Nothing new in an Eco Friendly Range Rover.
Cycling into town the other day on a crisp winters’ morning I stopped at a red traffic light next to a Toyota Prius. As the lights changed to green, it whirred off like something from a Dan Dare comic strip. Silent and without any exhaust emissions it struck me as a good idea for cleaning up the city air. However, a recent study by an American company, CNW Marketing Research, has revealed in it’s two year ‘Dust to Dust Energy Report’ that, if you take into account the production and design costs and the expected life span of the car, the Prius is less environmentally friendly than the Range Rover Sport! In quantifiable terms the Range Rover works out at $2.42 a mile and the Prius at $3.25. This is excellent news for all of us, often criticised for running our Land Rovers and harming the environment. At last we have a positive retort to the self righteous green brigade.
For me cycling into town, however, was very pleasant being downwind of the Prius and not behind an old Series Land Rover belching out black soot. Surely the answer would be a Land Rover that had all the benefits of a long life expectancy, coupled to the clean air bonus of running on electricity. At least one was made and I saw it. On ebay last winter I spotted an advert for an ‘electric Range Rover.... full size....needs attention’. It was in the West Country and, as I had a job down there that week, I phoned the seller and asked to have a look. When asked the inevitable question, he claimed he had managed to get it to move under it’s own power some time ago, but it had not worked for a couple of years.
It was getting dark and starting to rain as I stepped out of the warmth of the car at a remote farm in Somerset. The seller and I went round to the yard at the back and clambered over various bits of rusting farm equipment, including the inevitable dismantled old Land Rover, to look at a scruffy 1981 Range Rover with faded paintwork, rust on all the metal fittings, like the window surrounds, and an interior that was suffering from 24 years of neglect.
What caught my eye was a plate riveted over the fuel filler cap and the stuck on letters announcing ‘Look... No exhaust’, as well as the more obvious ‘Electric’ sign on the side. I soon realised that, even using all my man’s maths skills, this was too big a project for me to take on. To start with I was looking at an old Range Rover in need of a full renovation, then there was the totally unknown electrical aspect and inevitable replacement of a lot of expensive batteries. Restoration costs could soon run into new Prius territory, for what could have been a disappointing car in the first place. Had it been a huge success back in the 1980’s, presumably it would have gone into production and we would all have them anyway.
Lifting the bonnet revealed about half a ton of milk float batteries which was just half the story. There was a similar quantity under the boot floor and more where the fuel tank would have been. These powered a massive electric motor that seemed to be roughly where the gearbox would have been. The interior showed a lot of wear, so someone had used it extensively, sometime, somewhere. Maybe in another galaxy, far, far, away.
Driving home that night I allowed myself to drift off into the fantasy world of running it and almost persuaded myself it was viable. I could have been swayed by a contemporary road test in The Autocar, if such a thing existed and if it had been complimentary. I guess the range would have been fairly restrictive as the power produced by all those batteries was having to pull such a big weight along. Milk floats only ever trundle around town, then go back on charge. The Prius has an engine to recharge it’s batteries, so range is not a problem there. Maybe it would be viable for someone living in central London, who would avoid the congestion charge and yet still waft around in a Range Rover, giving Ken Livingstone the famous Churchillian salute.
I followed the progress of Electric Range Rover, Chassis number 35837816D on ebay for the duration of the auction and seem to remember it went for a couple of grand. I often wonder what happened to it and if it was restored, or just dismantled with the aim of restoring it ‘one day’, or even broken up for parts. As it may well be unique, it would be a great shame to loose it forever.
If anyone wants to read the full ‘Dust to Dust’ report it can be downloaded from CNW’s web site at www.cnwmr.com. There’s a total of 476 pages to wave at critics.
25th November 2006