The iconic Range Rover celebrates its 45th birthday this week, though who would have thought, in 1970, that a somewhat utilitarian attempt to move the Land Rover more upmarket would have resulted in one of the world’s most famous luxury brands of today?
Over six million Range Rovers have rolled off the Solihull production line since that day in June 1970, with some significant achievements along the way – including being the first ever vehicle to be exhibited in the Louvre thanks to being recognised as an ‘Exemplary Work of Industrial Design’.
Marking the model’s birthday, Nick Rogers, Jaguar Land Rover’s Director of Global Engineering Operations, said: ‘Range Rover was the first luxury SUV in the world in 1970 and 45 years on it continues to lead the way. The latest model is the most desirable and sophisticated Land Rover ever, mixing peerless comfort with cutting edge technology to provide the ultimate luxury SUV experience.”
The original 1970 Range Rover was arguably the first SUV to combine car-like refinement with uncompromised all-terrain capability, and subsequent generations have got more and more luxurious but also just as adventurous.
The current fourth generation model was launched in 2012 and was the first SUV in the world to feature a lightweight all-aluminium body, which brought enhanced efficiency to the range.
The Range Rover story began in the Sixties as Land Rover looked to revolutionise the growing 4×4 leisure market. With much of the design and engineering work completed under Spen King, Gordon Bashford and David Bache, production of the first prototype began in 1966 and the finished car was launched to critical acclaim in Cornwall, in 1970.
First Generation – Classic (1970 – 1994)
The first-generation model, known as the Classic and originally only available as a two-door, went on sale in 1970 featuring a lightweight aluminium V8 engine, full-time four-wheel drive and all-round disc brakes. Numerous variants and upgrades were introduced during its 25-year lifespan including the addition of a four-door model in 1981 and an automatic gearbox in 1982.
Innovations continued at a pace. The first diesel Range Rover arrived in 1986 and in 1989 it became the world’s first 4×4 to feature anti-lock brakes. Then in 1992 it celebrated another SUV first with the introduction of Electronic Traction Control and automatic electronic air suspension.
The Range Rover’s reputation for unrivalled all-terrain capability was cemented by a number of high-profile endurance tests. In 1972 it became the first vehicle to complete an 18,000-mile Trans-America expedition, staged by the British Army, which included the perilous crossing of the Darien Gap in South America. This was followed in 1974 by the successful completion of an epic 7500-mile trek across the Sahara Desert in 100 days.
This reputation was enhanced with victory in the 4×4 class of the 18,750-mile London-Sydney Marathon in 1977 and by winning the inaugural Paris-Dakar Rally in 1979. Then, in 1985, the diesel-powered Range Rover ‘Bullet’ broke 27 speed records.
Second Generation – P38a (1994 – 2001)
The second-generation Range Rover or P38a – so named because it was developed in building 38A in the Solihull factory – arrived in 1994 delivering an even more luxurious interior, greater on-road ability and off-road capability. Key design features made it instantly recognisable as a Range Rover and the iconic silhouette, floating roof, clamshell bonnet, practical split tailgate and continuous waistline endure to this day.
Technological highlights included the addition of height adjustable suspension and an enhanced engine line-up, with a 2.5-litre diesel and 3.9 and 4.6-litre versions of the V8 petrol providing greater performance than ever before.
In 1999 Land Rover created the most luxurious Range Rover yet with the Linley special edition. Inspired by furniture designer Lord Linley, only ten examples of the £100,000 model were produced. All featured black paintwork with matching black leather upholstery, deep-pile carpets and piano black interior trim. It was one of the first luxury cars to feature satellite navigation and even included a television.
Third Generation – L322 (2001-2012)
The arrival of the third-generation Range Rover delivered significant improvements over its predecessor in every department. Bigger and more spacious than the P38a, the interior was inspired by high-end yacht designs, fine furniture and first-class airline seating. The result was the most luxurious vehicle interior in the world.
Technological highlights included the addition, in 2010, of ‘virtual’ instruments. It also became the first vehicle to provide a ‘dual-view’ infotainment display, allowing the driver to keep tabs on the sat nav instructions while the passenger watched a DVD.
As engine technology advanced, the third-generation Range Rover line-up expanded. First came the 4.2 V8 Supercharged petrol engine in 2005, the TDV8 diesel engine in 2006, followed by all-new 5.0-litre V8 petrol engines three years later.
The current fourth-generation model was launched in 2012 and was the first SUV in the world to feature a lightweight all-aluminium body, which brought enhanced efficiency to the range.
The SVAutobiography brings a new level of design sophistication to the line-up and is produced by Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations division. It is the most luxurious and powerful series production Range Rover in the vehicle’s 45-year history and is available with distinctive Duo-tone paintwork and a 550PS V8 petrol engine. This year also marks the 21st anniversary of the introduction of the exclusive Autobiography designation.
Timeline – A Brief History
1966 Work began on the first Range Rover prototype, known as the ‘100-inch station wagon’
1970 The original two-door Range Rover – known as the Classic – goes on sale
1971 Range Rover receives the RAC Dewar Award for outstanding technical achievement
1972 The Range Rover is the first vehicle to cross the Darien Gap on a British Army Trans-America expedition
1974 Range Rover completes west to east Sahara desert expedition – 7,500 miles in 100 days
1977 A modified Range Rover wins the 4×4 class in the London-Sydney Marathon, a gruelling 30,000 km (18,750 miles) event and the longest ever speed-based car rally
1979 A specially modified Range Rover wins the first Paris-Dakar Rally (a Range Rover wins again in 1981)
1981 First production four-door Range Rover appears along with the first factory produced limited-edition Range Rover – the ‘In Vogue’
1982 Automatic transmission becomes available on Range Rover
1983 Range Rover 5-speed manual gearbox is introduced
1985 The diesel-powered Range Rover ‘Bullet’ breaks 27 speed records, including a diesel record for averaging more than 100mph for 24 hours
1987 Range Rover launched in North America
1989 Range Rover is the world’s first 4×4 to be fitted with ABS anti-lock brakes
1990 Limited Edition CSK – named after founder Charles Spencer King – is launched as a sportier Range Rover
1992 Range Rover Classic is the world’s first 4×4 to be fitted with Electronic Traction Control
1992 Long-wheelbase LSE (known as County LWB in the US) launched
1992 Automatic electronic air suspension introduced, a world first for a 4×4
1994 Second-generation (P38a) Range Rover launched
1996 Range Rover Classic bows out after total production of 317,615 units
1999 Limited Edition Range Rover Linley appears at London Motor Show
2001 Third-generation (L322) Range Rover launched
2002 Half-millionth Range Rover produced at the Solihull plant
2005 Second model line – the Range Rover Sport – launched
2006 Terrain Response and TDV8 diesel introduced
2009 Range Rover features all-new 5.0-litre V8 and 5.0-litre supercharged petrol engines
2010 Range Rover celebrates its 40th Anniversary
2011 Third model line – the Range Rover Evoque – goes on sale
2012 Fourth-generation (L405) Range Rover launched – the world’s first all-aluminium SUV
2013 Long-wheelbase Autobiography Black Edition unveiled at the Los Angeles Motor Show
2014 Long-wheelbase Range Rover Hybrid makes its world debut in China
2015 Range Rover SV Autobiography launched at New York International Auto Show. 6,000,000th Land Rover produced is a Range Rover LWB SE Vogue destined for China. Autobiography designation used to identify flagship models celebrates 21st Anniversary