Restoring Range Rover Classics is currently very popular. But the Rangey we have here isn’t any ordinary Classic, but instead the first of its kind and homage to the legendary Dakar rally
T here’s something that has always pulled me towards the Range Rover family tree. And clearly, I’m not the only one out there, what with the Evoque coming along and becoming Land Rover’s fastest-selling vehicle of all time, and a model history that – at the time of writing – has just clocked up its 48th year. Even Land Rover has started to conceive the original two-door Classics again as part of its Range Rover ‘Reborn’ programme. Anyway, I’m not here to discuss births and birthdays with you; instead, it’s the actual old collection of metal we’re interested in, isn’t it dear friends.
I guess one of the attractions to the more vintage versions of the Range Rover is that these are classic vehicles you could and would willingly drive on a day-to-day basis. Specifically, even fixing your gaze on a pristine Range Rover Classic today shows a sophisticated figure, capable of still looking the part at a country house or Boxing Day shoot just as it did all those years ago. Range Rovers age well – fact. I think of the Range Rover Classic in much the same way I think of Dame Helen Mirren: they both still tickle my fancy.
Whether Dame Mirren would appreciate such a comparison, I’m not too sure. But perhaps she would be more satisfied with the analogy if she found out that it’s not just any Classic I’m tying her to (metaphorically speaking). By now you’ve probably got dribble dangling from your mouth to the floor after your eyes met this month’s cover star. This rich red, suave roller is as jaw-dropping as the aforementioned Dame on the red carpet at The Oscars. However, the morsel of information that will make you want to take this stunner home is that this was the first Classic Range Rover to receive the Dakar conversion. Allow us to fill in the blanks. John Eales is the owner of this masterpiece and it was he who worked on the original Dakar conversions of the Range Rover Classic while running what was formerly known as J E Motors back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Some of you may be picturing a Dakar conversion being some sort of rally-prepared monster with a ridiculously flexible suspension and tyres that look like they would kill kittens just for fun. But no, the Dakar package was something designed to appease an appetite that had become evident in the 1980s – namely a thirst for more performance and a Range Rover with enough clout to match the class. The pedigree was certainly there as J E Motors was responsible for supplying the factory Range Rover team that competed in the Paris-Dakar Rally through the late ‘80s. And with quite some success too.
‘In the first year we did Paris-Dakar, we had 23 engines, 23 finishers,’ smiles John. Therefore, anyone who took their Range Rover Classic in for the Dakar treatment was clearly in safe hands. Starting with a basic 3.9 V8 Classic, the Dakar conversion involved increasing the displacement of the engine up to 4.5-litres. Then came fitting better brakes and suspension, uprating the exhaust system and improving wheels and tyres. Perhaps we could think of this as a Range Rover Classic SVR? Either way, John’s Classic that we have here was the first to undergo the surgery and, while it looks fantastic today, it wasn’t that long ago that this car was in need of some real attention. ‘Around ten years ago I stopped using it and it just sat around and deteriorated,’ admits John. ‘I even had it up for sale at one point, but there was no interest in it, even with all the history.’ Fortunately, it wasn’t sold, because it now means we can marvel at it together. The Classic has transformed back to a showroom condition thanks to Twenty-Ten Engineering, an independent Range Rover Classic specialist that works closely with John’s business today, J E Developments. ‘I’ve known Phil (owner of Twenty-Ten) for a good many years. He came over for the engine and said, “How about rebuilding this?” So it all went from there. Phil knew the history of the vehicle and knew he could rebuild it,’ says John. When it was first bought back in 1989, John picked up the Range Rover from the dealer on Friday, with a reworked 4.5-litre V8 promptly being fitted thereafter er. It was the first of its kind and, as such, it became very popular with people like me. ‘Every scribe under the sun had thrashed it,’ laughs John, ‘It’s been around the TT course; was used as the back-up car for Tour Auto in 1991 and has been whipped around England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – everyone used to borrow it!’ It had done 120,000 miles prior to the rebuild and was original apart from the Dakar DNA running through the vehicle. According to John, it had always been well looked after; never needing anything done and he can’t even recall it breaking down on anyone. Clearly, John knows how to remedy traditional Green Oval woes. It was this history that made it so worthwhile restoring. Phil worked his magic on the Range Rover with a new chassis and brought the bodywork back up to perfect condition. The chassis has been wax oiled and the vehicle is now very cherished, dry stored in a warm garage with a warm cover. ‘I daren’t use it now,’ chuckles John. ‘My everyday cars always get hard use, with engines in the back etc. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though! It’s such a nice car, so it only gets used for the odd nice day and holidays.’ Rare as its outings maybe nowadays, when the sun does shine and John takes out his Dakar-inspired
‘Every scribe under the sun had thrashed it!’
Above: There’s a lot of work that goes into the Dakar-converted powerplant of a Range Rover Classic, with one of the first points to bore out the engine with a new crankshaft, pistons and bearings being installed, while the displacement is taken from the standard 3.9-litres to an inflated 4.5-litres. The motor is rebalanced and given a new camshaft with peak power being pushed north of 250hp
Above and Right: The interior is almost as enjoyable an experience as the driving itself, with perforated leather seats all beautifully trimmed to fit this Range Rover-like glove. In the front, you even get modern-day creature comforts like heated seats, but crucially here, you can see the manual gearstick which is exactly what you want with a car like this – to feel engaged; to feel like you are driving IT!
Below Left: The only downside to power… sometimes you’ll wish your right foot could abstain from being so expressive at times. Tyres won’t last long if exuberance is your style
beauty, the experience is like watching your favourite rock band, live, playing out all their greatest hits on a summer’s evening when everything and everyone seems to be on top form. The raucous V8 fills your ears and widens your pupils, with all that upgrading and tweaking starting to make sense. Statistics back at the time of the conversion’s emergence claimed that top speed was taken from 102mph in the 3.9 to over 120mph with the Dakar 4.5, while the acceleration was slashed from 12.3 sec to 8.1 sec. That’s quick even by today’s standards! A standing quarter-mile was achieved in just 17.26 sec. Rapid. John continues: ‘We improved the handling, too, and back in those days we carried out the changes with Harvey Bailey.’ Part of the improvement came from the fitting of anti-roll bar kits, front and rear, to minimise body roll in the corners. Plus, new springs and shocks were installed to ensure that these Dakar Classics delighted rather than disappointed on-road. ‘My mate was a service manager at Porsche, working near the A45 at the time and he spans once trying to follow me,’ grins John. ‘It’s a really nice vehicle to drive and I’ve always liked the Range Rover. It’s always been Rover V8s for me – it’s all I’ve done for 50 years. ‘And with this car, the performance is improved and the road holding is much better. There’s a really lovely balance between the performance and handling.’ Being a manual as well – in fact, John believes it was the first manual 3.9 off the line – it gives him all the more involvement when driving his Classic. And this is a Range Rover you truly want to drive. The only downside was that it used to eat through tyres rather quickly – but then that could be down to the exuberance of all those young hacks wanting to see what all the fuss was about. The flipside was that most owners actually claimed the 4.5 V8 to be better on fuel than the 3.9 when driven the same, while the air-con system in this Classic is the best John has ever experienced in a car, apparently. ‘It’ll literally put frost on your watch,’ he exclaims. I’ll admit that I have been rather taken with John’s Dakar Rangey. The colour, the performance, the whole driving experience – it’s all there. John may think the air-con system is cool, but this is a car I’m happy to label as just outright cool. ‘It took over two years to complete the build, but I wasn’t pushing Phil to get it finished,’ says John. That’s the respect of knowing how busy each of them can be, particularly in the current climate. ‘Now it’s finished, though, I’m certainly going to look after it.’ It may have been a bit of a wait for the Range Rover to be finished, but such a vehicle was deserving of time and patience. The Dakar conversion took an already brilliant car and, with the help of John’s technical nous, turned it into a fantastic on-road driver’s car, and a legend in its own right. Maybe, just maybe, this is John’s best masterpiece, his own personal Oscar.
Published By: The Landy