Concours-Grade Early Range Rovers Are Now a Thing
A high price for an imported Land Rover Defender or one of the Series models won't surprise anyone on this side of the pond these days, but what about the model that was a luxury SUV pioneer? The original Range Rover has enjoyed wide collector attention for a relatively short period of time, even if tidy examples could muster high prices in Land Rover circles. But a restored, early first-generation Range Rover on the auction circuit is a relatively recent phenomenon, because until about a decade ago it was rare to see restoration money being thrown at them.
We are in a different era now, where concours examples of the original Rangie trade hands for tens of thousands of dollars or pounds sterling. Just such an example is headed to auction in a matter of days, and could once again test the value ceiling of restored examples of early two-door models.
The original Range Rover represented nothing short of a surprise success for the British automaker. When it debuted in 1969 it offered evolutions of the Series model that arrived decades earlier. But as Series Land Rovers became more specialized the need for a luxury model became more pressing. Consider the Jeep Wagoneer of the era. It had become a success in its own special niche, offering the comforts of a regular car in a suburban-friendly package that could be pressed into off-road use in an instant. Such a vehicle category had scarcely existed at the time. It soon became clear Land Rover could create such a model for itself based on its own know-how, combining a luxurious and car-like interior with a new exterior design, a powerful engine and off-road ability.
Penned by Spencer King, the first Range Rover combined a tidy footprint with a generous ground clearance and a Buick-derived V8 engine. The model's dimensions (prototypes were tested under the Velar name) would probably surprise those shopping for midsize crossovers today by how much Land Rover got right from the start. The original was offered solely as a two-door model from its debut through 1981, with its V8 gaining displacement along with subtle exterior evolutions. The Rangie started out with a 3.5-liter V8, but gained power over the years as Rover updated its long-running Buick engine, becoming a 3.9- and eventually a 4.2-liter V8 in the process. For a car designed in the late 1960s the original Range Rover had a long shelf life, with the platform retiring in 1995.
The example that Historics will offer in a few days is a 1973 Suffix B model, optioned with power steering. This particular car was given what's described as a "nut and bolt" restoration by a Range Rover enthusiast over a five year period. The engine is new, but has been built to original specs by RPI Engineering. The seats, however, are original and did not need replacement.
"All mechanical items have been overhauled and we believe a later overdrive was fitted for comfort as this was not originally available on early models," the auction house notes. "During the restoration we are informed the chassis was deemed to be in great condition and no welding was required but the body has had both inner wings replaced and any repair panels professionally welded in place. Both the body and chassis were shot blasted and painted in a four-stage process."
The SUV is said to be a former concours winner, and is offered with a history file detailing the restoration in photos. The Range Rover shows 25,588 miles on the odometer, but the auction house does not say whether this mileage was all gained on the replacement engine, or whether it was kept as is.
The auction house estimates this example could bring between £37,000 and £45,000 on auction day, or between $49,400 and $60,000.
Replacement engines aren't unheard of in restored Range Rovers, and this should not affect the result too much since these are still regularly driven by enthusiasts. And the rules of vintage SUV restoration are a little more lax these days, thanks to many FJ40s running around with modern V8s. Those looking to bid on this example are also likely to forgive the addition of overdrive, offered on slightly later models. So this is clearly an example that can be driven and enjoyed without remorse about preservation.
The biggest question, aside from whether this example is bound to stay in the U.K., is just how soon we'll start to see restored examples of Range Rovers from the early 1990s?
The Land Cruiser Industrial Complex has already sent restorers in search of well-kept J80 Toyota Land Cruisers and Lexus LX450s in suburban America, as their values have ballooned. Will we see the same for later (but still first-generation) Range Rover County models from the early 1990s, or is the Land Rover market in the U.S. still mad about Defenders? At some point Defender demand could hit a certain natural ceiling as tastes shift, but will it be the original Range Rover getting more love from enthusiasts on this side of the pond?
Original, early Range Rovers, some in barn-find condition, have been trickling out of U.K. estates for a few years now. We've kept an eye on this trend and will continue to do so.
Sign up for comments and let us know if we're bound to see more original Range Rovers restored to a concours standard, like in the U.K.