The real reason we love classic Land Rovers
From stopgap hero to global icon, the Landie both mapped the world and changed its face for the better. Here’s why we adore Solihull’s finest
Imagine a war-torn battlefield, strewn with debris as gunfire and fear stalk the air. You’re pursued by those who want to kill you. Death and panic are all you can focus on, alone and desperately scrabbling against the elements to keep going; your stamina is spent after carrying supplies on your back for several miles – your base camp was decimated by fire several miles behind you. It feels like the end. It is the end.
Then, through the encroaching clammy darkness, a set of headlamps charges through smoke and mist on a wave of transmission noise. The brakes squeal slightly as a rescue team locates you, wheels locking and the exhaust buried in thick mud. You scramble aboard. Resting on tickover, the differentials lurch forward as you are carried away to safety. The tyres spin when grip is momentarily lost, but the vehicle’s four-wheel-drive system ensures forward motion. Bullets score the wings and engine revs soar beyond 6000rpm. You are clear.
Battle scarred and caked in mud, the vehicle safely delivers its human cargo to allied soil, before turning around and speeding back out again. It may seem like the work of fiction, but this situation is a real one, faced by real soldiers – and the vehicle that saved them was a Land Rover Series I in Korea.
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Heaped with glory or ignored, it makes no difference. The Land Rover has contributed to all of our lives; in peacetime and in war. Solihull’s finest boasts a CV that other vehicles can only dream of – delivering food to starving people, preserving the rarest animals from extinction, mapping the world, injecting law and order to the most hostile places on earth and providing indefatigable backup to the likes of the Born Free foundation, the United Nations, global emergency services and agricultural workers.
It may leak oil and offer all the comfort of a night in jail, but the humble workhorse has had our back for the past seven decades. Starting life as a stopgap market exercise to provide sustenance for parent company Rover, the instantly recognisable shape has proven itself not only as a reliable mainstay but also as a film star, fashion icon, rally champion and car of the people. We wept for our heritage when the last Defender rolled off the production line on January 28, 2016.
Over the past 70 years the Land Rover has crafted some fine offspring, from the all-encompassing and trend-setting Range Rover to the baby Freelander, amid a modern range of technological beasts. These innovative and impressive vehicles have provided a backbone to the nation’s economy.
Yet, being present in a large number is far from the only reason why we love the green oval. Ignoring the clichéd notion that classic Land Rovers are egalitarian, tough and as utilitarian as a barn, we all have a soft spot for the staunch motorway-going tractor because it is imperfect. Not in the way that we complain of, but because we see ourselves reflected in the vehicle’s personality.
We view our own failings in the door-panel gaps, lack of speed and various design flaws. Other, more polished people may be in the same rat race as you, but the finish line is reached nonetheless. They may well cross the line faster, cleaner and less deaf than your typical Land Rover driver – but where is their sense of occasion?
We sympathise with the curved wings and block-like construction even as we understand that this is by far the least economical, least sensible and least comfortable way to undertake a long journey. It reminds us we are human, not just drones on cruise control from one commute to the next. The Land Rover really does make us feel alive. It’s why Landy owners are often humble – and there is much to be humble about.
Why we love the classic Land Rover
It’s got no spoilers, is as aerodynamic as a bungalow and is slow enough to post a 0-60mph sprint on a sundial. But, as the mantra states: ‘You may go fast, but I can go anywhere.’ From the very first Series I of 1948 through to the final 2016 Defender, the modest Land Rover has captured the spirit of adventure and etched a smile across even the sternest face over the shortest of journeys.
Besides offering an escape from the doldrums of modern motoring, the Landy has always been a member of the family. There are stark similarities to the family dog – it doesn’t always behave, but it’s there when you need it. From getting pregnant women through snowstorms to hospitals to rescuing people from mountains, and everything in between, we love our Landies because they are present for the personal stuff.
Unlike a new Mercedes or an old DeLorean, you can get stuck in under the bonnet without fear of voiding the warranty or causing a fire. Most of us with a mechanical mind have cut our teeth on old Land Rovers, giving us an outright appreciation for how far such basic engineering can reach.
What’s the real reason we love the classic Land Rover – whether it be in Series I, II/IIA, III, 90/110 or Defender guise? They are more than simply a car or machine. Used as wedding cars, to get us to school, to commute, to traverse the bad weather, to learn to drive in and to court future partners – they become a part of us, woven into our DNA.
You may have to drive with one elbow out of the window and the heater may be largely symbolic, but Land Rovers have only ever undertaken important tasks; tasks that maintain or change lives. Right now, there will be one nearby doing something imperative for someone.
And so we move onto a new generation, with the next-generation model slated to hit roads very soon – and what a set of boots it has to fill. Besides being classless enough to mask any lifestyle choice, the aesthetics must remain stern yet cheeky accompanied by versatile mechanics and a tireless drive train. It’s a fine line to follow to keep both the Queen and Lara Croft happy.
Yet, whatever the new vehicle proves to be, nothing can take away our fondness or the brand’s breath-taking heritage. The next incarnation of the Defender may be almost upon us, but it’s unlikely the old-school design will ever be replaced in our hearts. And, as you’ve read above, for damn good reason.
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