road test: 1991 Range Rover CSK

csk

To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Range Rover (which later went on to be called the Classic) in 1990, Land Rover did a limited edition run of two hundred CSKs. The initials belonged to none other than Charles Spencer King, known as ‘Spen’ to his friends, and also known as one of the most gifted auto engineers of the post-war British period.

If there was ever a car man who won plaudits, it was him – two of them in the shape of Car of the Year 1964 for his innovative Rover P6, and then twelve years later for the striking SD1. In both cases, he worked with gifted stylist David Bache. As chief engineer at Rover – then latterly the ‘Specialist Division’ of British Leyland (Jaguar-Rover-Triumph), he was also responsible for engineering the Land Rover, the ‘Innsbruck’ Triumph 2000 series, Dolomite and Stag, then latterly the the Range Rover and finally the Triumph TR7 before the SD1. The TR7 incidentally, was not a Dolomite in a sports car body as is often said; it was far closer to the SD1, a sort-of short wheelbase Rover 3500 with a Triumph 4-pot engine put in at the last minute, after the 1973 fuel crisis hit.

The original 1970 Range Rover was a magnificent car, with perfect 50:50 weight distribution, low weight (for what it is, thanks to the use of an aluminium bodyshell), and a lower centre of gravity than you might imagine. The car started as a niche luxury version of the Land Rover, but by the eighties had become a lifestyle statement with a rather aristocratic air – confirmed when you drove it and experienced its amazing solidity, sophistication and flexibility, all delivered with a special kind of nonchalant ease.

For this reason, the car far exceeded its anticipated lifespan, and even in 1990 was still best-in-class by a country mile. In fact it was in a class of its own, and anyone who drove one knew it. It made Rover Cars a strong profit over the years, with people ever more hungry for luxury versions, and pretty much kept the mainstream passenger car division of the company on life support for much of the nineteen eighties. It was steadily refined, getting much-needed fuel injection in 1987 and then a 3.9 litre over bored version of the classic Buick-based V8 in 1989. By the time the CSK arrived a year later, it was a really potent (off) road going tool.

The CSK added a special leather interior, a slightly tacky dashboard plaque, and a rear anti-roll bar – the latter made the handling far more composed on road, and with the help of the new, punchier engine, it became the spiritual precursor to the Range Rover Sport. The black paint with special coach lines and decals was the icing on the cake, along with alloy wheels with special detailing. The original, long-travel suspension still gave a very smooth, composed and pliant ride – familiar to drivers of the TR7 and SD1.

The most striking thing was its three-door body – the original format of the Range Rover, which Land Rover had sold up to 1983 in the UK market. Actually, this wasn’t as special as it seemed; although long unavailable in Britain by 1990, the company was still making the three-door body variants for export markets, with a great many sold in the Gulf region.

There aren’t many CSKs surviving – far less than the original two hundred. Most were automatics, but some manuals surfaced too. For a long time, they weren’t particularly coveted, but increasing rarity and the sad death of Spen King have done nothing to hurt second-hand values. It’s a lovely, quirky moment in Land Rover’s history, championing Rover Cars’ greatest designer. I loved mine, and hope it’s still growling along!

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