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15 October 2022
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Distinctive grille juts out to accommodate a factory-fitted Warn 8274 electric winch : credit: © Dave Phillips
This Bahama Gold beauty won Most Original Range Rover at Legends 2021. It looks amazing but its back story is even more fascinating…

The year was 1974 and it hadn’t started well, with Prime Minister Ted Heath declaring a three-day week for industry because of energy shortages caused by the miners’ strike. Inflation was running at 20 per cent – the highest since the Second World War. The most desirable car in Britain was the Range Rover, launched back in 1974 and hugely popular – so popular, in fact, that Solihull couldn’t keep up with demand. If you wanted to buy one, you had little choice but to join a queue even longer than the dole queues.

One of the hottest car badges of the 1970s​​​​​​

But captain of industry, Mr R Ketley, knew how to jump that queue – and on Wednesday May 8 that year, he did just that. The owner of Castle Cement in Buckley, Flintshire, he walked into his local dealership and paid £3108.46 for a brand new Range Rover in Bahama Gold. He also paid over £200 for various extras – including a £35 backhander to the salesman for fixing the purchase.

Thirty-five quid doesn’t sound a lot of money now, but in 1974 that represented over £500 in today’s currency – and Mr Ketley got his Range Rover.

First owner's handwritten log. Note the backhander to the salesman

We know all this because the original owner kept meticulous written records of every penny he spent on that vehicle, down to the last light bulb. And all that original documentation is now in the hands of its grateful present owner, Gary Wilton, who loves the history almost as much as the vehicle itself, which won the coveted award for Most Original Range Rover at Legends 2021 at Thruxton, this summer.

It is also one of the most interesting, because this stunning two-door came with a factory-fitted Warn 8274 electric winch, capable of hauling 5000 lb (2270 kg). It was also fitted with heavy-duty front springs to accommodate that extra load on the front of the vehicle.

Gary, a Norfolk builder, is a collector, but above all else he is a green oval enthusiast who likes nothing better than getting his tyres muddy. His favourite Land Rover is his Bowler off-roader, in which he competes in comp safari, which is his passion. But his love for classic Range Rovers goes deeper, because – like it does for so many of us –  it evokes magical memories of childhood.

Just in case you were wondering who made the Range Rover

“My love for Range Rovers goes back to when I was eight years old,” recalls Gary. “I can remember going to the Mann Egerton dealership in Norwich with my dad. He had bought a 1973 two-door in Tuscan Blue that had belonged to the well-known Norfolk builder, R G ‘Bob’ Carter, who had recently died. I have such happy memories of that car, because he took us everywhere in it – and especially the family holidays to Cornwall.

“My dad, Roy Wilton, owned a village garage at Scarning, near East Dereham, and was well-known for his expertise with Land Rover and Range Rovers. In fact, the mechanics at the main Mann Egerton dealership used to contact Dad if they had a particularly troublesome Land Rover that they couldn’t put right.

“After about three years, Dad stripped that Range Rover down, put it all back together and sprayed it white. In 1978 or ’79 he took it to the ARC (Association of Rover Clubs) National at Eastnor Castle. He took it off-roading as that was what it was designed for. But he really looked after it, too.

Long, flat exterior door handle one of the RR’s design flourishes

“About 1992 he sold it and bought a brand-new four-door Range Rover, in Plymouth Blue. But soon afterwards he bought back his two-door – and then he sold it again, a few years later. As a teenager I learned to drive in that Range Rover – and it is my ultimate ambition to buy it back.”

So far, Gary hasn’t found the Range Rover of his childhood. But WEY 72M is quite some consolation.

Gary takes up the story: “The original owner, Mr Ketley, kept it for 19 years. It was then sold on November 10, 1993, by Conwy Land Rover dealership at Llandudno Junction to a local hill farmer, William Rees. He drove it just 893 miles in 11 years. By the time I bought it, in 2011, it had just 36,000 miles on the clock.

Velour upholstery is original, but some of the dials and switches were later additions

Distinctive internal door handle

“It was in excellent, original condition. Most of the paintwork was original, although a previous owner had touched up the bonnet and the tailgate, which had faded. I had the bonnet and tailgate professionally repainted and blended in with the original paint.”

All the panels are original and there isn’t any rust – probably because it was treated with Ziebart from new. Ziebart was the 1970s equivalent of today’s Waxoyl and it had been done meticulously. If you get under the Range Rover you can see little grommets everywhere, blocking off the holes that been drilled in the chassis and panels to allow the Ziebart wax to be pumped into all the crevices.”

When this car was bought by its original owner in May 1974, Abba had just won the Eurovision Song Contest and were top of the UK pop charts with Waterloo, England’s World Cup-winning manager Alf Ramsey had just been sacked and Erno Rubik had just invented his famous cube.​​​​​

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By the time Abba had disbanded, many early Range Rovers were suffering from rust. Even more had succumbed by the time most kids had solved the Rubik Cube. There’s no doubt that a combination of Ziebart, low mileage and a succession of very careful owners has resulted in this Range Rover remaining in time warp condition. It looks like it might stay that way until England wins another World Cup – however long that takes.

All of this early Range Rover's panels are original

There can’t be many early RRs with the original jack and tool kit ​​​​​

But the originality of this vehicle goes way beyond its immaculate bodywork. It’s still got its original Rostyle wheels (complete with period Michelin X 205 R16 radial tyres). In the boot there’s the original tool kit and inside there’s the original pre-inertia reel seat belts, rubber mats on the floor and a bit of carpet over the transmission tunnel. The cloth seats are in excellent condition.

Twin Stromberg carbs crown a hotchpotch of wires and pipes

Under the bonnet there are two batteries, with one serving the winch. The 3.5-litre Rover V8 engine is fuelled by twin Stromberg carburettors. There’s also a European detox engine unit, complete with a canister full of carbon, which apparently was the 1970s answer to getting petrol engines to run leaner and greener.

Features like the wing mirrors on stems and quarter-lights in the front side windows date this vehicle to an era when power steering on Range Rovers was an optional extra. But make no mistake the true, uncluttered beauty of the original Range Rover design of early two-doors like this has never been bettered, for most enthusiasts.

Paperwork that came with the car included the Warn winch manual

Nobody knows why the original owner opted for a winch fitment. Gary admits he has never seen another two-door Range Rover with a factory-fitted winch. And even if he found one, it would be unlikely to have the original Warn instruction manual, which this one has.

In fact, it’s the wealth of paperwork that makes this Range Rover so special. The first owner’s logs, written on lined notebooks, make remarkable reading. His meticulous notes record that he paid £25 for road tax. These days you’d pay £2245 in the first year, followed by £490 a year thereafter.

He also paid £5 for the retention of a personal number plate – 5050K – while the towbar cost £44. A radio – again non-standard – cost £30.80, which included fitting and an aerial. He also records that he spent 30p on fuses, front mats cost £6.58, rear mats £6.66, front mud flaps £3.11, electrical relays (two) £4.34, two front fog lamps, £9.98, rear fog lamps £4.95 and a warning light (presumably for the fogs) 40p.

It’s remarkable just how basic these early Range Rovers are. You even had to pay for the  Rover and V8 badges (£2.57). A rev counter and mounting pad cost £16.73, while he spent £4.32 on a Wipas Bisistor. And in case you don’t know what that is, it’s an anti-feedback that separates the alternator’s charge between the batteries on a two-battery set-up and automatically prevents interchange of current between the main battery and winch battery.

Original owner also kept a meticulous log of mileage and fuel costs

But if you really want a taste of the times, the first owner’s fuel log is a lovely piece of social history. His first entry on the day of purchase, May 8, 1974, reveals that there were just 11 miles on the clock when he filled up with ten gallons of ICI brand four-star petrol (cost 52.5p a gallon) at a total cost of £5.25. Four days later at the next fill-up, he realised the low-compression V8 engine didn’t need high-octane premium grade petrol and filled up with eight gallons of two-star Burmah-brand petrol at 53p a gallon.

By the end of the month he had found an Esso filling station charging just 49p a gallon. I bet he got quadruple Green Shield stamps, too. The runaway inflation of the era can be seen in the pump prices. Within a month, the Esso pump price was 52p a gallon.

By August 7 Mr Ketleye had covered 1609 miles in his new Range Rover for a total fuel expenditure of £54.48. Those were the days.

WEY 72M – it reverted to its original number plate when the first owner retained his personal plate – was a worthy winner of the Legends award. Gary loves it – in fact, he loved it so much he bought another Bahama Gold beauty of the same vintage (but without the winch and the detailed history). His collection also includes the first Discovery 3 off the line and the latest addition is a 1985 Ninety with a 12J naturally-aspirated diesel engine and just 33,000 miles on the clock. Oh yes, and one farmer owner.

Gary knows how to find them, all right, but the vehicle of his dreams still eludes him.

“The one I want most of all is Dad’s old two-door. I’m sure it’s out there, because it was so well looked after. Dad had it on a personal plate, but I’m pretty sure the original registration was HVF 93L.  If anyone knows its whereabouts, please get in touch.”

 

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