Roving down memory lane
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.