There's only one Number One…


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No.1's first photoshoot was not until 1994 : credit: © Nick Dimbleby
It isn’t the oldest Range Rover and it isn’t the first of the Production vehicles, but it is Range Rover Number One!

In 1947, when The Rover Company had the idea for a vehicle that would improve upon the Second World War Jeep, it began by creating the Centre Steer, which is often referred to as the first Land Rover. It was actually based on a Jeep owned by Maurice Wilks, Rover’s Technical Director, so it’s more of a concept vehicle than a prototype Land Rover. After experimenting with chassis specifications, Rover built 48 pre-production vehicles numbered 01 to 48, each of which had either an L or an R prefix indicating left- or right-hand drive.

R01, which is the British Motor Museum’s renowned HUE 166, is therefore considered to be the first Land Rover. But before the final pre-pros had been completed, Rover deemed itself happy with the design and the first production Land Rover, chassis R860001, was built. This is, of course, the equally famous JUE 477, recently renovated by Julian Shoolheifer and his team for Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the Ineos boss and the man behind the Grenadier project.

Number One following Scott Greenwood’s masterful restoration

Such a neat and logical approach to prototypes and production vehicles would not be repeated until 17 years later when the first of the vehicles that would eventually be known as the Range Rover were built. Seven engineering prototypes were made between 1967 and 1969, the first two of which bore only a limited resemblance to the final product. The engineering prototypes were given the identification numbers 100/1 to 100/7 reflecting the project’s name, 100 inch Station Wagon, and all were registered for the road as Velars rather than Rovers.

The seven engineering prototypes were followed by 28 pre-production vehicles, the first of which was constructed during November and December 1969. It was given the chassis number 35500001A and registered YVB 151H on January 2, 1970, and has always been known as Number One. All but one of the 28 pre-pros were registered for the road, while the remaining example was the unregistered driveable chassis demonstrator. The pre-pros were followed by a further 20 Velars built in May 1970 specifically for the press launch. Four months later, the first customer vehicle to come off the fully operational production line was 35500046A.

As one of the first three pre-pros despatched out together on December 11, 1969, Number One could have expected to have been at the heart of the publicity programme for Rover’s new baby, but the creative types wanted a Tuscan Blue vehicle, which is why the honour of starring in the promotional film A Car for All Reasons went to YVB 153H, which was chassis number three. A Masai Red example was also deemed necessary for the launch brochure, and chassis number eight, YVB 160H, was provided.

Number one alongside the oldest Range Rover in the world, Gaydon 2015

Number One was unique in that it had been painted Deep Olive Green, a colour that never made it onto the final production palette. It was also rather special in that it was built with ‘matching number one’ chassis, engine, gearbox and front and rear axles, all of which it retains to this day.Number One was allocated to the Engineering Department and was given the Engineering Fleet Number 100/9. Project Engineer Geof Miller recalls that it was sent to the Engine Section development team for rig work and road work, but by the beginning of 1971 the vehicle was superfluous to requirements and was sold on April 8, 1971, to Michael Forlong Productions.

Michael Forlong was one of the first people outside the Rover company to have seen and experienced the new Range Rover at close quarters prior to the press launch, because he was the producer of the famous promotional films Sahara South, which featured engineering prototypes 100/5 and 100/6 on their 1969 double crossing of the Sahara and Ténéré deserts, and A Car for All Reasons. He was obviously impressed enough to buy YVB 151H once the company had finished with it, although he wasn’t so keen on the colour because he asked for the car to be repainted in Bahama Gold!

Forlong was born in 1912 in New Zealand and was already an established filmmaker in his home country when he won a British Council Scholarship and moved to the UK, where the second stage of his filmmaking career began. His first British success came in 1954 when he co-wrote and directed a film called Shetlandsgjengen which recreated the real-life exploits of The Shetland Bus, the story of the Norwegian fishermen who brought refugees from occupied Norway to the Shetland Islands during the Second World War. According to the IMDb, Forlong made over 60 films on a vast range of subjects, including numerous corporate assignments similar to the ones he had received from Rover.

Michael Forlong kept the car for four years before selling it in November 1975 to an automobile sales manager named Walter Ansell of Belvedere in Kent. It was during Ansell’s ownership that something happened that would lead to YVB 151H being lost for the next ten or 11 years, because Ansell put his cherished plate WGA 71 on Range Rover Number One! The problem was exacerbated when he sold the car in August 1979 to Keith Sutton, who lived nearby, because Ansell retained the number WGA 71 and the authorities simply issued an age-related plate, EGU 16H, making Number One completely invisible unless you peered at the chassis markings. Sutton knew exactly what he’d acquired, though, if not when he bought it then pretty quickly afterwards, because he wrote to Land Rover Ltd in June 1980 offering to sell Number One to them. Land Rover declined.

The first announcement that Number One had been found, RRR Newsletter July 1986

By the mid-1980s the founding members of the Range Rover Register were in hot pursuit of the surviving Velars and it was announced in RRR Newsletter Number 9, July 1986, that Number One, still carrying the age-related plate EGU 16H, had apparently been found in Wales and acquired by a new owner who was planning to restore it. This apparent link with Wales has persisted in the telling of the story of Number One ever since, including suggestions that it had been in use as a chicken shed when it was discovered and saved. As far as I can tell, the Welsh connection never existed and neither did the chickens, but it definitely adds to the myth and mystique surrounding Range Rover Number One. As the old saying goes, some people never let the truth get in the way of a good story!

The reality seems to be that in early 1985 the vehicle was traded-in by Mr Sutton in a deal for a new Range Rover, and Number One’s new owner was Chris Greenwood of Todmorden. The vehicle was as tired and shabby as you’d expect any 16-year-old classic Range Rover to be, but it was Greenwood’s acquisition that was the vital step that would ensure the preservation of Number One for posterity.

The subsequent renovation would take nearly six years and was completed by Chris Greenwood’s brother, Scott, with great attention to detail and the conservation of everything that could be reused. Chassis, body and the all-important Number One engine, gearbox and axles were all retained, which is quite remarkable given the restoration was carried out at a time when the easy option would have been to have thrown away worn parts and replace them with new. The project was photographed in meticulous detail in a sequence of some 150 images, and needless to say the vehicle was repainted in its original and unique Deep Olive Green. It gained its first post-rebuild MoT on March, 23, 1991, identified as ‘-Chassis 35500001A with a recorded 86,948 miles on the clock, which is believed to be genuine and ties in with other surviving documentation.

Rear number plate bracket is a unique design

Production type badging was fitted by the factory before Number One was sold to Michael Forlong in 1971

Early wheels with 60mm centre holes

Seat covers were fabricated in the Solihull Trim Shop before the vac-formed production type was available

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Radiomobile tuner was an option to go with the single speaker fitted in the dash

In July 1991, Number One was acquired by Peter Garside, owner of Land Rover Centre Huddersfield, and was to remain largely on static display in the showroom there for no less than 23 years. As we shall see, it became a bit of a place of pilgrimage for Range Rover fans over the years, keen to examine it on a look but don’t touch basis, and it was let out of captivity on only a handful of occasions during that time.

Delivery to LRC Huddersfield in 1990. Photo: Mark Griffiths

Despite early efforts to persuade the DVLA to restore the original registration number, the Range Rover still carried EGU 16H although Peter overcame this, at least for static display purposes, by fitting either black and silver plates that read RR NO 1, or plates reading YVB 151H. The process that led to the final reallocation of YVB 151H by the DVLA was a saga of monumental proportions that began in the autumn of 1991 and would last for almost six years, involving members of the Range Rover Register, the BMIHT and retired Range Rover project engineer Geof Miller. But a recalcitrant DVLA consistently and very frustratingly refused to re-issue YVB 151H on multiple occasions, before finally agreeing to reunite Number One with the all-important YVB 151H plate in March 1997. Throughout this long wait for petty officialdom to do the right thing, whenever the vehicle appeared away from the showroom it was usually fitted with the mock-up YVB 151H plates although, of course, it couldn’t be driven on the road with them.

Nick Dimbleby’s famous cover photo for Range Rover – The Complete Story

Those outings were few and far between, to say the least, and were invariably facilitated by LRC Huddersfield’s eternally helpful sales manager, Mark Griffiths. The first excursion was in 1992 when Mark trailered Number One to the nearby and very scenic Lockwood Viaduct and took a small portfolio of photographs. In 1994 Nick Dimbleby was the first to spring Number One from captivity when he arranged a photoshoot on Meltham Moor, a few miles south-west of Huddersfield, and the resulting images were used in an LRO article and, more importantly, in James Taylor’s and Nick’s book Range Rover – The Complete Story. In November 1994 YVB 151H made a rare public appearance on the Range Rover Register stand at the NEC Classic Motor Show where it proved very popular.

The sight that would have greeted anyone driving across Meltham Moor on a cold day in late 1995

A rather surreal event took place in late 1995 on a desolate and damp Meltham Moor which once again involved Nick Dimbleby. Rover France wanted to create a short film to commemorate the end of production of the first-generation Range Rover and Nick was recruited to source a number of interesting vehicles. I have a copy of the resulting video which is entitled Press Clip – Range Rover 25th Anniversary, Courcheval, February 1996 and, to put it mildly, I find it baffling! It features the deputy head of Rover France PR at the time, David Barrière, wearing a kilt and all the associated regalia (despite the fact that it was chilly enough for patches of snow to be lying on the ground) showing Number One to an actor dressed up as a stereotypical British Colonel Blimp character who looks like he dates from the year the Land Rover was launched, let alone the Range Rover!

For the next magazine article on Number One, Nick was writing the words as well as doing the photography. The story appeared in the March 1996 issue of LRO and marked the end of production of the first-generation Range Rover. The relatively minor changes over the 25-year lifecycle of the Range Rover are easy to see in Nick’s photographs of YVB 151H alongside M233 KAC, the Vogue SE on loan to him from Land Rover’s press fleet. Nick once again snapped Number One in August 1998 for his and James Taylor’s new book Original Range Rover, and in 1999 the car was taken by covered transport to a studio in Hammersmith, West London, where it was photographed for inclusion in an issue of a part-work called, believe it or not, Hot Haulers!

2010 is probably the year that most Range Rover enthusiasts would consider to be the start of the meteoric rise in the values of pre-pro and Suffix A production vehicles, probably triggered by the 40th anniversary celebrations. Prices went crazy for the next few years and seemed to be on an unstoppable rise, and that is perhaps why LRC Huddersfield’s Peter Garside decided to test whether enthusiasts or collectors might be interested in acquiring YVB 151H.

Number One was sold at the Silverstone Auctions Salon Privé sale in September 2014

An advertisement was placed in one of the classic car monthlies in May 2014 inviting people to express their interest in Number One, and a full-colour brochure was published and sent out to those that responded. The guide price was phenomenally high – well above any known sale values for a Velar at that time – and there were apparently no takers. Undaunted, LRC consigned the car to the Silverstone Auctions sale at Salon Privé that was scheduled to take place in July that year.

The pre-auction publicity was exceptional, including images taken at a lavish photoshoot at Harewood House and, as word spread and excitement skyrocketed, there was concern that the vehicle might disappear overseas. James Taylor was so worried he arranged a final visit to Huddersfield to take a few more photos and say his goodbyes!

Articles appeared in print and online around the world, with some speculating that Number One might sell for £250,000 or more, although the auction house catalogue gave an estimate of between £100,000 and £140,000. There was a lot of hopeful speculation that JLR might step in and secure it for the nation but whether the company was an active bidder isn’t known. In the event, Number One was knocked down for what at the time was a world record of £133,630 including buyer’s premium, and the auctioneer was delighted to reassure those in the room and watching online that Number One would be remaining in the UK.

Number One was centre stage at JLR’s launch of the Zenith El Primero Range Rover
watch at the Paris Motor Show

YVB 151H was immediately loaned to the Dunsfold Collection to be used to help it raise funds for its important Land Rover preservation activities and it appeared at the Collection Open Weekend and the Gaydon show in 2015. In 2016, JLR hired it to be part of their Paris Motor Show presence, and again in 2017 when they offered four very lucky UK journalists the previously unheard-of opportunity to drive it. In 2018, JLR borrowed it again for display at Balmoral Castle to be the centrepiece in a Land Rover 70th anniversary event they were organising there, apparently at the request of the Royal Household.

But nothing in life stands still and a new chapter is now opening in the story of Range Rover Number One, and as I write these words it is being prepared for delivery to its new home. You may even have heard the news by the time you read this story!


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