The Mileage Challenge

by Hagerty
20 November 2017 4 min read
The Mileage Challenge
Hagerty's mileage challenge

Classic vehicles have many attributes that put them above modern cars, but fuel efficiency is not usually one strength that immediately springs to mind, especially when the cars in question are a 1983 Range Rover In Vogue Auto with a 3528cc V8 and a 1982 Rover SD1 Auto with the straight six 2597cc PE166 engine. In fact, common sense says you’d be mad to take one of these fuel- guzzling classics on a long journey, wouldn’t you?

Here at Hagerty, we pride ourselves in encouraging staff to use their classics as much as they can. Two such cars are regulars in the company car park: Dan’s brown SD1 and Ian’s blue four-door Range Rover. Both owners swear by their respective mounts, and both believed theirs could go further on one tank of fuel than the other. The SD1 was (on paper at least) more fuel efficient, but the Range Rover had a larger tank. Sensing a challenge was afoot, we decided to ask them to put their money where their mouth was.

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The rules were clear: one tank of fuel, odometers reset and drive as far as you can before your car stops. No motorways, and you each have a passenger. The winner is the one who drives the furthest.

With the rules set, the two teams left our Towcester office early on a cold but mercifully dry November morning. Dan, at the helm of the SD1 was heading west and Ian driving the Range Rover, north.

Dan explained where he and his co-pilot (his father) were heading. “We chose Land’s End as it seemed a logical choice: once you’ve reached there you can go no further and it’s iconic.”

Meanwhile Ian, partnered with Hagerty colleague Ste, had a different idea. “We had numerous weird and wonderful ideas for a finally destination. These ranged from driving up and down the A14, to trying to cross Wales using only green lanes, however we settled on Scotland. We were looking for a memorable photo and the Scottish border was the only one which could guarantee this.”

Updates were posted on our social media channels, and soon many of our followers were as fascinated as us to see which of the two great cars would emerge victorious. Could either reach their destination? The consensus was not very optimistic!

An early in-car video from the SD1 suggested that Dan’s fuel level was dropping rapidly, but by lunchtime things were balancing out: the Range Rover had reached Scotch Corner (a total of 195 miles) on roughly half a tank, whereby in the same time the SD1 had travelled only 142 miles to Greinton in Somerset but had a healthy ¾ of a tank left. Ian explained how the Range Rover travelled so far so quickly: “The Range Rover has a number of disadvantages, permanent 4WD, 500KG heavier than the Rover, poor aerodynamics and a three-speed box. Forward planning ensured we only physically stopped three times from the start to the Scottish border – pulling away uses lots of fuel in a Range Rover! We quickly joined the A1 and found a suitable articulated truck to draft, allowing me to lift off the throttle and squeeze more miles from each gallon that poured through the twin SU carbs. It also reduced the wind noise, which was just lovely!”

Both teams kept themselves busy chatting about cars, and Ian and Ste even answered questions posed on Facebook in a live video.

As Dan said, “We spoke about many, many things, a lot of it car related. Even family memories were brought up in terms of ‘that was in the Princess HLS wasn’t it? ‘ or ‘why did you buy the Renault 14 again?’ The route also generated lots of conversation and comments as the roads we were on were typically smaller A/B roads and interesting.”

By 4pm, we received word that Ian and Ste had reached Scotland, a superb achievement considering the Range Rover, once Ian’s grandfather’s car, had only completed 200 miles since being put back on the road this summer. They kept going, and at 8.23pm we were astonished to be told that the big V8 engine had finally spluttered to a halt after 388 miles.

However, down in the West Country one particular brown Rover was still on the go.

“We got to Land’s End on the Atlantic Highway, turned around, and ended up driving back,” said Dan. “Once we realised we’d beaten the target set by the Rangie we stopped on fumes (although still going, not run out) at 392 miles in a layby off the A30 at around 9.30pm. We then drove around trying to find a hotel, finally finding one at 11.30pm, before driving back to Towcester the next day.”

In the cold light of day, both teams had a chance to review their epic drives.

“It is amazing how many miles you can squeeze out of each gallon when changing your driving style,” said Ian. “I never thought the Range Rover would achieve 300 miles let alone 388. It is 34 years old, we were driving for 18 hours in total and covered 595 miles and I would do it all again tomorrow! A brilliant Classic.”

Dan was also extremely impressed by his car. “I was surprised at how much restraint I had on the gas pedal! It took a lot of very gentle driving. The SD1 didn’t miss a beat, although that was not much of a surprise. It was extremely comfortable: after 15 hours behind the wheel I had zero aches and pains. But the biggest surprise of all was our mileage – we achieved a little over 30mpg by our calculations, which was well over everyone’s guesses and better than road tests of the day for an auto. We were also surprised at the interest people we met on the way showed in the challenge, following it on social media.”

So, we’ve proved that even the most ‘thirsty’ classics can be a practical, comfortable and economic form of transport even over long distances, but we’ll leave the last word to Dan: “I don’t think a modern car would’ve been any more comfortable, or as engaging to drive.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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  • Based London but not there now says:

    Critical data missing from the Range Rover’s performance is the size of the fuel tank – 18 gallons giving a fuel consumption of around 21 mpg. However the Range Rover does have the aerodynamic qualities of a brick, so a lower mpg is no surprise. This is mostly a test drive of the two car’s comfort. For fuel economy lets see a two hundred mile drive starting and ending with a full tank, then it will be a valid comparison.

  • Milton Keynes says:

    You should have included the quantity of fuel used by each car to give a meaningful comparison.

  • Near Brooklands, Surrey says:

    An excellent story and one that I am totally in sympathy with. I am on my 4th Range Rover; 2 Classics a P38 and now a 2004 L322 Rangie. The reason for this 4X4 is that I tow my Race Cars around the UK and Europe. As an ex Rolls Royce Aerospace Development Engineer, I have been very conscious of fuel consumption, for both cost reasons and environmental ones, especially as none of my race cars achieved better than 8 miles to the gallon, driving flat out of course! All my Rangies have been petrol as I believed that Diesel was a rather dirty, more polluting fuel. To cut to the chase, all my Rangies gave a reasonably good mpg. However, my current 13 year old ‘Henry’ gives me around 35 mpg on a run at just under 60 mph and, he’s still on the original engine with 135,600 miles on the clock. Even when towing, he returns 22/23 mpg travelling at truck speeds of 55 mph. And my next ‘Tow Truck’, will be another petrol Range Rover, when the time comes. No contest. I rest my case!!!

  • Dorset says:

    I appreciate this was a one off test but drafting trucks and running down a fuel tank to empty is not sensible, least of all in a classic.

  • North Yorkshire says:

    Good fun article. Old cars, in many cases, are more economical than most people think. My 1964 Sunbeam Alpine averaged a rather amazing 38mpg over our 900 mile summer holiday this year. And it is running on twin Weber 40s…. My modern Mini official figures are around high 50mpg, but never does more than 45mpg… Doesn’t seem like much progress over 50 years! However, there is a lot less carbon monoxide…

  • Uppingham Rutland says:

    Been debating whether to drive to my son’s house,mid France in my 1994 Jaguar XJS Cabrio. I may have just been convinced?

  • Stockport says:

    I didn’t buy my classic cars to drive them gently. However, modern petrol is of a better quality than what was available when the cars were new and that may permit lower fuel consumption than contemporary motor magazines measured. Having said that, current fuel formulations don’t always suit old engines and I’m not just referring to the unleaded problem or ethanol content. Some classics have cleaner exhausts than others, but let’s not kid ourselves, no old engine – not even one recently rebuilt – can match current standards for NOx, CO or HC emissions.

  • Cambridgeshire says:

    Used to have both a 2.6 and 3.5 SD1, both manual. Always got about 35mpg in 3.5 – long journeys – not slow. Currently have 1985 V8 Defender (from new), 285,000 miles, same engine (4 barrel edelbrock) get 18mpg

  • Hertfordshire says:

    Had a 2600S auto as an “inherited” company car for a short period in 1986, and it was a delight in many ways, especially comfort. Never worried about fuel then – it was “free”, business and personal, at a then-modest tax cost. Happy days! Do recall that the build quality wasn’t brilliant, with some electrical issues and the odd warning light obscured by gaffer tape as a temporary cure, I think because the central part of a push-switch had fallen out, leaving the bulb bare and shining in my eyes…. The wonders of Lucas “Prince of Darkness” wiring, I suppose! Still, a lovely motorway bruiser, and compared to my previous Company Car – a diesel Peugeot 505 – it didn’t half go! The Peugeot was comfortable, but slow and ate starter motors. I suspect I worked my through a whole faulty batch, certainly four or five in six months. To be sure of getting to meetings in the morning, I used to leave it running overnight in the end – smoked a bit when I set off, but at least I was on the move!

  • Stockport says:

    I have a Rover P6 V8 auto that will do 28/29 on the motorway, driven sensibly, but only 19/20 in town. It’s reliable (mostly) and is now 43 years old. It’s a much more comfortable car than our firm suspended modern car, and you can see out of it properly too!

  • Buckinghamshire says:

    Great achievement , just goes to show that driving style makes the difference – I have a 1994 XJ40 4.0 S and went to LAON classic in France last year and achieved 29 mpg , on a round trip – and a very comfortable drive!! great article!

  • Bognor Regis says:

    Great article! I love reading about what people can achieve regarding fuel consumption & I used to be amazed by the figures recorded in the Mobil Economy Run. The best car I’ve owned for mpg was a new 1983 Mini Mayfair, which managed 71 mpg without trying. Nobody believed me, but when Autocar managed the same figure in a group test, I just showed them the report

  • Ohio, USA says:

    This was simply a fun exercise with great classics and a good read – not sure miles per gallon was a factor as I know all the odometers on our classics are off by a factor of 3 to 12%. But who cares?

  • OH says:

    To clarify – a fun review, but not many owners care about the mileage – that’s not why you buy and keep a classic. We own four classic cars (pre-1980) and I have no idea what mileage we get on them – don’t care. I enjoyed the story – something different.

  • Frome Somerset says:

    My 1994 Jeep Cherokee 4Litre auto will do high 20s mpg on a run, 29 and a bit once but not in all honesty not 30! That was using some motorway though.

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