1981-1996 Range Rover Classic Four-Door 4×4 Review

Read our concise review of the 1981-1996 Range Rover Classic Four-Door 4x4...

1981-1996 Range Rover Classic Four-Door 4x4

by Calum Brown |

It's a luxury car, but V8s are thirsty, diesels are noisy and many range rover Classics have been run on a shoestring. They can rust spectacularly, too, though not all are bad.

Choose carefully and choose well and you'll get a lot of car for the money. But does buying one make sense?

Everyday use: ★★★★☆

Off-road ability: ★★★★★

Spares: ★★★★★

Kit & accessories: ★★★★☆


Here are our top tips on things to consider when buying a Range Rover Classic. Discuss prospective buys on our message boards and for the definitive view, get an LRO buying guide. See below for details.


Bore cracking. Can be an issue on 3.9 and 4.2 engines along with liner movement. Top-hat liners fix them, but that means a total engine stripdown and may be more expense than the vehicle is worth.

Blocks. Can crack, so check for coolant consumption, overheating and system pressurisation. Look out for coolant staining in the engine bay, a new header tank (or one with oily residues) or recently replaced hoses. Feel the coolant hoses after a drive to see if they feel solid (pressurised). Often the lower block components survive so a good clean-up and replacement cam and followers will improve many engines. It's not an expensive undertaking.

Oil changes. A V8 won't tolerate cheap oil or skimped changes – it'll sludge-up and wear fast. At cold start, engine rattling could be low oil pressure or gummed-up oilways (a worn V8 cam normally rattles constantly). Rattling could also be symptomatic of wear in other places. Oil pressure relief valves can stick, giving low oil pressure. If possible, change the oil every 3000 miles.

Fuel & ignition systems. Fuel injection pumps and relays fail, and pump earthing corrodes. Ignition amplifiers give problems, leading to a no-spark scenario. Distributors wear, causing poor running, timing issues and excessive fuel consumption.

VM cylinder heads. There have been cases of them lifting, maybe resulting from missed-out torqueing of the head bolts. Some head bolts pulled their threads from the block (solution: helicoiling). These engines are fine if properly looked after: maintain coolant levels religiously. The four heads have to be removed and replaced together since they share hold-down bolts.

Timing belt. There were some timing-belt alignment issues on 300Tdis, but all engines should be remedied now. Check the belt has been changed at the specified interval, or change it immediately.


Clunking. If the Range Rover has been a regular towcar, pay special attention to the transmission – it's where all the heavy usage will show up. LT77 and early R380 boxes suffered premature mainshaft wear. Lift on and off the accelerator and check for the telltale clunking. Push the sliding-spline section of the propshaft up and down to detect wear.

Crunching. R380s shouldn't crunch when changing down from third to second – if they do, that's second gear synchro wear and means a gearbox strip to fix it.


Have air-suspension system failures diagnosed at a specialist. Some owners prefer a coil-spring conversion, though airbag replacement isn't as costly as it once was. The system must be completely depressurised using correct diagnostic equipment, or there's a risk of injury.

'Tail-wagging' and body roll. Often looks worse than it is, but different springs can stiffen suspension. Standard suspension is good but needs good-condition bushes to function perfectly.

Airbags. They crack and become porous where they flex. The air pump will run continuously to keep the bag inflated, and burns out.

Valves. Can jam in the air valve block. Cleaning sometimes works but a good reconditioned unit is best bet. Relays stick and height sensors fail.

System drier. Find out when it was last changed – moisture leads to sticking air valves and valve block failure.


Original wheels. Aftermarket wheels and wider tyres have been so commonly fitted that originals are not too common – find, buy, refurbish and refit them if you can – it'll make your period Range Rover look as it should.

ABS. A common fault is an incorrect gap on the wheel speed sensors, which usually illuminates the dash warning. Incorrect air gaps can also cause pedal 'kick back' on first application – when the dash warning doesn't always show. Consider replacing the flexible brake lines and inspect metal brake pipes, especially above the chassis where they corrode unnoticed.

Braking should otherwise be very powerful and smooth and is easy enough for DIY maintenance.


Flexible pipework. Check for perishing.

Steering box mainshaft seals. Can leak: a seal replacement kit may fix it, but a reconditioned box is a widespread solution.

Steering shake. Shake on rough roads can mean incorrect swivel-pin load, and / or worn radius arm bushes. If these are all fine, consider a gas steering damper such as Koni or Old Man Emu. Wobble at higher speeds on smooth roads is more likely to be caused by warped brake disks.


Check the loom isn't deteriorated or bodged, and everything works. On earlier cars a £10 multimeter will do your diagnosis; fixes are DIY.

Faults. Seat switches and control units often show faults. The memory seat ECU battery leaks on to its circuit board, causing failure – seats work intermittently or not at all, and mirrors won't adjust. Components are available and there's quite a lot of information on the web.


Chassis rot. A Classic can look decent, but be horrible under these external panels. It's most likely over the rear axle, though the chassis doesn't rot as badly as on Defender and Series. Check the bodyshell thoroughly – carpets out, crawl under with a torch, look behind everything. Anywhere below the waistline, panel joints corrode.

Mounting points. Where the body bolts to the chassis can be bad, sometimes there's almost nothing holding the body on.

Rear floors. Can corrode badly and aren't available anymore. Joining two Discovery floors is one way to go.

Wheelarches. Check the front ones, door-pillar bottoms and footwells. Many cars need new sills. Open the rear doors and check the wheelarches – look underneath, too, where the seatbelts mount (potential MoT fail).

Tailgates. The bottom tailgate lower edges corrode. Check inside for a disintegrating upper tailgate. A good lasting solution is an aluminium tailgate frame.

Paint blistering. Check under the windscreen rubber seal as this is a common rust trap on 1991-94 models. Sometimes there's very little holding the screen in place and repair is difficult.

Bulkhead. Check the bulkhead under the bonnet where the brake pipes run: most people miss this, but rot hides here. Don't think you can do a body-off job simply, the way you'd do with a Defender – on a Classic, that's a huge amount of work.


Damage to trim or seats. There's very little new-old stock available and it's difficult to find good-condition used items.



For detailed pricing info see the latest issue of Land Rover Owner International magazine.



FASTEST 0-60mph: 11sec, LSE 4.2. No spec available for 4.2 standard-wheelbase Autobiography, which must have been faster

SLOWEST 0-60mph: 16.8sec, manual 200Tdi/300Tdi (auto est 18+ sec)

FASTEST TOP SPEED: 110mph, standard-wheelbase 3.9-litre or long-wheelbase 4.2 (unofficially, 4.2 standard-wheelbase Autobiography can hit 120mph)

SLOWEST TOP SPEED: 94mph, 200Tdi/300Tdi

HIGHEST POWER: 200bhp at 4850rpm, 4.2-litre V8

LOWEST POWER: 111bhp at 4000rpm, 200/300Tdi

HIGHEST TORQUE: 250lb ft at 3250rpm, 4.2-litre V8

LOWEST TORQUE: 183lb ft at 2400rpm, VM 2.4-litre turbodiesel

BEST FUEL ECONOMY: 30mpg (approx) in everyday use, Tdi manual

WORST FUEL ECONOMY: 17mpg (approx) in everyday use, V8 4.2



VED RATE: £215




LENGTH: 176in (4470mm)

WIDTH: 70in (1780mm)

HEIGHT: 70in (1780mm)

WHEELBASE: 100in (2540mm) [Vogue LSE 108in (2743mm)]

WEIGHT: 3942lb (1788kg [Vogue LSE 4737lb (2150kg)]

LOADSPACE: 1968 litres (seats folded)



(33º air suspension); 40º withoutspoiler (43º without spoiler and with air suspension)


(33º air suspension)


(LSE 30º). Less 2º (est) air suspension


TOWING CAPACITY: 2000kg up to 1983, 3500kg 1983 onwards

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