestrians
and other road users without ever having the intention
of taking the vehicle "off road".
Despite several research projects for a luxury Land
Rover conducted in the late 1950's, only the 1958 "Road
Rover" was to make it to prototype stage. The
limited funds assigned to the project however made
the car somewhat of a hotch-potch affair, with Rover
having to raid the parts bins of Rover sedans that
were currently in production.
Indeed the resulting
prototype was forced to use the P4 chassis, and resembled
the P5 saloon car of the period. To make matters worse,
its off-road abilities were limited, and the project
died a natural death.
By the mid-1960s the UK military began reducing their
orders for the Land Rover, and so Rover set about researching
what type of vehicle the general public would like.
The answer came as no suprise, identifying consumer
demand for a "recreation and leisure" vehicle
combining the rugedness and off road abilities of their
Land Rover with the comfort and interior appointments
of their passenger sedans.
And so, in 1966, development of a luxury Land Rover re-commenced.
At first an 'Interim Station Wagon' provided a stop-gap
to cover the falling military sales, and Rover was sure
the newly adopted 3.5 liter V8 engine (which Rover had
recently purchased from GM in the US and was already being
fitted to the P5 and P6) would make the car a sales success.
Before the year was out, the wagon project had grown into
a five seat station wagon with P6 standards of comfort,
on a 100in chassis that allowed unprecedented wheel travel.
Designers were forced to develop a new gearbox capable
of handling the torque of the new V8, a key change being
the use of a lockable central differential rather than
the dog-clutch mechanism used on the Land Rover. Long
travel vertical coil spring suspension was fitted instead
of the Land Rovers leaf springs to ensure a more refined
The second prototype featured a 2 door design, primarily
in an attempt by Rover to reduce the cost of manufacturing
the vehicle, although the resulting seat and seat belt
arrangement made any such savings somewhat insignificant.
Spen King and Gordon Bashford designed the body and
interior, creating their own mock-up, with Rover stylist
"cleaning up" the design with some very subtle
Prototypes 3 to 6 quickly followed, the engineers determined
to ensure the final release would leave no stone unturned
in their quest to develop the ultimate "town and
country" car. Finally, in 1970, some 20 cars were
manufactured for the press launch. To call the launch
a success would be understating it a little, with public
demand for the new vehicle fat exceeding Rover's ability
to manufacture the vehicle.
1972 saw the release of the 4-door model, and it quickly
out-sold the original 2-door model. Other refinements
included a viscous locking centre differential, the world's
first off-road ABS system, electronic traction control,
and electronically controlled air-adjustable suspension.
This air suspension was another first for Range Rover,
and replaced the coil suspension at a time when competing
vehicles were finally adopting coils.
The Range Rover was a unique vehicle, combining excellent
off-road abilities and refined around town manners - it
quickly becoming a status-symbol of the affluent that
remains to this day. Interestingly, it remains as the
only vehicle to have been exhibited in the Louvre as a
work of art.
The original P38 style Range Rover was eventually phased
out in 1996, and today is most remembered for combining
the idea of a 4x4 and luxury boulevard cruiser into
one. Many may lament the success of the Rangie, an
ever growing groundswell of road users now seeing those
that purchase this type of vehicle as adopting a "stuff you"
attitude toward their fellow motorists, and the "Toorak
Tractor" is fast becoming as politically incorrect
as a fart in a lift.