Range Rover Celebrates 40 Years

The Range Rover celebrates its 40th birthday this week. Looking back over its long history, it is hard to overstate just how influential the Range Rover has been in the automotive industry. It literally created the SUV segment while continuing to refine it with each successive generation. In celebration of this milestone, we decided to look back at what we think are the five coolest Range Rovers, in chronological order:

Trans-Americas Expedition Range Rover
In 1972, a pair of Range Rovers became the first vehicles to make a north-south crossing of the American landmass (Alaska to Tierra del Fuego) including traversing the legendary Darien Gap. The Darien Gap section was by far the most technical, as it was at the time largely unexplored and uncharted. To this day, this virgin jungle remains the last unpaved section of the Pan-American Highway.

With the help of the British Military, frequent use of bridging ladders and a handful of explosives, the expedition completed the Darien Gap section, averaging almost 3 miles per day. Rumor has it that a Land Rover Series IIa, employed as a support vehicle, was abandoned en route when it couldn’t be extracted from the swampy jungle.

Range Rover Popemobile
Let’s be honest here, the Popemobile is ugly. Really ugly. In fact, the boxy appearance of the modification looks kludgy at best.

However, there’s something undeniably cool about the storied history of the Land Rover brand and its choice as the go-to vehicle for luminaries and dignitaries. The Queen owns one, the Dalai Lama owned one, and the Pope had one.

This particular example was built in 1982 after an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. The Range Rover was the first bullet-proof popemobile and allowed protection to the Pope, while still allowing him to see and be seen by the masses as he traveled on a visit to the UK.

Great Divide Expedition Range Rover
The Great Divide Expedition, undertaken in August 1989 by what was then Range Rover North America, was a North/South overland trip primarily across the Continental Divide in Colorado. The expedition, led by Camel Trophy luminary Tom Collins, also signaled the creation of the Tread Lightly program in the United States.

The Great Divide Expedition Range Rover, and its offspring, the commemorative 1991 Great Divide Edition Range Rovers are the trucks on this list that we at Pangaea Expeditions would consider the most likely candidates for an expedition vehicle. The combination of robust design and simplicity would make it an ideal starting point for a long overland platform. Also, at 20 years old, these trucks can probably be picked up for a very reasonable price these days.

Range Rover Sport
Range Rover Sport was a radical departure from Land Rover’s long history of focusing on off-road prowess. This long-rumored “Baby Range Rover” vehicle was designed first and foremost with tarmac performance in mind, and when revealed  in 2005, the 400 bhp Supercharged version did not disappoint. Its gut-wrenching acceleration and tarmac hugging handling seem out of place on a vehicle of its size and luxury. In fact, on a pre-production model, I “stuck my foot in it” and was shocked to see the speedometer quickly and effortlessly climbing into the triple digits. Land Rover unnecessarily, but impressively, upped the anty for the 2010 model year by increasing the horsepower on the Supercharged version to a mind-bending 500 bhp.

But make no mistake, the Range Rover Sport, while an impressive on-road vehicle is no slouch once the pavement ends. In late 2002, I attended  driver training at Eastnor Castle, the long time proving grounds for Land Rover R&D. As we travelled the deep muddy trails around the castle in Td5 powered Defender 110s and 130s, we continued to cross paths with a strange Ford Explorer with Range Rover wheels and a Defender 90 accompanying it. After being told in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to photograph it, it was explained through an elaborate and elusive game of 20 questions that the Explorer was in fact a test mule for the new RR Sport. For days, the mule was having the worst of the legendary Eastnor Castle trails thrown at it and it performed with flying colors. While not in the same echelon as the Camel Trophy, the G4 challenge put the truck through it’s paces, producing one of the coolest examples of the Range Rover Sport.

Holland & Holland Range Rover
Limited to just 100 examples annually, this Range Rover, technically produced by Land Rover aftermarket company Overfinch, is an example of British aristocracy gone awry. It starts with a supercharged V8 or TDV8 Range Rover. The cargo area is filled with a gorgeous gun and liquor cabinet, courtesy of the fine gunsmiths at Holland & Holland. Interior appointments have been upgraded throughout including H&H walnut gunstock trim. Oh, and did I mention that for the first year of ownership, the liquor cabinet is self-replenishing? Guns, a luxury SUV and an endless supply of liquor … what could possibly go wrong? Of course this level of luxury is priced squarely in “if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it” territory, £120k (or about $175k USD) for export, £139,650 (about $206k USD) on the road in the UK.

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