The Range Rover. The 1970 sales brochure described it a ‘the most versatile
motor car in the world’ and that is why it is my favourite classic car. More
specifically it is YVB 153H, the third Range Rover, which is my favourite. When
it came on the market a new class of vehicle was born. The Land Rover marque
had travelled far from a beach drawing in the late forties to a luxury product
that appealed to business and professional people. In the early seventies the
most widely recognized 4×4 was the Land Rover Series IIA, a leaf-sprung beast
of burden with antique engines, whiny transmissions lacking a full complement
of synchromesh and no dashboards to speak of. Here arrived the Range Rover, a
thoroughbred stallion which danced across the fields and along the motorways.
It had heating. It even had dual circuit brakes and a servo!
I love the contradictions. One day it was taking a group of business men to
a meeting, the next it was for the taking a family to the great outdoors with some
heavy towing and off-roading in between.
The lines remain simple, beautiful and functional, surely the holy grail of
vehicle manufacture. The mechanicals were tried and tested to destruction and
beyond. Innovative additions such as four wheel disc brakes and coil springs all
round were big news in the late sixties! An interior that could cope with both
builders rubble and the wife’s Sunday best was an impressive feat, especially
when we remember that it looked top class and could be hosed down! Although
the phrase ‘often copied, never bettered’ has been used beyond exhaustion it
must apply to the Range Rover.
Now, I admit to being a Land Rover anorak and, while my heart lies
with my own Series III, I yearn for an original two-door Rangie. The sound and
torque of an ex-Buick V8 coupled with the venerable LT95 gearbox providing
permanent four-wheel drive are an intoxicating mixture. The combination
brought new levels of off-road traction alongside impressive on-road handling.
Towing capacity was fantastic, as was in-car payload which was assisted by
a Bosch self-levelling suspension unit. There were three differentials and the
centre could be locked to improve traction in sticky situations. The tailgate
opened from the middle to allow ease of entry without compromising load
Let us not, however, get lost in a rose-tinted world of British Leyland
admiration. Despite chassis rails being ‘painted inside and out for resistance
to rust and corrosion’ the Range Rover rusted like it was going out of fashion.
Which, in 1970s Britain, it most certainly was not! The two-part tailgate would
not close properly if the vehicle was parked on a side slope, due to a lack of
torsional rigidity, and the V8 suffered major camshaft wear unless fed with a
regular supply of clean oil. But I still love it! These are, after all, minor ailments.
Nowadays the old two doors are in short supply and those few that
remain in good condition are fetching around £50,000. Compare that to the
initial price of just over £1,000. So many have been converted to trailling toys
for weekend warriors and this, while horrific now, was common only a few
years ago. The rot and relatively poor parts availability for the earliest models
consigned many to be weighed in for scrap. Indeed, those plastic vinyl seats have
yet to be reproduced and remain some of the most sough-after parts for classic
cars of the 70s. Many have been converted to LPG or else had a total engine
transplant, not an unreasonable decision in today’s climate of ever increasing fuel prices. But I must raise the question, how can we not preserve more of these vehicles? They are so individual and special; quietly they worked away for many years carrying important people to do important things.
The wheelbases, engines and gearboxes may have changed from 1970 to
2012 but, if given the choice, I’d have a two door V8 any day!
Words: James Wylie
Images: Land Rover UK