Range Rover Mk1 (1970) retro road test
The road test of the original Range Rover was published in our 12 November 1970 issue. Want to know what we said at the time? Read on…
With the launch of the facelifted Range Rover, which promises a better mix of luxury and off-road capabilities than its predecessors, we thought it only right to republish an Autocar road test for the Mk1 original. The unmodified words from our 12 November 1970 issue follow…
Eagerly awaited, the new Range Rover has fulfilled and even surpassed the high hopes held for it.
The combination of an over-90mph maximum speed with the ability to go cross-country mud-plugging as well is not new – the Kaiser Jeep Wagoneer did all this when we tested it in 1964 – but will seem revolutionary to many.
What is so good about the Range Rover is the way it carries out its multiple functions, serving equally well as tug, load carrier, cross-country vehicle and, by no means least, as an ordinary car suitable even for commuting in heavy traffic.
It is often forgotten how seating positions have been lowered over recent years, to keep waist and roof levels down, and it takes something like the Range Rover, in which one see over the roof of the car ahead, to make one appreciate the value of a higher sight line.
The ability to see what is happening much farther in front, and to be able to look down on the flat bonnet with its clearly defined corners, means it is easier to appraise traffic situations and to place the vehicle accurately. This good view all round goes a long way to compensate for the rather large turning circles and 5ft 10in width.
Also unexpectedly good is the standard of ride comfort, an education in what can be achieved with live axles front and rear. On most surfaces the car rides with surprisingly little vertical movement, and there is only occasionally a trace of front-end pitch – short crisp bounce rather than any suggestion of floating.
A big contribution to the ride is undoubtedly made by the Michelin radial M+S cross-country tyres fitted. They absorb small irregularities and always look a little ‘squish’ when inflated to the recommended 25psi.
One of the biggest improvements noticed by anyone familiar with the Land Rover is the very much better ride in cross-country work. Long travel coil springs front and rear, with huge telescopic dampers, absorb rough tracks and field conditions extraordinarily well, and without any of the violent bucking and bouncing of an ordinary leaf spring Land Rover.
The other respect in which the Range Rover is far superior, of course, is its much greater speed potential. The true level road maximum is 91mph, at which the speedometer reads 95mph, while on a downhill straight we obtained an indicated 104mph. The natural cruising speed is 85mph, when engine noise is pleasantly restrained and the car feels relaxed and unstressed.
Equally impressive is the acceleration and the Range Rover gives a smart step-off in traffic, which belies its size and makes it often the quickest car away from the lights. Through the gears it accelerates briskly to 80mph in under half a minute, and the 19.1sec time for the standing quarter mile is much better than many more lithesome saloons, and only 1.2sec slower than the Rover 3500.
The engine is almost the same all-aluminium V8 of 3528cc as is used in the 3500 and 3.5-litre saloons, but has Zenith-Stromberg CD2 carburettors instead of SUs, and the compression ratio is lowered from 10.5 to 8.5 to 1, suiting it to as lower as 91 octane fuel (or 85 octane with reset ignition timing). A pull-out manual enrichment control is provided for cold starting, near the door hinge on the right, and can soon be pushed in after a cold start.
Through the test starting was generally immediate, only once a bit reluctant from cold when standing on a slope. To prevent vapour lock in very hot conditions, particularly with hard work at low speeds, the fuel is recirculated from the right-hand carburettor back to the tank.
Not surprisingly, the V8 engine seems even smoother in this big car than in the Rover 3500, and its lusty low speed torque enabled us to take acceleration figures in top gear from 10mph with only mild protest. There are no vibration periods and the noise level is always fairly low. At tickover there is some tremor and slight lumpiness gently rocking the car.
Although the 3500 is only available with an automatic transmission, the Range Rover is supplied with a four-speed manual gearbox. There is effective synchromesh on all four gears but the gear change itself is very heavy, has rather long travel, and is a bit notchy; at least it goes well with the heavy duty nature of the car. During performance testing it became very difficult to hurry the changes and in ordinary use a slow, rather deliberate movement, preferably with double-declutching both up and down, helps the gears to go through more easily.
The ratios are well spaced and recommended change points are shown on the speedometer at 26, 43 and 71mph. Considerably more revs can be used in safety, true maxima for the gears being 30, 49 and 79mph before the hydraulic tappets begin to pump up. Clutch take-up is smooth, and at 40lb the operating load is not too heavy, even for traffic use. However, towards the end of the test trouble was experienced with the clutch hydraulics, it sometimes tending not to release and at other times being reluctant to engage.
Unlike the Land Rover and other cross-country vehicles, on which four-wheel drive causes transmission wind-up if used on metalled roads, that on the Range Rover is permanently engaged. Small variations in front-rear wheel revolutions are accommodated by a Salisbury Powr-Lok limited-slip differential installed in the transfer gearbox, and a notice below the facia warns of the special precautions to be taken before testing with only one end of the vehicle on a rolling-road dynamometer.
When alternating between good and bad going, and particularly in snow, it is a great advantage not to have to worry about engaging and disengaging four-wheel drive, and the traction in mud is really remarkable. Just to the right of the gear lever is a small, pull-up knob, by means of which the centre differential can be locked; it works a vacuum-operated pawl, and when engaged a little light comes on in the top of the button as a reminder to free the diff as soon as reasonable grip is regained.
Although we gave the Range Rover an extensive work-out over some deeply rutted mud and on one or two almost frighteningly steep gradients, we never had to resort to locking the diff; but again this might be invaluable in conditions of severe snow or ice, or when towing.
As well as the cross-country advantages of permanent four-wheel drive, it pays real dividends in improved cornering. The Range Rover behaves as a rather strong understeerer, but when the power is applied hard the front wheels can be felt pulling the car round without any protest from the tyres. On slippery surfaces there is some straight-on effect as the front wheels lose their grip but the car quickly recovers when the throttle is eased back. Rather alarming roll angles can be achieved when cornering hard, and roll stiffness generally could well be improved.
At low speeds the steering effort required becomes very heavy indeed and it is quite a battle to manoeuvre the Range Rover in a confined car park. On the straight at speed there is some play, and it was disappointing to find the directional stability not as good as had been hoped for, especially in side winds. Excellent freedom from kick back in rough cross-country work is the best feature of the steering, and an important factor for such a car.
Disc brakes with servo assistance give really dependable braking and progressive increase in efficiency as pedal load goes up, until an impressive 1.02g maximum is achieved at 100lb pedal load. There is little tendency for the wheels to lock under hard braking on slippery roads, and fade testing did not bring any fall-out in efficiency although the front discs became very hot, causing lubricant to dribble out of the front hub on the left. The pedals are well placed, allowing easy heel-and-toe operation, and they are big enough to suit a driver wearing gum boots.
The pull-up handbrake beside the driver’s left knee operates a separate drum brake on the rear transmission and – through the limited slip differential – has some effect on the front wheels as well. It holds easily on 1 in 3, and is exceptionally efficient as an emergency brake, giving 0.45g in return for a strong pull.
In our preliminary impressions of the Range Rover at announcement time (18 June 1970), it was mentioned that transmission whine was expected to be reduced in production cars, and it is indeed much better, although still quite noticeable in the middle speed ranges in top gear. The high-pitched whine is difficult to distinguish from tyre hum caused by the coarse tread blocks.
To the right of the main gearbox is the transfer gearbox, with its small stubby change lever and straight dog engagement. Without double-declutching, the vehicle must come to a complete standstill before going into low ratio.
Maximum speeds in low are 10, 17, 28 and 42mph, and the gearing in low ratio first gives less than 2mph per 1000rpm, enabling the Range Rover to climb almost any gradient on which it can find adequate grip. It is difficult to take off smoothly in low ratio bottom gear, and usually second or third can be used for starting when low is engaged.
A small but surprising criticism is that the transfer box lever is a simple rubber push fit on the actuating stub and after moderate normal use it fell off.
The Range Rover body style is standardised as a two-door estate car with sliding rear side windows, swivelling front quarter vents and winding side windows in the doors. The rear window is released by a locking press button, and gas-filled struts automatically push it open. A lever above the number plate is moved sideways to release the bottom hinged tail panel which is located at the horizontal by strong supports, making a sturdy rearward extension of the load platform.
Maximum payload is over half a ton with two adults on board as well, and a self-energising strut in the rear suspension A-bracket quickly pumps itself up within the first few yards, restoring normal ride attitude when laden. Loaded to the limit, it made the rear suspension much harsher, but certainly offset any tail sag.
The seats are excellently shaped, with just the right back support, and are softly sprung with deep foam rubber. Although there is no adjustment, the backrest angle is good, and there is ample for and aft adjustment. Safety belts are mounted directly onto the seat structure, with incidental advantages that they are not in the way of access to the rear compartment, and that they are more comfortable when worn than when sat on.
Rather awkwardly place, a lever on the inside of each front seat is raised to free the backrest, which can then be pulled forward for access to the rear compartment. As it moves forward, the seat cushion also slides forward, and it is as easy to get into the back as to the front. Behind the rear seat squab is a central lever which is moved sideways to release the backrest for extra load capacity. In the usual estate car fashion, the squab folds against the cushion, and the whole seat then tips forward against the front seats. A strap is provided to hold the back seat squab tightly against the cushion.
Neat column-mounted levers control the two-speed wipers and the screen washers (press in), head lamp dipping, and optional fog lamps, as well as the usual functions for head lamp flashing and indicators.
Through-flow ventilation is provided, with the unusual provision of a small catch by means of which the extractor vents can be closed off (perhaps for sand storms?). The heater is of air blending type, and responds well to adjustment of the temperature lever. Another lever beneath it controls air input with half and full speed fan positions for both fresh and recirculating air. A vertical lever on the left admits cool air through a centre inlet with adjustable vanes, and the matching lever on the right is for air direction to screen or floor. In addition to the centre ventilator, there are separate ball-in-socket outlets.
A fairly spacious drop-down locking facia pocket is fitted in front of the passenger, and there is a well for oddments in the top of the facia above it. A facia locker to the right of the steering column appears to be the only possible position for mounting a radio.
A large circular speedometer is mounted in a raised nacelle ahead of the driver, includes kilometre markings and a trip mileometer, and is matched by a circular dial in which are temperature and fuel gauges. A clock is standard, on the left of the facia centre, and there are blanks for three more instruments to be added. Between the main instruments are the six warning tell-tales in a vertical arrangement including one for trailer lights.
In our two-week spell with the Range Rover we amassed 1766 miles, including trips to South Wales and the Lake District. Our overall fuel consumption of 14.4mpg therefore includes a lot of long runs to offset the heavy consumption of cross-country work.
The best intermediate figure was 15.3mpg, and although this natural includes high cruising speeds and brisk driving, it would be unrealistic for an owner to expect more than about 17mpg in general service. On the test car the fuel filler was very stiff and difficult to open. When locked, it freewheels. The tank holds 19 gallons, with the warning tell-tale coming on for the last three.
We have been tremendously impressed by the Range Rover, and feel it is even more deserving of resounding success than the Land Rover. It remains to be seen how durable and reliable it will prove in service.
Range Rover (1970) – Autocar road test data
Price £1528 Price as tested £2005 Engine V8, 3528cc, petrol Power 135bhp at 4750rpm Torque 205lb ft at 3000rpm Gearbox 4spd manual with transfer box Kerb weight 1758kg Top speed 91mph 0-60mph 13.9sec Fuel economy 14.4mpg Rivals Kaiser Jeep Wagoneer, Volvo 145S estate, Peugeot 404L Familiale
Source: Autocar Online