design - Land Rover section


O'Kane on Land Rovers
By Dick O'Kane

From July 1961 issue of Road & Track


On that great bright day when I manage to accumulate the time, money and space all at once, I'm going to go out and buy a TC, a D-Jag, an XK-120M (which I'm going to bolt a C head onto and call an 'XK-120MC' so you can write righteous letters to the editor), a Mark IV (yes, I know) which I'm Just going to look at and never drive, and a Land Rover. Now, I'm fully aware that I don't need any of that stuff, least of all the Land Rover. But I'm going to drive the Land Rover. Simply because Land Rovers turn me on.

I got into the Land Rover thing about ten years ago when trying to sell business machines to Mom-and-Pop grocery stores in an economic disaster area finally got to my soul and my bank balance simultaneously. So I wound up in a very small, very informal Land Rover agency as a salesman, sometime mechanic, chief gopher and seat warmer. The first thing you learn about a Land Rover is that it has a personality which is uniquely its own. To me, a Land Rover is a safe, warm, comfortable place to be. When in a Land Rover you're safe from any assault by man or nature. The Bomb could land right on top of it, but somehow you're sure that it would only blister the paint a little. A Land Rover is the wheeled embodiment of the spirit of one of the sturdiest, most indomitable nations on earth. This is not just a heavy-duty vehicle; this is John Bull's heavy-duty vehicle. And there's a difference. There it is - Rule Britannia and Press On Regardless!

Okay, yes, I'm sure your 4wd vehicle is just as good, if not better. But it can't have anywhere near the Land Rover's class. And when it comes to tradition, well .... hang around Land Rovers long enough and you'll wind up convinced that if Rover ever stopped making them, the whole continent of Africa would sink like Atlantis into the sea. Anyway, two days after I started, I was a confirmed Land Rover nut. Those things are more fun to drive than anything this side of a Ferrari! They’ll go over, under or through anything, the visibility's marvelous, and you have to be really creative to make one break. And for sheer startle value, a Land Rover just can't be beat.

When you took a customer out for a demonstration ride, you'd get him (or often, her) firmly strapped in and take off down the street, which was separated from an expressway by a rather steep grassy embankment about 10 feet wide., and during the winter this strip always had snow piled up on it about three feet deep. You'd get up to about 20, say very casually, 'Hey, why don't we take the expressway - it's quicker and suddenly swerve right. As you swerved, you banged it into 4-wheel drive and 'whumph!' Into the snow, churn up the embankment, pull out into the disbelieving traffic and go, hood and fenders festooned with hunks of snow, customer still softly going 'gah ... gah ...' to himself. Then down to the river where you'd demonstrate the thing's ability to climb sheer cliffs, charge through the woods, wade through hub-deep sand and generally do unreasonable things without a whimper.  Then you'd let the customer play for awhile, and it was your turn to hang grimly on while he tried to destroy the car, the object being to let him get so intrigued that he could be relieved of his sack of coin. And oddly, there was only one instance of customer-caused damage to our demonstrator. And not in the bush either. This happened in downtown traffic. You remember Land Rover's claim that the thing's built to withstand the full charge of a bull rhinoceros? Yeah, well, they'll even do better than that. On this particular day, my prospect was one of those marvelous old ladies New England's so full of. There's a whole class of them; great, huge, jolly people with master's degrees and sometimes doctorates - always from Smith - and they're really into living. They do things like sail star boats single-handed, dig bushels of clams for dinner, march in demonstrations, lecture at the library and talk a fascinating blue streak while they get genteelly swacked on sherry. This one was the archetype of the species, and she was having a ball with the Land Rover, giggling and cooing as she howled through a trafficky, one-way circle in a beautifully-controlled drift. Then, ohmigod, here came a great Mother Buick the wrong way, and with a cataclysmic bang the two cars married fairly, front to front.We fared a lot better than the guy in the Buick simply because we were harnessed firmly to the seats and he wasn't. He banged his head smartly on the windshield, sustaining Slight Injury, which rated us all an ambulance, a fire engine, all the policemen in the world and enough spectators to stop traffic completely.Then there followed the required Great Flap about Who Was At Fault wherein Brunhilde stood like a pillar of New Hampshire granite and told all and sundry concisely, precisely and politely that she was in the right and they could all go to hell, and finally, like the mules that drag deceased bulls from the corrida, the wreckers came.

  Just for the hell of it, I got into the Land Rover and started it. It idled quietly, with none of sounds like the fan makes when it's stuck into the radiator, so I put it into reverse and tried backing out from within the Buick. It went backwards, alright, but the Buick wanted to come too, so I got a wrecker to sort of stand on the other car's tail and tried again. This time the Buick fell off onto the road, and I got out to inspect the damage. The Buick seemed utterly destroyed, hood buckled double, front wheels splayed out and the engine off its mounts, bathed in anti-freeze. The front bumper on the Land Rover was scratched, one fender had a dent in it and there.was a broken headlight. That's all. Brunhilde stood and stared in delighted disbelief, and I said, 'Well, I guess that proves the factory's claim that a Land Rover can withstand the full charge of a bull rhinoceros.’ 'Yes,' she answered, 'and also the charge of the cow Buick.

While that scene had its memorability, the funniest, (though somewhat dangerous) bit of goofery I ever saw pulled with a Land Rover was on the day the Dude refused to sell us parts. The Dude was another common type - short, skinny, big handlebar mustache, tweed cap and bright red vest. They sell used cars. Our Dude was only a bit different .in that he owned a big foreign car place, and we'd go up there to get pieces to fix whatever wheezed into our shop. But one day when I rode up with the boss to get some needed bits, we found that the Dude had arbitrarily decided that our place was taking business from his and he wouldn't give us the parts at discount. It was full counter price or nothing. I'll spare you the shrill 15 minutes that followed. Just suffice it to say that we got back into the Land Rover partless and the boss was so mad he couldn't talk. So after sitting for a moment while he gained enough composure to drive, we headed back out the drive of the Dude’s place, and who should be sitting there at the end waiting for traffic to clear, but the Dude himself, encased in a new Alfa. We pulled up behind him. Four lanes of fast traffic was swarming by and the Dude was watching intently for a hole so he could pull out. We waited. And he waited. And suddenly, the boss reached down and pulled the Land Rover into low range 4wd. I looked over at him. Grinning a fiendish grin, he inched ahead and gently contacted the Dude's rear bumper. The Alfa began to move. The Dude locked the brakes. The Land Rover's engine changed pitch, built to a scream, and with four Pirellis and one Dude shrieking in protest, the Alfa was shoved slowly and majestically out into the middle of the street. We left him there, the center and cause of an epic traffic Jam, and drove away.

Yes, one day I'm going to get one, and it's going to have all the options and attachments I want, too; snow thrower, winch, mower, hydraulic mousetrap, clam digger, twin machine guns, bird call, heavy-duty traffic ram .... and an air horn that plays 'Rule Britannia!'

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