Classic Jaguar, Land Rover and Range Rover driving days
Jaguar Land Rover has launched an all-new customer experience, allowing drives of classic XKs, E-types, Mk2s, Land Rovers and Range Rovers
Jaguar Land Rover is launching a 'Classic Drive’ experience – where you can slip behind the controls of almost any classic road-going Jaguars, and test the off-roading capabilities of a Range Rover Classic, Series III or even HUE 166, the very first production Land Rover.
Where do these days take place? Well at Eastnor Castle of course, the 5000-acre estate (in the Malvern Hills, UK) on which the first Land Rovers were developed, and where there's now a thriving Land Rover Experience Centre. And for the road driving, the lanes around Eastnor make for some classic routes.
So, whether you prefer road-going prowess or adventurous mud plugging, this package offers the excitement of piloting an impeccably restored classic Jaguar or Land Rover – without the hassle and cost of owning one yourself.
Even the arrival in Eastnor Castle’s venue car park yields something special, with a flawless legion of angular, chunky and brutish 4x4s amid the svelte stance of Jaguar’s contributions between 1957 and 1975. It’s difficult to select which vehicle to drool over first.
Driving the Land Rovers
Taking on the off-road course doesn’t require the adventure skills of Bear Grylls or Sir Ranulph Fiennes. You’ve got a team of expert drivers giving you step-by-step instructions on how to traverse terrain that would normally see you stranded – which is just as well, as the very early Land Rovers take balance and preparation for each new obstacle.
You will walk away with a huge amount of respect for the first generations of Land Rover – and we can promise that you will it will be tough not to think about purchasing one afterwards. But nowhere near as difficult as it feels to leave the two-door Suffix A Range Rover V8 behind at the end of the day.
The best part about the V8-powered Range Rover Classic remains its trademark ability to mount and master whatever you present under its nose. It’s already an industry cliché to claim the Range Rover as ‘king of the off-roaders’, yet behind the spindly wheel of a Suffix-A, the overwhelming sense of command fed directly through your fingertips provides a monumental boost to the driver’s confidence. You can point and steer without the aid of electronic traction control, and plough on over terrain that would leave those of an X5 or Q7 persuasion on foot – bringing a slab-sided portion of refinement to Eastnor’s forest track.
Having approached the course with two Series Land Rovers already, completely aware of the washboard terrain and exposed tree roots, in the Range Rover we glide over them in the same manner befitting a hovercraft in a minefield, rather than the bouncy-castle-mounted-on-scaffolding-pole experience offered up by the 86in Series I or 109in Series III.
While the utilitarian Series Land Rovers proved entirely proficient at tackling terrain like surefooted mountain goats, the Range Rover pumps lashings of steroids into the proceedings – growling dementedly through the low-range gearbox, while the ambience remains sedate in the cabin. You know that there is knee-deep dank, thick, sour-smelling mulch on the other side of the interior but there is no panic. Not even the smell of burning foliage on the exhaust can set off anxiety – the Classic just plugs through on a reassuring wave of revs. Bearing in mind this design first landed in 1970, the engineering and design under the revolutionary aesthetics is jaw-dropping.
Driving the Jaguars
The same can be said for Jaguar’s E-type, unveiled to the public during a time when people still ate tripe, TV was monochrome and new drivers could afford only a seventh-hand Austin Seven. Even now, an E-type never fails to impress – but there is something really special about the two examples gracing Eastnor’s heritage fleet. One is a Series III V12 manual, a rare beast, while the other is a Coombs-tuned Series 1.5 – thought to be the only one in existence. Alongside are an XK150 and a Mk2 with a difference. An XJ6 will also be available to customers.
Upon entering the cabin of Jaguar’s own Mk2 you are greeted with heated electric seats, electric windows and trim material never found on original Browns Lane vehicles. It’s a hybrid of contemporary luxury with period looks, but the raw-Jag adrenaline is still there – working the revcounter towards the redline before changing, that sculpted bonnet protruding to lead the way around the quiet country roads surrounding Eastnor Castle.
It grips the road with tenacity, and prompting you to screech around hedge-lined bends as though you are a villain from The Sweeney. Then you waft back to the centre as though possessed by Inspector Morse. It’s all rather fantastic.
Travelling the same route with the XK150 is more of a wrestle, but ultimately satisfying. You are pre-warned that the sleek body favoured by the likes of Donald Campbell and Roger Moore hides mechanicals that require brute strength to control – and they really do. Not that it detracts from the experience, if anything it’s far more exhilarating.
The gearchanges take genuine consideration; miss a spot and you’ve killed the momentum. Handling is still tight but feels wayward in comparison to the Mk2, with a driving position that would challenge an orangutan. The exhaust note would leave angels weeping, with each blip of the throttle as you double de-clutch electrifying your spine. If the XK150 were a person it would undoubtedly be the literary personification of James Bond – smooth and brimming with charm, but take your eye off the ball and you’ve got a stubborn maniac on your hands. This is old-school sports driving in true gentleman fashion, usually reserved for those with £80,000 to spare.
Switching into the Series III V12 brings a stark contrast. While the XK150 may have felt lumpy on idle yet unrestricted when blasting along the tarmac, the black E-type delivers a velvet ride with enough civilised power to stage a coup d’etat. The noise spouted from the bulkhead is second to none, with each silky gearchange dropped into a cyclone of torque. The thing is, the V12 only echoes the spirit of the original E-type – something that the Coombs E-type has in spades.
Finished in rare Purple Haze paintwork, tuned by Coombs and now owned by Jaguar, so much as sharing space with such a special vehicle is enough to leave grown men on their knees. This really feels like the ultimate E-type.
Wafting around in a gentle fashion, there is nothing to scream how unique this Jaguar is until you venture out onto the main roads. Once beyond 3500rpm the E-type develops a second wind, the Coombs-modified flywheel, crankshaft, inlet ports and matched heads, carburettors and inlet manifolds pushing out extra power – and the difference is incredible. You can feel all 285bhp whirring away, propelling the 1966 4.2-litre along with enough extra gusto to replace blood with epinephrine.
The tutor encourages you to push around the corners, as you tug on the wheel to maximum effect as that famous snout points directly where you desire. The emotions stirred are conflicting – you lap up every turn of the wheel, but understand you will have to hand it back. Knowing that you can’t take the greatest driving experience of all away with you will result in a morbid journey home.
If we had our way, the journey back to AutoClassics HQ would consist of the Bahama Gold Range Rover and Coombs E-type following on a trailer. If only…
The Jaguar Land Rover Classic Experience day costs £475 plus £95 extra per passenger. The price includes off-road experience in both new and classic Land Rovers, road driving around Eastnor, as well as lunch and refreshments. More details here.