Dunsfold Di­aries

As new De­fender mules are spot­ted on test, Philip re­calls how the cam­ou­flage of Land Rover pro­to­types has evolved over the last 35 years

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents - With Philip Bashall

Philip Bashall re­calls how the cam­ou­flage of Land Rover pro­to­types has evolved over the last 35 years

SO, PIC­TURES have started to emerge of the New De­fender on test. Clearly, the bod­ies are not the real thing. A short-wheel­base ver­sion has been pho­tographed that has com­i­cally trun­cated rear doors, which must be all of 15 inches long, but the tim­ing is about right for th­ese mules to be seen out and about. Word is that Land Rover will re­veal fin­ished ver­sions later this year, to cap­i­talise on the 70th an­niver­sary of the mar­que, and the new De­fender will be launched in 2019.

To­day’s art­fully-dis­guised pro­to­types are a far cry from how Land Rover did things when it was test­ing the orig­i­nal De­fender, in its Ninety and One Ten form. Back then, dis­guise amounted to lit­tle more than a strip of black in­su­la­tion tape down the cen­tre of a Ninety’s wind­screen, to make it look a bit like the split-screen of a Se­ries III! That tape is still present on pro­to­type Ninety num­ber one, which is in the Dunsfold Col­lec­tion, and we also have pro­to­type num­ber two. The for­mer is painted Ma­sai Red, the lat­ter Rus­set Brown, al­though both had been brush­painted NATO Green dur­ing test­ing, to make them look like Army Land Rovers.

Num­ber one is the quirkier ve­hi­cle of the two. For a start, it has a gen­uine 90 inch wheel­base, whereas pro­duc­tion Nine­tys are ac­tu­ally closer to 93 inches (2362 mm). I’ve heard three rea­sons why the Ninety gained an­other three inches. First, the con­tem­po­rary Dai­hatsu had a big­ger load space than the Ninety pro­to­type, so it needed that bit of ex­tra length to make up the dif­fer­ence. Sec­ond, the ride was a bit too choppy, and third, the rear prop was so short that it was hav­ing to work at too acute an an­gle.

Th­ese first pro­to­types were based on the cut-down chas­sis of 110 launch ve­hi­cles, be­cause the 110 had been in­tro­duced a year ahead of the Ninety, and they car­ried reg­is­tra­tions from that se­ries, CWK 30Y and 40Y, re­spec­tively. Just to con­fuse things fur­ther, num­ber one has 110-type axles but num­ber two has Range Rover axles – with the back one mod­i­fied to take drum brakes!

There’s a num­ber of vis­ual dif­fer­ences be­tween num­bers one and two, as well. Apart from its Stage 1 V8-type grille, num­ber one looks much more like a SWB Se­ries III than num­ber two, which has 110-style whee­larch eye­brows. The whee­larches on num­ber one have never had eye­brows fit­ted and they look as though some­one’s just taken a power saw to the wings to cut the arches. Maybe the idea was to keep the ve­hi­cle look­ing as much like a Se­ries III as pos­si­ble, to throw peo­ple off the scent.

When th­ese two ve­hi­cles ar­rived at Dunsfold, they were in the NATO Green that had been slapped on to mil­i­tarise them, and in the photo, above, you can see num­ber one even has WD1 (maybe an

“Land Rover has gone back to old mil­i­tary tac­tics for cam­ou­flage”

in-house jokey ref­er­ence to War Depart­ment 1?) sten­cilled on the front bumper. For­tu­nately, we were able to strip the green paint off with­out dam­ag­ing the orig­i­nal colours un­der­neath.

By the time of Land Rover’s next ma­jor launch, the 1989 Dis­cov­ery, dis­guises had be­come a lit­tle more so­phis­ti­cated, al­though they mainly in­volved a lot of gaffer tape! A fake tor­toise­shell roof was stuck on to Dis­cov­ery pro­to­types to hide their dis­tinc­tive stepped pro­file. Older num­ber plates were also used to de­lib­er­ately add con­fu­sion: Dunsfold’s 1988 pre-pro Dis­cov­ery has a non-fac­tory B reg­is­tra­tion from 1984, for ex­am­ple.

How­ever, when the P38A Range Rover was be­ing tested, the en­gi­neers couldn’t do much to al­ter its ba­sic shape, so they sim­ply cov­ered the ex­te­rior pan­els with what I would call a can­vas bag – ba­si­cally a fab­ric tent that was zipped and Vel­cro’d in place to hide ev­ery­thing un­der­neath. We have a pro­to­type P38A with all its dis­guise kit in the Col­lec­tion, which is the old­est known sur­vivor. Chas­sis num­ber 35, it was mainly used around the fac­tory to test the heat­ing sys­tem and in­te­rior parts, and it still has the heat­ing pat­terns sketched on the win­dow glass in black marker pen.

A sim­i­lar kind of rear-body tent was also used to cam­ou­flage Free­lander pro­to­types, along with vis­ual tricks such as black­ing out the head­light surrounds with paint to dis­guise their shape. But by the late 1990s, Land Rover was be­com­ing more am­bi­tious with its dis­guises, of­ten cut ’n’ shut­ting older ve­hi­cles to fit the new run­ning gear be­ing tested.

Sadly, we don’t have any Dis­cov­ery 2 pro­to­types in the Col­lec­tion but we do have a Free­lander 2 (above) that is ba­si­cally a length­ened Free­lander 1 body on 2 run­ning gear. To ac­com­mo­date the longer, 105 inch wheel­base its rear doors have been clev­erly ex­tended and you have to look quite hard to spot the de­cep­tion. The wider track was harder to con­ceal, so the en­gi­neers fit­ted chunky whee­larch ex­ten­sions. Be­cause the ve­hi­cle is painted gloss black, th­ese blend in well and you would have had to be some­thing of a Land Rover anorak to tell that this wasn’t just a Free­lander 1 with a mild body kit.

How­ever, since the turn of the Mil­len­nium, when ev­ery­one with a cam­era phone thinks they’re a spy pho­tog­ra­pher, Land Rover has gone back to old mil­i­tary tac­tics and started us­ing dis­rup­tive cam­ou­flage pat­terns to break up the out­line of a ve­hi­cle and make it harder to recog­nise. In­deed, Dunsfold’s 2003 Dis­cov­ery 3 pro­to­type has a black and white liv­ery of ran­dom straight lines and sharp an­gles that’s very rem­i­nis­cent of the Daz­zle pat­tern used on Al­lied shipping in World War One.

Lots of vari­a­tions of this have been tried over the last 15 years and three ex­am­ples can be seen in the pic­ture (left) of three pro­to­types be­ing de­liv­ered to the Col­lec­tion on a low-loader. The fuzzy style used on the 2014 Dis­cov­ery Sport near­est the lorry cab is par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive; even in this photo, you can see how dif­fi­cult it is to make out the ve­hi­cle’s shape!

But for the ul­ti­mate dis­guise, we have to go back to the mid-nineties and the fa­mous Free­lander/mae­stro van mules, for which the bodyshell of an Austin Mae­stro van was plonked over the all-new 4x4 run­ning gear of the forth­com­ing Free­lander. Twenty-two of th­ese mules were built and Dunsfold has two of them. Un­like most test ve­hi­cles, th­ese mules had a cer­tain style to them and when­ever I’ve taken one of the Dunsfold ex­am­ples to shows it would of­ten be voted the ve­hi­cle that the pub­lic would most like to take home.

On th­ese Free­lander mules, Land Rover used a big sheet of black rub­ber hang­ing down un­der the back to hide the 4x4 driv­e­train. Given the in­ter­est in what the un­der­pin­nings of New De­fender are go­ing to be like, maybe that’s a trick they should think about us­ing again?

THE DUNSFOLD COL­LEC­TION is not yet open to the pub­lic but is hop­ing to es­tab­lish a per­ma­nent mu­seum. You can help make that a re­al­ity by be­com­ing a Friend of the Col­lec­tion for an an­nual sub­scrip­tion of £35. Visit dunsfold­col­lec­tion.co.uk to find out more.

Con­trasts in cam­ou­flage: from left, 2014 RR Sport L494, plus 2012 and 2014 Dis­cov­ery Sport pro­to­types

Ninety pro­to­type no.2 get­ting some tri­alling ex­er­cise Ninety no.1 ar­rives at Dunsfold in NATO Green

This P38A Range Rover, now in the Dunsfold Col­lec­tion, still has its can­vas dis­guise Spot the join? Free­lander 2 test mule uses a Free­lander 1 bodyshell, with stretched rear doors

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