Range Rover at 50: From the prairie to the Premier League

As the Range Rover celebrates its fiftieth, we chart the history of this farm hand-turned-status symbol. Arguably, it’s the original, and most famous, SUV.

2020 sees the Range Rover turn 50. Over the course of its life, Land Rover’s stately stalwart has been transformed from a hose-down hack into the must-have driveway accessory for any self-respecting Cheshire mansion owner.

From the prairie to the Premier League, Range Rover, this is your life.

ALSO SEE: Find a used Range Rover on AutoTrader

The first Range Rover prototype

In the 1960s, Rover sensed a genuine opportunity to launch a game-changing project. The company looked across the Atlantic at the likes of the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wagoneer and pondered a rival based on the Rover P6. This more broad, sturdy model would sit above the Series Land Rovers. Two years later, the Range Rover prototype was born…

The ‘100-inch Station Wagon’

It was called the ‘100-inch Station Wagon’, with the engineering pair of Charles ‘Spen’ King and Gordon Ashford working on the body. Donald Stokes, the then boss of Leyland which had recently taken control of Rover, liked the design and left it to David Bache to make necessary refinements. The prototype was completed in 1968.

First Range Rover is built

In 1970, the first Range Rover rolled off the production line in Solihull. It featured an aluminium V8 engine, permanent four-wheel drive and all-round disc brakes. The price was a quite remarkable £1,998.

A true British classic was born

The original Range Rover was a revelation, with the automotive press quick to praise its blend of off-road capabilities and on-road manners. A true British classic was born. A British car to take on the world.

First four-door Range Rover

In 1981, the first four-door Range Rover was built. It was based on a previously launched Monteverdi design, which had struggled to sell, largely thanks to a high price tag.

First Range Rover automatic

The 1980s saw a series of new innovations for the Range Rover, starting in 1982 when Land Rover launched the first Range Rover automatic.

The visit of the Pope

During the Pope’s UK visit in 1982, the Pope was driven around in a converted Range Rover.

First diesel-engined Range Rover

Four years after the first automatic, Land Rover introduced the first diesel-engined Range Rover.

North American debut

The Range Rover made its North American debut in 1987, while a year later, the opulent Vogue SE was launched. In 1989, the 3.5-litre V8 became a 3.9-litre, while in the same year, the Range Rover became the first SUV to feature ABS brakes.

Long-wheelbase LSE

In 1990, the two-door CSK model was introduced, named in honour of Charles Spencer King. Two years later, the long-wheelbase LSE model was launched, completed with a 4.2-litre V8 engine.

Range Rover County LWB

The car was known as the Range Rover County LWB in the US and it was owned and driven by the rich and famous. Here is Michael Jordan’s Range Rover in 1995.

ETC and air suspension introduced in 1992

In 1992, the Range Rover became the first SUV to feature Electronic Traction Control (ETC) and automatic air suspension. Consider the fact that this was now a full 22-years since the launch of the original car and a replacement was still two years in the future.

Launch of the P38A

When it arrived, the Range Rover P38A was a bit of anti-climax. In fairness, it was always going to be tough following up a legend – that difficult second album syndrome. But while the second generation was more luxurious and did offer a wider range of engines, it was beset with reliability problems.

Production of the MK1 Range Rover continued

On the plus side, the P38A (codenamed after the building in Solihull in which it was built) did retain many of the Range Rover’s key features, such as the floating roof, clamshell bonnet and split tailgate. But it was no surprise to find the original MK1 Range Rover continuing to be sold alongside its replacement.

Range Rover Classic

When it did bow out in 1996, the original Range Rover – now known as the Range Rover Classic – had already lived up to its badge. Classic by name, classic by nature. A total of 317,615 cars had been shifted in a 26-year production life. In comparison, the second generation model lasted a mere seven years…

Range Rover Linley

But that wasn’t before the P38A delivered the most luxurious Range Rover to-date. It was called the Linley and featured black paint, black leather, piano black interior trim and deep-pile carpets. It was also one of the first cars to feature satellite navigation and a television. The price was a mere £100,000.

The last Range Rover II

Here we see the last second-generation Range Rover rolling off the production line in Solihull. Charles ‘Spen’ King was there to witness the event.

Third-generation Range Rover

In 2001, the all-new third-generation Range Rover was launched. In an early indication of shifting market trends and a move even further upmarket, the design was said to be inspired by yachts, fine furniture and first-class seating.

Pompous and self-important?

Spen King went on record as saying how much he regretted the way in which the Range Rover and other 4x4s developed. His original concept was for a hose-down and wipe-clean interior and he had no visions of leather and woodgrain. In fact, he felt drivers of luxury SUVs were ‘pompous’ and ‘self-important.’

New TDV8 engine

In 2006, the new TDV8 diesel engine was offered for the first time. The photo shows the Range Rover Autobiography of 2009, which featured new 20-inch diamond-turned twin-seven-spoke alloy wheels.

Range Rover facelift of 2010

The midlife facelift for the 2010 Range Rover, introduced at the 2009 New York Auto Show, was far more than a cosmetic exercise. Indeed, Land Rover bosses claimed 1,420 new parts were used in creating a more luxurious and refined SUV. With every passing year, Range Rover was getting ever closer to Rolls-Royce levels of luxury and comfort.

New 5.0-litre V8 and 5.0-litre supercharged engines

In the same year, two new engines were introduced, including the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 found in the Jaguar XFR. The V8 would help to propel the Range Rover to 62mph in 5.9 seconds, while delivering 19mpg. Meanwhile, the TDV8 could offer a slightly more acceptable 25mpg.

Holland & Holland Range Rover by Overfinch

This 2009 special edition was less Guns ’n’ Roses and more Guns ’n’ Boozes. The Holland & Holland Range Rover Overfinch was famous – not for its 31 piece gunstock walnut trim or unique four-seat layout and hand-veneered rear console. No, it was the self-replenishing drinks cabinet which captured most people’s imagination. Can’t think why.

Range Rover introduces the world’s first TFT

2010 saw the introduction of another world-first in a Range Rover with the introduction of a 12-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT), which presented all the driver information on a set of virtual dials. We take this technology for granted these days, but in 2010 this was big news. You may also remember the Range Rover was the first vehicle to offer a dual-view infotainment screen.

The most luxurious Range Rover ever?

It was billed as the ‘most luxurious Range Rover’ ever built and it cost a cool £120,000. The Range Rover Autobiography Ultimate Edition of 2010 featured a pair of iPads on the back of the front seats, two rear seats in place of the bench and an aluminium laptop table. There was also the small matter of teak decking in the boot. Only 500 were built.

The fourth-generation Range Rover

By now, the Range Rover was on a roll. Fresh from the launch of the Evoque came the fourth-generation Range Rover, billed as ‘the world’s most refined and capable SUV.’ It was the first SUV to feature a lightweight all-aluminium body and was the most aerodynamic Range Rover ever produced. In an instant, the third generation Range Rover looked outmoded and so past it.

2013 – Range Rover Hybrid

These are changing times and even Range Rover has to adapt. Still hurting from its rollocking from Greenpeace, Land Rover introduced a new Range Rover Hybrid in 2013. The SDV6 Hybrid cuts CO2 emissions to a remarkable 169g/km – not bad for a 340hp V6-powered SUV capable of sprinting to 60mph in 6.5 seconds and retaining the same ground clearance and wading depth.

The Long-wheelbase Autobiography Black

Catchy name, isn’t it? We’re pretty sure Spen King didn’t have the likes of the Range Rover Long-Wheelbase Autobiography Black in mind back in the 1960s, but the new car did manage to extend the rear legroom by 186mm and see the introduction of executive style seating.

The new Range Rover Holland & Holland

But if the LWB Autobiography wasn’t luxurious enough, you could always order the £180,000 Range Rover Holland & Holland. Once again, it promised to be ‘the most luxurious model ever’ and featured a host of bespoke upgrades, including a leather-trimmed gun cabinet.

The Range Rover SV Autobiography

The SV Autobiography of 2015 felt no less special, but at £148,000, it was a tad cheaper. Highlights include a ‘Duo-tone’ paint, featuring a Santorini Black upper body and lower body colour of your choice, along with Windsor leather ‘event seating’, complete with footrests.

6 millionth Land Rover is a Range Rover

Rather fittingly during the Range Rover’s 45th year in production, the 6 millionth Land Rover to roll off the production line just happened to be a Range Rover LWB Vogue SE. It was built on 2 April 2015.

Range Rover facelift

Revealed at the beginning of 2018, the fourth-generation Range Rover got its first comprehensive update. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and the Range Rover was as cool-looking as ever. Changes were subtle, including new sleek LED lighting. The front matrix lamps now came with 142 individually controllable LEDs apiece. In addition to that, the Pixel-Laser High Beam added lasers to the Range Rover’s lighting arsenal. Paging Dr Evil…

Going digital

A modernised outside was matched with further digitisation of the cabin. Gone were most of the buttons, replaced by ten-inch touch screens. The upper-level screen controlled media, as did the previous iteration. The lower screen was all-new, with integrated swivel dials to control the climate control. It was a thoroughly slick system that brought the Range Rover firmly up-to-date in the face of fierce competition.

Plug-in hybrid model

New for the Range Rover with the 2018 update was the introduction of a plug-in hybrid variant. This combined JLR’s 300hp 2.0-litre Ingenium four-cylinder engine with an 85kW electric motor. This electrified Range Rover came with a claimed emissions-free range of 31 miles, albeit under the dubious NEDC cycle. Economy figures were rated at 101mpg – stratospheric for a Range Rover – and CO2 was claimed to be down to 64g/km. Impressive, given in all, this Rangey packed an impressive 404hp.

Range Rover SVCoupe

In a way, the SVCoupe went back to the Range Rover’s roots. Conversely, this blingy £250,000 luxurious beast was more suited to Sheikhs than sheep shearers. While, as the Coupe name suggests, it had just two doors, that’s where the similarities with the original Rangie end. MR’s Peter Burgess had strong opinions on it at the time, but he needn’t have worried. The decadent SVCoupe was eventually canned due to budgetary concerns.

Six appeal

If the four-pot in the PHEV sounded a bit weedy to you, but the supercharged 5.0-litre is a bit much, fear not. The 400hp Ingenium straight-six arrived in early 2019 with a mild-hybrid boost to improve emissions.

Send in the Sentinels

If you’re a high-value target, but quite fancy a Range Rover, fear not. The heavily-armoured Sentinel variant that debuted last year should keep you safe. It featured more than a tonne of armour plates and glass, with protection against ‘modern and unconventional forms of attack, including improvised explosive devices’.

To the stars

2019 also saw the introduction of the Range Rover Astronaut Edition, exclusively for members of the Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut community. Special features include the ‘zero gravity blue’ paint, and various detail touches like imagery of SpaceShipTwo throughout the cabin. Special editions don’t get more exclusive than that.

The spin-offs: Range Rover Sport

The Range Rover name began spawning offshoots over 15 years ago. The Range Stormer Concept previewed a sportier model to sit below the long-standing ‘full size’. Shortly after, the Range Rover Sport was introduced, as an answer to the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5. It brought supercharged power and ice-cool looks, attracting a younger, sportier audience to the Rangie. While it was introduced with 400hp from a 4.2-litre supercharged V8, the current blood-curdling SVR variant of the second generation sport has over 570hp from a 5.0-litre unit.

The spin-offs: Range Rover Evoque

Truly bringing the Range Rover name to the masses was the Evoque, introduced in 2011. Based on – whisper it – the Freelander, the Evoque changed the game, introducing the sporty design language Land Rover still uses today, at undeniably attractive prices. Have that, BMW X3 and Audi Q5. The less said about the convertible variant of 2016, the better. Now in its second-generation, Land Rover hasn’t strayed from the stylish look of the original Evoque too much. It’s as cool and desirable as ever.

The spin-offs: Range Rover Velar

The latest spin-off, the Velar, had some scratching their heads. Bigger than an Evoque, but smaller than a Sport, who was this new Range Rover variant for? Honestly, we’re still not sure, but it’s probably the best combination of the two. It introduced the sleek cabin of the big Range Rover, and can be ordered in muscular SVAutobiography supercharged V8 form. Now the most devoted of Premier League posers can have a four-car collection consisting entirely of distinct Range Rover models.

The future of the Range Rover

With 50 years behind it, what’s next for the Range Rover? The fourth-gen still has some years left in it, but prototypes of the next-gen car are out testing. There are rumours it’ll be all-electric, sharing a platform with the all-electric next-generation Jaguar XJ. If so, it’ll be one of the biggest changes to the Range Rover in over five decades. For now, the Range Rover is fighting fit at 50.

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