Classic Range Rover

Particularly as it came from the new British Leyland set-up, created from that massive merger of Britain's major car brands under the auspice of a 'Leyland takeover'. Leyland Trucks had been a decent steward of Rover, and had driven forward the development of the Range Rover; bul post-merger, British Leyland boss Lord Stokes was startled to find it was one of the few new models ready for production.

Only just, though. In fact, its official launch was brought forward by a full six months, an indication of just how important the Range Rover was deemed to be - particularly as an extra flagship for British Leyland in general... and Rover in particular.

the launch

So how did British Leyland decide to reveal its entirely new 4x4 to the world? By taking over a hotel in Cornwall, securing use of the nearby Blue Hills Mine to demonstrate its otf-road ability, and flying the media in from around the globe in order to see it. Yes, on June 17, 1970, Land Rover did just that.

The company took residency of the Mcuden Hotel, near Falmouth, and treated the press to a full demonstration of the new range-topper's abilities - including being able to off-road and travel across fields at 40-50mph 'without the occupants feeling any change in movement'. Boge Hydromat self-levelling rear suspension helped to avoid the suspension sag that such soft settings could suffer from.

Land Rover set the scene in original press material loo, which described the new model as offering 'de-luxe estate car travel combined with high performance, impeccable handling - and all the advantages of the Land Rover'. That long-travel suspension was actually highlighted as one of the vehicle's most outstanding features'.

Six colours graced the launch cars, from which Land Rover also pointed out the many safety features to the press. A collapsible steering column, impact-absorbing dashboard, flush exterior door handles, interior grab handles and standard hazard warning lights all helped to ensure compliance with worldwide safety regulations.

Reviews were glowing, despite a hefty £1998 list price - well up on the original £1700 target. But the press were happy to accept such an upmarket saloon car price for a vehicle that was so much more than simply a V8-powcrcd Land Rover. This was, after all, a thoroughly ingenious new type of vehicle - and how could you put a price on such uniqueness?

Autocar magazine insisted it was

'the off-roader, reinvented', before concluding: 'The Range Rover has fulfilled and even surpassed the high hopes for it. The combination of an over-90mph maximum speed with the ability to go cross-country mud-plugging will seem revolutionary to many'

the performance

So what exactly had the team produced? Well, we all know the fundamentals: the Range Rover was a two-door 4x4 that was 176 inches long, and had a 99.9-incli wheelbase. Aluminium panels and more car-like construction kept weight

down to 1750kg, while a four-ton towing capacity (for a braked trailer) was one of its most impressive claims.

The 3.5-litre V8 produced 135bhp, giving the Range Rover enough power to hit 95mph, with 0-60 taking 15.2 seconds. And all that power was fed via an all-synchromesh four-speed manual gearbox - though the dual-range transfer box effectively made it an eight-speed with two reverse gears.

The vehicle was stopped by dual-circuit brakes, with the advancc of discs all round - a relatively rare feature back in 1970, and a sign of the engineering depth behind the Range Rover's development. No doubt the need to slow it from those high cruising speeds also helped to swing the balance...

The Range Rover was constructed from a steel skeleton and traditional-style Land Rover box-section chassis, around which aluminium panels were fitted. Well, mostly aluminium: the bonnet (due to its 'castellated' shape, which became such a Range Rover feature) couldn't actually be formed by processes of the time, so was made from steel. As too, famously, was the tailgate... soon known for its lack of rust resistance.

the move upmarket

Tlie Range Rover was notably basic ill its launch guise. Most acclaimed was the rubber floor covering, designed as a 'hose-out' feature that would appeal to country-dwelling buyers. But it wasn't long before Range Rover owners were crying out for a few extra comforts - and Land Rover was happy to oblige.

A carpeted interior arrived in due course, even if it only applied to the transmission tunnel initially - not for plushness but to subdue noise from the gearbox. Customers saw this, liked it and asked for it to be extended to the rest of the floor, consigning to history the rubber covering. And the same happened with the boot floor, with some pundits suggesting the need to keep the Queen's corgis comfortable was also a factor here...

Velour seats came to the Range Rover a few years later - not to be posh, but to keep the driver and passengers cooler in hot weather. And other additions included an ashtray (overlooked because none of the development team smoked!), a rear wiper and progressively improved trim. The steering wheel gained a leather cover, stereos were made available (mounted by the driver's right knee, of all places) and a thriving aftermarket also grew, taking things even further.

The latter occurred partly because BL dilly-dallied. Land Rover knew that a four-door Range Rover was needed, and prototypes were indeed being worked on. But as the two- ►

Endowing the new model with permanent all-wheel drive would give it an important image boost

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