The Range Rover Classic is a 4x4, mid-size Sport utility vehicle series produced initially by the Rover (later Land Rover) division of British Leyland, and latterly the Rover Group from 1970 to 1996. The first generation of vehicles produced under the Range Rover name, it debuted as a 2-door; a 4-door became available in 1981, with the 2-door phased out in January 1994. For most of its history it was known simply as the "Range Rover"; Land Rover coined the term "Range Rover Classic" to distinguish it from the P38A which succeeded it when the two were briefly built alongside, and applied the name retrospectively to all first-generation Range Rovers.[2]


Rover's Land Rover Series I launched in 1948 had been designed to be cheap, simple to manufacture, and suitable for hard work in rural terrain, with minimal concessions toward comfort. Rover shortly realised that a market existed for an off-road capable vehicle with more amenities. In 1949 the Land Rover estate car was released, with a coach-built wood-framed body by Tickford. However, the high price of adding such car-like features as seven seats, floor carpets, a heater, a one-piece windscreen resulted in fewer than 700 being sold before being dropped in 1951.

In 1954 Land Rover launched a second iteration estate car, this time aimed at the commercial user who needed an off-road vehicle for carrying passengers without car-like comforts. Based on the commercial panel van variant Land Rover, it had seats fitted to the load space and windows cut into the sides. While available with features such as an interior light, heater, door and floor trims and upgraded seats, the estate car retained the base vehicle's tough and capable suspension - as well as its mediocre road performance.

By the late 1950s Rover had become convinced a market for a more comfortable 4x4 existed in areas such as Africa and Australia, where ordinary motorists faced long journeys on unmade roads that called for four-wheel drive and tough suspension. In 1958 the first of the "Road Rover" development cars was built, combining the Land Rover's tenacity with the comfort of a Rover saloon car. Dubbed the "Road Rover", it featured a Land Rover chassis and running gear clothed in a functional estate car-like body. It never made it into production.

By the 1960s, Rover was becoming aware of the embryonic development of the sport utility vehicle in North America. Proto SUVs such as the International Harvester Scout (1961) and the Ford Bronco (1966) began the skew of 4x4s towards speed and comfort while retaining more than adequate off-road ability for most private users. The Jeep Wagoneer proved the concept further in the direction Rover had several times attempted, but with more power. To provide Rover a nudge to step up, the president of the company's USA operations shipped a Land Rover Series II to Britain 88 fitted with an advanced small block all-aluminium Buick V8 engine.

Rover acknowledged the emerging recreational off-road market in 1967 under Charles Spencer King, and began the "100-inch Station Wagon" programme to develop a radical competitor. Rover bought a Bronco, which featured the sort of long-travel coil spring suspension necessary for the required blend of luxury car comfort and Land Rover's proven off-road ability. King is said to have been convinced of coil springs while driving a Rover P6 across rough scrubland on part of the Solihull factory site that was being redeveloped. He was also convinced that a permanent four-wheel drive transmission was needed both to provide adequate handling and reliably absorb the power required for the vehicle to be competitive. The cost of developing a totally new transmission was spread between the 100-inch SW project and one working on what would become the Land Rover 101 Forward Control. Powerful, light and sturdy, the Buick alloy V8 earned off-road modifications such as carburettors that maintained fuel supply at extreme angles and provision for cranking the engine with a starting handle in emergencies.

The final design featured bodywork largely done by the engineering team rather than David Bache's styling division. Launched in 1970 as "A Car For All Reasons", the new "Range Rover" offered a top speed in excess of 100 mph (160 km/h), a towing capacity of 3.5 tons, spacious accommodation for five, hydraulic disc brakes on all wheels, and a groundbreaking four-speed, dual-range, permanent four-wheel-drive gearbox.


Range Rover three-door
Early Range Rover five-door
Later Range Rover five-door

Like other Land Rover vehicles, most of the Range Rover's bodywork skin is constructed from lightweight aluminium, except for the two-section rear tailgate, and the bonnet on all but the earliest models. Apart from minor cosmetic changes,[3][4][5] the body design changed very little in its first decade. However, while utility Land Rovers had body panels rolled from a single sheet of aluminium, the Range Rover used aluminium panels hung on a steel 'safety frame' (a method pioneered with great success on the Rover P6 saloon). This allowed the bodywork of the Range Rover to carry much greater structural strength with the steel frame while retaining the corrosion-resistant and easily repaired aluminium outer panels. While the steel frame was designed by the engineering team, it was expected that Rover's stylist David Bache would provide a design for the outer panels for use on the production vehicles. For the prototypes the engineers designed their own functional body panels simply to protect the occupants and to allow the vehicles to be driven legally on the road. However the clean, square-cut and functional design of the prototype was deemed so good that Bache only altered the detailing, such as providing a different front grille and headlamp design. The Range Rover also marked the first appearance of Bache's trademark "symmetric" dashboard, where a common moulding was used for the fascia superstructure on both RHD and LHD versions, onto which the pod-style instrument binnacle was simply mounted on the appropriate side - Bache would use this concept again on both the Rover SD1 and the Austin Metro in later years. The original fascia would later be nicknamed the "Airfix Dashboard" by Range Rover enthusiasts owing to its hard, low quality plastics which, as the vehicle moved upmarket over the years, betrayed its humble beginnings as a utility vehicle, It remained with the Range Rover up until the very last years of production when it was replaced by the "soft dash" (see below)

Early vehicles may be distinguished by the rear 'C' pillars being absent of a vinyl covering which was introduced a little later in the 1970s.

One of the first significant changes came in 1981, with the introduction of a four-door body.[6] Until then, Range Rovers only had two doors, making access to the rear seats rather awkward. These doors were also very large and heavy. Several companies offered conversions to four doors in the late 1970s. That by one of these companies, Monteverdi, was approved for warranty purposes by Land Rover and was closely followed when the company then produced its own development. The four-door version was received well by the public; its popularity was such that the two-door was discontinued in the United Kingdom in 1984,[7] although the two-door continued to be produced to January 1994, mainly for the French market.[8]

The first major push upmarket was in 1984, which saw the availability of leather trim and automatic transmission; this was followed by the 1985 model year, which saw the instrument pod replaced by a more modern one (adapted from the Austin Maestro) and new door cards (using Austin Metro door handles) with walnut inlays.

The front end of the Range Rover was revamped in 1986. This brought a more pedestrian-friendly plastic grille with horizontal slats, and optional front valance with two fog lights. The seat base was lowered and door handles were redesigned, making it more difficult for rear passengers but greatly improving the comfort for taller people in the front. The dashboard switchgear was updated again, now featuring steering column stalks from the Austin Montego, and other miscellaneous items from the Austin Rover car range. Other changes included the windows, tailgate and bonnet, but none of those affected the general design. Bonnet and door hinges gradually evolved out of sight and the fuel filler cap was hidden behind a hinged flap. The last major change to the interior took place in 1994, when the Range Rover was re-designated "Classic" upon the arrival of the replacement P38A version. The car gained a 'soft feel' safety dashboard (derived from that used in the facelifted Series 1 Discovery) with new switches (this time lifted from the Rover 800) and instruments. These end of the line models are popularly called "soft dash" models by the motor trade and by enthusiasts to distinguish them from other members of the Range Rover Classic series.

Chassis and suspension

The Range Rover broke from the Land Rovers of its time by using coil springs instead of the then-common leaf springs. Because of its hefty weight, it also had disc brakes on all four wheels. Originally, it had no power steering, though this was added a few years after its introduction.[6]

One problem with the Range Rover chassis was that it suffered considerably from body roll. Because of this, the suspension was lowered by 20 mm (0.8 in) in 1980,[9] and later gained anti-roll bars.[10] Air suspension was introduced in late 1992 for high-end 1993 models.[6]

Most Range Rovers had a 100-inch (2,540 mm) wheelbase. However, 1992 saw the introduction of a more luxurious model, branded the LSE in the United Kingdom and County LWB (long wheelbase) in the United States, providing expansive rear-passenger legroom absent from the 100-inch wheelbase models. These had a 108-inch (2,743 mm) wheelbase and 4.2-litre engines.[11]

The 100-inch Range Rover chassis became the basis for the Land Rover Discovery, introduced in 1989.

The first generation Range Rover, early two-door model fitted with the later model alloy wheels.
The post-facelift Range Rover, such as this early 1990s example, was available with an 8-inch longer wheel-base as LSE version.


Originally, the Range Rover was fitted with a detuned 135 hp (101 kW) version of the Buick-derived Rover V8 engine. The 3,528 cc (3.5 L; 215.3 cu in) engine was increased to a displacement of 3,947 cc (3.9 L; 240.9 cu in) for the 1990 model year,[9] and 4,197 cc (4.2 L; 256.1 cu in) in 1992.

Petrol-fuelled Range Rovers were fitted with carburettors until 1986, when they were replaced by Lucas electronic fuel injection,[9] improving both performance and fuel economy. The Lucas injection system continued to evolve over the next several years, culminating in the 1990 to 1995 Lucas 14CUX. Some export markets retained carburettors, with the original Zenith/Stromberg manufactured units being replaced by Skinners Union (SU)-manufactured items.

From 1979 onwards, Land Rover collaborated with Perkins on Project Iceberg, an effort to develop a diesel version of the Range Rover's 3.5-litre V8 engine.[12] Both naturally aspirated and turbocharged versions were built, but the all-alloy engine blocks failed under the much greater pressures involved in diesel operation. The project was, therefore, abandoned. The effort to strengthen the Rover V8 for diesel operation was not, however, completely wasted; the 4.2-litre petrol variant of the engine used crankshaft castings developed in the Iceberg project.[13]

Because of the Iceberg failure, it was not until 1986 that Range Rovers gained diesel engines from the factory. The more efficient 2,393 cc (2.4 L; 146.0 cu in) inline-four VM diesel from Italy was made available as an option for the heavily taxed European market as the 'Turbo D' model,[6] and were increased to 2,499 cc (2.5 L; 152.5 cu in) in 1989.[10] The VM engines were highly advanced and refined diesel engines for their time but were received poorly by the UK press, who tended to compare their performance to the V8 models. To counter these criticisms Land Rover used a Turbo D Range Rover to set several speed and endurance records for diesel vehicles during 1987, including a continuous run over 24 hours at over 100 mph (160 km/h). The VM were replaced by Land Rover's own 200Tdi turbocharged diesel engine in 1992.[6] and 300Tdi at the end of 1994.


The Range Rover used permanent four-wheel drive, rather than the switchable rear-wheel/four-wheel drive on Land Rover Series vehicles, and had a lever for switching ratios on the transfer box for off-road use. Originally, the only gearbox available was a four-speed manual unit, until Fairey overdrive became an option after 1977. A three-speed Chrysler TorqueFlite automatic gearbox became an option in 1982, which was upgraded to a 4-speed ZF box in 1985, coupled to an LT230 transfer box.[9] The other major transmission upgrade in the Range Rover's lifetime was the switch from the LT95 combined four-speed manual gearbox and transfer box to the LT77 five-speed gearbox and separate LT230 transfer box in 1983. The LT230 was later used on both the Defender and Discovery models, but was replaced on the Range Rover by a Borg Warner chain-driven transfer box incorporating an automatic viscous coupling limited slip differential - earlier transmissions had a manual differential lock (operated by a vacuum servo on the LT95 and mechanically on the LT230). The LT77 had two major design changes: first an upgrade to larger bearings for the layshaft and new ratios around 1988, then a newly designed synchro hub for third and fourth gear and double synchros for first and second. This is also known as the suffix H gearbox or LT77s.

Australian assembly

Jaguar-Rover-Australia began assembly of the Range Rover from CKD kits at its Enfield plant, in New South Wales, Australia in 1979. Government increases in the tariff on parts lead to Australian assembly being discontinued in 1983.[1]

North American market

Although the Range Rover was designed with the US market in mind, and was planned to launch in USA already in mid-year 1971 with a base price of $5,300, it didn't come to fruition due to the lack of financials, production capacity, and new US safety and environmental regulations. While Land Rover Series III was imported to the US, a decline in sales and new smog regulations caused British Leyland to withdraw from the US market in 1974.

In the early 1980s, Range Rover was sold in the US as a grey market vehicle by four Los Angeles area-based dealers, and starting in 1984, also by Aston Martin's American Division based in Greenwich, Connecticut.[14]

With the fuel injection replacing the carburettors, the Range Rover became compliant to new US emission regulations. To prepare for US launch, Range Rover of North America was established in Lanham, Maryland in late 1985, with plans to import Range Rovers through the ports of Baltimore and Long Beach, California, beginning in March 1987, to be sold nationwide through a network of 36 dealers, expanding to 65 by 1988. The Range Rover was officially introduced to the US market in the 1987 LA Auto Show in January[15] and Chicago Auto Show on 7 February. The Range Rover was officially launched to the US market on 16 March 1987, and the first car was sold on the same day.[14][16]

Already in 1988, Range Rover won the "Best 4x4" award by the Playboy magazine. In 1989, to establish its reputation, 8 special edition Range Rovers were prepared for the "Great Divide Expedition", a 12-day, 1128 mile trek in the Rocky Mountains in the state of Colorado, from 21 August to 2 September 1989.[14]

On 1 August 1992, The Range Rover of North America shifted to Land Rover North America, Inc.

On and Off-road

1971 Range Rover that was used in the three-month, 18,000-mile Trans-American Expedition—a standard production vehicle fitted with only a few speciality off-road items.

In June 1970, the Range Rover was introduced to the public, to much critical acclaim. It appeared that Rover had succeeded in their goal of a car equally capable both on and off-road – arguably, better than any four-wheel-drive vehicle of its era in both environments. With a top speed of 95 mph (153 km/h) and acceleration from a standstill to 60 mph (97 km/h) in less than 15 seconds, performance was stated as being better than many family saloon cars of its era,[17] and off-road performance was good, owing to its long suspension travel and high ground clearance. The 1995 Classic Range Rovers would reduce the 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) time to around 11 seconds, and increase the top speed to approximately 110 mph (180 km/h).

Notable off-road feats were winning the four-wheel drive class in the first Paris-Dakar Rally in 1979 and 1981,[18] and being two of the first vehicles (along with a Land Rover Series IIA) to traverse both American continents north-to-south through the Darién Gap from 1971 to 1972.[19]


An ambulance of the Royal New Zealand Air Force built by Wadham Stringer

The Range Rover Classic was a popular platform for conversion vehicles built by independent coachbuilders. Some examples of common modifications include ambulances, 6x4s, convertibles, police vehicles, limos, and open top hunting cars.[20] Though some coachbuilders utilised Range Rovers simply for the chassis and drivetrain while grafting new fabricated bodies on top, most of them retained the familiar Range Rover styling elements, while upgrading the engine, transmission, suspension, or interior design. The coachbuilders include Carbodies, Carmichael, FLM Panelcraft, Glenfrome, Rapport and Wood and Pickett.


Two of Pope John Paul II's three popemobiles used on his 1982 UK visit were custom Range Rovers.[21] Ogle Design penned the vehicles, the first fully bulletproof Papal transports, and they were delivered at a cost of £128,000 (equivalent to £410,000 in 2016).[21] One of the two Range Rovers was taken back to the Vatican, and is still in use as of 2013. The other is now on display at the Cars of the Stars Museum in Las Vegas.[21]

Police, Fire and Ambulance Service


Coachbuilders and fabricators such as Carmichael, Gloster Saro, and HBC Angus modified numerous Range Rover vehicles for first response use.

British and foreign constabularies utilised the Range Rover in both two and four door forms. From the 1971 to 1993, Land Rover Special vehicles-along with private builders-outfitted vehicles for police use.[20]

The TACR2 was a six-wheeled Range Rover-based successor to the TACR1. Its designation stands for Truck Fire-Fighting Airfield Crash Rescue 2 Tonne 6x4 Mark 2. It was designed as a rapid response vehicle used by the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and various British fire brigades. It was built by Carmichael, Gloster Saro and HCB Angus. It is permanent four wheel drive and the trailing axle was originally unpowered. Some TACR2s have been converted to six wheel drive. After their service life ended, some were transferred to regional or airport fire service.

The Range Rover was a favoured platform for ambulances across the British Isles, with builders Carmichael, Herbert Lomas, Pilcher Greene, Waldham Stringer, Spencer Abbot, and Heinel Specialbilar supplying modifications.[20]


  1. ^ a b Range Rover Dateline, www.rovertrax.com Retrieved on 23 April 2014
  2. ^ Official Land Rover documentation collections for both 1970-1985 (LHP1, v1.1) and 1986-1994 (LHP2, v1.1) Range Rover refers to the vehicles as "Range Rover Classics", despite not being called that when originally built.
  3. ^ "Land Rover History 1973". Land Rover Monthly. Archived from the original on 16 December 2006.  "The back end got vinyl covering on the rear quarter panels and there was the option of a rear window washer and wiper. Inside, the front seats had an extra handle to allow them to be tipped from outside more easily, and the blanked out holes in the dash now had the option of extra gauges."
  4. ^ "Land Rover History 1977". Land Rover Monthly. Archived from the original on 16 December 2006. 
  5. ^ "Land Rover History 1979". Land Rover Monthly. Archived from the original on 7 January 2007.  The changes were wing repeater lamps, new decals, black-painted bumpers & mirrors, and a better-looking steering wheel.
  6. ^ a b c d e Allison, L. (1994). "Range Rover I (1970-1995)". Retrieved 16 March 2006. 
  7. ^ Smith, Benjamin. "How to Identify A Range Rover". Land Rover FAQ. Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
  8. ^ Cutting, Andrew. "Buying a Range Rover Classic model year 1984-1995". Land Rover Monthly. Retrieved 7 October 2009. 
  9. ^ a b c d Methuen, P; I M Coomber. Range Rover Service and Repair Manual. Haynes Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85960-274-4. 
  10. ^ a b In 1989. See "Land Rover History 1989". Land Rover Monthly. Archived from the original on 16 December 2006. Retrieved 20 March 2007. 
  11. ^ Ford Motor Company. "Land Rover North American Historical Landmarks". Archived from the original on 7 November 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2006. 
  12. ^ "Land Rover History 1984". Land Rover Monthly. Archived from the original on 7 January 2007. Retrieved 26 October 2006.  Photos of the engine available from bobuilt.co.uk Archived 14 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ As did the 4.45-litre Rover V8 engine for the TVR Tuscan. See Hammill, Des (2004). How to Power Tune Rover V8 Engines for Road and Track. Veloce Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 1-903706-17-3. 
  14. ^ a b c "Range Rover US & Americas - Range Rover Classic". www.range-rover-classic.com. Retrieved 4 March 2017. 
  15. ^ DEAN, PAUL (3 January 1987). "Honk if You're Going to L.A. Auto Show". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 4 March 2017. 
  16. ^ Ph.D., John Brabyn,. "1987 Range Rover". www.rangerovers.net. Retrieved 4 March 2017. 
  17. ^ "Range Rover Road Test". Autocar. November 1970. ...and the 19.1sec time for the standing quarter mile is much better than many more lithesome saloons can manage, and only 1.2sec slower than the Rover 3500. 
  18. ^ MotorSports Etc. "Dakar Rally Winners (Car Category)". Retrieved 26 October 2006. 
  19. ^ 4WD Internet Magazine. "Darien Gap 4x4". Retrieved 24 March 2006. 
  20. ^ a b c "Range Rover Conversions". Range Rover Classic. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  21. ^ a b c Gunnell, John. "Easter pilgrimage: See the Popemobile turned 'Saint' car". Old Cars Weekly. Retrieved 2 December 2014.