The Company Making Range Rover Classics Cool Again

Courtesy Congleton Service

Taylor Congleton bought his first Range Rover Classic when he got out of the Marine Corps back in the mid-2000s. He was working construction and going to college at the time. But he soon became obsessed with the elegant, rectilinear, prototypical British luxury SUVs, which were first built in the mid-1970s but not imported to America until 1987. He began spending much of his time and income on his truck. “Lots of times I was supposed to be in class, but was taking the axle apart instead,” he says. “My mom was a dean at the college, so she was very not pleased about that.”

Taylor’s interest became so consuming that he founded a company, Congleton Service, in 2008, dedicated to servicing these vehicles. He started out renting space in a shop near his home in rural northern Vermont, “in the middle of this cow pasture in the middle of nowhere.” But with funding from an investor, he has just opened a dedicated shop of his own in nearby Colchester. In addition to repairing Range Rover Classics, he performs full-service, six-figure restorations of these 20-to-30-year-old vehicles. Each takes about a year to complete. The price for a finished truck starts at $185,000.  

In many ways, Congleton’s proposition is unconventional. Typically, serious Land Rover collectors have focused their time, attention, and money on the early Series I, Series II, and Series III vehicles, and Defenders, cars that adhere most closely to the brand’s original raison d’être—producing rugged, capable, and stodgily utilitarian trucks for the landed gentry. “Nobody restored Range Rover Classics, or was interested in them,” Congleton says. “Everyone said, ‘Classics are junk. No one’s going to collect them.’”

Courtesy Congleton Service

That has changed a bit recently. According to the vintage vehicle valuation specialists at Hagerty Insurance, these trucks are now one of the hottest segments in the collectible car market. “Off-road vehicles from the '90s are the fastest growing decade of vintage SUVs,” says McKeel Hagerty, the company’s CEO. “More than half of the new owners are Gen X and younger, which suggests interest will continue to grow. And current prices make these an excellent entry-level enthusiast vehicle.”

The revival of '90s SUVs reflects a common trend. Cars that were compelling in a generation’s youth achieve peak desirability as that demographic ages up, accumulates wealth, and seeks rides that reflect its adolescent aspirations. “When I was a kid there were two iconic vehicles that well-to-do people had,” says Congleton, who is 33. “One was a Grand Wagoneer, and the other was a Range Rover Classic. It’s like back in the '60s and '70s. Those guys who were high schoolers then grew up, and they got into the cars that they couldn’t afford when they were in high school because it was what they dreamed about, and that’s how we got collectible muscle cars. I feel like my generation will search for the cars of the '90s.”

Courtesy Land Rover

Jeep Grand Wagoneers have already seen significant increases in value over the past five years, according to Hagerty, with top-notch examples escalating by over 50 percent, and some restored models from companies like Wagonmaster or Wagoneer World of Texas selling in the $80,000 range. The price of Land Rover Classics has escalated by just 18 percent, but top examples have begun to reach prices over $50,000.

Land Rover itself recently joined this market. The brand, like many luxury automotive marques, has discovered a rich profit center in servicing and restoring iconic vehicles from its past. In February of 2017, it announced that it would be factory-restoring ten vintage Range Rovers as part of its Range Rover Reborn program. These vehicles are intended to be better than new, with a price tag to match, running at around $170,000.

This is still cheaper than a new Range Rover SVAutobiography, the brand’s priciest current model, which starts at nearly $208,000. And it undercuts the price of other six-figure contemporary or forthcoming SUVs like the $200,000 Lamborghini Urus, $230,000 Bentley Bentayga, or $500,000 Rolls-Royce Cullinan.

Courtesy Land Rover

“There has been growing appreciation for Land Rover and Range Rover heritage models, both for driving and for collecting,” says Stuart Schorr, vice president of communications for Land Rover North America. “Collecting heritage SUVs could be a natural outgrowth of the popularity of modern SUVs, and appreciation for the classics’ straightforward design and functionality."

Congleton is capitalizing on just this desire. “I think there’s a movement by people of all stripes to have things that are more personalized, and have more attention from a craftsman. People yearn for something hand-built,” he says. “People who buy our cars already have a new Range Rover. They want one so they’ll stand out when they’re parked amongst all the others.”

Congleton’s vehicles receive all new or renovated components, inside and out, from sub-frames to roof rails. This is no easy task when there are 7,400 pieces and 10,000 steps involved in assembly. Many of the components are no longer available from the manufacturer, and have to be produced for Congleton from scratch by suppliers, or 3-D printed, or salvaged from donor trucks. “A lot of Classics have to die to make one the way we’re making them,” Congleton says.

In addition to a beyond-factory-fresh restoration and top-notch appearance, Congleton’s SUVs also feature significant upgrades on items like engine output, all-wheel-drive capabilities, suspension ride and handling, cabin quietude, headlamp technology, interior trim quality, and luxury and convenience appointments, including available features like navigation-equipped stereos and backup cameras. Tricking out the interior can easily add $35,000 to the base price.

But the vehicles still look just like a classic Range Rover, and it would take a discerning expert to tell the difference at first glance. This is intentional. Taylor wants his vehicles to be traditional in appearance, but elevated in experience. “I try and build what I call ‘a sleeper,’” he says. “I want you to pull up at a Range Rover meet-up, and then when you all head out to drive somewhere, you can blast them all.”