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Range Rovers in Southern California: An Uncommon Market

February 21, 1988|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

Next week, their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York will make several Los Angeles appearances in which their elegant backdrop will be a ruck of Range Rovers built for moor and motorway. Andrew and Fergie will be polite, patriotic, but not that impressed with the cars. Because mother, Queen Elizabeth, has owned a Range Rover for years. So has brother Charles. And father Philip.

These days, in fact, almost everybody who is somebody just about anywhere rides this British-built estate and station carriage. Pope John Paul. James Paul McCartney. The Duke of Westminster who owns most of Mayfair and the Sultan Qabus bin Said, who owns all of Oman.

And in Southern California--after less than a year of sales--the Range Rover has become the hottest four-wheel-drive vehicle since World War II when Willys-Jeep crushed its first vertebra.

Pronounced Worthy of Its Legends

Playboy and USA Today have noted its status and Esquire is looking into it. The Washingtonian magazine has reported the Range Rover worthy of all its legends. This month, M magazine called it the up-to-date car in Los Angeles for "people trying to maintain a sense of power on the road combined with the feeling that they can escape to the country any minute."

Jack Nicholson has bought a Range Rover for roving Aspen's snowy ranges. Michael J. Fox drives to Hollywood openings in his. Timothy Hutton and wife Debra Winger and the new baby go to the store in theirs. So do Doc Severinsen, Tom Cruise, Jimmy Buffet and Jermaine Jackson. Martin Sheen has one on order.

Last month, Malcolm Smith of Riverside drove his Range Rover 8,000 miles in 11 days--and placed fourth in the Paris-Dakar rally.

Last year, 2,586 Range Rovers were sold in the United States, more than 18% purchased by Californians.

"Southern California has a lot of people who have traveled to Europe and who have seen how the vehicle fits that society," explained Bill Baker, spokesman for the Lanham (Maryland) and Solihull (England) offices of Range Rover. "In Paris, after three Range Rovers were among the top five finishers of the Paris-Dakar, it is the only car to own. In England, where it is the only vehicle in the world to have earned four Royal warrants (chosen to supply the Royal Family) it is the car for checking your stock, attending the shoot, touring your estate."

Who buys a Range Rover? "Our typical customer has a $200,000-average household income," Baker said. "He or she is 43.5 years old, owns two homes, two cars and is a professional with an advanced degree . . . or an entrepreneur."

Why? "All sport-utility and off-road vehicles are stylish now . . . at the tip of that segment is the Range Rover in terms of price, prestige and performance."

Price: $36,450 with its two factory options (sunroof and leather upholstery) and rising as the dollar dives. Prestige: In addition to the international celebrities above, the Duke of Roxburghe owns a Range Rover and Floors Castle where "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan" was filmed and where Andrew proposed to Fergie. Performance: Quick and firm enough (at least in Europe where engines aren't strangled by anti-pollution plumbing) to be owned by former Formula One driving champion Jackie Stewart and rallied by French Formula One driver Patrick Tambay.

But the Range Rover's ultimate charm, its Southern California owners claim, is its punch and elegance. In first gear, goes the consensus of automotive reviews, it's a tank that will ford Trabuco Canyon in full flood and then climb a sleeping elephant. In (automatic) fourth gear, it's a tourer that will tool along at 100 m.p.h. It has room for half a dozen occupants sitting on Connolly leather upholstery. While listening to Vivaldi on the tape deck.

"They're beautifully ugly," says Richard Dashutt of Malibu, a co-producer, with guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, for Fleetwood Mac. "Yet ultimately functional which is the ultimate design and ultimately timeless. Like the Zippo lighter."

Such purity of design has seen a Range Rover on temporary display at the Louvre. Beginning Wednesday, one will be exhibited at the California Museum of Science & Industry as part of a UK/LA '88 display of British designs (along with Wedgwood, Holland & Holland shotguns, Zandra Rhodes fashions, Heal's furniture and Wick's saddles) that will be visited by the Duke and Duchess of York.

Continued Dashutt: "Working with an English group (Fleetwood Mac), I'd heard for years about Range Rover. So I looked into it." That look ended his ownership of a Toyota Four-Runner and memories of his Porsche and a Ferrari. "I must say that they (Range Rover) are very slow, and passing a truck is a little iffy. But they're also wonderfully built with lots of character and like all thoroughbred cars, you need to stay on top of them mechanically."

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