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201304 Jul

land rover packington hall

The all-new Range Rover Sport (L) with the new Range Rover, and HUE 166 in the background.



2013 marks 65 years of Land Rover, a car-maker with a rich heritage, and today a maker of some of the most sought-after and luxurious cars in the world. Funny to think that it all began with a British-built version of an American original.


Yes, the first-ever Land Rover was inspired by the iconic American Jeep. It had the same 80-inch wheelbase, because that is what the Jeep had at the time. In fact, the first ever Land Rover, shown at the 1948 Amsterdam motor show, was based on a Jeep chassis. The Jeep chassis was never used on a production Land Rover, however, with the British company making a number of improvements and improvisations to it. Primary among these was the use of a box-section chassis, rather than channel sections used by Jeep. Box sections were stronger and much more durable, giving the Land Rover the reliability and toughness for which the brand has come to be known. 


This history though will be familiar to Land Rover anoraks. To commemorate 65 years of being in existence, Land Rover had invited us to Packington Park, near Coventry, an estate which it has used as a proving ground for its products over the years. We were to sample a variety of the company’s products, including some development prototypes, some competition vehicles, and some developed for military use. Quite an exciting day then.


land rover hue 166 'huey'

And that's how it all began...


Right in front of Packington Hall, Land Rover had arranged for a unique collection of Land Rovers from over the years. Pride of place of course was accorded to Huey, or HUE 166, which is the first Land Rover ever produced. This production prototype was then sold to a farmer, from whom it was bought back a few years later, restored and is now a proud part of the company’s heritage. We weren’t allowed a go in Huey, but we did open the doors and look around inside.


camel trophy defender 110. land rover


One extremely exciting vehicle that I did drive was the 1989 Camel Trophy-winning Defender 110. The British team of Bob and Joe Ives was the only British team to win the Camel Trophy in 20 years of the competition. This vehicle has been kept in original condition, including a cracked spot lamp lens, and looks like it came straight off the ferry after traversing a thousand miles through the Amazonian jungle. Even the hand-cut and hastily stuck markers on the speedometer (the original was in km/h, but the Ives were used to mph for their calculations) are still there.

There was some play in the gear lever, but that is to be expected from a 25-year-old vehicle which had quite literally ‘been to hell and back’!


range rover classic

Among the lot of cars that I sampled that day was also the original Range Rover or Range Rover Classic, which was launched in 1970. The smoothness of its suspension and the simplicity of its design were apparent even after so many years. The modern Range Rover has evolved significantly since, but the unmistakable silhouette still remains, as much a testament to the British tradition of keeping things traditional as it is to the timeless design.


land rover ploughing field

Over the course of the day, I even ploughed a furrow or two on the lands of Packington Estate, enjoying the simplicity of the original Series 1 Land Rover. In low range, trailing the hoe behind, it summarised just what a versatile vehicle the Land Rover is, and why it has become such an affectionate, if fallible automobile. The present day Defender, offered in limited-edition LXV trim (‘LXV’ is roman numerals for ‘65’), can also be used to plough a field, as adequately demonstrated on the day. Yes, it still has some of the same foibles, including an excessively heavy steering, cramped driving position and cabin ergonomics which are simply baffling in the 21st century, yet it is a talismanic vehicle for Land Rover.


land rover half track military prototype

One vehicle that I really wanted to have a go in, but could not, was a military prototype with twin half-tracks, somewhat like a tank. This vehicle was not productionised however, but it did serve to highlight just what a vast repertoire of vehicles could be built on the simple Land Rover platform. Over the years, Land Rovers have been everything from farmers’ work-horses, to search and rescue vehicles, ambulances, fire-engines and military personnel carriers. There’s even an ice cream truck version! It’s amazing to think that what began as an improvised utilitarian device could evolve to what we know it as today.


Tata Motors has inherited a legacy. Throughout its colourful history, Land Rover has retained its character. With ownership having changed hands many a time, the brand has managed, somehow, to maintain its identity. Today, Land Rover is a robust and profitable business, with sales growing strongly worldwide, and the company expanding into more and more markets.


On uncomfortable question hangs in the balance, however; what will replace the Defender, once it no longer meets emission and safety criteria in a couple of years’ time? Speculate as we might, it’s a question even Land Rover stalwarts appeared loathe to answer.


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