Range Rover launch party.
An evening at Cliveden and a drive the next morning, is a dream come true.
As lavish do’s go, the launch of the P38 Range Rover back in the summer of 1994 will take some beating. I pitched up at Cliveden House in Berkshire on a very hot day, drenched in sweat and wondering if there had been invited by mistake. Cliveden was immortalised in the 1960’s when it was owned by Lord Astor, renowned for throwing great party’s. Around the very swimming pool that they launched the new Range Rover, John Profumo, then Secretary of State for War, was introduced to ‘Society Girl’, Christine Keeler, who was having an affair with a Russian Diplomat at the time. Miss Keeler’s sleeping arrangements nearly brought down the Macmillan government in 1962 and lost Profumo his job.
The design of the new Range Rover had been kept pretty secret throughout it’s development, with only the occasional, blurred, snapshot appearing in the press, so all in attendance were suitably impressed when the wraps came off a 4.6 HSE positioned, for maximum effect, on the manicured lawns behind this magnificent house. A speech explained how this car was designed to compete with the leading luxury cars of the day and on that evening the new shape did look striking. With the benefit of hindsight, it has been labelled as a bit of a stop gap in terms of styling. Maybe the legacy of old school Rover, prior to new thinking BMW design, but on that warm evening, with a glass of chilled champagne in hand, the first new Range Rover for 25 years looked stunning and irresistible, just as Christine Keeler had 33 years before.
The view from my bedroom window the following morning offered everything a Land Rover enthusiast could dream of. There below me were nine Range Rovers for us to sample. I teamed up with a chap from a Caravan Magazine and we opted for the 4.6 HSE. Land Rover’s Press Office had mapped out a route that would involve a selection of motorway, main road, country lanes and a wooded section to demonstrate the off road ability. Stepping up into the drivers seat we were given a run through on the gizmo’s. Adjustable air suspension and traction control were new then, when all we had on the previous Range Rover was ‘high and low ratio’ and ‘brakes’.
Out on the road the new Range Rover felt as good as anticipated, with the 4.6 litre version of the venerable Buick V8 producing enough power to hit speeds never dreamt of in a Land Rover product. It felt like a car in which very long distances could be easily covered. Supremely comfortable, agile on the road and with a turn of speed that would keep up with all but the fastest of the competition. Highway thrash over, we found our way to the start of the woodland section. The previous night’s rain had made the going slippery and a marshall explained the benefits of the traction control in these conditions. They had laid out a course that would demonstrate the full off road ability, without risking anyone getting stuck or hitting a tree! It was tame by enthusiast standards, but good enough when at the helm of thirty grand's worth of new car in dense woodland!
We pottered through various ruts and over a few tree roots, with the suspension pumped up to it’s maximum height, then had to tackle a hill climb. This would have been easy in the dry, but with a film of greasy mud on top of the dry earth bank, it did present a genuine challenge. Pressing all the buttons available that had images of hills, rocks and mud on them, we started the climb. A frantic clicking noise seemed to be coming from below, so I backed off, fearing I’d bust something. A marshall reassured me that it was just the noise of the traction control, but to someone used to off road driving in an old 80 inch, it sounded like a Woodpecker under the floor! The second attempt utilised all the gadgets and up we went.
Back at Cliveden we swapped to the 2.5 DSE and realised we should have started with that and worked our way up to the 4.6, as in comparison it was noisy and sluggish. However it was that very Range Rover, M210 CVC, that I used the following Spring to retrace Alexander the Great's route across Macedonia and Turkey. The two of us became firm friends on the 6000 mile odyssey, though I thought it a bit pessimistic that they included such detailed instructions on what to do if the central locking packed up. I was to realise why, when I found myself, like John Profumo in 1962, locked out in the cold. Unlike Profumo though, I had instructions on how to get back in written on a piece of paper in my wallet.