The original Range Rover is such a classic that today it’s known almost universally as the Range Rover Classic. So why am I suggesting it in a column about future classics? Only because regardless of how it has been come to be known, I don’t think it’s got there yet. Ok, to be fair, some have. The earliest cars, with the three door body shells, can now command astronomic asking prices in fully restored condition, but cars from the more recent end of production are a fraction of the price. And, for most people most of the time, they’re better too.
Let’s recap, just for a moment. Why is this old SUV so revered? One reason is that it is perceived to be the original luxury off-roader, the grand-daddy not just of the modern Range Rover, but all those Bentleys, Porsches, Astons and more that have followed in its footsteps. And the fact that this is entirely inaccurate is really neither here not there. The first true luxury SUV was the 1966 Jeep Super Wagoneer, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story?
Besides, almost none of the cars that created new categories ever got the credit for it. Was the Golf GTI the first hot hatch, the Renault Espace the first MPV, the Audi Quattro the first high performance 4×4, the Lamborghini Miura the first mid-engined supercar, the McLaren F1 the first all carbon road car or the Porsche 911 Turbo the first turbocharged road car? No, no, no, no, no and – you guessed it – no.
What the original Range Rover did, like so many of the cars named above, is take the concept and perfect it. And it was quite brilliant: in 1970 here was a car with a well appointed interior, a smooth and sonorous V8 motor, all the luggage space you could want and good looks too. It would have sold even if it wasn’t ridiculously good off road, but with a ladder chassis and live axles at both ends, it could clamber its way up, down, across, through and around terrain that would make a billy goat look twice. It was the ultimate adventure device in a family friendly format which meant it could serve not as a narrowly focussed workhorse, like a Series Land Rover, or a toy, but as the only car you and your family might ever need, more likely to be seen as an alternative to a posh Mercedes than any other off roader.
But those early cars, lovely as they are, are quite limited. The three door shell is iconic, but it restricts access, the 3.5-litre carb-fed V8 is not very powerful and the four speed manual gearbox an acquired taste. Very early cars didn’t even have power steering.
Contrast that to the Range Rover I’m touting as a future classic, the 3.9-litre car introduced in 1989, almost 20 years after the first. By then the car had evolved meaningfully and came with four doors, automatic transmission, power steering, anti-lock brakes, a far more plush interior, much better refinement and a genuinely comprehensive level of equipment. More importantly still, engine power had risen from 135bhp to 182bhp, but thanks to fuel injection replacing carburation, consumption had actually improved too. Its bluff shape still limited top speed to 110mph, but that was a vast improvement on the 95mph of the early cars. The 0-60mph time was cut from a little under 15sec to a little over 11sec, too.
I used to love knocking about in these when they came in for testing. I loved their languid nature, their throaty voices, the wonderfully elevated driving position and the fact that it had this entire other dimension to its character the moment you left the road. It was like a superhero, a suave businessman one moment, the ultimate outdoor adventurer the next.
So why aren’t I arguing the case for the ultimate ‘classic’ Range Rover, the 4.2-litre, long wheelbase LSE brought at the end of its life? Largely because the 4.2-litre motor was not as strong as the 3.9 and the air springs on which it rode are more troublesome than the coils they replaced.
You can pay peanuts for a late Range Rover but I’d advise against it and not just because, like so many old cars, whatever you save at the time of purchase you’ll likely spend maintaining it. It’s also worth bearing in mind that most of the Range Rover’s body is aluminium (the main exception being the tailgate), which is great news because it is incredibly corrosion resistant. Don’t forget however, that it’s bolted to a steel chassis that can and does rust. So don’t fall for a car that looks great on the outside without having a very good look underneath and through its service history to make sure the chassis is in good nick too.
Prices of really nice cars seem to start at around £20,000, which isn’t much for such a fine car and really very little indeed compared to what you’d pay for an early car in similar condition. If you’ve lived with one of these, share your experiences, below.
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