Looks at the hidden perils of anniversaries
The year 1948 saw the arrival of Britain’s National Health Service. Other famous arrivals that year included Charles, Prince of Wales, me and Ozzy Osbourne (the iconic Brummie headbanger was born a few hours later than me, and only a short distance away). Oh, yes, nearly forgot – and the Land Rover was launched.
You would have to have been on the moon or stuck down a cave to have missed Land Rover’s PR onslaught celebrating its 70th. Stunts have included taking over Solihull town centre and organising a cavalcade of vehicles up the famous hill climb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It’s difficult to see what they can do to top this for the arguably more significant 75th anniversary other than to shoot one into space.
But anniversaries are tricky things. One Land Rover managing director, Tony Gilroy, hated them: he believed that companies should be looking forward rather than over their shoulders at past successes.
My career at Land Rover spanned four decades and three significant anniversaries. The first, in 1978, had the most impact because it was then that Land Rover became an independent company responsible for its own budgets and product plan rather than being merely a British Leyland model line. The result was significant models such as the Range Rover In Vogue, Land Rover V8, the High Capacity Pick-up and the County range – each signposting a path to the future.
A decade later, things were rather different. Land Rover Limited’s independence proved to be short-lived, with the company being firmly grasped back into the clutches of the Rover Group to prevent it being sold off separately. Instead, the Rover Group was offloaded on to British Aerospace in a controversial deal. A strike, by then a rare event at Land Rover, well and truly put paid to the 40th anniversary celebrations – a special-edition 90 was binned and memorabilia dumped.
In 1998 the 50th anniversary saw Land Rover again under new ownership, this time BMW. But four years after the acquisition, the German company was less than happy with its ‘English Patient’. Even so, the event was marked with the ‘In Search of a Legend’ competition to find the most memorable Land Rover of them all.
I was engaged by the appearance of some scruffy vehicles at the press event and the eventual winner was a controversial choice. Most people thought adventurer Barbara Toy’s ‘Pollyanna’ would get the nod, but it went to an unheard-of Series II [see below].
To round off the half-century, a group of employees took two Freelanders and a Defender support vehicle around the world on the ‘Fifty 50 Challenge’ and each model line had an anniversary special edition.
Now another 20 years have passed – and with them the original Land Rover’s successor, the Defender. A replacement is embarrassingly overdue, so it’s to be hoped that the 70th anniversary PR blitz will climax in its debut.
70th anniversary cavalcade at Goodwood. Right: our 1998 cover says it all, but not everyone agreed