1986 Range Rover Classic 2-Door
CHANGES IN LONGITUDES, CHANGES IN ATTITUDES
A person can get spoiled living in paradise. There are times here in Javea, nestled into a protective cove along the Mediterranean coast, when the peace and temperate climate, and the general slow pace of life, makes one forget that things are sometimes different in the outside world. And perhaps that explains why, when I woke up on a typically balmy October morning, took my coffee on the terrace and started preparing for my trip to Madrid, it never occurred to me I might want to bring a jacket with me.
The high speed train to Madrid is fast, quiet, and comfortable, and as I watched the scenery whip past at 300 kph and calmly listened to podcasts to pass the time, I was looking forward to another longish road trip in another interesting old Land Rover. This time a 2-door Range Rover Classic.
So it was a bit of a rude awakening when I stepped out onto the platform at the Atocha station in Madrid and felt a biting wind cut into my skin and a cold, wet mist of rain in the air. I wrapped my arms around myself as best I could and followed the throng of bustling businesspeople and commuters, who suddenly seemed to be moving very quickly indeed. I'm a city boy at heart, born and raised around Washington DC, but in a flash I felt like a beach bum lost in the rattle and hum. I felt cold and slow in Madrid, one the largest cities in Europe. My compass needed to be reset.
I walked out into the street and met Manuel, the man I had come to see. He's a crisp, well-dressed type who exudes professionalism, and he shook my hand with the curt practice of someone well used to getting things done efficiently.
"You're dressed for Javea!" he laughed. "October in Madrid is a little different, yes?"
Yes. Yes, indeed.
A CAR FOR ALL REASONS
Although the Range Rover Classic is a well loved vehicle all over the world, and not unknown in the USA, we never got the 2-door model in the states, we never got the diesel powered examples, and we never got the manual transmissions either. The truck Manuel walked me down to see was all three - a stunning 1986 2-door Range Rover turbodiesel, resplendent in bright "Tuscan Blue" paint and equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission. It's a combination that's tough to fault.
Originally, all Range Rovers had just two doors. Introduced in 1970, it was not intended to replace the "series" Land Rovers, but rather expand the offerings of the company and create its own niche market as a go-anywhere luxury vehicle for the well-heeled family or sporting buyer. The design brief was to create "a car for all reasons," something that combined the off road prowess of the Series IIA Land Rover with the on-road comfort of a well-appointed luxury sedan, wrapped in a package that would look as at home in front of an opera house as it would climbing a muddy hillside in the Outer Hebrides.
The result was the Range Rover, and almost immediately became recognized as something of a home run.
Long travel coil spring suspension gave the Range Rover better off road performance than even the Series IIA Land Rover (and would ultimately be incorporated into the later "Defender" series of Landys) and yet the performance and comfort on road were stellar. V8 models had a top speed in excess of 150 kph, and the sense of refinement and competence in all driving conditions was instantly legend. The styling too, drew rave reviews, with an early Range Rover finding a place in the Louvre museum in Paris.
So successful has the Range Rover been for the company, and so heady its rise to the top of the luxury SUV heap, you could be forgiven for dismissing it as a "soft roader" with no particular capability when the going gets tough. But you would be wrong. In 1971 two very lightly modified Range Rover Classics drove from Anchorage, Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, covering 18,000 miles of Pan American Highway, and even crossed the (thought to be "un-crossable") Darien Gap in the process. No mean feat even today, but an astonishing accomplishment back in the day. A 2-door Range Rover Classic won the very first Paris-Dakar rally in 1979, and RRC's were also the official team vehicles for the Camel Trophy events of 1981, 1982 and again in 1987.
These trucks may look fine in front of the opera house, but they are seriously tough buggers and have proven their off road chops time and time again, from Sumatra to Baja, and from Tanzania to Siberia.
VISIONS OF TUSCANY
Manuel knows the Range Rover well. He has spent most of his career working with Land Rover of Spain, and is passionate about the marque in general and the Range Rover in particular. He bought this vehicle to drive and enjoy, but shortly after obtaining it, he set to work putting a few little things right, and once the ball got rolling it really got rolling.
A simple respray turned into a full body-off restoration of the aluminum, and the rust-free chassis was re-galvanized to ensure no oxidation would ever take hold. The "Tuscan Blue" paint is an appealing color for these trucks, and since much of the bodywork was off anyway, Manuel decided to go ahead and have the interior reupholstered in sharp two-tone tan and brown leather. The suspension was redone with all new bushings, springs, and dampers. The engine was completely rebuilt from the block up, and the transmission overhauled as well, with a new clutch kit, to make sure the entire drivetrain was good as new.
"It was supposed to be just a few things," Manuel says, smiling and shaking his head, "but it ended up being a pretty big project. I just wanted it to be right."
As I walked around it, hugging my arms against the cold, it was clear that it's not so much of a restoration as a freshening. Although the paint is beautiful there is a bit of overspray here and there on the weatherstripping, and although the seats are fantastic, the interior shows some of the wear you would expect of an off roader of this vintage. But those are little things, and relatively easy to address. The big stuff is all spot-on. The chassis is entirely rust free and so are the wheel coves, with the only rust present a small amount of non-structural oxidation in the passenger floorboard. The tires are good and evenly worn, and when I hopped in and turned the key, the engine fired easily without smoke and settled into a calm, relaxed idle.
We set off for a test drive, and the truck feels fantastic on the road. The clutch is light and positive and the gearbox snicks from gear to gear with well-oiled precision. The engine pulls smoothly in every gear, and the gauges and lights all work perfectly. It drives precisely as if new.
We retired to a local cafe, shook hands on the deal and completed the paperwork over cups of blessedly hot coffee, and then I bid Manuel a warm farewell and set off for Javea. Making my way out of the city, heater blazing away and wipers easily sweeping off the drops of rain, I kept finding new reasons to be delighted with the purchase, and was looking forward to some long hours behind the wheel.
HERMANOS IN ARMS
I know these old Range Rovers quite well, because I own one myself. Dark red with a petrol V8 and 5-speed transmission, it feels different than this turbodiesel, but also the same. The refinement is the same, and the overwhelming sense of competence is there, too. The diesel doesn't produce as much power, but it's more than adequate for moving through modern traffic, and as I merge onto the A3 superhighway towards Valencia, the boost builds and the Range Rover gets up to highway speeds just fine, thank you very much.
The 2.4L turbodiesel was something of a revelation when it hit the market in the mid 80's, fitted to the "Turbo D" model of the Range Rover Classic. Known as the "VM" engine, the 2.4L four cylinder was an extremely refined diesel for the time, with quiet operation, unmatched smoothness, and outstanding efficiency. Somewhat unloved in the UK press at the time for its lack of grunt when compared to the V8, the VM found favor virtually everywhere else, and has proven to be a stout and trustworthy powerplant over the succeeding decades. The VM is particularly coveted by off road enthusiasts, because it eradicates the one glaring fault of the V8 , namely the relatively feebly range. An RRC with a petrol V8 returns around 13-14 mpg on tarmac, and can manage perhaps 400kms between fill ups in perfect, highway circumstances. Much less in rough, off road conditions. The VM, on the other hand, routinely returns mid 20's in MPG, and with the same fuel capacity as the V8 the range is commensurately doubled as well. When the going gets tough, that can make all the difference. Throw a jerry can in the back of a Turbo D and you'll make it to the next diesel station, pretty much regardless of where in the world you happen to be.
On the A3, cruising at highway speed, the Range Rover tours just like any top flight sedan from the 1980's. The big leather chairs are comfortable and supportive, visibility is outstanding, and the climate control keeps the interior cozy and relaxed. There is no discernible sense of driving a diesel. No noise, no vibration or clatter. Acceleration is relaxed but not anemic, and the incredibly slow downward creep of the fuel gauge needle makes you stop for personal reasons far before you need to for vehicular ones.
Approaching Utiel, I exited the Autovia and skirted the small village of Caudete de las Fuentes before crossing the Rio Madre and heading south on the CV-452. From there, I let my nose guide me, and before long I was trundling along a dirt track, heading down into a discreet valley with grape vines stretching away on either side as far as I could see. The track got narrower, and the surface rougher, but there was virtually no intrusion into the serene cockpit of the Range Rover. The tremendously long travel of the coil springs soak up bumps incredibly well, and this particular vehicle pre-dates anti-roll bars, which improves off road performance even more. In these conditions, the diesel engine shines again, as the comparative lack of response allows you to use the throttle with more precision, keeping very even, steady progress even in tricky going, and the swell of torque pulls you up inclines without undue drama.
The deeply rutted track started to pitch up and down rather aggressively, but the big approach and departure angles gave the bumpers plenty of room, and the going was smooth. At one point, when it became necessary to ford a shallow stream, I locked the center differential and left it locked for some loose sandy sections on the other side. My personal Range Rover is a few years newer and has a viscous coupling to lock the center differential automatically, but particularly in uncertain territory, I much prefer the manual differential lock on this truck. Had things gotten even worse, I could have chosen low range, with the diff either locked or open, but it never became necessary.
Overlanding in a Range Rover is a great experience. Compared to a series Land Rover, you feel like you have all the same capabilities off road, and although that might be a hotly debated claim in certain circles, an RRC is certainly in the ball park. Unlike a series truck, however, there is immense civility to the experience, and huge amounts of terrain can be covered without fatigue and with tremendous dignity and refinement. My wife called at one point and asked me how it was going, and despite being in some rather rough sections of heavily rutted dirt track, I could carry on a perfectly reasonable conversation and even chat with the kids a little bit.
Back in Javea, I parked the blue Range Rover in the garage, right next to my red one. They sat there looking like two brothers. Hermanos in arms. I like the V8, but there is a lot to be said for this VM. The relaxing nature of the drive and the impressive economy and range make driving and owning one as affordable as it is rewarding, and there is a lot to be said for that. On highways and dirt, over hills and rocks, through vineyards and streams, the Range Rover Classic can get you anywhere. Even back to paradise if needed.
No jacket required.
(CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO CYCLE THROUGH THE GALLERY)