Range Rover Classic

Range Rover Classic

BUYER’S GUIDE

Range Rover Classic Review

The marketing line “You can, quite simply, go anywhere in a Range Rover” rings as true now as it did back in the day – here’s why it’s a true classic…

What Is It?

Depending on your prejudices the Range Rover Classic is the car to either credit with SUVs and crossovers becoming the pre-eminent car type of the modern age, or the one to blame. Whichever side of that debate you fall on it’s hard to dismiss the charms of this stone-cold classic, or fail to be charmed by its accidental hero back story. Admittedly, the idea of domesticated 4x4s as family workhorses had already taken off in the US but the Range Rover ran with it, its ability to operate as smoothly on city streets as it did in the rough underpinning its evolution into the luxury status symbol we know today. It defined a whole new genre of cars in the process.

That the iconic look that survived for 26 years of production was little more than a mild gentrification of the prototype’s original shape shows how the team behind it understood what customers wanted, even if they didn’t necessarily realise it straight away. From early utilitarian three-door models through to the more luxurious ’80s and ’90s versions, the Range Rover Classic more than lives up to that title.

Corrosive Areas

Inner arches

Firewall/bulkhead

A- and B-pillars

Checklist

  • The Range Rover was a three-door for the first decade of its existence, four-doors initially only available as aftermarket coachbuilt models before Land Rover used these as a template for its own production version sold from 1981 onwards
  • The short run of updated ‘Suffix B’ models sold in 1973 are much coveted by early Range Rover fans for their combination of improved specification (updates included a rear wiper and option of power steering) and rarity – they attract a premium so if you’re paying extra to secure one make sure it’s genuine
  • Long-wheelbase LSE versions didn’t join the range until the early 90s and get a bigger version of the petrol V8 and air suspension
  • Manual transmissions comprise earlier LT95 four-speeds or LT77 five-speeds from the 1984 model year – on both check for crunching synchros on the shift from first to second or clunks when coming on and off the power
  • Earlier automatics are a three-speed Torqueflite transmission, a more modern four-speed ZF unit replacing it from 1986 – both should shift smoothly and have correct oil levels
  • Sloppy handling could be down to worn springs and dampers
  • Aluminium outer panels can flatter to deceive, with significant corrosion possible underneath – while surface rust on tailgates is common and cosmetically unappealing check inner wings, boot floor and peer inside the door shuts for a sense of how healthy the steel structure is within
  • Post-1985 vehicles used welded rather than bolted construction, so could be harder to work on and restore
  • Petrol V8s are considered generally tough when looked after properly and treated to regular oil changes; top-end rattles that don’t quieten down after start-up could be sign of neglect or wear to valves while bottom-end knocks are also a worry
  • While less powerful there’s a sense earlier, under-stressed 3.5-litre versions of the V8 are perhaps more durable than the larger capacity engines introduced later
  • V8s were carburettor fed until the introduction of fuel-injection in 1986, power increasing from 127PS (93kW) to 167PS (123kW) in the process – post-1989 3.9s made 188PS (138kW), the final 4.2-litre good for 203PS (149kW)
  • LPG conversions are not unusual but generally considered undesirable, unless the quality of the installation can be verified
  • Diesel powered versions with the Italian-supplied VM engine arrived in 1986; these were replaced in 1992 with in-house Land Rover Tdi engines; these are considered tough but make sure cambelt changes have been done every 60,000 miles
  • Not all owners will have used the low-range transmission frequently, if at all, so make sure this engages and works as it should
  • Sagging headlinings are common and can be annoyingly expensive to sort out

How does it drive?

The Range Rover’s adoption of coil rather than leaf springs was among its defining features, and set it apart from the Land Rovers (and, indeed, vast majority of contemporary 4x4s) it was sold alongside. These had the benefit of both increased axle articulation off the road and improved handling on it and, even with its live axles and body-on-frame construction, the Range Rover should handle with relative precision.

True, compared with modern SUVs it will feel pretty soft and wallowy, but the combination of superb visibility from that low waistline, the commanding height and the under-stressed (but admittedly thirsty) V8 engine means you can see over hedges and make decent progress without making your passengers seasick.

Earlier versions with manual gearboxes and plastic interiors will feel a good deal more mechanical and utilitarian than later ones with leather and automatic transmissions, but that’s the beauty of the Range Rover and, over its long life, there’s a version to suit all tastes.

 What’s good?

The Range Rover is one of those cars that just looked fundamentally right from the outset. Half a century on, and god knows how many SUV and crossovers since, you could argue nobody has even come close to the blend of function and style, the early three-doors still looking fresh to this day. This feelgood factor permeates the whole car as well, the cabin managing to be both totally of its time yet also completely timeless as well.

Just look at how every Land Rover product since still carries its influence for evidence of that. While they might be getting a bit valuable for scraping through brambles on your local green lanes the knowledge the Range Rover is a credible 4×4 as well as a delightful road car is also massively appealing. Mechanically the cars are well-understood as well, so finding people who know how to restore or keep one on the road shouldn’t be too hard if you have the money to feed the habit.

What’s bad?

The fact aluminium panels over a steel structure can hide a multitude of sins presents for unwary buyers. So, just because a car looks good on the outside don’t skimp on a thorough inspection of what lurks beneath, because serious structural repairs are going to get very expensive, very quickly. Cars imported from warm, dry climates can offer a more confidence-inspiring route into ownership of an older model but, whatever the history, get underneath it, look under carpets, delve into the nooks and crannies of the structure and be wary of any signs of corrosion.

Later cars may feel more luxurious inside but the introduction of more electrical systems, power-operated seats and the rest can mean more things to go wrong and even an apparently superficial failure like inoperative power mirrors could mean an MoT failure, ditto even light corrosion around rear seatbelt mounts. Air suspension on later long-wheelbase cars can also be expensive to fix if it’s not working as it should.  

Which model to choose?

This very much depends on the kind of vibe you’re looking for. If you want to enjoy the luxury SUV trappings the Range Rover came to define in its later life then it’s clear you’ll be looking for a late ‘80s or early ‘90s four-door, fuel-injected versions from the 1986 model year onwards having welcome extra performance that stepped up further in 1989 with the introduction of the 3.9-litre engine.

There were diesels as well but, for the true Range Rover experience, it’s probably worth living with the thirst of the V8 and its relaxed, melodic power delivery. Later cars can prove more difficult to restore and run, though, so many fans are looking further back into Range Rover history and instead chasing early three-doors for their arguably more attractive looks and purer DNA.

True, some of these will feel pretty back-to-basics for those associating Range Rovers with luxury motoring, and nor will they be as relaxing to drive. But as nostalgia grows these will likely be the more desirable versions to own.

Specifications – 1982 Range Rover Classic three-door

 

Engine

3.5-litre V8, petrol

Power

127PS (93.2kW) @ 4,000rpm

Torque

258Nm (190lb ft) @ 2,500rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual with low-range transfer case, four-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,895kg

0-62mph

11 seconds

Top speed

96mph

Production dates

1970-1996

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