The Land Rover has been an icon of luxury off-roading for decades, and is now just as at home in the city as on the farm.
But with the new models losing a little of their charm for some enthusiasts, never before have the vintage versions of the vehicles been in such high-demand.
Rafe Churchill is one of the country’s leading experts in the field, restoring and selling used models of the iconic SUV at his small but prestigious company Ellsworth Classics, based in Sharon, Connecticut.
“There’s certainly nostalgia to their appeal,” he says. “I still remember the first time I climbed into a Range Rover, when I was in my 20s, and being in total awe of the absolute comfort and luxury.
“That level of luxury was unique at the time. And now, you get in some models built more than 20 years ago, and it feels like you’re in a car that has been built in the last five years.”
There are now decades of classic Land Rovers to choose from, depending on your needs. Some older models are perfect for the collector or for weekend outings, while some slightly more recent versions can still be a great daily driver. And they all ooze quality and rugged cool.
Here Rafe offers tips for those in the market for a vintage Land Rover, and shares five of his favorite models he currently has on offer.
Look out for rust
The number one concern when buying an old Land Rover is rust. Look at the undercarriage, under the carpets, the door frames. And especially the chassis. Chassis rust is a killer, tough to repair and expensive to replace. I’ve heard many stories of people buying an old Discovery or an old Range Rover Classic and they go to pick the car up after having a breakdown or something and the mechanic says, ‘You just can’t drive this. Too much rust.’
Pick the right model for you
When shopping for a vintage vehicle it’s really important to know why you’re buying it, and who is going to be traveling in that car. The 1997 Land Rover Defender is a popular year as it was the only North American model to have an automatic transmission, so good for a daily drive. If you’re buying a Range Rover Classic, you might want to focus on the 1995 model, because it was the only year it had airbags. Once you hit the 1995 model they also became a little more luxurious, and there’s definitely a step up in the details and upholstery. And if you’re looking for comfort and a sense of luxury found in later models, I would suggest looking at a P38 model. The P38 model, produced between 1996 and 2002, is a significant jump in performance and comfort from the Range Rover Classic.
Embrace the authentic features
We admire frame-up restorations, but they can lack the history and authenticity, and they also come at a very high price tag. Some people upgrade the vehicles with modern conveniences that are not entirely necessary, and it could undermine the appeal of the car. We look for vehicles with clean, authentic features, but a little wear is okay too – it’s what tells the vehicle’s story.
Don’t rule out high mileage
Some people get really concerned about mileage. But high mileage Rovers can be purchased for much less and serve you very well for another 50,000 to 100,000 miles. When the engine is completely exhausted, a new engine and installation will run about $18,000 to $20,000. Even less on a Discovery I. If considering a less expensive Rover with high mileage, consider the general condition of the body and chassis. There’s great value in a clean interior. Look for an interior that is not only clean, but also complete. This includes the dash, center console, rear sidewall partitions, and the often missing parcel shelf.
Be careful online
With the internet, the world is getting smaller, and a lot of people are buying cars sight unseen. But be extremely careful. A few concerns can include, misrepresentation, VIN number swapping, and even a good old fashioned scam. And always speak to someone on the other end of the deal, never deal purely through email and text, and then consider getting the vehicle inspected by a third party to confirm its condition.
Find out more about Ellsworth Classics and their inventory here.