The first Range Rover to roll off the production line has sold at auction for £132,250 (US$213,000). The vintage, fully-restored 4x4 with chassis No. 001 was sold in London to a private owner by Silverstone Auctions and Salon Privé in a sale that was not only about automotive history, but the end of a motoring mystery.

First introduced in 1970, the Range Rover was Land Rover’s first attempt to go upmarket. However, despite its reputation as a luxury car for the shooting-and-wax-jacket set, the first Range Rovers were still fairly utilitarian affairs with basic interiors, vinyl seats, and plastic dashboards. But with its 4-liter, V8 engine and increasing collection of luxury features, it proved remarkably successful throughout the original Spen King-designed model’s run of 300,000 cars through 1996.

Unfortunately, in 1970, all that was in the future and, as is common when history begins, a lot of the early bits were misplaced. While the final Range Rover Classic (as it was then renamed) was displayed in the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust collection at Gaydon, Warwickshire, No. 001 seemed for a time lost never to be seen again due to an unfortunate string of circumstances.

Land Rover No. 001 was the first of a batch of six that were given YVB **H number plates registered in Croydon to hide from prying eyes that a new Land Rover model was being road tested – which would be a bit of a giveaway if they’d had plates registered at the company’s Solihull headquarters.

However, when it was sold to promotional film producer Michael Forlong on April 8, 1971, No. 001 was resprayed from Olive Green to Bahama Gold, a textured dash was fitted, and when it was resold to W G Ansell in 1975, it was fitted with number plate WGA 71. And if that didn’t muddy things up enough, when it was resold to a Kentish farmer it was renumbered again as EGU 16H. This so confused things that the whereabouts of the first Range Rover were given up as lost until the early 1990s when the now-previous owner discovered its location thanks to a chance phone call.

According to Silverstone Auctions, the rediscovery of No. 001 was followed by a six-year restoration during which the car was repainted Olive Green, and the engine and bodywork refitted with original parts of the proper vintage, as well as the original bonnet, and body shell. The whole effort was capped by the owner persuading the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to reissue the original YVB 151H plate due to the vehicle’s historical significance.

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