Land Rovers are a little like Minis — everyone has a memory that involves their own, their parents’, a relative’s example, or maybe they just recall an incident from their past that, in some way, included one of these iconic British classics.
And, as it happens, a Land Rover and a Mini played important parts in my own motoring past. I’ve mentioned the driving lessons I received from my grandfather in his maroon Mini Countryman previously, but until now I haven’t touched on the Land Rovers in my history.
Checking out this month’s cover car as it rolled into our photo studio, I was reminded of some fairly perilous journeys taken in Land Rovers during the early ’70s. Back then, as a member of Her Majesty’s armed forces, I covered an awful lot of miles rattling around in the back of an Raf-liveried 80-inch Landy — usually accompanied by bags and boxes of supplies. I also recall speeding up and down the runways in a Land Rover at one of the RAF bases I was stationed at. Back then I didn’t have a driving licence, but it didn’t really matter as, together with a bunch of equally mad mates, we hammered around the concrete aprons and deserted runways. Of course, we only got up to these tricks when there were no NCOS around. It was during those impromptu motoring sessions that I learned how to double declutch, a necessary skill when driving an early Landy with its, well, let’s say rugged, non-synchro gearbox.
After experiencing at first hand a more dramatic Land Rover encounter, I can confirm that if unintentionally dropped from beneath a freight-carrying helicopter at a height of around 100 metres, an 80-incher will bounce at least 10 to 12 metres before impressively dissembling itself. Very spectacular — shame they didn’t have camera phones and Youtube in 1972!
I also remember a particularly fraught journey while stationed in Northern Ireland. I was only getting a lift to the RAF base at Aldergrove, but inexplicably I ended up in the back of a Land Rover carrying a small group of Special Air Service soldiers, all of them armed to the teeth. Talk about lethal weapons! I just kept my mouth shut, and avoided eye contact until it came time for me to be dropped off.
Back as a civilian in the mid ’70s, my path wouldn’t converge with a Land Rover again until almost 20 years later — by then I was resident in New Zealand.
At that time I was getting around in an everyday classic, a fastback Sunbeam Rapier. Alas, one day the Rapier’s 1725cc engine decided to call it quits, and expired in a cloud of white smoke. I duly took it along to a friend’s workshop for repair — nothing too major, although I still use the knackered piston we removed as a paperweight. As I was a working stiff back in those days, I needed alternative transport, and that turned out to be the workshop’s hack: you guessed it, a Series 1 Land Rover.
Driving the unrestored Landy on Auckland’s Southern Motorway was a real eye-opener, I’d forgotten just how utilitarian these go-anywhere beasties were as I honed my — admittedly rather rusty — double-declutching skills. One odd thing though, when it came time to return the Land Rover after a week travelling back and forth in it, I was rather sad to see it go. Landys get to you like that — they may be as rough as guts, but you can’t help loving them just a little bit!
THIS STUNNING MOTORSPORT BMW – USUALLY REFERRED TO AS THE M6
– HAS BEEN THE SUBJECT OF A COMPREHENSIVE RESTORATION