1981 Land Rover history
Four Doors - The Range Rover begins its life as social climber
THE MOST significant development in 1981 as far as Land Rover Ltd was concerned was the launch in July of its much needed factory produced four-door Range Rover. It was part of the result of the investment programme following the formation of the new company and was a major step forward. In reality the vehicle gained more than a couple of extra doors, as higher levels of trim including more carpet and wooden door cappings, plus stylish aluminium alloy wheels were also on offer as an option pack.
All were items that had been envisaged at the launch eleven years previously, but financial restrictions within the main company had delayed their implementation. In reality none of the new developments did much for the Range Rover’s fuel economy (at a time when world oil prices were rising), the extra weight over the original basic vehicle being quite significant. Mechanically, output ratios in the transfer box were altered to make the vehicle higher geared and the engine was given a higher compression ratio (9.35:1) and revised camshaft profiles. These particular alterations were in an effort to help with economy and emission regulations. The Range Rover was beginning its move further away from the 'hose out' agricultural concept and was rapidly on the way to becoming the only vehicle to be seen in when driving in ‘town’.
However, there was, as usual, a premium to pay for the uprated vehicle, the four-door costing £750 more than the two-door. In order to satisfy more commercial users and the many police forces, a lower specification two-door was introduced called the Fleetline. This had a lower trim spec, rubber floor coverings and even the option of deleting the power steering. Demand and sales of the Range Rover increased rapidly, contrary to the trend of reducing sales in the rest of the UK car manufacturing industry. By now Land Rover Ltd's parent company, BL, were well on their way to producing new models in collaboration with Honda. The Triumph Acclaim (really a re-badged Honda) was launched this year and the SD1 replacement, which would not be built at Solihull was under development. Just as significant, but introduced unannounced and unheralded, was the increase from three to five main bearings for the 2286cc petrol and diesel engines in the Land Rover.
As part of the second stage of the redevelopment, engine building had been moved in-house from the satellite factories into the North Block at Solihull. These had been empty since production of the P6 had finished in 1977 and the ‘new’ £85 million plant was to be capable of building the engines for the intended future range of vehicles.
The only difference in these new-engined vehicles was a different colour for the engine block and a matrix of stiffening webs on the outside. From the driver’s seat there was no more power, but the engines were a lot smoother in operation and, as might be expected, this was most noticeable with the diesel. As part of the reorganisation of the Solihull factory site, the Range Rover assembly line was also moved into this building to allow even more alterations to accommodate production of the planned future Land Rover models which were then under development. It was a busy place as the SD1 Rover cars and the Triumph TR7 and 8 were also being built on the site. However, the Triumph sports car would soon be ceasing production, and the SD1 would be built at the old Morris factory in Cowley, leaving the Solihull site dedicated to the production of four wheel drive models. The separation of the car and 4x4 companies was becoming more visible.
In the rest of the world Ronald Reagan took up his newly elected position as President of the United States and in July Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer. If you wanted to exercise your mind the Rubik Cube was the most popular thing in the shops. At the cinema you would be able to see Raiders of the Lost Ark or Chariots of Fire, and you were able to cross the Humber river on the new bridge. 1981 was also the year when scientists first identified the AIDS virus.
There continued an ever-deepening recession in the economy. The fact that the new company, Land Rover Ltd, managed to increase its sales of vehicles against the trend for reduced sales was a great result for the people who had the foresight to plan and commit such large sums of money to the redevelopment of the facilities and justified the investment in the future.