Behind the Steering Wheel [courtesy Rovers Magazine]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
You’re probably wondering about the photo of the QE I. Yes, that’s an outhouse behind it, and no, I’m not bolting it to the Rover to create a custom Dormobile. I live on the kind of island town where you have to be careful about what you wish for; if, for example, you say “I’ll take it” to a carpenter who says “I have an old outhouse to move,” you might find one standing behind your Rover one morning, just like in this photo. The delicate question concerned the contents of the outhouse. Specifically, I would have preferred “none.” With some hesitation I held my breath and opened the door to the outhouse. I peered inside – empty! AsI already have one outhouse, this one will serve as a storage shed for Land Rover bits that should be moved from the house and side yard under cover. And yes, I will paint a green oval on the door. _________________________ You can’t drive a Land Rover and remain anonymous, a face in the crowd, a backdrop in the scenes of your daily life. The iconic shape of the Land Rover Series, Defenders, Range Rovers, Discoverys and LR3’s makes them stand out among the creased line and origami shapes of contemporary automobiles. Bluntly, you need a bit of vanity to comfortably own your Land Rover. What price vanity? Apparently, according to the State of Maine, a lot more than the value of the QE I. When you register a car in Maine, your town gets to keep an “excise tax” based loosely on the MSRP of your car. Using the complicated, state-mandated formula, the town of Vinalhaven received $7.00 from me for 2010. For the privilege of receiving two ½ square stickers, one reading “November” and one reading “2010,” and retaining the “QE I “license plate that has graced my car for 19 years, Maine clipped me for $60. I mean, how expensive can it be to keep track of this? So my vanity is worth 8 times the value of my car? Yep, that’s about the right ratio to me. ________________________ Pardon me while I set my thumbs to “full rant” mode. A travel Q & A column in the New York Times revealed that a 21-year old man and his friend had planned a trip to Hong Kong this winter. His mother wrote to the Times, asking for advice on what he might want to see while he was there. Ahem, in previous generations, a young man – to quote P.J. O’Rourke – “would have been caught dead wearing ladies' underwear” before conscripting his mother to provide travel tips. These young men populate Gen Y, those born in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Yes, they grew up under the constant gaze of helicopter parents, constant affirmation of their inherent goodness and in relative affluence. But they also grew up in an automotive culture that lauded the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Taurus and exalted the birth of the minivan. Kids who wanted to rebel bought – gasp - used Civics or ratty pickup trucks. When you grow up with that automotive DNA, it follows logically that you might have your mother plan your overseas trip for you. Unless, of course, you were fortunate enough to have parents who owned Land Rovers. Those young men and women, the recipients of stellar automotive genes, do not have their parents plan their travels. They’re off in their own Land Rovers, “doing something significant,” to paraphrase the BBC. We clearly live in different times if, as J. D. Powers suggests, Gen Y has let its love of cars cool in favor of electronic gadgets and communication devices. As this generation could well have a spending power that exceeds even the baby boomers, automobile manufacturers had better pay attention. J. D. Powers analysts suggest “with the advent of social media and other forms of electronic communities, teens perceive less of a need to physically congregate, and less of a need for a mode of transportation.” I’m old enough to have received this birthday card last fall. Two dinosaurs stood snarling on the cover; open the card and they’re saying, “Hey, remember us? We sat behind you in home room!” I’m not so addled as to forget two considerable accomplishments in Grade 6. One was to identify every car sold in the USA by the design and appearance of its taillights. The other was my promotion to Grade 7. Many underlying concepts of math, science, art, history, and English eluded me then but the importance of identifying all marques, American and European [you just never saw an Asian car in New England in the early 1960’s] by their design signatures rose to primary importance. Teachers who interrupted classroom discussions over the merits of different engines, suspensions and transmissions received scornful, dismissive looks in return, just prior to assigning detention in retaliation. My auto-obsessed classmates and I were undoubtedly central to the decisions of many educators to take early retirement or find other professions. As a youngster who could barely empty the ashtray [yes, cars had ashtrays full of ashes, not change, and lighter plugs with actual lighters rather than cellphone chargers or GPS plugs], I sat in awe of classmates who claimed to undertake valve jobs on their cars. I had my tonsils taken out; back then a valve job seemed much more difficult and mysterious than surgery. Just learning how to change a tire became a feat as monumental to me as Leonardo da Vinci sketching helicopters in the 16th century. Above all else every car elicited emotion, love or hate. You stood in line to stare at the latest offering from an auto manufacturer then as geeks today line up for the latest iPhone. P. J. O’Rourke wrote “the collapse of the auto industry leaves Americans my age in economic shock. The words are as melodramatic as ‘Mom’s nude photos.’ And, indeed, if we want to understand what doomed the American automobile, we should give up on economics and turn to melodrama. It’s a tragic romance—unleashed passions, titanic clashes, lost love and wild horses.” My affection for British cars arose out emotion. Their size and styling captured sense of sight, their engines captured my sense of sound, their leaks and interior fittings captured my sense of smell, and their suspensions and nimble handling captured sense of touch. Your car defined you. When my father once offered me his used 1965 Buick Wildcat convertible, I refused it and bought a used-up Triumph Spitfire instead. I was most assuredly not a Buick guy. My enthusiasm for them exploded when I realized that I – a man challenged by turning a doorknob – could turn a wrench and actually repair and maintain an automobile. No longer. Emissions, safety legislation and fuel economy have now reduced the mechanical beauty of the engine compartment to the drabness of back of a cellphone. They even share the same plastic covers. But that’s the beauty of a Land Rover.You don’t need to get intimate with its innards and internals to enjoy the car. Land Rovers have a mastery of the road, paved or otherwise, that comes through in every action of the car. The exterior design and the interior appointments demonstrate the thoughtful engineering that’s always been a hallmark of the brand. You experience it in the solidity, the balance, the responsiveness, whether at 2 mph or 70 mph. In a landscape populated by cars that hype their electronics instead of their dynamics, the Land Rover stands proud. _______________________ Children get Land Rovers. They might treat the family sedan like a trash bin but they’re positively gleeful about Land Rovers. You know what I mean when you drive down the road in your Land Rover. Invariably, I’m in the right lane when an anonymous car passes me, their drivers and front seat passengers occupied by cellphones or multi-speaker sound systems. Their kids are restrained for their own safety, sometimes watching videos, generally looking bored. Then they spot the Land Rover and they’re wildly gesticulating to their parents. While the kids stare bug-eyed at your Land Rover their parents stare ahead stone-faced. Ask Sam and Brie Russell, Sun Prairie, WI, who recently brought home a Discovery II. As you can see from the photo below, their daughters Nori, Neav and Fion are beside themselves with glee over the Discovery. Would they look as charmed if Santa had brought a Sienna or a Town and Country? I don’t think so. Copyright 2010 by Jeffrey B. Aronson and Rovers Magazine
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."