Land Rover’s new 2011 Range Rover marks 40 years since the original off-roader was launched. To commemorate, Autocar pitted the latest third-generation model against one of the late first-generation models to see just how true to the original luxury off-roader the current car remained.
Watch the comparison video of the old and new Range Rovers
Last month, Autocar took the 2011 Range Rover to meet one of the very first originals from 1970. On the face of it, there’s not much to link this pair. The latest model is nearly 40cm taller, over a tonne heavier and has roughly two and a half times more power and torque.
See pics of the old and new Range Rovers together
On the other hand, the new 4.4-litre diesel’s fuel consumption is around 40 per cent lower and it emits less than two-thirds of its ancestor’s CO2.
The original model had a four-speed gearbox that was crude even by 1970s standards; today’s introduces a super-efficient eight-speed paddle-shift auto. And whereas the original Range Rover cost £1998, this latest model starts at around the £70,000 mark.
Read Autocar’s first drive of the 2011 Range Rover
And yet, park this pair together and their relationship becomes dazzlingly obvious. It extends to every important conceptual aspect: styling cues, swage lines, overhangs, glass-to-body relationship, stance, screen rakes.
Standing on high, lush slopes of the Snowdonia National Park, above Capel Curig, I marvelled at the latest of the 780,000 Range Rovers so far built and, alongside it, a Tuscan Blue two-door model, registered YVB 153H, which has been on displayed for the past decade or so in the Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon.
The pair was brought together by Roger Crathorne, one of Land Rover’s most experienced and distinguished engineers. Roger played a leading hand in early Range Rover durability programmes, so he remembers the model’s gestation very well, and he still works in the company today.
Our mission was to recreate, using both Range Rovers, images from the 1970 photo shoot used in the original press kit. Crathorne had been on site in 1970 to ensure the film crew didn’t do anything silly with YVB like driving it down a ravine.
Read what Autocar said about the original Range Rover in its 1970 road test
It’s fascinating to see how the old car still informs the new one. The first thing you notice is that extraordinary driving position. There were other tall 4×4 models about at the time (notably Americans like the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wagoneer) but none of them had had it.
The Range Rover’s throne-like seats are mounted so high in the car that the top surface of the dash isn’t much higher than your knees and the side glass starts around hip height.
The thin pillars, which had no need either to survive modern crash tests or provide monocoque levels of body rigidity (because of the mighty twin-rail chassis down below) afford an amazing panorama as you drive. Range Rover and others have since made much of ‘command’ driving positions, but no car has since done it quite so well.
That low-rate, strolling ride quality seems as good as ever. Back in the day, coil springs all round represented a revolution. So was permanent 4WD, a traditional Landie system with a lockable centre differential to provide refinement with robustness.
Roger says the coils made it possible for the Range Rover to double a leaf-sprung Land Rover’s axle articulation (the ability of the front axle to roll one way while the rear is rolling the other). It also introduced a Boge self-levelling unit into the rear suspension that made low ride rates possible in a vehicle without anti-roll bars. It still works.
Not everything is great, though. The passing of time shows how poorly finished early Range Rovers were, and how cheaply trimmed. The gearbox, and gear whine, is awful. The engine, deemed torquey in the old days, seems smoothly gutless today. And it’s very, very thirsty.
But the brakes are decent and the unassisted steering is surprisingly light and accurate on the move, provided you don’t try parking. Plastic mats seem a terrible idea now but were an early sop to those at Rover who believed the new car needed a hose-it-out capability. Yet the essence of the Range Rover, its remarkable charisma, is undimmed.
Most of the time, modern cars that spring from classic roots soon leave their family connections behind. But things are different with the 1970 Range Rover. After 40 remarkable years it’s still the boss, and that’s how it will stay.
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