Classic Range Rovers have been in demand even before the model turned 50, but reaching this advanced age has made money-no-object restorations a far easier decision than just 20 years ago, when they were still just used cars.
In a few days a very rare prototype from the model's early years will roll across the auction block, giving collectors the chance to pick up a rather unique example that will require some explanation. Bonhams will offer this long-wheelbase, stepped roof prototype at its Goodwood Revival auction later this week.
The original Range Rover entered production as a two-door model in 1969, combining a plush and roomy interior with a some impressive off-road capability and a generous footprint. But even in the early years of production the automaker was already planning variations on the main model, including a long-wheelbase version that would be offered with four doors. A number of long-wheelbase prototypes were built by Land Rover in those early years, exploring different body styles that could be offered by the factory to a variety of owners.
One such long-wheelbase prototype envisioned the Range Rover as an ambulance, given the fact that Series Land Rovers had been in service for some time with the military. But the generous footprint of the Range Rover lent itself to the role of a civilian ambulance as well. Six prototypes were designed by the automaker's Special Projects division on a wheelbase that was 10 inches longer than the standard model in production at the time, in order to accommodate a longer and taller body that could be used as a demonstrator. Two of the prototypes, of which this is one, were built as stepped-roof ambulances by Spencer Abbot in Birmingham, subcontracted by Land Rover to build the bodies.
"The example offered here, chassis number '355-04063A', registered 'FXC 831L', is one of two built as a stepped roof ambulance during 1972 (the other being left-hand drive) and was retained by Special Projects as a demonstrator," Bonhans notes. "However, the stepped roof body was not well received by potential customers and 'FXC 831L' was sold on in 1973."
In 1973 the automaker commissioned a third stepped roof prototype, finished as a multi-seater shooting brake, akin to Series Land Rovers of the time, in addition to yet another example used by the automaker as a mobile data-gathering laboratory.
However, out of the six long-wheelbase prototypes that was originally built, only two or possibly three are known to survive, Bonhams notes.
Finished as an ambulance from the start, this example was sold by a dealer to St. John's Ambulance Brigade in 1973, and reportedly served as such for the next 44 years, before it was bought by the current consignor in 2017. (That is indeed how long the ambulance was in the ownership of the brigade, though it's perhaps an open question of just how long it was in regular use). But after being purchased in 2017, the Range Rover received a restoration and conversion to a multi-seat shooting brake in 2018, with the work performed by Bishops 4x4 of Yaxley, Cambridgeshire. Since that time it has been in dry storage, the auction house notes.
Bonhams estimates this prototype to bring between $110,000 and $170,000 on auction day.
The prototype would certainly be a conversation piece at any Land Rover meet, but we have to wonder a bit about the element of originality, now that it has been restored to something other than an ambulance. Land Rover certainly built a number of long-wheelbase prototypes to different specifications in the early 1970s, testing out different body styles and configurations—that much is true. But the ones that were finished as shooting brakes are almost all gone by this point, and this one wasn't built to that standard. Another direction in which this restoration could have been taken is restoring the vehicle to an as-built ambulance specification, as Land Rover had used it as a demonstrator. This would perhaps make it less usable as a classic car, especially a pricey one, but it would at least be faithful to the original condition of this example, especially with period graphics and emergency lights, which we suspect this example had.
On the other hand, the "rules" of restoration of former emergency vehicles and their prototypes are a little loose, and there are lots of former Series Land Rover military ambulances that have been converted back to something far more useful. So the Supreme Court of Vehicle Restoration will perhaps be rendering a split decision here: Lots of collectors have old Land Rover ambulances, and they're... not all that fun in their current states. So making an eight-seater out of this long-serving ambulance is perhaps the most reasonable thing that can be done to maintain most of the history of this long-wheelbase prototype and make it an actually usable 4x4 to own.
Visit the auction website to view the full list of lots from the upcoming sale.
Would you have restored this Range Rover to ambulance spec, or restored it to an eight-seater shooting brake? Let us know in the comments below.