1980 Land Rover history
Stage two - Work begins in earnest to shape Land Rover’s future
THE WINTER of 1979-1980 in Great Britain was bad. Not only was the weather bad but the state of the economy was terrible. Despite a change of government things were not improving very quickly. Sales of everything were down, cars in particular being badly hit by the major increase in the price of petrol.
But it was not so gloomy at Land Rover as it was elsewhere. Sales of both Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles were only slightly down on the previous year, which was quite surprising considering the well-known thirst of the V8 engine. The Range Rover for example sold 9,708 units as opposed to 11,373 the previous year.
The new engine option of the V8 obviously helped Land Rover sales, as did the steadily improving specification of the Range Rover. The real object of desire, the four door Range Rover was under development and, as a marketing exercise, a four door conversion by the Swiss Coachbuilder Monteverdi was available as a factory approved conversion.
The rest of the specification of these Range Rovers showed a hint of the future with leather faced seats and metallic paintwork.
The high cost of fuel started people looking at cheaper ways of powering their Range Rovers and as, unlike the Land Rover, there was no factory diesel option many alternative conversions were tried. This ultimately resulted in quite a large number of converters fitting a multitude of different engines.
In America ex-Beatle John Lennon was shot dead and a film actor enjoyed a change of location when Ronald Reagan moved to the White House as President. Also from America came the Camel Trophy that went Trans-Amazonian. For this first event, however, they used Jeeps. The Stealth bomber was revealed as well in the USA this year.
Elsewhere in the world Iran and Iraq were at war and in Poland the Solidarity union was formed. Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia died and Zimbabwe gained its independence.
At Land Rover there was a lot of work going on behind the scenes which was not apparent as part of Stage 2 of the redevelopment work. The work on re-engineering the Range Rover bodyshell to four doors was quite extensive as the resulting vehicle had to pass all the safety tests as a new vehicle.
There was a lot of work going on with the Land Rover four cylinder engines in both petrol and diesel form. They were being redesigned as a five main bearing unit as a basis for a whole range of engines for future models. There was a lot of building work going on to put in the new manufacturing plant and assembly line to build them. This was at Solihull in the North Works where previously the Rover P6 2000 had been assembled.
There was also a lot of work starting on the development work in merging the Range Rover type of coil suspension and disc brakes with the Land Rover type of utilitarian bodywork and getting it to comply with the, sometimes conflicting, requirements of end user, production engineering and European Safety legislation.
The legislation also involved a continuous upgrading of existing models. The redesign of the Range Rover rear light clusters in late 1980 to incorporate high intensity rear fog lights being an example of this.
Other parts of the parent company were trying
to turn their fortunes around as well. In the autumn the Austin Mini Metro was launched as other parts of the group were also recipients of new funding to secure the future of the whole group.
The early eighties were the heyday of Range Rover conversions and customisation by outside coachbuilders. One of the results of the oil producing countries putting up the price of oil and thus petrol was the surplus of money in these countries. The Range Rover had gained acceptance as a status symbol and was converted in Britain before being exported. There were all sorts of vehicles created from simple hunting vehicles with no roofs to grand palaces on wheels on extended wheelbase chassis. It seemed as if each order placed was in an effort to upstage the previous one both in terms of specification and in price.
Many of these vehicles included four door conversions, aluminium wheels and automatic gearbox conversions as well as plush interiors and exterior improvements. While not directly involved with this work, the engineers and sales people at Land Rover must have observed what the market wanted and began to react to it in their own way. They must also have observed how well the brakes and other components and systems coped with gross vehicle weights far in excess of the original design criteria.
1980 was quite a quiet year really while all the improvements and investment were implemented to allow the company to forge ahead for the rest of the decade.