Old is the new new, observes Pete – so there’s maybe something there for Land Rover. And he’s frustrated by valuable archive material that’s so near yet so far
Frustrated over ‘lost’ material in archives
In the last issue, I wrote of following a weird-looking Toyota WILL, and later finding that small numbers had been imported from Japan and are a sort of below-the-radar cult thing here in UK. That seemed pretty odd. But just a couple of weeks later a friend told me there had been a meeting somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales for enthusiasts of the Nissan Figaro – that’s the Micra-based retro-styled thing that looks fairly convincingly like something from the ’50s. Apparently lots of cars and owners were making a weekend of it, with country dancing and a morris-dancing display...
I quite like the Figaro. With timewarp styling and non-metallic pastel paintwork, it was designed specifically to give two fingers to hard-edged and aggressively techy modern cars. Perhaps it’s not so surprising such a thing appeals to me – somebody who likes old Series Land Rovers. In a similar way, I like the modern (but retro-looking) Fiat 500 – a flavour of the ‘50s with charming non-metallic paintwork, and a cheeky disregard for modern tech. Who cares what bhp? It’s just fun to be around. And the Fiat 500 isn’t a joke, either – it’s been a huge commercial success.
All of which makes me wonder... Nowadays, retro is undeniably cool. Even Land Rover itself is in on the act, with its ‘Reborn’ Series vehicle and Range Rover Classic restorations. But a lot of people don’t really want a proper classic – let’s face it, older technology isn’t anywhere near as reliable as modern. Could there be a market for a sort of retro-styled two-door Range Rover? Minimal whistles and bells, majoring on styling cues? I do wonder.
History going backwards
I don’t suppose LRO readers give much thought to what it takes to get some of our historical articles into print. Sometimes we’re lucky – story and photos are easily available. But quite often, as we track down something obscure, we’re stuck for information or illustrative material. Then it’s a case of trying to find what we need from archive sources.
Believe me, that can – and sometimes does – literally take years. Even worse, these efforts aren’t always successful. I have several interesting stories on my computer that I can’t bring to fruition because I can’t get the archive material I need – even though I know that material exists.
Back in the day, if you wanted a copy of an existing photograph you’d have to borrow the photo or negative and then find a professional photographer to reproduce it – nobody had a home scanner then.
A friend once described to me how – in the Leyland years, before Gaydon’s Heritage Museum – he’d borrowed some 1948 negatives of pre-production Land Rovers from one of the company’s premises. The old glass-plate negatives were in something like a cardboard shoebox, kept in a filing cabinet in a rickety single-storey building.
He was allowed to take the lot away, without even a signature: ‘Just let us have them back when you’ve got copies,’ he was asked. He took them out, in the rain, across a puddle-strewn dirt path – just think what might have happened if they’d been dropped! But at least he could get copies.
Nowadays, it should be very much easier – emails, image scanners and all the rest. And actually finding material is simplified: for instance, A to A (Access to Archives) is a website that will plug you in to an index system for a big chunk of what’s available. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can get it. Let’s say that years back some well-meaning citizen went along to their local library or archive and deposited Land Rover photos, paperwork, whatever... they’d be thanked, and that would be the end of that. If any member of the public wanted a copy, or to print a photo from the archive material in a magazine, the archive holders would allow it.
Then, rules tightened: to get a copy you needed permission from the original depositor. Problem: sometimes the depositor’s details weren’t recorded, or their present whereabouts can’t be traced, or they’ve died – whatever. In which case, the archive often won’t release the material (it’s possible to have archive material declared ‘orphaned’, but the onus is on the person requesting material to provide proof of the original depositor’s death, no close relatives, etc – often very difficult). If there’s no written consent from the original depositor, stating that material may be released, archive holders usually refuse.
For those of us who like history, this is getting to be a big problem. There’s a sizeable chunk of the past that you’d probably be interested to see – old Land Rover photos, for example – but which can’t be reproduced.
In the long term, I don’t know what’s to be done. But if you ever deposited any material with an archive – please go back and make sure they have your written consent on file, agreeing to its release. Otherwise, next time you move house, or if you get run over by a bus (try not to, though), that material will never be seen in public again.
‘Could there be a market for a sort of retro-styled twodoor Range Rover with minimal bells and whistles?’