The legendary Rover V8 has been mated to countless icons of British desire throughout the decades, lurking under the bonnet of British Leyland’s various saving graces. The policeman-friendly Rover SD1, tarmac chewing TVR, riotous MG RV8 and ever-abused Sherpa van are just a few to have been propelled into the nostalgic status chamber by the all-conquering Buick-derived, eight-cylinder Rover beauty.
However, for numerous petrol heads - mainly the ones who enjoy a dirty weekend - the finest marriage will forever remain the Land Rover Series III Stage 1 V8. For a glorious six years, between 1979 and 1985, the mother of all Land Rovers was bolted together using components from across the Solihull range. The LT95 manual gearbox from the Range Rover Classic, the 3.5-litre V8 used in the military’s ‘bomb-proof’ box, the FC101 and chassis components from the globally respected Series vehicles all contributed to a marvellous concoction of fuel-crisis defying pleasure.
Known variously as the Series III Stage 1 V8, the Land Rover Stage 1 V8 and more simply as the Land Rover V8, ‘Stage 1’ actually referred to the first stage of investment from Margaret Thatcher’s Government to improve Land Rover’s product range by pumping in £200 million of tax payer’s money. This scheme eventually led to the development of the coil-sprung One Ten and Ninety models (Stage 2) and the diesel engines we have found ourselves besotted with ever since. Churning out a modest 91bhp from the de-tuned Range Rover Classic engine, but with enough torque to literally tear trees out of the ground or tow a building, the permanent four-wheel-drive, and the sheer grunt from this parts-bin beast took Land Rover in a new direction that set about defining the company for the next twenty years. Eye-popping colours helped too.
We aren’t sure how Mrs T. and her flaky government reacted behind closed doors to a car that looked practically identical to the pre-investment Series III, but the public adored them.
Various owners removed the restrictors on the V8 engine to allow all 135 ponies to strut their stuff, pushing the vehicle well beyond Land Rover’s threshold of on-road safety. Even when standard, the V8 was enough to get you into a great deal of trouble; besides drinking fuel like Oliver Reed on a lads’ night out, and offering the usual frighteningly vague ride at speed, the higher cruising pace now possible could provoke angles of lean that made the Tower Pisa stand up straight and take notice.
Yet, in the right hands, the Stage 1 was unstoppable – that’s drum brakes for you. Popular with mountain rescue teams and emergency services the world over, the steroid-fed Series variant maintained the Land Rover tradition of taking pregnant mothers through snow storms to hospital, carting equipment through flood waters, preserving rare animals from extinction and providing relief in war zones – alongside remaining the farmers’ friend, who couldn't care less about the fuel bill.
In the classic car world, these are the Land Rovers to own. As far as beefy all-terrain vehicles go, the Series III Stage 1 V8 Land Rover is the undisputed king of the bunch. Find one in unmolested condition and cherish it, as good ones are now rarer than a decent programme on BBC Three. Just keep that map outlining the nation’s petrol stations handy.