Event report originally published in AutoWeek on October 16, 2000; republished by the author
Thirty years to the day, Range Rover enthusiasts gathered at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, England, to celebrate the model’s birthday. The celebration fell exactly 30 years after the press conference announcing the first upscale off-road 4×4, a combination of luxury features from Rover automobiles and the Land Rover’s off-road prowess. It also came just two years after Land Rover celebrated its own 50th.
Organized by the Range Rover Register, which claims to be one of the largest Single-Mark four-wheel-drive owners’ clubs, the event was held with the cooperation of the Heritage Motor Centre and Land Rover. The club holds a similar event every year in different locations, but for the 30th, club spokesman Mike Knowles says something special was needed and a call went out to assemble the largest collection of Range Rover’s ever at an enthusiast event.
And they came, 605 in all, from prototype “Velar” models to the very latest, with everything in between. The Velar (Spanish for “undercover”) models refers to the special badging put on the test models to hide the fact that Land Rover was working on a new model. Models not subject to destructive testing were sold off to the development staff and therefore fell into private hands. Almost half-dozen came.
At a glance, all Range Rover’s, or at least most, look the same, even – or especially – when 400 are lined up in rows on the car park outside the Centre. Closer examination, however, reveals the kind of differences that enthusiasts revel in. Not only were there individual modifications, accessories and who’s using what tire and wheel and why, there were also more model changes and specials than the casual observer would know. Only two-door Range Rovers were built until 1981, when a four-door version became available. Then there were changes in engines, from carburetors to injection, from 3.5- to 3.9- and 4.0-liter V-8’s, not to mention the various diesel models. Special models included the Vogue, Range Rover’s first luxury addition, and a “CSK,” a special two-door introduced in 1990 and named for Charles Spencer “Spen” King, one of the Range Rover’s fathers. Several examples of just about everything Range Rover were on hand, although only one Range Rover Marauder, a wild buggy conversion, showed up.
There were several rare 6×6 Range Rovers, with weird stretch body and dual-powered rear axles, at the gathering. Even Tom Barton, the Range Rover’s other father and Spin King were on hand for a special Q&A session. And of course there were the usual new and used parts vendors, although a demonstration by the National Association of Air Ambulance Services, complete with helicopter, was out of the ordinary.
Carol Dawson, of Yorkshire, who finally owns the Range Rover she’s wanted since she first saw it at age 10, has attended several RRR events, but wanted to be part of the special record-breaking event. And anyway, CSK owner Ginny Forrester of Bedford says, “It’s a friendly mob.”
Addendum: My wife and I were on vacation and one of our stops was the Heritage Motor Centre (now British Motor Museum), packed to the gills and cheek to jowl with seemingly an example of every motor vehicle the UK ever made more than one of.
It was outside, where the museum was surrounded a couple of marque club events, that I sensed opportunity. A Mini confab was going on in one area, and we walked through, but in another, look at all those Range Rovers. Sure, take some pictures, do a few interviews, sell a story when I get home. And that worked out well, as you can see above. I could have written up a few Minis, with all the variations of that diminutive motorcar, but chose Range Rover, because, well, something or other.
But while we went back to the museum, going up stairs, we met Bill Baker coming down. Bill was Land Rover’s first p.r. chief in the U.S. when the Range Rover was first imported to the U.S. in 1987, and I had known Bill because of that. He was at the event, even though no American journalists had been invited, to help corral the European automotive media that had been invited to cover the event.
Bill, sensing opportunity, invited us to the dinner Land Rover was hosting for the Continental auto scribes, to be held in nearby Stratford-on-Avon, in the upstairs of a pub that could have been frequented by another Bill, he with the last name Shakespeare. The food was excellent, the company entertaining (we sat next to a Dutch writer who was very interested in American automotive journalism), and we received regular updates from our waiter on important soccer game of some sort that England was, if my soccer research is accurate and Wikipedia reliable, losing to either Portugal or Romania.
And that is how automotive sausage is made, or at least this particular banger.