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Retro Drive: Range Rover

30 January 2017

In the ’60s, Land Rover engineers created a luxury 4×4 for well heeled customers. The recipe was simple: based on the Land Rover’s serious 4×4 underpinnings, it was topped off with a plush cabin and good on-road performance. They called it Range Rover.

It all started in the USA. The International Harvester Scout and Ford Bronco models, as early sports utility vehicles (SUV), bridged the gap between 4×4 and up-market on-road vehicles. When the Jeep Wagoneer made its appearance shortly afterwards, the new SUV segment was well and truly… official. Land Rover’s USA distributor was getting increasingly frustrated. The British factory didn’t provide it with a product to compete in this new segment, which was clearly booming.

So the USA distributor took matters into its own hands: they fitted an all-American Buick V8 engine to a Land Rover Series 2 88-inch and sent the vehicle to the Landy head office in Britain, presumably with a note that read something like: “Take this Land Rover for a drive. Then give us something similar to sell.” Curiously, in the late ’50s, Land Rover engineers had been working on a project called Road Rover. It was said to have been aimed at markets such as Africa and Australia where motorists had to drive on substandard roads over long distances. The project was shelved, though, as the company focused on its Land Rover models.


With the new SUV models in the USA selling well, and a Landy Series 2 with a Buick engine in the parking lot, Land Rover engineers dusted off the old Road Rover plans, and started looking at creating a new model. And so the Range Rover was essentially born, and the first production vehicle went on sale in 1970. The vehicle you see on this page is a 1983 model. It is also powered by a Buick V8 engine – Land Rover subsequently used that engine for the Range Rover and later the Discovery 1, too.

This unit has a five-speed manual gearbox, which means it can do 120km/h on the highway without the 3.5-litre engine revving too high. It still breathes through a carburettor, and delivers 97kW and 280Nm – it won’t break any speed records, but does have plenty of poke for running around the city and tackling some 4×4 tracks. The cabin was, in 1984, a luxurious and plush place. Compared to modern SUV standards though, it is just okay. And the leather and roof lining of older models show some wear and tear but it can be easily remedied. You can have a model like this 1983 one, which is in average nick, for around R50 000.

However, if you’re in the market for an original 1970 model, you’d be better ready to write a cheque for more than R1-million. Clearly the original Range Rover is a modern classic. It’s got history, style, class and a bit of the British about it. If you’re after a bit of old-world motoring, a Range Rover like this may be just the ticket.

Manufacturer Leyland
Model Range Rover
Years available 1970–1996
Body style Three-door wagon
Engine V8 petrol
Capacity 3.5-litre
Fuel system Carburetted
Power 97kW
Torque 251 Nm
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Suspension Coil springs