Un­leash the beast

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Life | Motoring -

I’ve never been a fan of the Land Rover De­fender and can­not un­der­stand the dewyeyed sen­ti­men­tal­ity of beardy men who shed beery tears when it went out of production in 2016. It may have been very clever when Land Rover copied the war-era Willys Jeep, but even the army gave up on the De­fender. Still, at real ale fes­ti­vals and mur­derer con­ven­tions in the heath­ery bits of Bri­tain, peo­ple with muddy fin­ger­nails wailed and gnashed their teeth when the life sup­port was fi­nally turned off.

It was, to me, the red phone box of cars. It worked only be­cause it had al­ways been around. But the truth is that it’s bet­ter to make a call from an iPhone than from in­side a draughty red box that smells of a tramp’s un­der­pants. And it’s bet­ter, if you work in the coun­try­side, to drive a pick-up than a badly made, slow, evil-han­dling De­fender.

Any­way, I came to work last week and out­side the of­fice was ex­actly the sort of thing that would cause a mem­ber of the Cam­paign for Real Ale to walk into a door. It was, or it had once been, a De­fender 110, but some­one had fit­ted fat tyres, mas­sive wheels, flared arches, a light bar with It’s a De­fenDer on steroIDs the power of a col­laps­ing sun and, to judge by the twin ex­hausts, some kind of weird mil­lion-horse­power en­gine as well. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed this to be so as, un­der the bon­net, in­stead of a wheez­ing boiler that ran on an un­holy mix­ture of cider and coal, there was the un­mis­take­able bulk of an LS3 V8 from a Chevro­let Corvette. Not a bad en­gine, ac­tu­ally. It was even called a Twisted, only with the “s” writ­ten back­wards.

Un­for­tu­nately, it turned out to be my car for the week. And to make mat­ters worse, the brochure from the UK re­fit com­pany Twisted was ac­com­pa­nied by a let­ter from the daugh­ter of the man who owns it. “Dear Jeremy,” it said. “This is my favourite Twisted De­fender. I hope you like it too. Please look af­ter it for my Daddy. Love from Molly, age seven and three-quar­ters.”

“Har­rumph,” I said. “I shall not be swayed by this emo­tional black­mail.” Es­pe­cially as I’d no­ticed the price of this top-spec ver­sion: more than £150,000. “This may have been made in North York­shire,” I thought, “but I can’t imag­ine they’ll sell many there.”

The next day, as I set off for my cot­tage in the coun­try, there was no sign of what lay on the other side of the Chilterns. We all oc­ca­sion­ally say “I’ve never seen rain like it” but I re­ally had not. It was like driv­ing un­der a fire plane. And there’s no other way of say­ing this: I could not imag­ine a bet­ter car in those con­di­tions than the Twisted. It punched through the lakes in ev­ery dip and rivers on ev­ery slope. Yes, its roof-mounted lights caused a white­out ev­ery time we went through re­ally deep water, and the spray plumed as if a nu­clear sub had ex­ploded be­neath the sur­face, but the tyres and the way this thing was set up made even the Mercedes G-Wa­gen look like a mar­ket-stall toy.

There’s more. Apart from the lack of shoul­der room, it was a beau­ti­ful place to sit. Even the sat nav and con­trol sys­tem were sen­si­ble and not full of fea­tures no one needs.

The next day the rain had gone and I had a closer look at the beast. In the boot was a big, nicely made chest for sloe gin, King’s Ginger liqueur and all the aim­ing juice the na­tion’s pheas­ant-slay­ers need. There were even slots for your guns, al­though those aren’t in­cluded in the price. What is in­cluded is a turn of speed that beg­gars be­lief. The sound­track tells you there’s a bit of poke un­der your right foot but your head is say­ing it’d need to be a lot to move such a cum­ber­some old tank around at any­thing more than a trot. Your head is wrong, be­cause when you mash the throt­tle into the fire­wall, the au­to­matic gear­box drops a cog or two, the en­gine bel­lows and it takes off with ac­cel­er­a­tion that makes you burst out laugh­ing.

And you don’t have to slow down much for the bends. Ob­vi­ously, with those knob­bly Cooper tyres, it doesn’t have the grip lev­els of, say, Bambi, but thanks to its re­worked sus­pen­sion and Re­caro seats you can make se­ri­ous progress. The only an­noy­ing thing was the way peo­ple in De­fend­ers gave me a lit­tle wave as I tore by. “We have noth­ing in com­mon,” I wanted to shout.

Ex­cept now we do. I shoot, and I’m aware it’s im­por­tant to have the right car. A sim­ple Range Rover is not enough. So I’d love to turn up in this mon­strous Twisted, know­ing it would get deeper into the woods and home faster than any­thing any­one else had. So, Molly, all is well. Even though it started out as a Land Rover, I did like your dad’s car. And if I hadn’t just bought one of the afore­men­tioned Range Rovers, I’d be sorely tempted by it. Es­pe­cially the drinks cab­i­net.

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