Easily one of the favourites of the 200,000-strong crowd at last weekend’s Festival of Speed was the new Range Rover Velar. Making its UK dynamic debut in the First Glance category, the new SUV not only encouraged spectators to grab their smartphones and take pictures of it in the paddock, but the sight and sound of it squealing up Lord March’s drive elicited whoops and cheers.
JUL 06th 2017
First Drive: 1969 Range Rover Velar
However, while the sleek silhouette, the large road presence and the stunningly simple and classy cabin showcase where the Range Rover brand is going, the name is firmly rooted in the family archives.
The idea of a more comfortable, road-biased off-roader dates back to the early 1950s when bosses at Rover thought the initial strong demand for the Land Rover would wane. Various designs were created but by the end of the ’60s the now classic David Bache-penned shape was the chosen concept. But to keep the world’s press intrigued, seven Range Rover prototypes were badged and registered ‘Velar’ – apparently the letters were taken from Alvis and Rover badges and the name was a reference to the Spanish ‘Velar’ meaning disguised.
The seven engineering prototypes were followed by 27 pre-production cars – and the car we’re driving here was one of them. It’s an early 1969 example still with its original Velar badges and an interior that hasn’t been touched by anyone for nearly 50 years.
The beige cloth seats wear their half century very visibly – they’re discoloured, saggy and split. The dashboard, a scratchy grey one-piece moulded plastic affair, jars uncomfortably with the rough caramel carpet that shouts seventies chintz. This being an early car, there are various trim differences with the first early Range Rovers and, to be kind, it’s a bit of a mess.
Not only is there a plethora of stalks and gauges pinched from a series of dreary British Leyland cars, this being a pre-prod’, there are also a selection of make-do switches that wouldn’t look out of place in a man’s shed. A fire extinguisher attached to the centre console area is a reminder that this Velar was a running test bed rather than the finished article a customer would have happily paid just under £2,000 for in 1970.
It’s here where the Velar feels so very different from the new Velar – despite it being a step on from the Land Rover, the original Velar is still painfully agricultural compared to later Range Rovers. But there are some similarities such as the driving position. Despite its ripped appearance, you sit perched high looking out over a squared off bonnet, clutching a thin steering wheel and you somehow feel slightly better off than all other road users.
Twist the key and the 3.5-litre V8 fires into life. Touch the throttle and the Velar gently rocks from side to side on its suspension. Grab the ungainly looking gear-lever and shove it into first and the engine idly growls and you just waft away. With 130bhp and geared for the best off-roading performance, progress from the V8 is slow – as is the steering. It’s vague, but it’s a world away from the contemporary Land Rover Series IIA in being easier and more comfortable to hustle along a country lane.
So why has Land Rover decided to resurrect the name on a car that bears little in comparison with this car? Well, it could be because the original Velar was such a transition from what went before, and the new one is a big step on from the current Range Rover line-up. Perhaps the Velar name is apt for the new car after all.
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