In late 1965 the Ministry of Defence unknowingly created the right atmosphere for the conception of a new vehicle, by cutting back on orders for military Land Rovers. This created the usual cry for a new vehicle, and recent market research had shown an increase in personnel-carrying requirements. And so it was that one began to notice a marked increase in internal memoranda headed ‘Personnel Carrier’ or ‘Interim Station Wagon’.
Early 1966 saw the start of scheming on the vehicle, and by July 1966 a full design team was drawn together and nominated New Vehicles Projects (NVP) department. This department had previously dealt with the design concepts of Rover 2000/3500 (P6), Road Rover and Rover B.S Coupe, Land Rover 79”, Land Rover Airportable, Rover P7 and P8, and so had limited experience of 4 x 4 vehicle requirements.
Before long, this new team was seen motoring across Warwickshire and Worcestershire to the well-known (in L.R. spheres) 6,000-acre estate just over the Herefordshire border, in a cavalcade of L.R.s with competitive vehicles ranging from the Haflinger and Farmobil to V8 88”s and 6 cylinder 110FCs.
A 13-mile safari course around Eastnor took two days to complete (the vehicles took three weeks to clean and straighten), but gave to the design team a true insight into the wonderful and sometimes weird world of ‘Landrovering’.
By the end of that year, design schemes had settled on 110” wheel-base, so the project now became the L.R. 100” Station Wagon, with the main features being: -
- Improved ride comfort
- Improved speed and acceleration
- Better road-holding and handling
- Improved Braking
- Cross-country performance at least as good as L.R.
- Improved fuel consumption
- Improved visibility
- Improved heating and ventilation
- Improved refinement
- Meet worldwide safety standards
- Improved styling
Preliminary development investigations now brought together an experimental fleet of vehicles comprising one 88” 3-litre SW, one 88” SW with Buick 3.5-litre V6, two 88” V8 soft tops, one 88” SW auto transmission, a Ford Bronco and a Jeep Wagoneer.
By March 1967 the first prototype was taking shape, made purely from schematic drawings, which first ran in May 1967 registered as a ‘Velar’ Station Wagon no. SYE 157 F. The ‘Velar’ name was ‘borrowed’ from the Rover V8 mid-engined sports coupe registered some 12 months earlier. The Velar motor company could now boast a production figure of two cars in two years.
The specification of the vehicle, broadly, was a Land Rover-type chassis with coil springs and Ford Bronco-type radius arms and location rods, a modified Rover 3.5-litre, Land Rover gearboxes, Land Rover 11’ drum brakes, Land Rover axles and Land Rover seating.
The bronco-type suspension was a disaster, and redesign started immediately. V8 power, through the rear axle only, could also be embarrassing, so one of the 88” V8s was quickly fitted with a full-time 4WD Land Rover gearbox and transfer box, first designed and built in the late 1950s! Comparative tests between part-time and full-time 4WD soon showed the benefits of the latter, particularly with high power/weight ratios, so another change was made to the specification.
Registered as a Velar station wagon, the first ‘prototype’ “Range Rover” ran in May 1967
Prototype No. 2, with new chassis and suspension, including levelled rear suspension and disc brakes, but with the ‘old’ style body of No. 1 vehicle, first ran in January 1968 and was instantly successful. Two pave/cross-country tests were carried out at MIRA, and completed with flying colours, so the message immediately went out (July 68) to tidy up the body design, for No. 3 was to be the ‘Production Specification’.
During this period, the new (Mk 111) gearbox had been designed and built with limited slip centre diff., prototypes No. 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 were now specified. A 109” SW was built with 100” Land Rover engine and drive train, and started its 100,000-mile road test on the Ludlow/Clee Hill circuit.
Intense development activity and detail drawing were now set in motion, together with plans for a Press Launch in late 1969, but it was soon apparent that the 30 pre-production and 20 press vehicles planned could not be achieved in the time available, which meant putting back the release date to 1970.
The production line was built during 1969 and 30 pre-production vehicles scheduled, all to be built with Land Rover deluxe seats. The pre-production facility built Engineering Prototype No. 7 (YVB 150 H) as a practice exercise, and then 27 fleet vehicles, numbered in the YVB series, followed by the 20 press cars, numbered NXC 230 H to NXC 249 H.
The styling department had built clay models for appraisal, still insisting on calling it a ‘Road Rover’. Body details were finally agreed and No. 3 Prototype (LHD) was completed in February 1969.
Several vehicles were brought up to sales specification for P.R., Marketing and Engineering Work, (these being YVB 153 H, YVB 160 H, YVB 150 H,) and Engineering Prototypes No. 5 and No. 6 (WYK 315 H and AOY 289 H), ready for the Algerian Safari.
Trials had been carried out on No. 3 vehicle by Special Tuning Dept. and three vehicles (by now called Range Rovers) had been entered for the World Cup Rally. Due to launch delays the entries had to be cancelled and three Austin Maxis substituted. The vehicles were also demonstrated (at well over 70mph!) around the Midland motorways, to various police forces, who were known to be looking at ‘Ferguson Formula’ converted Ford Transits at the time.
Plans were laid for a P.R. -cum-engineering safari in the Sahara Desert, with a Press Launch in Morocco. The former went ahead in November/December 1969, but the latter was cancelled. A V8 109” 1-ton hardtop Land Rover, with 900 x 16 tyres and Range Rover drive train, was built to act as load carried and transmission test bed for the safari.
The Sahara vehicles arrived back in the UK just in time for Christmas 1969, to find many sister vehicles sitting on a very slowly-moving production line.
Amongst all the production and Press panics came yet another, the making of the film: ‘A Car for all Reasons’, which involved travel around Warwickshire and Wales, and the appearance of Prototype No. 8 – the driveable demonstration chassis.
The re-vamped Press Launch was now to be in Cornwall, in May 1970, but meanwhile vehicles No. 6 and 7 were to be tested across France and Switzerland, getting back to the UK (with 24 hours to spare!) to go to Cornwall.
And so, after only 3 ½ years, there stood outside Meudon Hotel in Cornwall 20 pristine Range Rovers with various back-up vehicles, ready to be thrashed around an airfield, a disused mine area, and the lanes of Cornwall, and then revealed to the public on 7th June, 1970.