My childhood aspiration for my family involved the (unsuccessful) quest to own a Land Rover. My ex-pat mother received newspapers and magazines from England replete with adverts for Land Rovers. My American father favored Buicks, generally a convertible for him and a station wagon for my Mum. He considered my pleas for a Land Rover station wagon absurd; she reminded me that vehicles as uncomfortable as a Land Rover comprised one of the many reasons she emigrated to the USA.
My fire remained lit by US and UK automotive journalists. David E. Davis called the Series IIA Land Rover “less a car than a state of mind.
It is at once a delightful runabout and a rolling torture chamber. It is a car that everyone feels compelled to buy at one time or another, but hardly anybody has any use for it. Its owners are the most partisan group imaginable and its would-be owners are legion.” Wayne Thoms concluded that “This was no gimmick thrill machine. It was and is a muscular vehicle that will take anything anyone can deliver. Everything is related to its function. The alloy body is straightforward in the extreme, a mass of exposed rivets and hinges, galvanized steel reinforcing plates, handles, knobs, and sliding windows. There was no wasted motion in an attempt to design an elaborate interior.”
Jim Whipple admitted that he approached the Land Rover, “with the preconceived notion that it would probably turn out to be nothing more than an awkward, musclebound curiosity. Our first impression proved to be way off base – it is one of the most versatile vehicles to hit the US countryside since the Model T Ford, and one that’s a whole lot more civilized as well.”
Dick O’Kane considered the Land Rover, “a safe, warm comfortable place to be. When in a Land Rover you’re safe from any assault by man or nature. They’ll go over, under, or through anything, and you have to be really creative to make one break. And for sheer startle value, a Land Rover just can’t be beaten.” Two days after he started working for a Land Rover dealership, he became “a confirmed Land Rover nut.”
Barry Lopez wrote that the 1969 Bugeye, “is a vehicle with a language all its own. In Roverese, ‘road closed’ means ‘road open,’ ‘detour’ means ‘keep going,’ and ‘I don’t think there are any roads up there’ means you may have to put it in reverse a few times.” When Lopez tested a Series III Land Rover, he called it, “the vehicle for the person who had taken all the nonsense out of his automotive perceptions. If you bought this thing you’d better be a person to put it to work or after a while you were going to feel a little foolish, a little phony.”
As a student and later a faculty/staff member at the University of Vermont, I finally saw Land Rovers rather often. A colleague in the College of Agriculture had worked on the African continent and wondered why I had not ditched my MG Midget for a Land Rover. After all, Rovers North was a mere 30 minutes away. It would take another decade for me to purchase my first one in 1991, the QE I, a ’66 Series IIA 88” SW, which I still own and enjoy.
It also works for a living. The QE I has towed trailers, launched boats, and carried workers for island clients. Its 560,000 documented miles have included trips to the Land Rover 50th Anniversary Celebration at Greek Peak; either the QE I or “Rickman,” my ’67 Series IIA 109” SW, will take me to at Greek Peak.
My time behind the steering wheel cannot compare with the four-month, 8,000-mile trek of Alex Bescoby, the documentary filmmaker behind The Last Overland: Singapore to London, The Return Journey of the Iconic Land Rover Expedition book, and British television series.
I had the good fortune of meeting Alex and his partner, Emma Fox, at the Sand Rover Rally, where he spoke on his re-creation of the famous First Overland; London–Singapore by Land Rover, led by Tim Slessor in 1955 [See Spring 2021 issue -ed]. Alex and his team traveled from Singapore through Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Tibet, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Belgium and then England.
87-year old Tim Slessor wanted to accompany them, but ill health forced him into a Plan B, substituting his grandson, Nat George. The team also included Larry Leong (“Singapore’s greatest overlander”), filmmaking friends Leo Belanger from Paris and David Isreali from New York. Rovers Magazine correspondent Therese-Marie Becker, “our Belgian social media wizard,” remembers being “the only woman on the team for 111 days.” Dr. Silverius Purba from Jakarta handled the medical necessities, and Marcus Allender handled the massive logistics for the book and television series. Sponsors included Land Rover subsidiaries in Asia and Europe, the Singapore Tourism Board, Ophir Gin, Bremont Watches, Craghoppers, and even Fortnum & Mason, among many others.
In his presentation in Florida, and two days later at New York City’s exclusive Manhattan Car Club, Alex recounted, “how I spent four months of my life.” He noted that as a kid in Salford, he had rebelled against his father’s “Land Rover obsession. I avoided Land Rovers until I went to a Land Rover festival. When I saw ‘Oxford,’ the Series I, I fell in love with the adventure. I’m a history buff and this was a fantastic story. When you’re on the trip of a lifetime, you want to be present; one thing about a Series Land Rover is that you must always be present! I’m very grateful to that old girl.”
One takeaway from the adventure is that “the vast majority of humanity is absolutely friendly!” The second is that he’s not done. At the Sand Rover Rally, Alex announced publicly for the first time that his next trek will be the entire Pan American Highway – from the Arctic Circle, through the Darien Gap, to Tierra Del Fuego. This time, he’ll follow the path set by the 1972 Trans-America Expedition, appropriately in the 1972 Range Rover on loan from the Dunsfold Trust.
“The more research I do,” Alex said, “the more compelling is the vision of multiple presidents of multiple nations that created the Pan-American Highway. We hope to start in September 2023.”
I’ll likely spend 10 hours driving a Series Land Rover from Maine to the Diamond Jubilee in New York this month – how lame that now reads! I have the good fortune to travel for Rovers Magazine. In general, my fiscally selected lodgings promise to “keep the light on for you.” All rooms feature furniture and wall coverings in several shades of brown. These motels offer “continental breakfasts” that make me wonder just which continents’ residents consider soggy cereal and unripe fruit a joyous start to the day. These same places feature toasters that will not toast and machines to “make your own” waffles by ladling dubious sludge the color of water-laden gear oil onto a bacteria-filled iron.
In April, when I realized my event travel would require an overnight in Boston, I decided to treat myself on my own dime to a genuinely upscale hotel. The one-night charge came close to my monthly rent, but the premium experience made it worth every hard-earned dollar.
It started at the registration desk, where agents seemed authentically pleased to welcome me. One well-dressed reservation agent noted my Land Rover logo lapel pin, and correctly assumed I must own one. While other guests lined up behind me, he told me that he’s a Tibetan citizen now living in Boston and that his grandfather back home still owns Land Rovers. He then described the other Land Rovers still operating in his grandfather’s village region and insisted that I must travel to Tibet to meet his family. If I did so, he would notify them in advance so I could put them in the magazine. We both ignored the grumbling emanating from the line behind me as I shared photos of my Land Rovers and presented him with a complimentary copy of the magazine.
This warm welcome reminded me of my return home from Iceland in January 2016 from the Global Media Launch of the Discovery Sport. My flight back went through New York’s JFK Airport. Apparently, most of the Customs officials had the day off, as the line snaked back for a considerable distance. When my turn finally came, and when asked if I had anything to declare, I proudly showed the 66 Degree North winter coat with its prominent Land Rover Green Oval, gifted me by JLR. “Are you with Land Rover?” asked the excited Customs agent. Before I could clarify, he told me of his brother’s delight with his Land Rover Discovery. He wanted to know about the new Discovery Sport, so our conversation continued apace while hundreds of passengers from numerous international arrivals wondered who and what was causing the delay.
It was painful, but recently, I had to loan out Gilroy, my ’97 Discovery I SE7, to non-enthusiasts. Among other jobs, I work as a property manager for many families with seasonal homes on this island; when one family’s 2017 Chevrolet Suburban lunched its transmission aboard the ferry, they were stranded hundreds of miles from home with a broken car. With its automatic transmission and a relatively short list of “quirks” (finicky steering wheel lock, inoperative rear windows, key required for rear door, etc.), Gilroy seemed the “easiest” of my Land Rovers to serve as a loaner.
They had it for the long weekend. As the couple departed, the wife exclaimed that she loved the Land Rover and instructed me, “to find a Discovery we could use as an island car.” Hopefully, I can get them behind the steering wheel of their own Land Rover soon.