Times are changing, says John
According to ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, ‘evernewer waters flow on those who step in the same rivers’. Meaning things are always changing. Which, when you think, is very true in the Land Rover scene.
Take, for example, the choice of engines being shoehorned into Series Land Rovers. Over the years we’ve seen the ubiquitous standard two-and-a-quarter petrol engine eschewed in favour of lumps like the Rover V8, Ford V6, Perkins Prima diesel and, more recently, the very-easy-to-fit Tdi engines salvaged from scrapped Discoverys. All have their merits, but none runs as smoothly as a well set-up two-and-a-quarter. Many owners seem to agree and there’s an increasing tendency to refit the original four-cylinder petrol. Those who kept their old engines are now feeling rather smug.
Originality has long been an obsession with earlier models but now it’s increasing among Defender owners. That ultimate Meccano set has seen so much bolted to it over the years: chequerplate, winches at both ends, raised air intakes, roof racks, roof tents, additional lights, bigger wheels and tyres, blinginess and big engines. And suspension trends have seen Defenders sitting increasingly taller, with on-road capability and propshaft joint angles stretched beyond their limits. All are being replaced by standard components. Moreover, where once a dented panel was seen as character, there’s now a reluctance to take them greenlaning for fear of damage.
To restore or not to restore Talking of bodywork, there seem to be parallel trends emerging in the older Land Rover scene: some owners crave the patinated unrestored look, whereas others strive for a perfect restoration. Both have their merits. A genuine patina of paintwork that has faded through many years of working hard out in all weathers has its attractions. It’s reassurance, like wrinkles on someone’s face. But then having an old Land Rover that’s restored to better condition that when it emerged from the factory also has its attractions.
One thing’s for sure – I’m seeing fewer older Land Rovers in everyday use. And to spot a Range Rover Classic on the road is a real treat since their prices have escalated to almost unbelievable levels. Range Rover P38s are disappearing, probably for different reasons, and Disco 1 numbers are diminishing as corrosion takes its toll on their bodywork.
Clothing worn by enthusiasts has changed too. A few years ago the uniform for attending the LRO Show or greenlaning/off-roading was ex-military camo and rigger boots. Not so these days; most people wear outdoors adventure clothing, which is a lot more practical, and widely available thanks to the rise of specialist superstores like Go Outdoors.
Why tradition does pay
One fact that hasn’t changed in nearly three years, and is unlikely to until at least 2020, is that Land Rover doesn’t have a current Defender model. How on earth its management has been swayed to producing increasingly lavish SUVS and ignoring the iconic cornerstone of its success is beyond me.
If rumours from inside Land Rover are true it appears common sense is prevailing and the management has insisted the Defender replacement will bear some of the original’s design characteristics. That should have been a no-brainer right from the start. Land Rover enthusiasts are united in demanding a thoroughly modern, highly capable new Defender that looks like it is a Defender. Design chief Gerry Mcgovern’s previous ‘traditionalists won’t like it’ rhetoric is unacceptable now. Land Rover’s sales are down for various reasons including Brexit uncertainty, reduced UK diesel demand, worldwide market fickleness and poor reliability in consumer surveys. And the company has at least temporarily turned its back on the utility market.
It’s not in a position to exclude the many ‘traditionalists’, who are waiting patiently to place orders for the new Defender – if it’s good enough. It’s time to park the ego, Mr MCG – and design a Defender that embraces traditionalists and the wider market.
The new Defender range could be the broadest in the Land Rover line-up from rugged workhorse for the likes of us and those buying utility double cabs from rival manufacturers, through to upmarket models for those who like the Defender image but want luxury and will pay for it.
I’ve spoken to UK and overseas people who are concerned the next Defender will be built in Nitra, Slovakia instead of Solihull. They tell me that part of the original Defender’s appeal is its essential Britishness. Ironically, they’re not bothered about Land Rover switching Discovery production there, but the thought of that Great British icon being produced overseas does trouble them.
‘The new Defender range could be the broadest in Land Rover, from rugged workhorse to those who want luxury’