“The image of my 80 weaving through endless streams of driverless vehicles makes me smile”
Will your Land Rover be on the road in 50 years’ time? Well, to be precise, the question that came up at our local old car meet was whether my 1949 Series I will be on the road in 2085, when it will be twice as old as it is now. And it set me thinking. If the 80in is on the road, I won’t be in it, other than in spirit.
First off, you have to assume that suitable fuel will still be available, that the environmental brigade hasn’t managed to get old cars banned, and the government hasn’t declared them to be a danger to the public and condemned them all to a museum. Or the scrap yard.
And, of course, you have to believe that driverless cars won’t have forced every car that needs a pilot to be consigned to history. Did you see the recent newspaper headline, predicting that there will be ten million self- driving cars on the road by 2020? A remarkable suggestion, until you read the small print and learn that this is not ten million vehicles that can complete a journey without any driver intervention.
No, it is ten million cars that will have one or more features that allow acceleration, braking or steering without any driver intervention. Having grabbed our attention with the headline, the small print reveals that driverless vehicles are actually a long way off because of regulatory and insurance issues. Nevertheless, the current trend will certainly continue and, like all developments involving computing technology, it will accelerate dramatically once the basics have been perfected.
Truly driverless vehicles will undoubtedly be reality long before 2085. Whether cars with drivers will be allowed to intermingle with them on the roads remains to be seen, but the image of my 80 weaving through endless streams of driverless vehicles does make me smile!
In my view, the deciding factor will be to do with safety. One well-regarded consultancy is already predicting that self- driving cars will lead to 2500 fewer road deaths in the UK between now and 2030. Once the technology is seen by our illustrious leaders to be safer than allowing a mere human to drive, the pressure to remove the vehicles that still need a driver could become intense.
All of which might well mean that my old Series I won’t be allowed to mix it on the road with the driverless stuff. But if fuel is available, it will most certainly be capable of being driven, as will pretty much every vehicle built since the dawn of the motor car, right the way through to the mid-1990s.
I say this because there is nothing on my Series I that cannot be sourced, recreated or remanufactured fairly easily. As long as the skills to manufacture an ignition coil, for example, or build a radiator, or shape a wing panel, do not become obsolete and disappear, almost every old car can be kept on the road.
It starts to get difficult once we begin to see the appearance of plastic mouldings in car manufacturing, but even this is not beyond the wit of man given the inclination and the money. I have spoken to quite a few restorers of early Suffix A Range Rovers, for example, who have contemplated investing in the tooling to remanufacture the vacuum-formed PVC seat mouldings that are so much part of the character of these early cars. That none has done so is probably down to the fact that there haven’t been enough of us prepared to pay the inevitably high cost of such reproduction seats. But it is the sheer scale of the computing technology that began to appear in cars from the 1990s that is the real challenge to their long-term survival. It began with ECUS to control engine performance, but nowadays almost everything in your new Land Rover is computer-controlled. And that technology will rapidly become out-of- date.
I did a quick Google: it is apparently not unusual for modern cars to have between 25 and 50 microprocessors controlling everything from engine emissions to brakes, traction control, air bags, air con, in-car entertainment, navigation systems, door locks, and ignition, to say nothing of the technology to let you see through your A-pillar. That’s an awful lot to go wrong.
But I think we can say with reasonable certainly that my Series I, and pretty much all Land Rovers built before the 1990s, will be capable of being kept on the road in 50 years’ time, assuming fuel and legislation permit. I am not so sure your new Velar (with 45 ECUS) will be in the same category and it will be interesting to see how much tech is embedded in the New Defender.
But there is another point of view. Optimists believe that in the future technology will have advanced to the extent that a standard module will be available off-the-shelf that will provide all the computing technology needed for every car ever made. All you’ll have to do is plug-in and drive – unless, of course, the module also does all the driving for you.