General,Land Rover

Celebrating 50 Years of Range Rover

What revels in mud and wades through water, yet can’t swim?

The story of Evolution:

A man named Charles Spencer (Spen) King, was the Rover Company senior engineer when the Range Rover made its debut to a group of prominent motoring journalists in 1970. It was immediately clear that here was a whole new type of vehicle. What was not so obvious was the profound effect on motoring during the close of the 20th century and into the 21st century that the Range Rover would have around the globe.

Two-door Range Rover Classic (1st generation).

Arriving in Australia in 1972 – the Range Rover came at a time when 4x4s were generally not easy on the eye but, the Range Rover managed to better its contemporaries in genuinely difficult off-road conditions due largely to its long-travel coil-spring suspension, while at the same time providing on-road comfort and performance.

The Range Rover, in essence, did what all modern 4WDs attempted to do, namely mixing both on and off-road performance!

Somewhat ironically, the Range Rover was not developed out of the Land Rover side of the Rover Company but rather the new-vehicle development unit. What’s more, many in the Land Rover side of the business, including Tom Barton, Land Rover’s chief engineer of the time was very sceptical as he was a firm believer in the use of leaf springs.

Spen, as the chief engineer of Rover’s new-vehicle projects, was interested in combining the comfort of a Rover P6 one of his earlier designs, with the off-road ability of a Land Rover.

So, in 1966 a P6 was taken for a spin on the company’s test track at Solihull, and everyone was surprised at how good it felt. Remembering, of course, that passenger cars of the times (the mid-1960s) had a lot more ground clearance than passenger cars of today.

Thank goodness Rover management soon got on board. There was a belief that 4x4 sales would expand beyond the rural and military sectors into the recreational market, where towing boats, caravans and having a vehicle just as adept at high speeds on the motorway, could bring sales that the Land Rovers of the day could never achieve.

Second-generation Range Rover

The 1960s had already seen in the USA where the Jeep Wagoneer, Ford Bronco and the International Harvester Scout were early signs of a new style of 4x4. The USA was targeted as a potential Range Rover market, but emission and safety regulations made it too expensive, so the idea was dropped, and the Range Rover didn’t actually find its way to the states until around 1987.

Improved Versatility – it gets better and better:

The original concept of the Range Rover was never to produce a luxury vehicle, but more of a premium vehicle that could offer more versatility.

Around this time, Rover had already agreed to buy the tooling and blueprints for an all-alloy 3.5-litre V8 from Buick for Rover’s passenger cars. This was timely. Land Rover’s existing 2.5-litre four-cylinder and 2.6-litre six-cylinder engines wouldn’t have given the Range Rover the 145km/h-plus motorway speeds and heavy towing capacity that was envisioned for the Range Rover.

The second generation ran from 1994-2002.

At that time within the Rover Company the Land Rover was still seen as the stopgap and its development was still slow and underfunded, hence the lack of a more modern engine in the Land Rover stable until the Buick V8 came along.

The first prototype was built in 1967 using a Land Rover chassis and many Land Rover parts including, Land Rover axles, and drum brakes. But the springs were adapted from the Rover P6, and the rubber mounts to isolate the body from the chassis, which also came from a Rover passenger car.

The second prototype moved the ‘game on’ introducing a full-time 4x4. It also brought the Boge Hydromat self-levelling strut, which helped maintain the vehicle attitude when heavily laden, something that’s essential when you have soft, long-travel springs. For the first 20 years of its life the Range Rover did not employ anti-roll bars, which allowed the suspension to work freely through its journey off road.

The decision to use full-time 4x4, came about as they wanted to use Land Rover axles rather than heavy-duty truck axles as these would ruin the on-road handling. The trouble was the extra torque from the V8 might be a bit too much for the lighter axles, by using 4x4 the drive torque was spread from front to rear.


The third prototype that came along was built in 1969 and produced what is more recognisable as the initial production model. Initially Rover’s head of styling, David Bache, was not too keen on the look of the car, so they asked for help from the styling office.

Much of the design was centred around making the vehicle as compact as possible to make it more useful off road. Hence the shorter wheelbase, short front and rear overhangs for better approach and departure. The only dimension that was not kept to a minimum was the roof height, deliberately so to allow the driver and passengers to sit upright and look through an enormously deep glasshouse. Even to this day there’s not a 4x4 that offers this kind of view.

We are getting there with Range Rover third generation...

Initially the whole body was to be made from aluminium-alloy, but the complex shape of the bonnet required steel. Steel was also used for the rear window frame for strength.

Most of the prototype testing was done at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) test centre and at Rover’s off-road proving ground at Eastnor Castle. Hot-weather testing was done in North Africa in 1969 and, while cold-weather testing was done in simulators in England, an official cold-weather test wasn’t conducted until after the Range Rover went on sale.

Uh-oh, mistakes were made though (we are only human after all).

As none of the design team were smokers, there was no ashtray and that was only added as an afterthought. During severe on-road testing the rear diff nose also fouled the A-frame, which meant a slight redesign of the brackets and trailing links just before the sales started. A few vehicles that had had already left the production line had to be retrofitted with the changes. The torque-sensing centre differential proved noisy and was phased out after a few hundred units to a manually lockable non-torque-sensing unit.

The idea behind the two-door body was essentially for strength and while this was well received in the UK it wasn’t liked in the Middle East by wealthy sheikhs or in Africa by rich leaders who generally had chauffeurs and found it unbecoming to have to climb into the back seat.

Still, it took 11 years after the initial launch before the four-door appeared.

The export market was important for the Range Rover and played a significant part in making the Range Rover more globally influential.

In 2015, the Range Rover was the first vehicle to be fitted with Land Rover’s innovative All-Terrain Progress Control – which is now available across the Land Rover line-up.

 (Range Rover PHEV features an Ingenium petrol engine and electric motor)

Since the 1970’s, the Range Rover family expanded with the Range Rover Sport, Range Rover Evoque and Range Rover Velar growing into a four-strong car line-up of the world’s most desirable and advanced SUVs.

Present day (almost there I promise!) the luxurious Range Rover family will mark 50 years of pioneering innovation in June, on the anniversary of the first introduction of the two-door Range Rover back in 1970. Land Rover celebrated with a snow art installation at its Arjeplog cold weather test centre (a frozen lake) in Sweden with World heavy weight Champion, Anthony Joshua OBE.

Some call it Evolution, others call it the Range Rover.

#aspirations #RangeRover

Go Back To News

Share this Article:

Our Recent Posts

New 21MY Jaguar E-PACE

Read More

McLaren Test Drive Event

Read More

Jaguar Exclusive Preview Event

Read More

Find Other Posts