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Land Rover’s tenacious Range Rover celebrates 45 years of mud slinging

It’s rare for an automotive name to stick around into what most people would consider middle age, and even rarer to be able to see a clear connection between all of the models sharing that name in the intervening decades.

The Land Rover Range Rover is known for being able to climb every mountain and ford every stream, but the fact that it survived long enough for Land Rover to mark its 45th birthday must rank among this SUV’s most impressive achievements.

Introduced in 1970, the first-generation Range Rover helped transition Land Rover from a maker of glorified farm equipment into a manufacturer of luxury vehicles. It also set the stage for the modern SUV craze, and the near extinction of whole segments of family vehicles.

While the current Range Rover can easily be compared to the best from Mercedes-Benz or Rolls-Royce, the original model was decidedly less luxurious. What it lacked in creature comforts, though, it made up for in sophisticated engineering.

Four-corner disc brakes and a full-time four-wheel drive system made the original Range Rover one of the first SUVs that could be driven on paved roads somewhat comfortably. That combination of off-road ability and on-road manners has defined the Range Rover ever since, and has accounted for much of its sales success.

Related: 2016 Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR first drive

Over the next four decades and across three more generations, the Range Rover evolved into a status symbol. Today, you’re more likely to see one parked outside Nordstrom than wading through a river in some African jungle.

Each of the previous Range Rover models had remarkable longevity. The original version was made for 25 years, the second-generation model was produced from 1994 to 2001, and the third-generation lasted from 2001 to 2012. We’ll see if the current model has the same staying power.

For most of the Range Rover’s existence, Land Rover has focused on refining it and improving its capabilities, but lately the company has started thinking laterally.

Range Rover now constitutes an entire “family” of models, including the original Range Rover, the Range Rover Sport, and the Range Rover Evoque crossover. There’s even an Evoque convertible on the way.

Going forward, Land Rover also wants to take its flagship model further upmarket. Unveiled at the 2015 New York Auto Show, the SVAutobiography is a high-end model that anticipates ultra-luxury SUVs from Rolls-Royce and Bentley.

That’s quite an evolution from the Range Rover’s utilitarian origins, and it will be interesting to see whether it will enable this iconic SUV to maintain its relevance for another 45 years.