Rov­ing down mem­ory lane

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive -

IN ALL the years I’ve been driv­ing, I’ve only once strapped on a life­jacket be­fore hit­ting the road.

It hap­pens at the 65th an­niver­sary party for Land Rover, at a stately home near the com­pany’s base near Birm­ing­ham.

The cel­e­bra­tion is packed with al­most ev­ery pos­si­ble twist and turn in the Land Rover story, from mil­i­tary gun plat­forms to tracked Arc­tic ex­plor­ers and even an ice cream van. There’s also a full-time line from the orig­i­nal 1948 Se­ries I Land Rover through to the lat­est Range Rover Sport, which has yet to hit the road.

I grab seat time in a va­ri­ety of the his­toric relics, in­clud­ing an orig­i­nal float­ing-on-air Range Rover that re­minds me of the day I lost both ex­te­rior mir­rors to the air blast be­tween two pass­ing trucks on the Hume High­way in the 1980s.

This time, two of the Land Rovers strike a chord — and one helps me cross an item from my per­sonal bucket list. The swim­mer comes first, and looks eas­ily the most out­ra­geous ma­chine of the day. It’s still a Land Rover on the in­side but it has gi­ant pon­toons strapped around the body­work and its power take-off turns a pro­pel­ler. The diesel ex­haust ex­its just by my right ear. Oh, and the tiller be­tween the front seats is con­nected to the rud­der.

Werum­ble to­wards an or­na­men­tal lake. The driver steers us straight into the wa­ter, knocks the trans­mis­sion into neu­tral, en­gages the pro­pel­ler and we’re away. Built as a one-off for the Cowes Re­gatta, the swim­mer is good for only four knots but a lap of the lake is some­thing spe­cial.

At the farm dis­play, a Land Rover tragic named Stu­art has his orig­i­nal 1951 Defender in ac­tion com­plete with a plough from the same era. I get to cut a few fur­rows. It’s not fast, idling along in first gear, but it re­minds me of the im­pact of the Land Rover. ‘‘They trans­formed things af­ter World War II. They took on so much of the work around the farm,’’ Stu­art says.

The ’51 is very, very ba­sic but gets the job done. The seats are boltupright and cov­ered in vinyl, the gear­box is a non-syn­chro four-speed. There’s no power steer­ing and you have to wind your own win­dows.

To re­mind me how much we’re spoilt in 2013, I slide into the lat­est Defender, the LXV (Ro­man nu­mer­als for 65) limited edi­tion. It looks much the same as the ’51, but there is a sixspeed gear­box, air­con and leather seats, power win­dows, and it starts with a key, not a but­ton and a choke.

The LXV is not com­ing to Aus­tralia, which is not a bad thing, as the all­new Defender’s on-road (and of­froad) de­liv­ery date is 2016.

Paul Gover

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