Range Rover

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Some comments about British Leyland’s remarkable universal four-wheel-drive car

The Range Rover, latest revolutionary vehicle to emanate from the workshops of the brilliant engineers at Solihull, is unique technically, and immensely practical and enjoyable to own. There are other four-wheel-drive car-type vehicles but none which can use 4-w-d all the time on hard roads, apart from the still-born Ferguson and the Jensen FF development (Motor Sport, January 1969). The latter is a luxury fast saloon car, the Range Rover a refined edition of the universal and ubiquitous Land Rover, with astounding slippery ground/gradient adhesion, even before the central differential is locked. Its rugged build, body arrangements and provision of eight forward and two reverse gears puts it in an entirely different category from the sleek Jensen.

I do not propose to recap on the Range Rover’s elaborate and clever technicalities. The purpose here is to describe what it is like to drive the Solihull “no-ways” V8, on ordinary journeys or over “impossible” terrain. In the latter context, I had heard stories of a farmer, having bogged-down a tractor and a Land Rover in Suffolk mud, using a Range Rover to tow ’em out, which I believed after I had negotiated acute snow-covered mud-hillocks and Army tank-testing courses without recourse to the locked drive, or even the low-gear range. The Range Rover’s exceptional traction over this sort of ground is 100% reassuring, helped by the wuffle-wuffle torque of its light-alloy 3 1/2-litre V8 engine pulling strongly at very low revs.

The vehicle has other very notable advantages, and a few disadvantages. I took it over from the City office on a day of icy roads and freezing fog. The high seating position, half-way, as it were, between a car and an average-sized van, gives a splendid view, so that accidents can be seen many vehicles ahead and be duly allowed for. It soon dawned on me, as I drove over humming black ice and frost-coated cambers at 60 m.p.h., that not only was I seeing quite reasonably in the fog but that the 4-w-d was paying dividends in non-skid, non-alarmist, progression in conditions that had brought other drivers to a crawl and solo motorcyclists almost to a panic standstill. So, apart from Rover’s traditional built-in safety factors which the catalogue proclaims, the very nature of the beast goes a long way towards unscathed motoring…

Driving the Range Rover is using a combination of commercial-vehicle-like controls allied to unexpectedly good pick-up from such a solid mass of machinery-cum-carrying capacity (s.s. 1/4-mile in just over 19 sec, for example). 60 m.p.h. is just idling nicely along, 70 comes up readily, 85 is a reasonable cruising rate, and there is quite a surge forward from 70, even in top cog, to a praiseworthy maximum considering the wind drag of just over 90 m.p.h. This is all most creditable and entertaining, except that the complex transmission hums a good deal, giving the impression that one is in third, not top gear—one longs for an overdrive.

The controls are more acceptable to muscular drivers, for the steering (four turns, lock to lock, of the well-placed three-spoke wheel) is extremely heavy for parking. Once on the move it is acceptably light but spongy and vague; slow castor return action means some hand-over-hand work in swinging back on course from tight manoeuvres, but otherwise the action is quick. The lock is good in spite of f.w.d., giving a useful turning circle of 37 ft., and bad roads cause only very mild feed back. The main (4-speed) gear lever is cranked across towards the driver’s left hand (in r.h.d. vehicles), which gives rather a truck-type shift to the slow, baulky gearbox. But the gears go in decisively, reverse, out and back to the o/s. There is a good deal of transmission snatch. The clutch is smooth and quite light. The two front seats are well separated by the transmission hump, in which there is a lidded ashtray and from which the pull-up knob (with warning light to remind one to confine its use to soft ground) for differential-locking and the stubby low-ratios gear lever protrude. This precludes carrying three in front, but the wide back bench could hold four if necessary. The front seats look very hard and mediocre but I found the driving seat very comfortable, with a usefully high, but non-reclining squab, and the foam-rubber cushion decently supple. Side levers tip forward the squabs and slide the seats forward to give access to the rear compartment, the only body available being a fixed-top two-door. The front doors were heavy to slam but had windows, enormous wind-down main windows out of which one could climb, convenient grips, internal handles and excellent vertical external releases, flush with the doors to obviate them being wiped off by undergrowth, etc., in safari conditions.

The Lockheed disc brakes stop this 5,300 lb. (laden) vehicle truly effectively, and they are light and progressive. The facia is car-like in its matt-black efficiency. The sill for the huge screen has four vents to effectively supply it with hot air, there are two gimbals and a horizontal swivelling fresh air supply, a good heater with elaborate but labelled controls, a parcels-well in the n/s of the moulded screen sill and instrumentation consisting of a neat speedometer reading to 120 m.p.h. (!) with k.p.h. calibrations and total and decimal trip milometers, matched by a fuel/heat dial, on a very visible binnacle before the driver. There is provision for four small low-set extra dials but on the test Ranger only a Kienzle clock was fitted. Under the n/s of the facia there is a commodious, lockable drop well. Vizors recess into the upholstered roof but with nothing so effeminate as a vanity mirror. The central rear-view mirror is anti-dazzle, rigid wing mirrors are provided, and there was the luxury of truly effective washers and wipers (2-speed), controlled by a l.h. steering-column stalk. A tiny handbrake, rather stiff to release, is well located on the o/s of the transmission tunnel. Britax belts were fitted to the front seats. The ignition key locks the steering, inserting on the o/s of the column moulding, from which protrudes a long stalk for lamps dipping, horn, flashing, and turn indicators (which did not always self-cancel), and a lower short one (a trifle inaccessible) for the side and headlamps. Conversely, on the opposite side of the steering pod, a short stalk looks after fog and long-range lamps, if fitted, and there are finger-tip controls for panel lighting, roof lamp (also with courtesy action) and points for a trickle-charger or lead lamp. On a rather wobbly mounting under the facia on the extreme right is a typically Rover choke and hand-throttle control. A vertical row of seven warning lights, between the main dials, indicate the usual warnings, plus brake on or fluid low, choke no longer needed, low fuel level (approximately three gallons) and trailer-flashers not working. The turn-indicators have two separate lights.

The ride of the Range Rover is excellent, even in off-the-road exploration and cornering 100% sure-footed but slightly lurchy, rather in the French-car soft suspension manner. However, it is possible to corner with such abandon that understeer comes into it, but with never an unintended slide, even on wet roads. One motors in lofty eminence, gripping securely on Michelin “X” M + S tyres (Firestone tubed Town and Country are the alternative), the final visibility enabling advantage to be taken of every overtaking opportunity.

There is no need to pause to lock the third limited-slip differential, but the engine must be running and the front wheels pointing straight ahead before this is done. To go from the high to low range of gears it is necessary to stop (as on a steam traction-engine). The forward gears have synchromesh.

The Range Rover body consists largely of aluminium bolted-on panels, in the Rover 2000/3500 style, for easy repair and maximum safety. But the rear-hinged bonnet is exceedingly heavy to lift and prop up. The lower tailgate is of steel and drops; the upper is a lockable pneumatically-assisted lift window, which tended to stick in one corner. The rear seat folds in the normal estate car manner to provide maximum (17 1/2 sq. ft.), floor space (59 cu. ft. area), but when in use there is a very generous area behind it, with rubber-covered corrugated-aluminium floor, on which stones rattle like shrapnel. There are sliding side windows beside the back seat, the body is vented (the vents can be closed), the heater gives either fresh or recirculated air, the spare wheel sits in a cover upright on the n/s of the back compartment, and there are sliding interior door-locks. The test car had a Radiomobile Deluxe radio in what otherwise would be an o/s facia glove locker. The aerial was flexible and covered but didn’t retract, so overhanging bushes caused damage during our Welsh “safari”. A hazard warning is fitted and the steering column and wheel are collapsible. The ignition key is somewhat tucked away but far less fumbly than the keys which start the Triumph tribe; the bonnet release is, however, on the n/s of this r.h.d. vehicle.

The suspension system incorporates a self-levelling device to enable best use to be made of the two excellent Lucas sealed-beam headlamps, and the Range Rover must surely make a strong appeal to vintage enthusiasts, with its eight cylinders, beam axles, big 205 x 16 tyres and a separate chassis frame! There is provision for a power off-take. The fuel range in normal use should be in the region of 290 miles, the fuel tank taking 18 gallons (the makers say 19). It has a massive lockable fuel filler cap, the removal of which at first defeated us. A nice touch is the provision of a removable filter-cylinder in the filler neck, a chain securing it and the cap. Fuel consumption in varied use but in the high gears was 16.3 m.p.g., but as the c.r. has been reduced to 8.5 to 1 from 10 to 1, 91-octane petrol can be used, or 83-octane if the ignition is retarded. In deference to the engine’s alloy heads, I compromised and used 95-octane shell, at 6s. 9d. a gallon or 93-octane Esso. Oil thirst was negligible after 800 hard miles.

The gear ratios work out as 47.83, 28.78, 17.69. 11.76, to 1 in “low”, 16.91, 10.17, 6.25 and 4.16 to 1 in “high”, with 43.07 to 1 and 15.23 to 1 reverse gears and a differential ratio of 3.54 to 1. Rover recommend maxima of 26, 43 and 71 m.p.h. in the “high” indirects but these can be safely exceeded, to as much as 80 m.p.h. in third gear, the engine able to run up to around 6,000 r.p.m. The light-alloy 89 x 71-mm. (3,528-c.c.) engine runs at 3,500 r.p.m. at 70 m.p.h. and peaks at 4,750 r.p.m. in Range Rover form, when it develops 135 (net) b.h.p. As for acceleration, a 0 to 60 m.p.h. time of under 14 sec. is nothing to be ashamed of. Incidentally, at 1,000 r.p.m. in “low”-first, speed is a modest 1.7 m.p.h. and in this range the maxima are 10, 17, 28 and 42 m.p.h. Some comparisons with Toyota 4-w-d vehicles appear on this page.

The Range Rover is unique, a splendid, spacious universal, load-carrying vehicle with a considerable degree of luxury. It is best suited to the muscular, because parking and closing the doors and tail-gate call for more than normal effort. There are no steps or running boards and it is quite a leg up to get in. If fitted with wipers for the back window, a bit more sound-damping, an alloy bonnet, and power steering, it would be 100% acceptable. As it is, although I do not know that the Bahama Gold test example could be called the Etonian’s Land Rover, the Solihull 4-w-d model is certainly the RR of all-purpose vehicles and must surely sell strongly to wealthy farmers, Police forces, rally-support crews and those who like penetrating into remote places—and gettng out again? As tested it costs £2,006, purchase-tax paid. Servicing intervals occur every 5,000 miles. The makers are The Rover Co. Ltd., Solihull, Warwickshire, England. In conclusion, this is a brilliantly conceived vehicle, fully up to earlier Rover engineering accomplishments. Its cornering is such that journey times and the enjoyment derived equal those of a good normal fast car.

W. B.

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