30 years ago, Land Rover began its U.S. adventures

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Land Rover North America is celebrating 30 years of posh off-roading in the U.S.A.—even though, officially, the story began several years earlier.

It was 1985 when the bosses at Land Rover-Leyland Limited realized that Americans rather liked the Range Rover that they’d been importing via the grey market since the car was launched in 1970. Management at the nationalized car maker wasn’t exactly well known for its rapid decision-making, but once the potential size of the U.S. market finally dawned on them—and with a new four-door version of the Range Rover arriving—they hired former VW executive Charlie Hughes to set up shop stateside.

Hughes began building a dealer network, advertising for franchisees in Automotive News, and the response was astonishing. More than 1000 applications came in for the 36 proposed dealerships. By early 1987, 11 dealers were up and running. On March 16 of that year, the very first officially imported Range Rover was delivered, and as 1987 drew to a close, 2585 more Rangies rolled along the roads of America.

Five years later—that’s 30 years ago—the now-privatized Rover Group had been bought by British Aerospace and the U.S. arm was renamed Land Rover North America, soon adding the Land Rover Defender 110 to its lineup. Today, with 170-odd retailers across the U.S.A. and annual sales of more 73,000, it’s fair to say that belated decision by the Brits to begin their adventures in America has paid off.

Let’s take a look at some highlights.

1971 British Trans-Americas Expedition

Though their countrymen weren’t selling cars on the American continent at the time, a team of plucky Brits became the first four-wheeled adventurers to drive the entire length of the Americas from north to south in a pair of matching Range Rovers. Recruited from the 17th/21st Lancers and led by Major John Blashford-Snell, the crew set out on December 3 of 1971 from Anchorage, Alaska, and reached Tierra del Fuego on June 10, 1972, covering a distance of 18,000 miles. Their route, along the Pan-American Highway did have one major obstacle, however.

The dense jungle of the Darién Gap was (and still is) road-less, so the team chopped, winched, and occasionally floated the two cars across the 250-mile Gap. It took three months, but despite being largely unmodified models destined for the Swiss market, the two Range Rovers made it. Along the way they even found the wreckage of a previous attempt by Chevrolet whose three Corvairs had been swallowed by the jungle. A definite win for the Brits.

2003 G4 Challenge

Land Rover G4
Land Rover

For 20 years the Camel Trophy was an annual adventure for the everyman. Anyone could apply and those that succeeded would find themselves behind the wheel of a Land Rover tackling the toughest terrain on the planet from Sulawesi to Siberia. Although the event never took place in America in 1993, Tim Hensley and Michael Hussey took home the Camel Trophy for Team U.S.A.

After its demise in 2000, Land Rover devised a new challenge, the G4, which was to be a global adventure on four continents. For the inaugural 2003 event, 32 competitors from 16 countries set off from New York in Land Rover Freelanders, heading up through the Catskills, into Vermont and the Wildcat Mountains of New Hampshire. They were then flown to further challenges in South Africa and Australia, before returning to the U.S.A for a final leg that began in Las Vegas, Nevada and finishing in Moab, Utah driving Discovery IIs just 28 days from the start.

2013 Trans America Trail

In 2013 Land Rover North America hired adventurer Tom Collins to lead an expedition from the East Coast to the West Coast of the U.S.A. without touching asphalt. The near-5000-mile Trans America Trail from North Carolina to Oregon had previously only been completed by off-road motorcyclists, but Collins thought, why not do it with a four-wheeled off-roader?

Land Rover North America jumped at the chance to show off the capability of its Discovery LR4. During the 27-day journey over 85 percent of the driving was done on unpaved trails, forest roads, farm tracks and dirt. After the event Collins said: “The LR4 vehicles have been fantastic. They are stock, with only dealer accessory winches and roof racks. We did not have any mechanical issues and the only repairs required while crossing the country were a few tire punctures.”

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