Range Rover at 50: the story of an icon

As Range Rover celebrates five decades with the Fifty special edition, we explain how a farm hand became a status symbol. This is the story of the original SUV

  • Celebrating 50 years

    Celebrating 50 years

    © Land Rover

    The venerable Range Rover turns 50 this year. Over the course of its life, Land Rover’s stately stalwart has transformed from hose-down hack into the wheels of choice for any self-respecting Sloane Ranger. Starting with the new Fifty special edition, we tell its story.


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  • Range Rover Fifty

    Range Rover Fifty

    © Land Rover

    Seen here with its great-grandfather, the new Range Rover Fifty will be limited to 1,970 examples worldwide – in recognition of the year the original Range Rover was launched. A ‘1 of 1,970’ plaque is affixed to the centre console.

  • Rhapsody in blue

    Rhapsody in blue

    © JLR

    The Fifty is based on the high-spec Range Rover Autobiography and features two unique 22-inch wheel designs. This paint is Tuscan Blue: one of three retro shades available, along with Bahama Gold and Davos White. Buyers can also opt for modern colours, plus a range of powertrains: petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid P400e.

  • Work started on the ‘Road Rover’

    Work started on the ‘Road Rover’

    © JLR

    The Range Rover may be celebrating the big five-zero in 2020, but its story starts back in 1948 with the launch of the original Land Rover. Three years later, work was already starting on the ‘Road Rover’, a car based on the Rover P4 saloon car. The P5-based Road Rover Series II of 1956 was an early crossover in the making.

  • Range Rover prototype

    Range Rover prototype

    © JLR

    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 broad, sturdy model would sit above the Series Land Rovers. Some of the prototypes were badged ‘Velar’ – a name that would resurface five decades later…

  • The ‘100-inch Station Wagon’

    The ‘100-inch Station Wagon’

    © JLR

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

  • First Range Rover is built

    First Range Rover is built

    © JLR

    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

    A true British classic was born

    © JLR

    The 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.

  • An endurance hero

    An endurance hero

    © JLR

    It soon became the car in which to compete in the world’s most gruelling endurance races. In 1972 it became the first vehicle to complete the 18,000-mile Trans American expedition, a feat followed up when the Range Rover completed the 7,500-mile Sahara Desert rally in 100 days. It also scored a victory in class in the 1977 London to Sydney marathon, before winning the inaugural Paris-Dakar in 1979.

  • The four-door Range Rover

    The four-door Range Rover

    © JLR

    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

    First Range Rover automatic

    © JLR

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

  • The visit of the Pope

    The visit of the Pope

    © JLR

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

  • First diesel-engined Range Rover

    First diesel-engined Range Rover

    © JLR

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

  • North American debut

    North American debut

    © JLR

    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 3.9 litres, while in the same year, the Range Rover was the first SUV to feature ABS brakes.

  • Long-wheelbase LSE

    Long-wheelbase LSE

    © JLR

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

  • Range Rover County LWB

    Range Rover County LWB

    © JLR

    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

    ETC and air suspension introduced in 1992

    © JLR

    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 a full 22 years after launch – and a replacement was still two years in the future.

  • Launch of the P38A

    Launch of the P38A

    © JLR

    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 car was more luxurious and had a wider range of engines, it was beset with reliability problems.

  • Production of the original continued

    Production of the original continued

    © JLR

    On the plus side, the P38A (codenamed after the building in Solihull in which it was created) did retain many of the Range Rover’s key features, including the floating roof, clamshell bonnet and split tailgate. Nonetheless, the original Mk1 Range Rover continued to be sold alongside its replacement.

  • Range Rover Classic

    Range Rover Classic

    © JLR

    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 had been sold in a 26-year production life. By comparison, the second generation car lasted a mere seven years.

  • Range Rover Linley

    Range Rover Linley

    © JLR

    But not before the P38A delivered the most luxurious Range Rover to date. The Linley (named after Viscount Linley) 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 dizzying £100,000.

  • The last Range Rover II

    The last Range Rover II

    © JLR

    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

    Third-generation Range Rover

    © JLR

    In 2001, the all-new third-generation Range Rover was launched. Reflecting new market trends and a move even further upmarket, the design was inspired by yachts, fine furniture and first-class seating.

  • Pompous and self-important?

    Pompous and self-important?

    © JLR

    Spen King went on-record saying he regretted how the Range Rover and other 4x4s had 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”.

  • Range Stormer concept

    Range Stormer concept

    © JLR

    Nevertheless, the luxury SUV continued to grow ever more popular. In 2004, we saw the first signs of a Range Rover sub-model when Land Rover unveiled the Range Stormer concept.

  • Range Rover Sport

    Range Rover Sport

    © JLR

    A year later, the first Range Rover Sport was launched, complete with a 4.2-litre supercharged V8 engine. The current Range Rover Sport – now into its second generation – makes a heady 575hp in flagship SVR guise. ‘Sport’ indeed.

  • New TDV8 engine

    New TDV8 engine

    © JLR

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

  • Range Rover facelift of 2010

    Range Rover facelift of 2010

    © JLR

    The facelift for the 2010 Range Rover was far more than a cosmetic exercise. Indeed, Land Rover bosses claimed 1,420 new parts were used. In the same year, two new engines were introduced, including the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 found in the Jaguar XFR (good for 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds).

  • Holland and Holland Range Rover by Overfinch

    Holland and Holland Range Rover by Overfinch

    © JLR

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

  • The world’s first TFT screen

    The world’s first TFT screen

    © JLR

    Another Range Rover world-first came with the introduction of a 12-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) screen, which presented driving information on a set of virtual dials. We take this technology for granted today, but in 2010 it was big news. You may also remember the Range Rover was the first car to offer a dual-view infotainment screen – allowing the driver to use the navigation while the passenger watches TV.

  • The most luxurious Range Rover ever?

    The most luxurious Range Rover ever?

    © JLR

    It was billed as the ‘most luxurious Range Rover ever’ and 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 individual rear seats in place of the usual bench, plus an aluminium laptop table. There was also teak decking in the boot. Only 500 were made.

  • The Range Rover Evoque of 2011

    The Range Rover Evoque of 2011

    © JLR

    In 2011, Range Rover entered a whole new world with the introduction of the Evoque. Today, the baby Range Rover is into its second generation and remains as fashionable as ever. Why have an Audi Q5 or BMW X3 when you can have a smaller version of the world’s favourite luxury SUV?

  • The fourth-generation Range Rover

    The fourth-generation Range Rover

    © JLR

    By now, the Range Rover was on a roll. Soon after the launch of the Evoque came the fourth-generation Range Rover. It was the first SUV with a lightweight all-aluminium body and the most aerodynamic Range Rover yet. In an instant, the third-generation Range Rover looked outmoded.

  • Range Rover Sport Hybrid

    Range Rover Sport Hybrid

    © JLR

    These are changing times and even the Range Rover has to adapt. Still hurting from criticism from Greenpeace, Land Rover introduced a Range Rover Sport Hybrid in 2013. The diesel/electric SDV6 Hybrid cut CO2 emissions to 169g/km – not bad for a 340hp SUV capable of 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds.

  • Daniel Craig launches the new Range Rover Sport

    Daniel Craig launches the new Range Rover Sport

    © JLR

    The second-generation Range Rover Sport arrived in 2013, with none other than Daniel Craig at the wheel. The new Sport was 39 percent lighter than the old model and was now based on the Range Rover, rather than the Land Rover Discovery.

  • The Long-Wheelbase Autobiography Black

    The Long-Wheelbase Autobiography Black

    © JLR

    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 this version did manage to extend rear legroom by 186mm, introducing executive-style seating.

  • A new Range Rover Holland and Holland

    A new Range Rover Holland and Holland

    © JLR

    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 Range Rover SV Autobiography

    © JLR

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

  • Six-million milestone

    Six-million milestone

    © JLR

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

  • Range Rover facelift

    Range Rover facelift

    © JLR

    Revealed at the beginning of 2018, the fourth-generation Range Rover got its first comprehensive update. Changes were subtle, including front matrix lamps with 142 individually controllable LEDs apiece. The Range Rover was also available for the first time with laser headlights. Paging Dr Evil…

  • Going digital

    Going digital

    © JLR

    A modernised outside was matched by further digitisation of the cabin. Gone were most of the buttons, replaced by 10-inch touchscreens. The upper-level screen controlled media, while the lower screen was all-new, with integrated dials for climate control. It was a slick system that brought the Range Rover up-to-date in the face of fierce competition.

  • Range Rover Velar

    Range Rover Velar

    © JLR

    The Range Rover Velar of 2017 had some scratching their heads. Bigger than an Evoque, but smaller than a Sport, who was this new Range Rover 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.

  • Plug-in hybrid debuts

    Plug-in hybrid debuts

    © JLR

    New for the 2018 update was the introduction of a plug-in hybrid model. This combined JLR’s 300hp 2.0-litre Ingenium four-cylinder engine with an 85kW electric motor. The electrified Range Rover offered an emissions-free range of 31 miles, with economy rated at 101mpg and CO2 emissions of 64g/km. Impressive for a vehicle that packed an impressive 404hp.

  • Range Rover SVCoupe

    Range Rover SVCoupe

    © JLR

    In a way, the SVCoupe went back to the Range Rover’s roots. Yet this luxurious £250,000 beast was more suited to sheikhs than sheep shearers. As the Coupe name suggests, it only had two doors, but that’s where the similarities with the original car end. The decadent SVCoupe was eventually canned due to budgetary worries.

  • Six appeal

    Six appeal

    © JLR

    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. A 400hp Ingenium straight-six engine arrived in early 2019 with a mild-hybrid boost to improve emissions.

  • Send in the Sentinels

    Send in the Sentinels

    © JLR

    The heavily-armoured Range Rover Sentinel is ideal for keeping VIPs safe. It features 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

    To the stars

    © JLR

    Last year saw the introduction of the Range Rover Astronaut Edition, exclusively for members of the Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut programme. Special features include the ‘Zero Gravity Blue’ paint and images of the SpaceShipTwo throughout the cabin.

  • Family values

    Family values

    © JLR

    Range Rover is, aptly enough, now a range of cars, but only the original can truly claim icon status. Indeed, ‘Range Rover’ has become the brand generic for a large SUV.

  • The future of the Range Rover

    The future of the Range Rover

    © JLR

    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 car are already out testing. There are rumours it will be all-electric, sharing a platform with the next-generation Jaguar XJ. If so, it’ll be one of the biggest changes to the Range Rover in over five decades.

  • Fifty at 50

    Fifty at 50

    © JLR

    For now, the Range Rover is fighting fit at 50 – as the desirable Fifty special edition proves. We’ll have ours with a self-replenishing drinks cabinet.