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The Land Rover Cult

by Alain Hoffmann

When other vehicles change shape like crazy, getting their faces blown up in wind channels, their engines detuned for smog all this fancy stuff only engineers (maybe) have a notion of Land Rovers stay the same. Compare today's Defenders with the very first preproduction Series and you see what I mean. Sure, they got slicker, their engines got more power and the suspension really got terribly improvement. Some of the later model Range Rovers and Discoveries even are said not to leak when it rains!

Land Rover has this old fashioned notion of building cars; when you get it right it's best to leave it like it is as it wasn't that easy to figure out at all. And if customers complain too much they try to improve things, but slowly. Don't rush it.

A good example is the canvas top. Since it's introduction back in 1948 it was a sort of floppy, windy piece of cloth which in heavy rain made you more soaked than without any top at all. It took them until the 1990's to make reluctantly an better version for the US market where good, tight and quite tops were the standard. Hardly 40 years after first sewing it together, a fact almost unworthy to mention. But did they take it over for us common mortals not willing to spend a years' income on a 4x4? Naw! We still drive in that rain and windswept box that makes you laugh at Amundsen's North Pole expedition. Hah! Any old Series driver would've done that single handed.

So what does them make sell those 4x4's? If we just put our pink glasses away for a moment and take a closer look at the cars we can find quite a lot of things we don't like that much. The awkward driving position. The heating. The corrosion between iron and alloy body parts. The terrible built quality only equalled by some dealers inefficiency. The breakdowns in the middle of the night and in a rainstorm. If we look at them this way it's hard to tell why anyone with a clear brain buys such a car.

Why do we take all this when some Japanese companies offer us plush, air-conditioned, pampered cars for the same price? Well, it's the Land Rover Cult. You want a car that is distinctive from every other car on the market? Buy a Rover. You want to climb in it every morning and it gives you the feeling you could start it up and drive it to the Sahara? Or Delhi? Or Sidney? You know it all depends only on your will, you just have to turn the steering wheel in the right direction and get it a go. Your Rover will surely bring you there and back. This feeling, this very same feeling made men sail around the world, discover new places and fly to the moon. It's your freedom cry in today's overcrowded and overregulated world. You know it and the others know it too. Drive to the filling station. See the kids in that Vauxhall Astra? See their eyes light up? They feel it, the call of adventure, of travel, of the unusual. Doesn't matter if you never leave Greater London. You COULD do it, anytime.

Is that a wee farfetched? Then tell me, do you get the same feeling when you sit in your good buddy's Ford Fiesta?

Well, there ARE some other cars that give an comparable feeling and all of them have a small but strong fellowship. There's the Jeep. And the old Landcruiser. And the International Harvester 4x4's. But that's about all. And you can't get any of them any longer new in an 'working vehicle' outfit. They all disappeared or went the way marketing people told us we want them, getting transformed and softened up beyond recognition, being outfitted with everything you NEVER really need.

Gosh, Land Rovers are the last "Working Dream Machines", get that.

The Land Rover Legend

When you drive an Land Rover you drive history; you drive a legend. It's instant time-warp, back to the fifties, back to the time Britannia ruled the world, back to the time not all roads were tarmac, back to the times congestions were only an medical term. Not to mention sweater girls, warmer summers and winters full of snow. That sucker really flashes you back. Yet, after more than half a century later you see such an early-fifties job driving there in front of you in the mud, maybe tackling it better than you in your new one. Still the same undying beast. Like old leather clothes Land Rovers never die, they just get better.

Land Rover's contribution to history is hard to evaluate. Sure, most armies had them and they were seen in almost all war-torn regions. Even in the Gulf war they showed them Hummers which car really rules in the desert - one built to have an duty live cycle of 20 years or one built to last 400 hours in combat.

Exploring the heart of Australia would've been impossible without them. In the fifties there were only Jeeps and Land Rovers; nobody spoke of Toyotas yet. And Jeeps just weren't made for that sort of terrain. Read Len Beadell's books on bush bashing and you get a feeling what those little, wimpy cars endured. Road building through the Outback had been impossible without them.

Look at Africa. No roads to speak of, just dusty tracks which turn to bottomless mudpits half of the year. Taking those countries to the point they are today wouldn't have been possible without Solihull's finest.

Look at Asia. All countries had almost only dust roads when the first Series I hit the markets. Hell, India had 350 miles of tarmac in 1950! Land Rovers went where the big 4WD trucks COULDN'T go, where wimpy 2 WD cars couldn't even START. They carried whole hospitals into remote mountain regions, brought supplies to starving people and helped built almost all roads in those countries. An research showed that more than 50% of the worlds people saw a Land Rover as first car in their life. Take that.

And next time you break down in the middle of the night and the tow truck comes asking "Is it that Jeep there?" Just proudly grab his raincoat, give him a shake and yell: "Hey buddy, it's not a Jeep. It's a Land Rover!"