Behind the Steering Wheel [Courtesy Rovers Magazine, January 2013]
By Jeffrey Aronson
Working daily out of my Series II-A I have little call for my blue blazer and my striped tie, but I must admit they come in handy once in a while. Just before Christmas I found myself bedecked like a toff and riding in the back of a Range Rover.
The drive came courtesy of Rory and Julie Swan [see Holiday 2012 issue –ed], Yardley, PA, who graciously offered to chauffeur me to see the 2013 Range Rover at Land Rover Princeton [NJ]. That meant a ride in their 2008 Range Rover HSE. Cossetted in its rich leather seats and pleased with the ease of conversation in a Land Rover at 75 mph (impossible in a Series Rover), I found myself decades away from the claimed “soft-cushioned seat squabs” of my Series II-A and ensconced in climate-controlled comfort. The 65 mile trip in miserable traffic and rain passed quickly and I exited the Range Rover without the usual chiropractic maneuvers required when stepping out of a II-A.
Unlike the Las Vegas-style gallerias that have become the home of Mercedes and BMW dealerships, Land Rover Princeton possessed the right British reserve. Jorge Figueroa, the General Manager, sensed early on that – despite my jacket and tie – a likely customer had not arrived on his doorstep. Perhaps the drool spilling onto the 2013 Range Rover on the showroom floor gave me away? Still, when he found out I had not driven one yet he pulled Sales Guide Ron Dargenio from more productive pursuits, slapped a temporary plate on the Range Rover and sent us out the door for a test drive. Julie Swan wanted in so she leaped into the rear seat.
Julie marveled that she could cross her long legs in the back seat, a move more challenging in their current Range Rover. I spent most of the 20 minute drive pretending to converse with Ron – who clearly knew he would not earn a commission from this test drive - while scheming as to how to dump him and run off with the Range Rover. The Range Rover accelerated briskly (Land Rover claims 0-60 in 6.5 seconds), handled my waggling steering with aplomb and braked smartly on command. I’ve always loved driving Range Rovers for their solid, secure road feel which never hid their bulk on the road. Through the wizardry of the new monocoque construction, suspension engineering and drivetrain tuning, this Range Rover added the new dimension of nimble handling to the mix. The view down the clamshell bonnet reassures you that you’re in a Range Rover and that you command the road as effectively as you did in your Range Rover Classic.
Somehow Land Rover accomplished all this while retaining off road capabilities such as a 36 inch wading clearance, 11.6 inch ground clearance, a 35 degree approach angle and a 30 degree departure angle. Shedding 700 pounds from the 2012 model leaves it with a svelte 4,850 lb weight capable of towing 7,700 pounds.
Just how the Land Rover design team managed to create an interior that carries forward the Land Rover hallmarks while instilling this version with a grand touring feel, I don’t pretend to understand – just that it worked brilliantly. The New York Times’ Lawrence Ulrich said it best: “Take a London men’s club, all cigar-box wood and fragrant leather. Put that club on wheels. Make it as fast as a sport sedan, with up to 510 supercharged horsepower and an aluminum chassis — a first for any S.U.V. — that trims some 700 pounds from its chunky predecessor. Let it forge chest-deep water as a symphony plays through 29 speakers.”
It wasn’t that easy to find Range Rovers to test drive as they seemed to leave the dealer’s inventory as soon as they arrive. I found out that the Range Rover I tested that late afternoon had been prepped and sold that very night. Oh, well, I’ll just have to wait for mine.
For daydreaming I took a Range Rover 2013 Preview brochure along with me. Turn to Page 1 and you find a photo of the four generations of Land Rovers, encompassing 43 years of production. There’s a Range Rover Classic (1970-1996), a P38 (1995-2002), an L322 (2002-2012) and the latest 2013 model, posing side by side. How wonderful to see Land Rover promote its heritage this way; the two page spread also reminded me that three of these Range Rovers have appeared at off road events in the hands of enthusiasts. While these stunning machines might look too posh for off roading there’s no questioning their capability in the woods – nor their capability to get you to the off road event quickly, safely and comfortably.
One night while perusing the preview brochure, I browsed YouTube and stumbled upon an only-in- England television program from 1971 called The Persuaders. It featured Roger Moore [post-Saint and pre-“Bond, James Bond”] with his Aston Martin and Tony Curtis with his Ferrari Dino, as playboys bringing villainous people to justice while enjoying the posh life in the UK and continental jet set locations.
I sat in front of my laptop transfixed by the lounge lizard dialogue and embarrassing clothing, wondering where on earth this plot line could travel. You see, Lord Brett Sinclair [Moore] and Danny Wilde [Curtis] had to intercept an airplane with a kidnapped UN diplomat aboard. “You’ll never catch them on these roads,” Danny proclaims. “Who said anything about a road?” Brett answers, as he swerves a then-new two door Range Rover off the road, across fields and streams, bashing through a fence gate and onto the runway just in time to save the day. As I cheered on the Range Rover, Moore and Curtis subdued the bad guys with fisticuffs and shared a wistful moment with the beautiful guest actress.
British Leyland provided vehicles as product placement for the show; Land Rover must have delighted in the free publicity for its new Range Rover. Just looking at the Range Rover you’re reminded of the brilliance of its original design and of those elements that still reside in the 2013 model. Yes, over the 43 years it’s grown 15” in wheelbase to meet market demands but it still has short front and rear overhangs necessary for off roading.
There’s no denying what a Land Rover can do in a real emergency. After a two foot snowfall last December, I looked out my window at my Series II-A buried in wind-swept drifts. While summoning up the energy to shovel the snow my EMS pager beeped at me, signaling an emergency medical call. There was no time to shovel so I plugged through the thigh-high drifts, kicked the snow away from the Rover’s door and started it up. The location of my parking spot meant I had to reverse the Rover, turn sharply right and back up a slight rise – a poor combination for traction in deep snow. It bogged down in four-wheel high range. I moved forward again and pushed the red lever back into low range. The II-A slogged backwards through the drifts, down a mile of snow-covered road and to the ambulance bay safely and in good time.
You can really count on your Land Rover. May that quality never change.
I treated myself this Christmas with a purchase made at last fall’s British Invasion. Fifty-six years ago Floyd Clymer Publications in Los Angeles knew they had a hot property in a book entitled “Simple Repairs of the British Car.” The cover assured the reader they had purchased “a valuable how-to-do-it manual for all British car owners.” You need 55-pages of single-space text to cover these simple repairs. The index begins with “Adjustable Spanners” and ends with “Wiring Faults.”
The introduction hints at your future with a British car: “it is desirable for any motorist to know at least enough to overcome the simpler troubles so that the car can be driven home, or, at worst, to the nearest garage.” To assist you with these simpler troubles you’re advised over 8 pages on tools to carry in your car, with an additional 6 pages of tools for your workbench.
Originally published by Temple Press Books of London each Floyd Clymer volume sold for $1.00, a good move because they recommended you also purchase companion books such as “Taking Care of the British Car,” “Electrical Repairs on British Cars,” “British Car Carburetors and Fuel Systems” and “Improving a British Car.”
My ’66 Series II-A 88” came with a 122-page manual offering “all the information necessary for the efficient care and maintenance of your Land-Rover,” whether petrol or diesel. One page, titled “Maintenance Schedule Chart,” opens into a 6-fold pullout of daily, weekly, and 3,000 mile maintenance requirements. An accompanying diagram identifies 37 separate maintenance points My Land Rover manual has no mention of the optional heater/demister. “Climate control,” by which they mean the “windscreen ventilators,” warranted only 50 words.
I might add that American vehicles sold at this time, such as the Jeep CJ, barely mentioned maintenance but did advise the owner how to remove “vomit” and “blood” from the seats. My 1966 Corvair came only with a jack and a one size lug wrench. That owner’s manual told you where to add gas and oil and how to move the optional swing-out tissue box.
The end-of-year fundraising appeals came fast and furious, even though any non-profit should realize I’m a poor candidate for an in-lieu-of-taxes additional donation. One arrived from the University of Vermont’s Center for Research in Vermont, seeking support for “Freedom and Unity – the Vermont Movie.” A promotional trailer using many still photographs and video clips, Ken Burns-style, includes a narrator speaking of the back-to-the-earth movement and its surprisingly tolerated radical behaviors. Indeed a suspender and overalls guy stands beside a topless female, all the while pouring oil into an engine. I paused the video - just beneath her décolletage I spot the familiar grill and inset headlights on an early Series II-A.
Now that’s an appeal that might force me to open my checkbook.
Copyright Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North 2013
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."