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Range Rover history explored in new exhibition

New story celebrates 50 years of luxury SUV as a new chapter starts in iconic car's story

Land Rover has opened a time-travelling exhibition to mark the 50th birthday of the car which gave birth to the SUV - the Range Rover.

Prototypes of the car, which went on to spawn scores of imitators and culminated in huge demand for SUVs in all their shapes and forms, were first developed in 1967.

To mark the occasion, Land Rover has opened 'The Range Rover Story' - a visitor attraction at the heart of its Solihull factory charting the Range Rover's birth, development and evolution.

The interactive exhibition is expected to attract up to 45,000 visitors over the next three years.

It follows on from a similar attraction celebrating the history of the iconic Land Rover Defender, production of which came to an end in Solihull last year after almost 70 years.

The prevailing theme of the new exhibition is Velar - with the name being crucial at the dawn of the Range Rover and again in the 21st century.

The Range Rover Story exhibition in Solihull

The 1967 Range Rover prototypes were codenamed Velar - meaning to veil or cover - an example of industrial subterfuge to conceal what the company was really up to.

Special Velar badges were even created for the prototype vehicles to put any would-be spies off the scent.

And now things have come full circle with the Velar name revived for Land Rover's newest vehicle which is already rolling off the Lode Lane production line.

The brief to develop the Range Rover came in response to American demand for a vehicle with the capabilities of a Land Rover but with more creature comforts.

Ironically, though Range Rover production proper started in 1970, the car wasn't sold in the US until 1987.

Initially, the Range Rover was not the luxury SUV it has come to be, though the choice of coil rather than leaf springs gave it a suspension system that was far more comfortable on-road than the more agricultural Land Rover.

The Range Rover Story exhibition in Solihull

It also benefited from an aluminium V8 engine the Rover Car Company conveniently acquired at the time.

Roger Crathorne, who started working as a technical assistant on the Velar team in 1967 and helped create the exhibition, revealed how the project came to fruition very quickly.

"We came up with a fictitious company called Velar," said Mr Crathorne, who went on to work for the company for more than 50 years and is generally known as 'Mr Land Rover'.

"We put this vehicle into production with only seven prototypes.

"We were forced to launch the vehicle earlier than we had planned because of a promise Lord Stokes, the then British Leyland chairman, had made to the Government on launching new cars."

Now renowned as the ultimate luxury SUV, Mr Crathorne revealed that was not the original intention.

"It was not originally intended as a luxury vehicle but an extension of the Land Rover range offering better on-road dynamics," he added.

A replica full-size clay model of the original Range Rover at The Range Rover Story exhibition in Solihull

"It wasn't until '72/73 it started to become more of a luxury vehicle.

"We did more and more over time and it has become the wonderful luxury vehicle we drive today."

The Range Rover Story exhibition starts with visitors looking at giant images capturing life in 1967 and the musical sounds of the era.

They then move into a number of different rooms, the first of which features a cutaway of an early model detailing elements of its engineering.

Next up is a mock-up of the original design studio with a full-size replica of the original Range Rover clay model, lovingly created by the current Land Rover design team in Gaydon.

There are also original sketches created back in the 60s.

There's also a wonderfully restored original model in absolutely pristine condition, a room which celebrates famous Range Rover partnerships with the likes of the magazine Vogue, the gun maker Holland & Holland and even the Royal Family.

The attraction also looks at how the Range Rover evolved and how the model range expanded.

It culminates in a dramatic unveiling of the Range Rover Velar, Land Rover's newest vehicle which sits between the Evoque and Sport models.

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