1989 Land Rover Range Rover 2-door
Blood Red Is An Appropriate Color
A good friend of mine once told me: "Some vehicles get into your blood, and some... just make you shed it." This one, a vehicle very near and dear to my heart, is a whole ton of column A and a little bit of column B, too.
I bought this Range Rover Classic in Barcelona, specifically to export to the USA, but it wasn't more than 40 or 50 minutes into the drive home that I knew I couldn't put it straight on a boat. There was something about it. Something kinda special. I feel it every once in a while, but can rarely put my finger on it. I called Bill in Virginia and told him I wanted to keep it for myself. Actually, I told him I needed to keep it for myself. At least for a while. It was just too cool, I told him. It was just too... right. Everything about it got into my blood, made my heart beat a little faster, and made me look back at it five or six times every time I parked it somewhere and walked away.
Fortunately, Bill's an indulgent sort.
What transpired was more than a year of ownership, with the RRC seeing all sorts of use. I took my kids to school in it. Loaded it with kayaks and surfboards and headed to the beach in it. I drove it across Spain several times for work reasons, and I even prepared it for an off road rally in Morocco and roared through the Sahara sand in it. (You can read all about that adventure here.) It never really let me down, although it did draw some blood on a few occasions in the desert, but that's to be expected I suppose. I put an enormous amount of work into this vehicle, but always because I wanted to, never because I needed to, and anytime I'd ask, the truck always seemed up for any challenge. Simply staggering off road, comfortable and composed on the road, and big enough to feel imposing and rugged at all times, this Rangie has a special combination of attributes that always makes me smile. My kids, too, who loved the throaty roar of the V8 and would comment: "Your red truck can drive up MOUNTAINS!" Heck, even my wife loves it, and that's not altogether common.
When I got it back to Javea, I took it to our mechanic and asked him to pour over it. After a few days he rang me back and told me it didn't need anything. "Even the fluids look fresh," he said. "Still, since it's new to you, why don't we change everything just so we know we're starting from square one?" I agreed, and he got to work.
A couple days later, he called me again. "One of the tie rods has a little play. We should change it, but maybe we should do the bushings, too. They look okay, but a little dry rotten." I agreed again.
"But if we're doing the bushings," I told him, "maybe let's knock out a bunch of suspension stuff while we're in there, okay?" Long story short, we ended up doing everything. Bushings, dampers, springs, ball joints, tie rod ends, steering arms, front and rear brake pads and rotors, plugs, wires, injector harness, engine oil, gearbox fluid, transfer case and differential services, brake fluid flush, coolant exchange... the works. We fitted dual batteries, with a cutoff in the passenger compartment for the auxiliary battery, so I could run a refrigerator in the back and not have to worry about it leaving me stranded. We installed additional power ports, totaling five in all, including two in the rear hatch area. And in light of the petrol RRC's one weakness (its relatively limited range) we mounted a 20L jerry can in the rear to carry additional fuel.
"Yeah, now we're talking," I said after collecting it. "This is what an RRC should be."
Compromises Be Damned
The Range Rover Classic is not a vehicle that was designed to accept compromises with any semblance of dignity. Land Rover engineered it, from the off, to be as comfortable and civilized as a contemporary luxury sedan, yet as effective off road as their own "Series" trucks, which have been the gold standard for tough terrain capability since the 1950's. This one, in excellent shape with fresh suspension, exemplifies their success in achieving those goals. Click open the doors with the central locking, climb into the comfortable drivers chair, and everything falls naturally to hand. The engine fires instantly and is quiet and smooth. The clutch is light but has reassuring takeup, and the power steering is easy and direct with outstanding feedback. Visibility in any direction is expansive. The climate control and air conditioning keep the cabin comfortable in any weather. Power windows, stereo... it's all enough to make you forget what these trucks were designed to do.
But take it off road, as I was fortunately enough to do on several occasions, and you'll remember quite quickly. Washboard ground is soaked up easily at moderate speed, and bigger undulations are dispatched with particular aplomb. The approach and departure angles are so large you can tip the nose over, heading down into a dry river bed or something, and no matter how impossibly steep it might seem at first... nothing happens. It's simply astonishing to the uninitiated, and frankly something I never really got used to. Driving into a riverbed I would inevitably cringe, waiting for a big crunch at the bottom, only to hear... nothing. Nothing at all. The Range Rover would just pull quietly out at the bottom again, as composed as you like.
Unlike the carbureted V8's in the earlier models, which made around 120 bhp, the fuel injected V8 in this later model one has good punch at all RPM, with more than 40 additional horsepower going to good use in such a heavy vehicle. On the road it is impervious to crosswinds and tracks like a train, so you can cruise in total comfort and quiet,at thoroughly modern speeds, with the air conditioning on, steering with one finger and chatting on the hands-free telephone.
What's not to like?
Fuel economy, I suppose. That's maybe something not to like. It seems like no matter how it is driven around town it returns MPG in the middle teens, maybe high teens on the highway (hence the jerry can, which came in handy more than once in the wilds of Morocco), but I guess this isn't a vehicle anyone chooses for economy runs. Instead, just drop down a gear at pretty much any speed and give it a big boot of throttle and the V8 roars and produces plenty enough grunt to make passing fairly effortless.
Making It All Straight For The Big Goodbye
When it came time to finally take the Range Rover to the boat and bid it farewell, it went back in for one last service,and had everything freshened again. All new fluids and filters, and more importantly, complete bodywork and paint.
We backdated the grille to the early, vertical aluminum style, which, with the steel wheels, gives the truck the exterior look of a considerably earlier model, and sprayed it in Mercedes-Benz "Orient Red," a color that changes from deep red to almost brown at times, depending on the light, in much the same way dried blood does. That seemed appropriate, somehow.
Most of the time, I have our vehicles transported to the port on a flatbed, but this one I had to drive to the port. I left early in the morning, before sunrise, and took the long way, winding my way up the coast, through little towns and up twisting mountain secondary roads. I drove slowly, because I didn't really want to get there. It got into my blood, this truck, and it's always hard to let a vehicle like that go.
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