I once owned a 1995 Range Rover. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure why this happened, but I suspect it may have something to do with a well-known car enthusiast theory about British cars: “they can’t all be that bad.”
Last week, Murilee’s junkyard find stirred up memories of my Range Rover, primarily because mine was about as reliable as the one Murilee found in the junkyard. It also spent just as much time moving under its own power.
I’ve decided to provide a review of the vehicle, which can also be viewed as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of taking the plunge into old Range Rover ownership. For those who would rather watch videos on Jalopnik, I can sum it up in just six words: they can all be that bad.
A Brief History
Before we go any further, don your Wellies and grab your foxhound, because we’re taking a walk down Range Rover memory lane.
The original Range Rover was a two-door model that came out in 1970 to serve the queen and farmers who wanted to be comfortable. A four-door model debuted in 1981, reportedly pleasing the queen so much that she pursed her lips in a slightly upward direction and excitedly adjusted her pearls. The 1992 model year marked the arrival of a long-wheelbase version, which allowed groups of foxhunters to remain swathed in luxury as they waited for a tow truck.
My Range Rover was a 1995, which is generally agreed to be the pinnacle of the entire 25-year Range Rover Classic run. That’s because it combined the handsome old-school body with major technological breakthroughs like airbags, a tilt steering wheel, and – I swear this is true – backlit center console switches. Clearly, Land Rover was a force in the luxury vehicle world.
Why I Wanted It
When I got my Range Rover last fall, I already had three other vehicles. One was a really cheap 2012 Volkswagen Jetta company car, equipped with air conditioning but not floormats. It also used the exact same engine as the Jetta III, which came out when I was entering the first grade. Truly. Number two was my station wagon. And number three was a different four-door German company car, this time with a rather bulbous rear end. This, I suspect, will be the focus of about 40 percent of the comments, so I will address them now: 1) like a big 911; 2) really fast; 3) yes, I really did quit Porsche to become a writer. My colleagues are as mystified as you.
For those who haven’t yet switched to those Jalopnik videos, this totals to 17 doors and 16 seats. The problem with these vehicles was that none of them could go off-road, and each one started whenever you turned the key. Something had to be done.
In reality, the plan was to ditch the Jetta and sell the wagon, keeping only the Porsche and the old Range Rover. This would be brilliant. Then I had a practical daily driver that doubled as a sports car, plus a weekend off-road toy that could tackle Atlanta’s harsh road conditions, which consist of occasional light rain and people from Florida.
How could I go wrong?
So I began searching AutoTrader.com for used Range Rovers. Eventually, I found a good one in Raleigh, North Carolina, and negotiated a price. Despite a door-to-door distance of less than 400 miles between me and the seller, I had it shipped to Atlanta. Even I’m not crazy enough to spend six hours behind the wheel of a 20-year-old British car.
Driving the Dream
I was elated when the Range Rover showed up on the back of the car hauler. Things went downhill from there.
Let’s start with exterior styling, which – let’s be honest – is the primary reason one buys a Range Rover. I found mine to be absolutely beautiful, mostly because it was green. All old British cars should be green, except for old Bentleys, which should just be whatever color is finest. There were, however, a few exceptions to my Range Rover’s beauty. The first was that the roof had been dented severely in what appeared to be a rainstorm of iron basketballs. I believe there is no other explanation, except maybe hail.
The second issue was that mine had five-spoke wheels. Land Rover put these on in the Range Rover’s final years to keep it looking modern, which is almost laughable given its styling. I ordered the famous gray three-spokes for mine, which – no surprise – were readily available at dozens of junkyards nationwide.
Things got a little worse inside. Of course, it wasn’t all bad. For example: step into an old Range Rover and you’re immediately treated to one of the great glasshouses in automotive history. Visibility is so wonderful that you will immediately curse all modern cars, until you remember that its superb sight lines probably come from a complete lack of any structural crash safety elements.
Aside from the snow-globe view of the world, the interior was mainly bad piled on top of worse. The seats came up to my neck, which – in a rear-end collision – would’ve provided about as much protection as patio furniture. The dashboard had no design at all, aside from being cobbled together in pieces over 25 years. And although there were cupholders, I didn’t really trust them, as one of the rear ones had been installed upside down.
Things were also less rosy than I had hoped on the road. Pressing the gas pedal, for example, unleashed noises that traditionally came from an industrial-strength pressure washer, though it rarely resulted in actual acceleration. Braking happened … usually. And while steering was surprisingly tight, the car’s body roll scared more than one passenger and probably dozens of other drivers.
The bright spot is that the Range Rover was, in fact, surprisingly capable off the pavement. It only ran long enough for me to take it off-roading one time, but it had no problem tackling any sort of terrain when I did. This is the Land Rover way: reliable and comfortable in alligator-infested swamps, but requires a new transmission every time you drive your children to school. Maybe they’re trying to tell us something.
I bought mine in September and it was gone about three months later. Not because I hated it, but because it violated my long-standing “three tow policy,” which requires banishment of any car that requires three calls to Triple-A. This thing required three calls in three months.
Worse, the calls were for inane things. Once, the door locks drained a brand new battery. Another time, a tiny piece of plastic smaller than my fingernail lodged itself in the gear selector, rendering the entire 4,000-pound car unusable. At one point, the AAA operator chuckled when I mentioned my year, make and model.
There were, of course, other minor issues. The ABS light would occasionally go on. The heated seats never got warm, though one could argue any heating element that doesn’t catch on fire in a British car is, in fact, working. The cruise control was broken. The driver’s side rear door didn’t unlock, while the rear hatch didn’t lock. And on one occasion, part of the rear bumper fell off on the highway.
In other words, it was the finest Range Rover Classic in existence.
I eventually sold the Range Rover to a man in Dallas who also had a Series I Discovery with a manual transmission. He’s the perfect person for it, because he knows exactly what he’s getting into. I, however, went in thinking “they can’t all be that bad.” Like so many car enthusiasts before me, I was wrong.
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.