Looking back on it, the Range Rover premise is so remarkably simple it almost beggars belief. Charles Spencer King once described the idea as "to combine the comfort and on-road ability of a Rover saloon with the off-road ability of a Land Rover", which, somehow, nobody on this side of the Atlantic was doing when the idea was first mooted. When the first Range Rover was made in 1970 - yes, it really is 50 years old next year - nobody could have known quite what a revolution it would ultimately spark.
Today the market is fit to bursting with cars that ostensibly combine that on-road ability with off-road prowess, or certainly purport to in their appearance. Nearly all of them owe something to the Range Rover in terms of design or execution, which is why it deserves to be celebrated. The exceptions? Jeep, of course, the first Wagoneer having arrived in 1962 and providing a template for the Range to riff off. Don't worry, Jeep fans, we would never dream of forgetting...
In the year of England's World Cup victory, the first SR-71 Blackbird going into service and the final Flintstones episode, work began on what was then known as the '100-inch station wagon'. Names including 'Panther' and 'Leopard' were suggested, before stylist Tony Poole came up with the Range Rover name that worked so well. Thank goodness.
Just 10 prototypes were built before production commenced in 1970, and yet the original's staying power was extraordinary: the addition of a four-door model, an automatic transmission and a diesel alternative broadened the appeal, and new technology kept it relevant, the end result being a production run, as you'll probably know, of more than a quarter of a century - the last Classic was made in 1996. Its P38 successor was in production for just seven years. Arguably nothing else shows just how innovative and ground-breaking the Range Rover was, nor how well it suited so many different requirements, than that titanic production run. Like the Mini and the E-Type, the Range Rover was an icon within its own lifetime. And so production continued. And continued...
So yes, the Range Rover is an enormously significant car - in case it had never been made clear. Similarly to those fellow Brits mentioned above and cars like the early Porsche 911, the Range Rover's importance to automotive history hasn't been lost on the market. This is not a Hero to bring deserved attention onto an underrated classic - you had your chance at Shed money, people! - instead it's one to celebrate an icon and remember why its hallowed status is more than justified.
This 1972 Suffix A, resplendent in Sahara Dust, is currently for sale at DM Historics. Subject to a two-year restoration from 2013 to 2015, it's mechanically and cosmetically tip top - far fresher, of course, than a totally original car, though feeling sufficiently bedded in that driving it wouldn't harm the appeal. Furthermore, given Spen King once said "we only spent about 0.001 per cent of our time on the appearance", the Range looks superb - basic and rugged, yes, yet imbued with an inimitably purposeful, distinctive style inside and out that's never been matched, despite the best efforts of its maker and its rivals. Once more, like the Mini, E-Type and 911, the heritage and cult created by the original is fantastic for the brand, though it does make succeeding them darned difficult. Just look at that P38.
While the interior feels a world away from modern luxury - there's a choke, actual levers for the four-wheel drive and a pretty utilitarian vibe - bits of the Suffix A still feel authentically Range Rover. Or rather, the later models have stayed true to the template laid out in this car. Chiefly that's thanks to sitting high, with a commanding view out through acres of glass and across an enormous square bonnet. There's a sense of vulnerability from the slender pillars and actually quite compact dimensions, but still a feeling of imperiousness being sat up there with such good visibility. Shouldn't really be any surprise that it caught on...
Even as a static object, the Range Rover isn't far off captivating: the leather smells rich, the details are intriguing, the whole stance is perfect despite the passage of so many years and nearly as many fashions. You wouldn't change a thing: sand paint with tan leather shouldn't work, wheels this small shouldn't work, arguably three doors shouldn't work, and yet it all does. Perfectly.
Notable technology for this original Range Rover included disc brakes all round and aluminium panels; the all-alloy V8 remained a talking point as well, despite having been first launched in 1967. It's a memorable cast member to this day, rumbling and gurgling at idle and with a chunky vat of torque to pull each of the four gears. Credit should go to that manual transmission, too, for being far more precise and far less recalcitrant than expected.
Don't ever expect to be travelling especially briskly, though, the big V8 far better suited to just-about-sustaining speed than doggedly accruing it. That said, speed limits are the same as they were in 1972 - its paucity of pace shouldn't actually be taken as a bad thing. Instead the Range lopes along languidly and suavely with the pace of the traffic, or at least looks that way from the outside; inside there's a fair, but not unreasonable, amount of concentration required to gee the car along - aren't we always crying out for cars that demand something from their driver?
Once up to speed, this car is a joy: not simply because it's a Range Rover, and not simply because it looks superb, but because of how good it feels to drive with the window down and the breeze rushing in. The car doesn't squeak, rattle or overheat, as happy to be subjected to photo shoot requirements, or indulge your dreams of landed gentry glamour, as something far newer. Moreover, the Range is very much not an SUV, despite the fondness for labelling all such cars that way - its main concession to sport must be the big boot for hunting rifles. As such, the slightly ponderous road manners matter not a jot, because that's not what the Range Rover is for. Truth told this Suffix A will brake and corner better than might reasonably be expected, but it's in that distinguished cruising gait where it feels most at home. The smile and the sense of satisfaction that come as a result are impossible to repress.
The charm (if you'll forgive a cliché) and appeal (there goes another) of the Range Rover is that the driving experience is like no other - unique, fascinating and immensely enjoyable. That it's wrapped up in a car of almost modest (yet considerable) style, enormous significance and reverential cool only makes it even more desirable. The Range Rover always deserved recognition for the sector it established, the brand created in its wake and the feats it achieved - that it remains such a memorable drive, and such a covetable object, only makes it all the more so. It might be one of the slowest Heroes ever initiated into the hallowed PH hall of fame, but the Range Rover is just as deserving as any other - the 50th birthday party can't come soon enough.
Thanks to DM Historics for the Range Rover loan - it's for sale here.
Images: Dafydd Wood