Range Rover classic reincarnated
Hip fans are snapping up restored versions of this vintage behemoth, writes Hannah Elliott
File this away as the latest example in the craze to bring back every cool vehicle from years past: Land Rover has reintroduced the classic Range.
Last Wednesday, Land Rover unveiled the first of a new series of cars it is calling Range Rover Reborn: a mustard-yellow 1978 Range Rover reissued and certified perfect by Land Rover Classic, the same division that restored a handful of early Series I Land Rovers last year.
The Britain-based company is reissuing 10 1970s-era Range Rovers to capitalise on the explosion of interest in the vintage market. They fall in the same general affinity categories as Ford’s Bronco, old FJs and
G-Wagons, Scrambler trucks and the famous Defender.
Last year, 13 Range Rovers from the era hit public auctions in the US at an average sale price of $20,000; only eight were offered in 2014, according to classic-car insurer Hagerty.
The average value of these British rigs, as quoted by Hagerty, was up 11% in 2016 compared with 2015, and up 67% over the past five years.
"They’re wise to capitalise on this," says Hagerty spokesman Jonathan Klinger about the old SUVs. "They’re simple and pure and all mechanical: it’s not a hop-in-and-go-downtown luxury driving experience — but that is what makes them cool."
The Range Rover Reborn programme works this way: the special division (which also issued the new-old Jaguar XKSS, aka "continuation series" cars) finds rare bodies and frames in good condition and then does a full factory-spec restoration on the skeleton; it cleans or repairs them, using dead-stock Land Rover parts or making new ones, if needed.
That means you get the classic British styling, special Quartz dashboard clock, door-mounted rear-view mirrors and the air conditioning system, all with components in perfect order.
"We rebuild them absolutely as they should be," says Tim Hannig, the director of Jaguar Land Rover Classic. "When we find them, they are very much ramshackle. They don’t look nice. But there is very much a lot of good material about them.
"Each takes from six months to nearly a year to complete.
"All liquids are drained. Every part is taken out and inspected. During that process, we look at every single one and decide: can we use that or do we have to replace it?" says Hannig.
"All the work is done in parallel, to make sure it’s exactly perfect, and then we reassemble the car."
Performance specifications on the Rover Reborn will be
the same as the original: it has a 3.5l V8 engine that gets 132 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. The 10-second-plus 0-100km per hour sprint time isn’t hugely impressive now, but back then it beat most big rigs on the market.
A lockable centre differential on the four-speed manual transmission means you can take them up hillsides and down ravines if you get bored showing off in town.
"It’s a very special feeling to drive one of these Rovers," Hannig says. "When you sit in them, you have an incredible view of space. The pillars are very thin. The roof is very high.
"You have a feel of incredible freedom, which is just fantastic. It’s not a fast-performance crossover SUV, it’s just a great cruiser with enormous capability to go off-road. And it’s still quite luxurious."
It’s also still quirky — which is a nice way to say that any design flaws the original Rovers had are still front and centre.
"At that time, you didn’t have any air suspension or cruise control, so they will behave and drive like the car did at the time," Hannig says with a laugh.
"We don’t modify anything. For instance, there is a big gap between the door handle and the cover, and the gap will be there again on these new old ones," he says.
And what of Range Rover’s notoriety when it comes to upkeep? Problems with the composition of the chassis, electrical system and general leaks can create headaches with some Rovers (and Defenders, for that matter).
These are more complex machines than their Ford and Toyota contemporaries — the car equivalent of a handsome, beautiful friend who is a joy to catch up with, but often flakes on dinner dates.
They’re expensive to repair, but "any properly maintained example will be fine", Klinger says of the vintage models.
"There are plenty of people who can afford to buy them, but they can’t afford to do the proper maintenance — which means when they break down, they sit and decay, which feeds into the reputation they are not reliable."
Of the Range Rover Reborn models, despite their being built to original specifications, decades of experience and new parts should help alleviate any of the better-known quirks, and they’re delivered fully certified.
Owners of vintage models can take heart, too: the fact Land Rover is making parts for these vintage models again means they’ll be easier to get for enthusiasts the world over.
Experts say the people who buy these classics are young, affluent and — despite the model’s off-road credentials — not exactly rural. In 2016, Hagerty saw a 24% rise from 2015 in quotes for 1970s Range Rovers. Over the past five years, the number of quotes has risen 130%, with Generation Xers making up 53% of the interest.
"It echoes a similar demographic to those buying 1966-77 Ford Broncos," Klinger says.
Ford has announced it will remake the icon by 2020. For some, it might be worth waiting for the Ford.
Even though the Bronco won’t appear for a few years, it’s sure to be cheaper.
While you can find untouched Range Rovers online for less than $70,000, the Range Rover Reborn vehicles start at £135,000 ($169,000).
In 1978, in the UK, they cost £9,150; they weren’t introduced in the US until 1987.
Since the Reborn programme will reissue models from 1970 to 1979, the earlier years will cost slightly more than the later years.
But for the chance to have something everyone idolised but no one else has? It’ll be more than worth it.