With the basics knocked out by the engineering team the styling team, headed by David Bache, immediately felt that the vehicle looked as it should and simply tarted up a few details like grille and headlight treatment, before declaring it good to go in 1969. Now known as the Range Rover, a real multi-purpose machine and the first to offer permanent four-wheel drive, it was launched in 1970 to massive acclaim. It even made it into the Louvre in Paris as an ‘exemplary work of industrial design’… not bad for a bunch of engineers.
South Africa waited close on a decade for the Range Rover’s arrival, but when it did, the cars proudly sported ‘Built in South Africa’ plates in the engine bay – once again assembled by Leyland’s Blackheath plant in the Cape alongside Rover and Jaguar. Car magazine announced its arrival in October ’79 and in February 1980 tested one of these Range Rovers with raised bonnet lettering which, like our second-owner test vehicle, indicates it was a ’79 car (from 1980 the nose wore flat decals). Clearly bowled over by it, they opened with the line: “There are a good many capable four-wheel-drive vehicles but there is only one Range Rover!” Probably because no other 4×4 tested had ever topped 150km/h – and done it in such a comfortable, cocooned environment.
Local cars were all built to the highest specification available, with thick carpeting (laid over the original rubber mats and easy to remove for cleaning) and side-supported individual front seats decked out in fashionable herringbone-finished upholstery. To let passengers in or out of the rear seating area, the front seats tip and slide from a lever on either side, the inertia-reel seatbelts retract into the seat rather than against the bodywork, and door handles can be found at both the rear and front of the armrests. Air conditioning was also standard fitment, as was a heated rear windscreen, and for that harsh South African climate there was also subtle glass tinting. One more thing – the exposed tool/jack housing area in the back-right part of the boot on early Range Rovers was hastily fitted with a fabric cover when, it is rumoured, the Queen’s Corgis got covered in grease.