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As part of our search for the most iconic British cars of the last 60 years (head over there to vote for your own favourite) we’re looking at some of Britain’s best-loved cars in a little more detail. Today, we’re looking at the original Range Rover.
With sales of 4 wheel drive vehicles making them a common sight on the streets today, it’s hard to remember a time when they were seen strictly as utilitarian vehicles for the likes of the army or farmers. The Range Rover is today perhaps seen as just one player in that market, but in fact it created the market when it was launched in 1970.
The story began with the advent of the Land Rover in 1948. Inspired by the Jeep, the Land Rover was robust, unparalleled in terms of off-road ability and aimed at the kind of people who wanted or needed to effect their own repairs (the body panels were held in place with mere bolts, enabling anyone with a spanner to tinker with almost any part of the car).
But with a limited demand for such a product, there seemed nowhere to go for the huge plant at Solihull which produced Land Rovers. The Wilks brothers (who created the original Land Rover) had floated an idea for a road-going version called the ‘Road Rover’ in the early 1950s but it never came to light. The idea persisted in the head of Gordon Blashford who brought on board designer Spen King to pursue the idea of the aborted Road Rover. Already, Ford and Jeep were selling utility vehicles to the public, so the Range Rover was envisaged as a way to sell to the USA and by 1967 the first mock ups were ready.
David Bache (who would also work on the Rover SD1) was brought in to finalise the designs and in 1970 the first car rolled off the plant and was released to the motoring press in June 1970.
The car was an immediate hit. Not only did it boast astonishing off-road prowess, but the ground clearance, commanding driving position and vast load space proved an attractive package for all kinds of buyer. In 1971, a Range Rover was even on display in the Louvre as a piece of ‘modern sculpture.’
For a decade, despite no upgrades or significant investment in tooling or marketing, the Range Rover was a runaway sales success – beloved from farmers to royalty alike and while eventually other manufacturers began to get in on the act, the fact remains that after 42 years of gradual, incremental change the Range Rover is still among the world’s best premium cars.
It redefined the concept of what a car could be – and everything from estate cars, to sports utility vehicles, to so-call ‘crossover’ cars like the Nissa Qashqai still owes the Range Rover a debt of thanks. While the design has been upgraded to reflect modern tastes, the styling cues are so authentically brilliant that they have only barely evolved from Spen King and David Bache’s original concept. A real pioneer and a demonstration of British inventive brilliant.