1. PUBLISHED ONLINE:
    7 APRIL 2015
    WORDS:
    GAVIN CONWAY
    PHOTOGRAPHY:
    PHIL FISK
    • This article was first published in Onelife magazine in 2010. Charles 'Spen' King sadly passed away in June of that year.


      “Gerry will be late. Gerry’s always late!” opines Geoff Upex.

      He’s the early arrival of an extraordinary quartet – four men who between them represent the past, present and future of Range Rover. We have brought them to a private room at Raymond Blanc’s restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire, to share insights, revelations, reminiscences, forecasts, the occasional joke and, of course, dinner.

      Geoff Upex (above, second from left), former design director at Land Rover and the man responsible for the 2010 Range Rover, has brought Geoff Miller (above, far left), project engineer for the very first 1970 Range Rover, with him. Next up, and not actually late at all, is Gerry McGovern (above, second from right), current Land Rover design director and chief creative officer. Upex and McGovern fall into familiar banter, liberally spiced with gentle wind-ups and knowing asides. Geoff Miller beams a toothy smile at all assembled, clearly enjoying this remarkable gathering. And then Range Rover’s creator Charles Spencer ‘Spen’ King arrives. An imposing figure with a still-powerful voice, even at 84, King brings with him a wit that has not been dulled by the years. And, yes, just a touch of irascibility. And so, amid the sharp clatter of cutlery on plates and the occasional explosion of laughter (or outrage), they begin to recount the story behind Range Rover...

      Charles 'Spen' King: The idea for the original Range Rover came out of my head. We wanted to create something with better off-road ability than a Land Rover, but that would be an appreciably nicer vehicle on ordinary roads.

      Geoff Miller: Land Rover engineering was very development-led at that time. Anything new was based on a Land Rover, so we did the modifications, built a one-off and then asked the drawing office to draw it. Many were convinced it was going to be a flop, but when Spen drove the second prototype, there was instantly a feeling of, ‘That’s it, we’ve done it and it’s bloody good.’ That was in 1967.

      "With the original Range Rover, we wanted to create something with better off-road ability than a Land Rover, but that would be an appreciably nicer vehicle on ordinary roads."

      Charles 'Spen' King, Range Rover creator

      Geoff Upex: Actually, that’s very interesting, because if you think of the way the industry has changed, it’s now the opposite. You [Gerry] don’t build anything now; it’s all virtual. And at the end, the product pops out. So it’s almost the antithesis of what Geof’s just described.

      Gerry McGovern: If you go back decades, people like us [designers] didn’t exist. I think that back then, styling probably did take second place to engineering. Some people would like to call us stylists or flower arrangers! Although the vehicle’s appearance is our responsibility, design, particularly at Land Rover, now plays a much bigger role than just defining the way it looks.

      King: We probably spent about .001 per cent of our time on the appearance of the original.

      Miller: And I think the sales department were in a tizzy over how to sell it. They also weren’t sure what to call the vehicle. They asked to have everybody’s suggestion for a name and were considering things like ‘Panther’ and ‘Leopard’, but eventually Tony Poole, who was in styling, said, ‘Why don’t we call it Range Rover?’

    • King: I remember that we had no brief. We thought that it would be bought by people who wanted to be comfortable off-road, and so we thought that customers would be a combination of senior officers in the army, head guys on building sites, well-off farmers – that sort of thing. It was an expensive car in those days.

      Miller: I remember that after the launch there was a black market for a long time because we couldn’t satisfy demand. From the outset, it was appealing to people that we hadn’t expected. For example, it was popular with the directors of small companies who wanted to take their VIP guests out to lunch in the very latest car.

      McGovern: It’s not difficult to see why it was so popular: like the 2010 version, the original Range Rover is such a simple and iconic shape.

      Upex: That’s right. You can describe a Range Rover with three or four lines on a piece of paper. A child could draw it, so actually, it is instantly recognisable in the same way that a Mini is, or a Porsche 911, or a Beetle. There are about four or five elements that make a Range Rover design. Basically, the simplicity of the side elevation, the relationship of the glass to the body, the floating roof, the castellated bonnet. The same is true on the inside of the car. It was designed so that people sit as far out as possible and have the best view. They can see out down the bonnet and see all corners of the vehicle. That’s all about command driving.

      "There are four elements that make a Range Rover design. Basically, the simplicity of the side elevation, the relationship of the glass to the body, the floating roof, the castellated bonnet."

      Geoff Upex, Former Land Rover design director

      King: The floating roof is a good example of the unique way that some classic aspects of the original design came about. As you know, the rear side window is a sort of parallelogram in profile. The problem was that, at that time, it was not possible to manufacture the pressings for the pillar panels to a suitable finish. A solution to this problem was to cover them with the familiar pseudo-hide finish that became a key feature of the floating roof.

      McGovern: That’s absolutely brilliant. You know, I never even knew that! You can see that a lot of those design elements emanated from very good functional reasoning, like the castellated bonnet so you can see the corners.

      King: I didn’t do that; they were things put in by other people. Yes, it may have looked good, but it was a disaster as far as I was concerned because it wasn’t possible to press the aluminium bonnet into that shape, so we ended up with this bloody great steel bonnet!

      McGovern: Thinking about those iconic details – the debate over Range Rover is often: should it be evolutionary or revolutionary? When we started showing new designs to fairly large groups of people, 99.9 per cent were in favour of bold evolution, not a radical proposal. Range Rover has never been broken; it doesn’t need fixing.

      Left
      The original Range Rover
      Right
      The Range Rover SVAutobiography

      Upex: That’s an interesting point in the context of the Range Rover Sport. At the time, I remember there was quite a deal of trepidation about putting the Range Rover badge on another car, and I think the result was that we probably weren’t quite as bold as we could have been. We’ve learned that you can push Range Rover Sport to being really quite radical.

      McGovern: So, what is it that defines Range Rover? I think it has a very different feeling from other vehicles when you’re in it. I must admit, from my experience of having had quite a lot of them, every day you get into the thing, and you think, ‘Actually, this is a very nice place to be.’ I’ve never had that in any other vehicle.

      King: I agree. It needs to be nice to sit in and drive, and it needs to enable you to see all around. That’s a very major point.

      "Although the vehicle’s appearance is our responsibility, design, particularly at Land Rover, now plays a much bigger role than just defining the way it looks."

      Gerry McGovern, Land Rover design director and chief creative officer

      Upex: I think that there’s a sense of Britishness too, although we didn’t set out to do that. There is nothing in the interior, for example, that is overtly British. Nevertheless, it was designed by a bunch of British guys, and we set out to design the best – so the overall feel is undoubtedly that this is a British car.

      McGovern: It has to have a sense of occasion. It’s that sense of elevation; it’s that emotional quality. Great design is a gateway to customer desirability – the way it looks is important – but the way it functions and feels is also crucial. I have a girlfriend who I’ve known for about six years. When I first met her, I’d just come back from the US and I was driving a variety of different cars – various Volvos and Aston Martins. When I eventually picked her up in a Range Rover, I pulled up at Coventry station, and when she opened the door and looked in, she said, ‘Ah, now you have a proper vehicle.’ That said it all, really.

      Upex: And I remember when Jeremy Clarkson came to Skibo Castle, where we were launching Range Rover. He said, ‘Upex, that is the best interior I’ve ever sat in.’ It’s interesting, because those three Top Gear guys didn’t agree on very much, but they all seem to agree on this: if you had to choose one vehicle on the planet, it would be a Range Rover.

  2. PUBLISHED ONLINE:
    7 APRIL 2015
    WORDS:
    GAVIN CONWAY
    PHOTOGRAPHY:
    PHIL FISK

Jaguar Land Rover Limited: Registered office: Abbey Road, Whitley, Coventry CV3 4LF. Registered in England No: 1672070

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