We're all familiar with the classic Range Rover - the car with which Land Rover more or less invented the luxury SUV - but the Kingsley Cars name is unknown to most. This company, tucked away in the Cotswolds in south-west England, strives to take old Range Rovers and turn them into cars that can be used every day. We tried a 1971 three-door full of Kingsley upgrades to find out what's what.
In the metal
At first glance, the Kingsley looks much like any other three-door Range Rover of this vintage, albeit a well cared-for example. Most of the original features have been maintained and, in the case of our test car, even the paint is the original factory colour. Only the quality of the paint job and the subtle Kingsley logos really set the car apart from a 'normal' classic Range Rover.
But that doesn't mean nothing has changed. Kingsley has fitted LED headlights and completely revamped the interior, trimming the cabin with an old-money mix of soft leather and comfy tweed fabric. It manages to feel very 1970s and yet modern at the same time, not least because the quality of the upholstery is outstanding.
Perhaps a bigger influence on the modern feel is the introduction of a touchscreen infotainment system down at the foot of the dashboard. Although it's oddly positioned for those more used to modern cars' touchscreens, the system comes with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay, allowing drivers to connect their iPhone to the car easily. Our test car also came with a wireless phone charging pad and a reversing camera.
But not everything is modern. Kingsley has left the original analogue instrument dials and the decidedly retro heating and ventilation system, although that's partly because the wiring loom is original and couldn't cope with the demands of a modern climate control system and digital instrument display. But we're happy with that because it means the car's character is relatively untouched. This still feels like a classic Range Rover; it's just one with a few creature comforts.
And anyway, it's the mechanical updates that, in many ways, will matter most. Under the bonnet, Kingsley has stripped out the original engine. It offers customers a choice of 4.0- and 4.6-litre V8s, both of which run on petrol and can be paired with a modern automatic gearbox. At the same time, the company has fitted fresh suspension, a new exhaust and uprated brakes.
And there are some other handy upgrades, including more modern central locking and the option of a tracking device, which should give owners some extra peace of mind. But Kingsley says a big part of the charm is its compliance with the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London. That doesn't matter here in Ireland, but the car's age does mean the tax office won't come demanding vast sums of money for you to drive your V8 Range Rover.
And you definitely want to drive it. Admittedly, the 4.6-litre V8 'only' produces around 270hp, and it delivers that quite lazily, but it has a surprising turn of pace when it gets going, and it simply oozes character. There's something indulgent and luxurious about an old-school V8 that slouches into action but packs a punch when it finally gets there.
Key to the engine's character is that fabulous V8 sound. It sounds like a grumpy grandfather at idle, bubbling away with a subtle undertone of intent. Under load, it emits the kind of growl you get from a big dog when you try to remove a thorn from its paw, and when it's really climbing the rev range it matches its power with a dirty snarl. With a vocal range like that, it really does feel soulful. Like Louis Armstrong on four wheels.
Engine aside, the car drives beautifully, because Kingsley Cars' engineers have done a great job of tuning the suspension, making the Range Rover cruise over bumps like it's riding on a cloud. Yes, it has chunky tyres and our central London test route didn't give us much opportunity to sample the high-speed ride, but at urban speeds, potholes and speed bumps passed almost unnoticed. Plenty of modern luxury SUVs don't ride anything like as well as the Kingsley.
Few steer as well, either. The Kingsley's steering feels heavy at first, but it's responsive and direct, without feeling jerky and snappy when you pass over a bump. Of course, the car leans a fair bit through corners, but it's a tall 4x4, and the ride is so smooth we can forgive a slight lack of handling. Good visibility and some relatively compact dimensions by modern standards also play in its favour - particularly in town.
And despite the age, the Kingsley should still be great off-road. We didn't get to try it on our test route, but it still has the low-range gearbox, all-wheel drive and long-travel suspension that made it so formidable when it was new. The introduction of more modern - and more reliable - technology should not have done anything to change that.
But it would feel a little abusive to take the Kingsley into the wilds, even with the Land Rover badge on the wheel. Of course, it's nice to know it won't get beached when the snow begins to fall, but it just feels too perfect and too well-loved to start serious overlanding.
And well-loved is definitely the right adjective to describe this car, because in spite of its lofty price tag and its petrol-swilling engine, people adore it. Everywhere we went, people turned to stare or stopped to pay us a compliment. People even waved us through at junctions. It just wouldn't happen in a modern Range Rover.
What you get for your money
It's difficult to say exactly how much a Kingsley will cost, but we know it's a lot. In the UK, prices start at £125,000 (around €147,000 at current exchange rates before you take any importation taxes into consideration), but that quickly grows when the options list comes out. Goodies such as parking sensors, wireless charging and a sound system will all add hefty sums to the total.
In upgrading the classic Range Rover, Kingsley has built one of the coolest and most desirable 4x4s on the market. Classic car ownership often comes with a litany of difficulties and complications that make modern cars much more appealing - at least for everyday use. But the Kingsley Range Rover has removed some of those complications. With improved reliability, the Kingsley is almost as easy to live with as a modern Range Rover, although whether you'd want to use one on a daily basis is another matter. But that practicality and the '70s Range Rover style is a match made in heaven.