My Regretful Sale
I want to talk about SUVs. They may have an abbreviation that sounds like a venereal disease, but they are the rave of new car sales at the moment. Take a look at any showroom, whether it be Porsche, Hyundai or Toyota, all currently offer mildly moist soft roaders that will see about as much off roading as the grass at soccer practice. They are the modern evolution of the family sedan. Gone, quite literally, are the Ford Falcons and soon to be buried Holden Commodores. Their brutal assassination was down to the simple multi-platformed frugal sipping VW Toerag, not the VW specifically, but it was a pawn in the SUVs assault altogether.
SUVs are becoming the usable everyday cars that the pre 1990s Nissan Patrols and Toyota Landcruisers could never be. Back then they were big heavy japanese tanks, built to navigate open pit mines and traverse a desert. Now in the modern era, SUVs are as usable as iPhones. They take the best bits of all segments and mash into a single car. Take the Audi Q5 for example. It is based on a sedan, has a slightly raised height, given a “sophisticated AWD system”, fitted with 20 inch wheels & low profile tyres, a microscopic diesel engine and the looks of a heavily constipated Korean man. Overall the package means it drives like a Golf, drinks like a Piaggio, has the space of a wagon and can go through a 35mm deep puddle. My dad actually owns one, I'm sure he’d be happy with that description.
Anyway the point is, SUVs are the new must have car for the millennials. They offer lifestyle and a sense of adventure to anyone that sits behind the wheel. A sense of adventure I have recently been craving, but being a motoring enthusiast I didn't want to walk into the nearest dealership and buy a Mitsubishi A-NUS. I wanted something that had a whiff of the old 4x4 era. When the engines were made of cast iron and had diffs the size of Cliver Palmer. Which brings me onto an important point, can you find a classic SUV?
The problem is that a lot of old SUVs drove like they belonged in a quarry. That doesn't really appeal to me, changing gear with something that requires dislocating my shoulder to engage second is too utilitarian. But once you sink your teeth in and search through the classifieds there are some truly great offroaders that are becoming niche market classic SUVs. The wood panelled Jeep Grand Wagoneer, the International Scout, the 500cc Suzuki LJ50 & more. All great examples of classic offroaders. But there has always been a car that I have adored for its innovation and style. The original Range Rover.
Now I know Rangies aren't synonymous with words like “Reliability” or “Build Quality.” They were designed by a brilliant mind and then left to people with a ‘that will do’ attitude to build them. But despite this, there is a certain British charm that I have loved ever since the carpooling days of junior school. I used to love getting lifts home in my friend’s-dad's dark green Vogue. It was a leviathan on the road compared to the humble man’s Commodore, with armchairs for seats and air suspension to iron out any school-yard curbs.
The original Range Rover, like SUVs of today, merged the best parts of different segments into one innovative package. They took the luxury and ride of a Jaguar saloon and blended it with the offroad capability of a small tank. It meant that countryside aristocrats who spend their days eating spotted dick and shooting quails, could drive from estate to estate across all of its mud, while still wearing their Downtown Abbey regalia. Even the Queen had one!
The Range Rover I ultimately purchased is the final iteration of the first generation. In four-door form, this 1993 model came with the air suspension, a ridiculously thirsty 3.9L V8 and 31 inches of Pirelli Mud Tyres. Its styling is one that has carried its way through to even the newest of generations. It is timelessly tasteful. The scoop sitting above the clamshell bonnet, the black vinyl covered C-Pillars, the chiseled square profile. All angles of this car resinate off road capability with a hint of British class.
On the highway, compared to the modern SUV it probably isn't as refined as the Mercedes GLA or Nissan Kumquat, those are essentially hatchback city cars with raised suspension. This Rangie has an old-school ladder chassis, and don’t forget is touching 25 years old. It rolls, groans and rattles on road, but comes into its own when offroad. Ditches, potholes, bumps and inclines, it simply glides over the top of everything with ease. The engine is smooth, low revving and has the baritone notes of Otis Redding murmuring in his sleep.
The old Rangie probably doesn't compare on paper when put next to its modern counterparts, from fuel economy to power, the newest iterations are much more attractive. But I set out wanting a comfortable four door that can tackle Australia’s landscape, has a drop down tailgate for my morning camp earl grey and a V8. It does everything that the modern SUV can do and will probably get you further, (it may not get you back thanks to its reliability,) but if you’re looking for a SUV but don't want to drive the visual representation of the diphtheria; the Nissan Juke, have no fear because the British are here to help.