John Pear­son

Times are chang­ing, says John

LRO (UK) - - Contents -

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’

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