On June 17, 1970, BL’s Range Rover was unveiled to an awestruck motoring press. The vehicle was revolutionary, innovative, modern and functional. Brainchild of engineer Charles Spencer King, the Range Rover sported David Bache-penned crisp good looks, aluminium bodywork, mellifluous 3.5-litre V8, permanent four-wheel drive and tried-and-tested Land Rover off-road ability – and it combined all that with Rover motor car levels of on-road comfort.
The Range Rover was a class act and, like the Mini, it was classless. Of purely functional design and being fit for purpose, the Range Rover only became posh later on, when the middle classes realised they were the vehicle of choice of Lords, Lairds and landowners. The RR could be kept in Mayfair and was effective for whistling down the motorway to the estate at serious speed, where it could then be pressed into use off-roading on shoots or hunts.
Range Rovers sold like hot cakes, and yet BL scandalously undertook virtually no development of its cash cow until Michael Edwards separated Land Rover out of the ineffectual BL behemoth in 1979.Thereafter the smartest off-roader received five doors, automatic transmission, engine improvements and a change in specifications to suit its image as the vehicle for the smart set.
The Range Rover had a profound effect on the car market, and it was only after several years that other players – from Audi to Toyota – produced their facsimiles. Over the last 12 months or so, these ‘Chelsea tractors’ have become regarded as arrogant symbols of conspicuous consumption riding roughshod over any regard for global warming. The days of fashionable large 4x4s are over.
But the classic car world marches to a different drum, and it is interesting how certain cars can become desirable after years of neglect. Classic Range Rovers are a case in point. Sure, you can still pick up an old smoker, and it might stagger on until the next MoT failure, but examples in excellent condition are becoming harder to find, as these four owners testify. Each of these chaps is a serious and serial classic car owner. Between them they have owned some of the finest collector cars, but their enthusiasm for classic Range Rovers is palpable as soon as the subject is broached.
Custodian of the 1972 Range Rover, STK 831L, finished in Davos White, is stockbroker Andrew Honeychurch, who has owned numerous Jaguars and Aston Martins and currently has one of the rarest ’60s Astons undergoing a full restoration.
‘I remember seeing my first Range Rover coming across a muddy field. It seemed to float ever so elegantly across the rough, with its V8 engine emitting an unforgettable growl. The family’s tatty Land Rover suddenly seemed agricultural and old fashioned. I was nine years old when the Range Rover was launched and I have wanted one ever since,’ says Honeychurch.
‘I used to enjoy The Persuaders! and remember an early Range Rover starring in one of the programs, so a while back I bought this 1972 example. I originally bought it as a spares donor for my other Range Rover, a 1970 model, chassis number 25, the first press car.’
In this plain, unadorned, two-door specification the Range Rover looks modern and classic all rolled into one. It is modern looking because of its sharp edges and crisp design, but classic because most of today’s vehicles seem to have been extruded from the same jelly mould.
Honeychurch warns that the 1972 ‘Suffix A’ example will feel a bit ‘classic’ on the road, as it has the heavy four-speed manual transmission and lacks power steering. Certainly it is not the sort of vehicle you want to hustle through central London but, once on the move, the steering lightens up appreciably, and whilst the gearshift is slow it is co-operative, and the car’s demeanour is friendly. Visibility is first class and the ride is supple. The all-round disc brakes work just fine and soon you begin to lean the long-travel suspension into corners with more commitment while exploring the V8’s 135bhp.
Richard Gauntlett has grown up with some of the best classic cars as his father, Victor Gauntlett, was the ebullient and successful chairman of Aston Martin. Richard, the proprietor of Gauntlett Gallery on Pimlico Road, usually drives Astons, Ferraris and M- series BMWs, but he has fallen for his 1988 Cyprus Green Range Rover EFi.
‘As soon as I saw this car, I had to have it. It is in similar spec to the Range Rovers my father used to own. I was born in 1982, so they were very much part of my childhood. My father would have a new one every couple of years, and I fondly remember driving some of them around the fields in Scotland with him when I could barely see over the steering wheel,‘ says Gauntlett.
‘This 40th Anniversary model was sold new in America by Hollywood Land Rover to an Australian based over there, hence the left-hand-drive configuration. He brought it over to London with just 56,000 miles on the clock. And, while it’s a classic, it feels like a modern car to drive. The automatic ’box is lovely, the air-con is cold, it has electric everything and I have fitted a great sound system and a Bluetooth connection for my phone. And interestingly, in comparison with some of the other sports cars, other drivers seem to like the old Rangie and are never antagonistic towards it.’
Sure enough, Gauntlett’s Range Rover is a different proposition when compared with the earlier cars. The interior has morphed into the luxury category with leather, carpet and walnut everywhere. Each seat has armrests and, once I’ve persuaded him to turn down the hi-fi, the EFi spirits us through London with calm decorum. Wind it up, and it is swift if not quick. But that’s not the point. Sitting up high with ample room and visibility, it is a comfortable place to spend time enjoying the traffic.
The 1973 Lincoln Green Range Rover belongs to Graeme Hunt (pictured above), the ex-managing director of Jack Barclay and more recently the purveyor of the finest classic cars at Bramley Kensington. Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls-Royce motor cars are his focus, so his choice of an elderly Range Rover is interesting.
‘Like a classic Bentley, the Range Rover is a low-key vehicle for use in and around London, as it does not cause people to react in the way they do towards some expensive new cars,’ says Hunt. ‘It is very useful for hauling parts and spares from the showroom to the workshop, but it is equally good at collecting customers. Most importantly, it is pleasant to drive in the city as well as on the open road.’
Hunt’s two-door Range Rover is another early example. It has covered 139,000 miles but has a full service history and conscientious ownership record. He, too, bought it as a number two to another Range Rover, but it proved good enough to be pressed into regular use. ‘Of course, the boys in the workshop got rather carried away and fitted a high-lift cam, Offenhauser inlet manifold and Holley carburettor,’ says Hunt with a smile.
Our last example, the 1991 Range Rover CSK, is a very special vehicle. Number 022 of 200 CSKs, this one is totally original and has covered 29,000 miles. Its 3.9-litre fuel-injected V8 produces 185bhp and its suspension has been stiffened 25% with the addition of anti-roll bars and sports dampers. The CSK, named after Charles Spencer King, was the lightest and fastest (0-60mph in 9.9sec, top speed 114mph) Range Rover iteration at the time.
Owned by Simon Khachadourian, proprietor of the well-regarded Pullman Gallery in Mount Street and St James, this CSK must be one of the rarest and most desirable Range Rovers in existence. Like the other fellows assembled here, Khachadourian has a superb collection of classic cars including a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, a Bentley R-type and other Continentals, but he is equally enthusiastic about his classic Range Rover.
‘The CSK was the GTi of its time. It is an absolute hoot to drive in London because it feels so sharp. In comparison with my modern Mercedes-Benz 500 coupé, the Range Rover is effective because you can see over the top of everything else. The CSK is very useful around town as well as in the country, and has performed faultlessly. It costs very little to insure, and apart from petrol is inexpensive to run. In fact, I expect it to appreciate in value.’
On the streets of London, the Beluga Black CSK proves to be the original Range Rover Sport. It is taut and direct, without being harsh and choppy like so many modern machines on low-profile tyres. It picks up speed with alacrity, the suspension keeping things controlled. The steering is pin sharp, the brakes are incredibly powerful and the lusty V8 provides enough oomph to get you into trouble before you even breach top gear.
Here we have four chaps who are enamoured with the charms of Range Rovers. It is easy to understand why. The original remains a groundbreaking machine. It has mechanical honesty and an integrity that is so appealing. It also has class and an attractive disposition even as a recycled ‘green’ machine. A Range Rover is incredibly good at what it does, but it never appears to try too hard. One of the more endearing British traits.