Range Rover Classic

The Range Rover Classic is a 4x4 luxury SUV series built by British car maker Land Rover from 1970 to 1996. It was the first generation of vehicles produced under the Range Rover name. For most of its history, it was known simply as the "Range Rover"; Land Rover coined the term "Range Rover Classic" for the brief period the model was built alongside its P38A successor, and applied the name retrospectively to all first-generation Range Rovers.
Land Rover
1970 – 1995
Solihull plant, United Kingdom
Range Rover (P38A)
Body style
3-door SUV
5-door SUV
3.5 L Rover V8
3.9 L Rover V8
4.2 L Rover V8
2.4 L VM Motori TD I4
2.5 L VM Motori TD I4
2.5 L 200Tdi TD I4
2.5 L 300Tdi TD I4
4-speed manual
5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
4-speed automatic
2,743 mm (108.0 in) (UK-specification LSE/US County LWB)
2,540 mm (100.0 in) (all others)
1,780 mm (70.1 in)
1,800 mm (70.9 in) (1970-1980)
1,780 mm (70.1 in) (1980 onwards)
Land Rover Discovery
Spen King
Gordon Bashford
David Bache

Concept and design

Although only intended to be a post-war stopgap, the Rover Company's Land Rover 4x4 launched in 1948 proved to a be a worldwide success; within two years it was vastly outselling the company's usual product of semi-luxury cars. The Land Rover had been designed to be cheap and easy to produce and to suit hard work in tough terrain. It was thus a very simple, basic vehicle with a minimum of concessions to comfort- on early vehicles the canvas hood, passenger seats and even doors were optional extras. From the beginning Rover realised that a market existed for a Land Rover that was off-road capable but more comfortable and civilised. In 1949 it released the Land Rover Station Wagon with a coach-built wood-framed body by Tickford. Whilst a big improvement on the standard vehicle (the Tickford had seven seats, floor carpets, a heater, a one-piece windscreen and other car-like features), its hand-built nature kept prices high and fewer than 700 were sold before sales were stopped in 1951.
In 1954, Land Rover launched its second type of Land Rover Station Wagon, this time built by the company itself. The new version was much more successful but was aimed more at the commercial user who needed an off-road people carrier rather than the buyer requiring car-like comfort in an off-roader. The Station Wagon was based on the commercial variant of the Land Rover but with seats fitted to the load space and windows cut into the sides. Whilst available with features such as an interior light, heater, door and floor trims and upgraded seats, the Station Wagon retained the base vehicle's tough and capable but firm suspension as well as its mediocre road performance.
By the late 1950s, Rover remained convinced that a market existed for a vehicle combining the toughness and ability of the Land Rover with the comfort of a Rover saloon car. In 1958, the first of the 'Road Rover' concepts were built. These were a series of development cars built by the engineering department consisting of Land Rover chassis and running gear clothed in a functional but car-like estate car body. The Road Rover was aimed at markets such as Africa and Australia where ordinary motorists faced long journeys on unmade roads where a vehicle with four-wheel drive and tough suspension was a benefit.
By the 1960s Rover was becoming aware of the development of the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) in North America. SUVs such as theInternational Harvester Scout and the Ford Bronco offered a different blend of off- and on-road ability to existing utility 4x4s such as the Land Rover and the Jeep, proving capable of good on-road comfort and speed whilst retaining more than adequate off-road ability for most private users. The Jeep Wagoneer proved the concept further. The final element of what would become the Range Rover concept was provided by the President of Rover's USA operations who, frustrated by the lack of suitable vehicles from Britain to compete with the new crop of SUVs, sent Rover a Land Rover Series II 88 fitted with a Buick V8 which offered far greater on-road performance and refinement than any Land Rover currently in production.
Rover acknowledged the emergence of this new market for recreational off-roaders and in 1967 began the '100-inch Station Wagon' programme to develop a radical car to compete, with Charles Spencer King in charge. King quickly defined the basic layout of the new vehicle, realising that only long-travel coil springs could provide the required blend of luxury car comfort and Land Rover-like off-road ability (King is said to have been convinced by coil springs when driving a Rover P6 across rough scrubland on part of the Solihull factory site that was being redeveloped, but Rover also bought a Ford Bronco which featured such a suspension system in the early stages of the 100-inch SW programme). Spencer King was also convinced that a permanent four-wheel drivetransmission was needed both to provide adequate handling and to reliably absorb the power that would be required by the vehicle if it was to be competitive. This required a totally new transmission unit to be developed but Rover spread development costs between the 100-inch SW project and that working on what would become the Land Rover 101 Forward Control. The adoption by Rover of the Buick alloy V8 engine had provided the perfect powerplant for the new 4x4, being powerful, light and sturdy. Various modifications were made to the design to suit use in the Range Rover such as fitting different carburretors that maintained fuel supply at extreme angles and making provision for the engine to use a starting handle in emergencies.
The final design, launched in 1970 with bodywork styled largely by the engineering team rather than David Bache's styling division, was marketed as 'A Car For All Reasons'. In its original guise, the Range Rover was more capable off-road than the Land Rover but was much more comfortable, offering a top speed in excess of 100 mph (160 km/h), a towing capacity of 3.5 tons, spacious accommodation for five people and groundbreaking features such as a four-speed, dual-range, permanent four-wheel-drive gearbox and hydraulic disc brakes on all wheels.


Like other Land Rover vehicles, most of the Range Rover's bodywork skin is constructed from lightweight aluminium, save for the two-section rear tailgate, and the bonnet on all but the earliest models. Apart from minor cosmetic changes, the body design changed very little in its first decade. However, whilst 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 via the steel frame whilst retaining the corrosion-resistant and easily repaired aluminium outer panels. Whilst 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.
Range Rover five-door
Range Rover three-door
One of the first significant changes came in 1981, with the introduction of a four-door body. 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. One by 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 being such that the two-door was discontinued in the United Kingdom in 1984, although the two-door continued to be produced to the end, mainly for the French market.
The first major push upmarket was in 1984 which saw the availability of leather trim and automatic transmission, this was followed in the 1985 model year which saw the instrument pod replaced by a more modern one (adapted from the Austin Maestro), 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. Mirrors were now mounted on the door pillar rather than the doors, 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. Other changes include 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.

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.
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, and later gained anti-roll bars. Air suspension was introduced in late 1992 for high-end 1993 models.
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.
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
The post-facelift Range Rover (LWB), such as this early 1990s four-door example, had front valance and horizontal slat grille


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, 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, 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. 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.
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, and were increased to 2,499 cc (2.5 L; 152.5 cu in) in 1989. 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. 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's 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 (with an optional Fairey overdrive after 1977). A three-speed Chrysler automatic gearbox became an option in 1982, which was upgraded to a 4-speed ZF box in 1985, coupled to an LT230 transfer box. 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 diff 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 sunchros for first and second. This is also known as the suffix H gearbox or LT77s.
In 1995, both 300 tdi and V8 Range Rovers were fitted with an R380 gearbox which is identical to those in the same generation of the Discovery. The same gearbox was later fitted to the P38 model The r380 comes this full synchronization even for the reverse gear.

Off-road, and on

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, 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, 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.

Special versions

Popemobile (1982)

Two of Pope John Paul II's three popemobiles used on his visit to the UK in 1982, were Range Rovers, the other was a 24-tonne truck built by British Leyland. UK company Ogle Design did the design work, and one of the two Range Rovers was taken back to the Vatican. The other is now on display at the Cars of the Stars Museum in Las Vegas.

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Last updated on 9 July 2013 at 15:46.


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