The first military Range Rover

The Range Rover's potential for military application was identified at a very early stage in its development. In fact, engineering prototype number 3 (100/3), the first to have a production-style body, was modified with a mock-up military conversion as early as July 1970. At the same time, the Range Rover's unique capabilities were also noticed at Farnborough, when a demonstration of one of the Velar prototypes clearly impressed both pilots and ground crew. With a powerful 3.5 litre V8 engine, permanent four wheel drive and long travel coil sprung suspension, the Range Rover offered unparalleled off road ability and a 100 MPH top speed with which to reach airport accidents quicker than ever before. An order was soon placed with Rover to provide an ambulance and two fire tenders for assessment as airfield emergency vehicles. Production vehicle number 3 (chassis # 35500048A), finished in Sahara Dust, was taken from the line towards the end of August 1970 and sent to Wadham Stringer near Portsmouth for conversion to a rapid response medical vehicle. Wadham Stringer already had experience in the conversion of standard family saloons, such as the Austin 1800, to ambulance specification and a simple design for the standard 100 inch wheelbase Range Rover body configuration was drawn up. The conversion was straight forward and completed in less than two weeks. The rear bench seat was removed to enable a single stretcher to be situated along the near side of the compartment. The front passenger seat was rotated through 180 degrees so that a medic could sit rear-facing and attend to a patient on the stretcher. An additional single seat was installed directly behind the driver to accommodate a second medical attendant. Finally, the vehicle was painted white and adorned with a simple roof pod upon which a blue beacon and two-tone siren was situated.

Upon completion during the first week of September, chassis number 48 was taken to a location on the new A3, which was still under construction, and amongst the lunar-like chalk cuttings, was photographed for Wadham-Stringer's archives. A few days latter it was returned to Rover, where it was registered as ELA 830J under the ownership of the Ministry of Technology. By Monday 7th September, it was in service at the 1970 Farnborough Air Show, and until Thursday of that week it was used and photographed in order to assess its potential for the MOD.

Although the vehicle's on and off road capability was applauded, some concerns were voiced about the limited interior space offered by a standard Range Rover body. Subsequently, the Special Projects Department at Rover developed a ten inch extension to the Range Rover chassis design, and Wadham Stringer used this to build a new prototype ambulance (fitted to chassis number 35500010A) with a substantially larger two-stretcher body. This configuration eventually came into full production. Despite ELA's design being rejected, the vehicle itself was dispatched to the Government Sales Department on February 7th 1971, and then to the Ministry of Aviation on April 5th, who eventually sent it to the medical facility at Boscombe Down, Salisbury. At Boscombe Down, ELA was used for parachute recovery and airfield medical emergencies. Although it has been very difficult to obtain information about ELA during this period, it must have been a useful vehicle as it was kept on the fleet for fifteen years covering 130,136 miles during that time. Eventually, ELA's military career came to an end and she was sold at the Bristol and West Car Auction on April 15th 1985, to a company which specialised in corporate paint ball games. Within a few days, ELA had lost her gleaming white coach work to a professional camouflage make-over. Over the next few years, ELA was used to transport luggage from Bristol to a 1200 acre estate near Taunton where Combat Zone Ltd operated. Occasionally, ELA was used as an ambulance to transfer wounded combat players to the Musgrove Park Hospital, and on one occasion ELA was stopped by the police on the M5 and the driver was reprimanded for still having a blue beacon on the roof. A khaki sock was placed over the beacon and it remained there for several months!

After seven years with Combat Zone Ltd, ELA had gained numerous battle scars. However, it was whilst driving through a gateway on the estate, that ELA hit a pot-hole, broke her rear O/S spring and was eventually laid to rest in a nearby yard. Several months later, a nearby Land Rover enthusiast heard about a rough old Range Rover which might be for sale, and made enquiries. In May 1991, ELA was sold and transferred a few junctions up the M5 to Clevedon. At this time, ELA's fate swung precariously in the balance, as her new owner intended to cut and weld her into a hybrid trialer. By some luck, however, he soon realised the significance of her very low chassis number and decided not to take the gas torch to her after all. For the next four years, she remained untouched in a lock-up and was eventually, and with some reluctance, advertised for re-sale in the local free-paper

ELA 830J at the 2003 classic Car Show at the NEC Birmingham

By another stroke of luck, a trustee of the Dunsfold Land Rover Trust noticed the advert and drove through a cold January night of 1995 to view the vehicle. ELA was bought and towed away by a slightly older Velar sister (chassis # 35500016A) to a secure compound at the Dunsfold premises in Surrey. Three years later, in February 1998, I first set eyes on ELA. As an owner of a Range Rover Velar prototype, I had visited Brian and Phil Bashall at Dunsfold to buy a fire damaged prototype aluminium bonnet. However, upon seeing and recognising ELA 830J, I found myself imagining her rebuild, but soon dismissed the thought in view of her very advanced state of disrepair. During a second visit to Dunsfold, however, I could not resist the temptation, and with the encouragement of my wife (!), I bought ELA for restoration. On April 14th 1998, I towed ELA 143 miles back to her home town of Solihull after 28 years absence.

I have completely striped and rebuilt the rear chassis and steel body shell of ELA 830J. Rear cross member, sills, A posts, lower B posts, rear wheel arches, bulkhead toe board and chassis mounts have all been replaced. I am still researching ELA's history and if anyone can shed further light on her past (no matter how insignificant), I would be delighted to hear from you. I would also be very interested to hear if her two sister vehicles, the prototype fire tenders ELA 831/ 832 J (possibly chassis # 35500053 and 54), still exist. I also wonder if anyone can shed light on the fate of engineering prototype number 3 (chassis # 100 /3; A LHD RR originally finished in Lincoln Green) which was last seen in 1971 with camouflage paintwork and bearing the registration AGN 316G.

Julian Lamb 1999