Blog: Royal Navy delivers Land Rover's 65th birthday cake
Glenn Brooks | 1 May 2013
'Hue' touches down
It must be a special occasion when the Navy's Black Cats display team drops off your cake from a Lynx helicopter.
This event I witnessed yesterday from the driveway of the Packington Estate, a stately home near Solihull, the grounds of which were used in the 1940s for the development of the original Land Rover. The first Range Rover was also extensively tested here in the late 1960s.
I couldn't quite believe I was allowed, or rather encouraged to take one of the oldest Range Rover prototypes not only out for a drive but also off-road onto the slippery stuff within the Estate's grounds. A four-speed manual gearbox via a long lever, handbrake on the floor, no bodywork whatsoever, just the one seat, the thin-rimmed metal steering wheel from the production model, and the most fantastic noise from the V8. Heaven.
Land Rover had decided that 30 April 1948, the day its first vehicle was revealed to the public at the Amsterdam motor show, should be marked by what was claimed to be the largest yet assembly of models (over 130) from its collection. Scattered about the lawns or else parked on the rather grand driveway were all manner of vehicles. I saw a Range Rover from the Falkland Islands modified to be a fire engine, others from the Queen's visit to Australia and New Zealand in the 1950s, the millionth Discovery, one of a handful of electric Defender prototypes (I drove the latter two) and way too many others to list.
Yesterday's media event was reserved for UK-based journalists as well as a large number of writers from the PRC (the Germans and Russians had had a preview on Monday, and I'm not sure who's at Packington today, Wednesday). There seemed to be much genuine passion and fascination for Land Rover from the Chinese journalists - with the brand's vehicles having only been introduced there five years ago, even the BMW-era Range Rovers were a huge novelty for them and the cameras were a-clicking non-stop.
I hadn't ever been too big a fan of the Defender but will now admit to being won over by it at last, even if the lack of airbags still worries me. Driving the EV prototype off-road at another proving ground adjacent to the LR factory in Solihull made me realise what an extraordinarily capable vehicle this is. Then having a go on-road, and at high speeds in the newly launched LXV special edition made me realise this vehicle might be primitive in many ways - same loose-fitting door lock buttons as a 1982 Rover 3500 which I once owned - but yes, it did feel safe, and it did feel stable.
So much for the past, what about Land Rover's future? I sat next to John Edwards, the global brand director, at lunch, and asked him all sorts of questions, so look out for that interview to appear on just-auto.com soon.
Today, it's a three-hour technical briefing on the new Range Rover Sport which, incidentally, enters series production next week. We were taken through the spookily quiet and low-on-human-workers-but-buzzing-with-robots body shop at the Solihull works last night, so also keep an eye out for more from that whistle-stop tour too (post script: it's now published, here). Managed to jot down some facts and figures which flowed from the fast talking man (and ex-Honda of the UK Manufacturing 'associate') who manages it, Demos Hoursoglou. Here's a taster: there are claimed to be 161 metres of glue in every L405 (new Range Rover), as well as 3,722 rivets, while fully one third of his workers are maintenance people - yes, it really is that automated.
It was an early start and a long day yesterday and I hit the hay at 10pm too shattered to write up this blog, yet with a huge grin on my face from a fantastic day. Now, it's a sunny start to Wednesday here at a hotel in the Midlands and as 6am is an hour too early for breakfast I've just learned, maybe that means I should see about bashing out some more words to share what I learned at Body Shop No.1 last night.
I'm starting to get a small idea of the scale of things here in China, but really, I'm only scratching the surface of this vast country....