Golden oldie: The Range Rover turns 50 this week and there’s a new special edition model to celebrate half a century of the world’s first luxury 4x4
The world’s first luxury 4x4 – Britain’s Range Rover – celebrates 50 years on and off the road as it marks its golden anniversary on Wednesday.
Launched in 1970, loved by the Queen and the Royal Family and driven by customers as diverse as footballers David Beckham and Vinnie Jones, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, comedian James Corden and boxers Anthony Joshua and Mike Tyson, more than a million have been sold over four generations.
To celebrate the half-century since the Range Rover’s 1970 debut, and mark the year of its birth, Land Rover is also launching a limited-run Range Rover Fifty model which will be restricted to just 1,970 vehicles globally to mark the year of its arrival and will be priced in excess of £100,000.
The anniversary comes in the lead up to sales in 2021 of the next fifth-generation Range Rover, camouflaged versions of which have been photographed out testing on UK roads. From being just one model in 1970 – a luxury spin-off from the original Land Rover of 1948 – the Range Rover itself has over the last 15 years evolved into a family that now also includes the Range Rover Sport launched in 2005, the baby Evoque in 2010, and in 2017 the Velar, which takes its name from the original secret codename for the Range Rover.
Over its lifetime the Range Rover has achieved a host of technical, endurance and expedition feats, and cultural firsts – including being considered a work of art when it became the first car to be displayed at the world famous Louvre Museum in Paris in 1971, a year after its launch and was cited as an ‘exemplary work of industrial design’.
In 1972 a British Army Trans-America expedition team, led by Major John Blashford-Snell, drove two Range Rovers from the north of Alaska to the southernmost tip of Argentina, crossing the infamous Darién Gap – a dense forest and swamp that prevents road access between central and South America.
Thus the Range Rover became the first vehicle to cross the length of the Americas on the 18,000-mile expedition which took 99 days to cover 250 miles of jungle.
In the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year of 1977, a Range Rover won the 4x4 class in the London-Sydney Marathon, a gruelling 18,750 mile event and the longest ever speed-based car rally.
Two years later in 1979, the year Britain elected its first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a specially modified Range Rover won the inaugural Paris-Dakar rally, repeating the feat again in 1981.
The following year 1982 a specially-commissioned bullet-proof ‘Popemobile’ Range Rover was built for Pope John Paul II’s visit to the UK.
Launched with a royal flourish at the London Motor Show in 1999, Land Rover unveiled a Limited Edition Range Rover Linley, inspired by furniture designer and the Queen’s nephew Lord Linley. Only 10 vehicles -then the most luxurious Range Rovers to date – were produced priced at £100,000 each.
But it did also spark a row over royals lending their names to commercial ventures.
More recently in 2016 a Range Rover Autobiography towed Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo at its reveal and naming ceremony at the Mojave Air and Space Port, California.
And for VIP’s worried about their security, for £300,000 you can have a full-metal jacked Armoured Sentinel version of the Range Rover.
Even James Bond has got in on the act, with Range Rovers appearing alongside Aston Martins in various 007 movies, including the forthcoming ‘No Time to Die’ film.
How the original Range Rover emerged
The origins of the luxurious but capable Range Rover go back to the mid-1960s and the inspiration of the Rover car company’s engineering chief for new vehicle projects, Charles Spencer King – known as ‘Spen’ - nephew of the founders of Land Rover.
The idea for its forebear, the original Land Rover of 1948, had been sketched out as a ‘squiggle in the sand’ of Red Wharf Bay in Anglesey, Wales, the previous year by Rover engineering director Maurice Wilks to show his brother Spencer, the firm’s managing director.
They wanted to create a go-anywhere utilitarian British Jeep using a glut of post-war aluminium which, unlike steel, was not rationed, and which could be used by farmers and country-dwellers.
Two decades on, in a bid to revolutionise the growing 4x4 leisure market, King hatched a plan to combine the comfort and on-road ability of a Rover saloon with the off-road ability of a Land Rover – creating the new Range Rover.
Development of the first prototype with a 100-inch wheelbase began in 1967. Two years later during testing the secret prototypes were badged with the name Velar in an effort to hide the Range Rover’s identity. The name - derived from the Latin ‘velare’ meaning to veil or cover - was made up of letters from production-ready badges for the ‘Alvis’ and ‘Rover’ marques.
Land Rover said: ‘Its blend of ability – motorway cruising, off-roading, and even towing in style and comfort – ensured its instant popularity.’
Among its pioneering technical feats, at launch the Range Rover was the first SUV to feature a permanent 4-wheel-drive system. In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, it was the world’s first 4x4 to be fitted with ABS anti-lock brakes.
By 1992 it became the first off-roader to have electronic traction control and automatic electronic air suspension – ensuring the refined driving feel Range Rover is so famous for, both on and off-road.
In 2012, the latest generation Range Rover became the world’s first SUV to feature an all-aluminium lightweight construction, making it lighter, stronger and more efficient.
Land Rover chief creative officer Gerry McGovern, said: ‘In the world of luxury vehicles, the Range Rover has always stood apart as peerless and enduring. Its unique and pioneering sensibilities together with an unrivalled engineering approach have been the intrinsic values which our customers have admired since the first of the breed was revealed in 1970.’