It doesn't matter what particular vehicle you're into, there's always that one model everyone covets. If you're into Defenders, then it's probably a NAS spec 90 or 50th Anniversary. If it's Discoverys, then it's probably a Camel Trophy or G-WAC. For Range Rover owners, then you can likely list Overfinch, Wood and Pickett and the 25th Anniversary. For sheer exclusivity, the ultimate variant has to be a pre-production Velar car. Velars are the name given to the pre-production Range Rovers.
In development of the vehicle a total of 55 vehicles were produced between 1967 and 1970, in three groups. A handful of first engineering prototypes; broadly similar spec pre-production cars, and finally the production-spec vehicles built for the press launch in 1970. The name Range Rover was suggested in 1968 by the man who developed the styling for production, Tony Poole. Secret prototypes could hardly go out on the roads shouting the new name though, so to disguise them, Rover used a fake name they'd created. The name Velar was just that, fabricated by an Alvis engineer, tasked with using only the letters in Alvis and Rover to create a car badge. Far from a meaningless acronym, Velar is a real word; in Spanish is means 'to keep vigil', and in Italian, 'to veil, to cover' – highly appropriate for a secret test mules used on public roads. There were three types of badging; a first batch of just two made using Rover P6 saloon lettering, closely spaced like the Volvo logo; a second using Rover P6 boot lettering mounted straight on the bonnet; and a third, most associated with the Velar cars. These used the larger, late-1969 Rover P6 boot lid lettering, well spaced out, mounted on a black aluminium plate before fixing to the bonnet or tailgate. If we say this was used on the 28 YVB-prefix registered pre-production vehicles then, clearly, these are probably the holy grail for our hypothetical Range Rover enthusiast.
These Velar badged cars are the ones that announce their heritage, unlike the 20 production-spec cars built for the press launch, wearing NXC-prefix registrations. Today, of the 28 pre-production Velars, there are still two or three unaccounted for, either likely to have been scrapped, or possibly even just left to rot. One, YVB 170H was recorded scrapped by the Rover company in 1974, yet mysteriously a car was seen in 1989 with the same registration. Either way, that makes only a maximum of 25 lucky people to have ever owned a own pre-production Velar with the later badging. One of those lucky owners is Jonathan Aucott, from Tamworth. He grew up with family members having two-door Range Rovers, and is still a fan today, having owned a number of early and late cars. “I bought YVB 165H knowing what a Velar was, as I'd always liked the idea of owning a Velar one day,” he said. Though in smart order, he knew it was missing a few pre-production parts, so decided he should put that right, but freely admits he didn't realise at the time how hard the parts were to source. Help came through a long standing friend, Craig Pusey; brother to the well-known Range Rover enthusiast Gary. After an invite to display YVB 165H at last year's Land Rover show at Gaydon, Jonathan got to meet Gary, plus Range Rover legends Geof Miller and Roger Crathorne, and look around the largest gathering of Velar Range Rovers in recent times.
“After the Gaydon show, I decided to embark on a lengthy correction process, as Gary later called it, on YHB 165H,” says Jonathan. His aim was to end up with a best guess of the spec the car would have been in 1973/74, when it left company ownership. A guess it would have to be, for each Velar was a slightly different spec, due to the fact there was no definitive spec at that time. Each car had its own role to play in deciding what a Range Rover was yet to be. Jonathan's car was initially a high mileage test car, and as such was put through 100,000 miles, during which it had an accident, damaging the front offside heavily. It was rebuilt at the factory, and went on to test different steering and track rod set-ups in 1972, and then brakes. In 1973, it went to MIRA for high speed testing, then to Eastnor for transmission tests, before finally being sold in mid-1974, for a regular life, when it was just another Range Rover. Years roll by, obviously age catches up – by which time the enthusiast movement appreciated it – and the car was later restored in time for the 30th anniversary in 2000, whereafter it seems to be rarely used. Fast forward another 15 years and Jonathan set to his project, speaking and checking with the relevant people to reference what was right for the car. The spec would involve lots of decisions, chief of which was to badge it as a Velar. “Truthfully it would have been badged Range Rover,” says Jonathan, “but I went with Velar because I wanted to show what the car was, and I'm a huge fan of Geof's car – probably the best Velar around, in my opinion. “Everywhere you look, we did something, front to back,” says Jonathan. First though, was a front panel stripdown and realignment, at Twentyten Engineering, in Redditch, putting in the correct spotwelds on the sidelight lips, plus the correct early slam panel being fitted with the VIN unusually on the right hand side.
A stickler for detail, Jonathan checked the period photo of the car when it was damaged, matching the VIN's position on his replacement panel. Next came other details like the right washer bottle and clips, period battery, repainting the bumper in the correct silver, and sourcing the right wheels, notable for the smaller centre hole. Some items were blatantly missing, like the iconic Wingard bonnet mirrors, which were also sourced and carefully fitted. These may appear just production curious, but unlike early Suffix A restorations, what is important here is that they aren't necessarily production items, they are specific details correct to the first cars. Inside the car, Jonathan sourced some rare trim including the correct kick panels, a proper choke pull and surround, and a radio hole tray. The seats are correct, being moulded pvc, but to protect them Jonathan fitted sheepskin covers “Gary Pusey confirmed they were genuine options in period, so they are at least are correct,” says Jonathan.
A correct plain tailgate glass was made by Dave at VGS, but fitted to an aluminium top tailgate, carefully retaining the original upper return lip from the factory tailgate, and having period numberplates made up with the correct rivets, as the early cars had. The final detail was to have some Velar badges made up, using correct P6 lettering, just like the factory did in 1969, and mounting them on a satin black piece of aluminium. The result is a car that isn't just good, but as near to how it should be as possible, without going over the top. Okay, so perhaps there's some debate about what is 'right', but as far as he can, Jonathan made sure he checked what 'right' was for his car turning up lots of interesting stories in the process. “Geof recounted of when a plate was bolted to the roof, purely to create drag as it went round MIRA at full revs,” Jonathan recalls. Roger Crathorne clarified the fuel filler: “It is a lockable one, but not a screw on Suffix A type and Roger confirmed that's what it probably had when it left Rover in 1974.” It it taking the time to check with these people that really makes the difference on period-correct detailing, like this. Aside from the changes to the car, Jonathan also left some items untouched; the door cards, though split, were left and only a handful of cars had them like that. He also sourced correct Lucas driving lights but decided to keep them with the car rather than fit them, just as he did with the stock Trico wiper blades, still in their original packet.
All cars go through numerous stages in their lives, and none more so than this one. It may have been a test hack and worked hard for the company, but it has also had a life beyond that. It has been used, rebuilt, just like many of the other Velars still around today. What we see with Jonathan is that now enthusiasts are putting effort into not just restoring it, but ensuring the details are true to the Velars. It isn't just a Range Rover, it is part of the lineage that created the car, so good on Jonathan for having the foresight to do that. Jonathan likes to use his cars, so besides Gaydon last year, the car has already been to Stoneleigh for display in the show foyer in April. With a number of invites to major shows later in the year, you should get a chance to check it out for yourself, provided he doesn't get tempted with an offer to sell it before then Jonathan can be contacted on 07968 94448.