Land Rover Loves New York [Courtesy Rovers Magazine, June/July 2012]
By Jeffrey Aronson
2012 represented a milestone for Land Rover North America. The corporation turned 25 this year and celebrated its silver anniversary at the New York International Auto Show in April. Happily Rovers North received an invitation to join in the festivities. We had a ball!
Seven days before the show’s formal opening Land Rover decided to show off the marque’s signature focus and created an off road course in a parking lot in lower Manhattan. "At 7:00 am this [Friday] morning," said a Land Rover PR staffer," this parking lot was empty.” Bob Burns, Land Rover’s Events Manager, brought in 4,000 cubic yards of sand and fashioned ascents, descents and side slopes to demonstrate Land Rover’s inherent off road capabilities. His crew completed the course within 24 hours.
The off road course lay directly beneath the Chelsea High Line, a former elevated railway-turned-park and walkway. Thousands of pedestrians gawked from above as the Land Rovers tackled the course over the five day event. Commuters driving up 10th Avenue stared at the Rovers doing their best imitation of a roller coaster ride and couldn’t miss the block-long anniversary banner along a fence surrounding the course.
To make certain no Rovers or drivers would be harmed at the event, Land Rover brought in Tom Collins, Fred Monsees, Jim Swett, Tim Hensley, Don Floyd and Lea Magee - all Camel Trophy veterans – to serve as instructors. They bolstered the staff by pulling in Rick Serraro and Chris Tefke from the Land Rover Experience programs. In recent years this group has traveled around the US participating in special events and dealer trainings; now they brought their expertise to Manhattan.
The New York City region has grown into Land Rover’s largest American sales market. To reward their enthusiasts LRNA used social media to invite area owners to the off road course during the April 1 weekend. Despite a steady rain over 400 enthusiasts drove the new Range Rovers, Range Rover Sports, LR4’s and LR2’s around the course. Perched on a sand hill, high above the fray, Bob Burns parked a ’66 Series II-A. Additional eye candy came in the form of an NAS Defender 90, a Defender 110 and a 200 Tdi Discovery (both Camel Trophy vehicles). This heritage collection of vehicles has been quietly maintained by LRNA for many years; happily they showed the family silver at their silver anniversary.
Kim McCullough, Land Rover’s Brand Vice President for North America, brought her Series I 86”. It looked fabulous parked on the street amidst the new Land Rovers and even better on the off road course. "I knew for my first true off-road experience in my Series I that I wanted to have Bob Burns along to share his expertise. The off road course in Manhattan was the perfect opportunity I was waiting for to get me, the Series I and Bob together with some side tilts and hills. It was great fun and definitely made me even more excited for future off-road excursions.” After listening for hours at the purring smoothness of the newer engines, I could see Mark Letorney’s ears perk up with the sound of a Series I engine. Together we watched the Series I tootle about the course, all the while yearning for a screwdriver, a ½ inch wrench and a matchbook cover to tune up the car.
After the weekend Land Rover turned their attention to hundreds of “media partners” – executives and staffers from the press (Forbes, Town and Country, Gold Digest, MSN Auto, History Channel) and advertising world. Everyone participated in a seminar on Land Rover’s history and marque values led by Cy Crowley of Land Rover University. Many had never driven a Land Rover before, on or off the road, so after class, they went across the street to the off road course. The same instructor team taught them how to take a Land Rover through its paces. I asked one novice for her impression after the drive, and she stated emphatically, “We’re getting a Land Rover.”
If you were going to party like it was the 80’s again then the spotlight belonged to a white ’87 Range Rover Classic. When Land Rover returned to the US market that year, they named themselves Range Rover of North America, Inc., as they imported only that one rather expensive model. As the first print advertisements featured a white Range Rover, Bob Burns set off to find an identical white Range Rover. He tracked one down in Alabama, a former California car, and called Rovers North to send out a shipment of required parts. With Fred Monsees overseeing the refurbishment the car came together just in time for the auto show. To celebrate Bob Burns invited Rovers North’s Mark and Calef Letorney to join the fun, experience the course and see the honored Range Rover. They arrived in high style in their Evoque which blended in perfectly with all the new Land Rovers.
After some impressive detective work Burns found the original owner of this classic, Peter Carpenter of Atherton, CA and Land Rover brought him to New York to reunite with his car. Peter had fond memories of the Range Rover; “I never had a mechanical problem with the vehicle.” He bought it in 1988 before selling it in 2007 to a South African Land Rover enthusiast who wanted to keep a car in Northern California. Peter had lost track of the Range Rover until he heard from Bob Burns. When Bob told him that Land Rover had purchased it to celebrate their quarter-century, he said “It’s about time they’re getting their act together.”
After watching the parade of Land Rovers tackling the off road course (my ride was a Range Rover Sport), we experienced the best of all worlds when Bob let us jump into the Classic and take it around the course. Yes, the new Range Rovers offer majestic luxury and driving capabilities but the elemental nature, superb engineering and compact dimensions of that ‘87 Classic made the week’s events for me. No wonder Range Rover enthusiasts jump at any chance to find and refurbish them!
The Classic also welcomed guests at Land Rover’s corporate party on Tuesday night, held at The Park [a multi-level restaurant that formerly served as a parking garage], right across the street from the off road course. On sidewalk in front of the restaurant the Classic and an Evoque, both white and identically covered with fake movie mud, sat nose to nose. Behind them a scrim spanned the sidewalk reading “The Most Beautiful Car in the World…Still.”
Once inside the party, champagne and canapés in hand, Stuart Schorr, Land Rover’s Vice President for Communications took to the stage. He loved his New York roots so he crowed about the New York Giant’s Super Bowl win (while this New England Patriots fan groaned audibly), led the applause for the New York Jets’ Bart Scott (another groan) and greeted fashion designer Georgina Chapman of Marchesa. Then came bows by Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth, Global Communications chief Frank Klaas, Group Sales Director Phil Popham, Executive Director Mike Wright, and Design Chief Gerry McGovern.
McGovern spoke about the DC 100 concept car squeezed into the middle of a dining room. He stated it was critical that any Green Oval product “not lose the Land Rover DNA” and promised that “future designs would remain in harmony with great engineering.” McGovern also insisted the Evoque and the DC 100 would create “the next generation of vehicles that would stretch Land Rover ownership.” The DC 100 Concept came designed with an air-intake snorkel, a roof rack and a winch integrated into its bumper. It featured very short overhangs, an upright windshield and command driving position familiar to Defender owners. Still, in its orange and white livery it resembled a Creamsicle on wheels.
Andy Goss, President of Jaguar Land Rover North America, sounded just like a graduate from the University of Manchester (UK) when he told me “I was a Defender owner before I joined Land Rover!” The US market really matters; “it’s the largest Range Rover market worldwide,” he said, and he took great pride that the Range Rover had become “an icon of the American car landscape.”
Kim McCullough beamed happily when talking about the success of the five day pre-show activities. “We created the Land Rover off-road course to make a big splash in one of the biggest cities in the world,” she said. “We wanted to put something together that not only showcased our vehicles, but that also allowed consumers the chance to have a little fun. Creating an off-road urban jungle in the middle of Chelsea was quite a sight to see and the reaction we received from brand enthusiasts, owners and celebrities, who came out to celebrate this milestone with the company was incredible. We have some of the most passionate owners in the industry and that's something we all at Land Rover are very proud of and strive to hold on to every day.”
The following day the New York Auto Show opened its doors to press coverage of the tightly scheduled press conferences Just outside the enormous Javits Center you passed “Camp Jeep,” a giant slot car track featuring one ascent, one descent, one side slope and a few fake logs. In case you’d never been off road before, they posted signs – like out of the Bat Cave – identifying the “Ascent,” “Descent” and “Side Slope.” You paid extra for this “off road experience.” If Malibu Barbie were 50 feet tall, she’d have a Wrangler Barbie set just like that one.
The Land Rover exhibit sat across from Bentley, BMW, and next to Jaguar. Several Evoque award trophies sat on glass pedestals next to an LR4 HSE Luxury Limited Edition, a Range Rover Sport Supercharged Limited Edition, an LR2, the historic Range Rover Classic (now cleaned up), and the two concept cars, the DC 100 and a Range Rover Evoque Convertible. The rear wall behind the cars featured a waterfall (with real water). Several lovely, well-dressed, knowledgeable “product specialists” stopped to guide me through the features of each car; I particularly must thank Mary Jo for letting me play inside one of the only 200 LR4 HSE Luxury Limited Editions.
The specialists helped unveil the Evoque Convertible as Gerry McGovern beamed with pride. To his credit the Evoque’s styling as a convertible trumps any convertible efforts created out of the Range Rover Classics. It retains the same off road capabilities of the standard Evoque, which raises interesting questions as to how Land Rover stiffened the entire structure without an integral roof. The Evoque brings a smile to every driver’s face; this one will just let you work on your tan while cruising through the Rivera or southern California. As I stared at the DC100 and the Evoque Land Rover’s Kim McCullough reminded me that “creating concept [cars] allows us to test the waters with consumers and see what resonates with them and what doesn't. This is extremely important to us: our owners and brand enthusiasts have been immensely loyal over the years.”
The 5 day anniversary party highlighted the outsized impact Land Rover has made here; in the past 25 years 575,000 Land Rovers have come to shores – in a market that absorbs tens of millions of cars annually. Land Rover’s celebration encapsulated the panache of the marque and left me even prouder of my Green Oval lapel pin.
[Copyright Jeffrey Aronson and Rovers North, 2012]
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."