It’s sixty years since the first Land Rover took to the road, in 1948 – the year before I was born. Its registration number was HUE 166. For close on 20 years in the 60s and 70s, my family had a vehicle which didn’t look much different, JBW 797. It was old even when we got it, the story being that it had been twice around the world already and at one stage had served as a logging vehicle.
Whatever its family tree and previous exploits, it became a centre plank of our younger years, a porch on wheels, a rough-and-tumble covered wagon. We would put it in the lowest gear as we drove across Little Rissington airfield, leaving it to its own devices as we all dived off to find and pick mushrooms. We treated it to excursions in a nearby quarry, in the days when we still shot things – and I recall one time, with the canvas top removed, when we drove back through Bourton-on-the-Water in the rain, with at least one of our party wearing a huge snorkel mask and another plucking something, with the feathers strewing out in our wake.
In 1970, Elaine and I took it – and four friends from university, ian, Jan, Martin and Rex – to Greece for two months, taking the ferry to Skiathos and then on around the Pelopennes. During that trip, it turns out, we bumped into Geoff Lye, much later a colleague at SustainAbility and Volans, who was driving around the Greece with friends in a London black cab.
It was a wrench when the family finally sold JBW 797, but by then its alumium body was corroding fairly badly – and its paintwork had worn down to silver on the wings and bonnet, where we seemed to spend much of our time – as shown in the photo above.
So happy birthday to HUE 166, to whatever is left of JBW 797 and to Land Rover. That said, I do wonder whether a decade hence we will look back and see that Land Rover – like many other automakers – took a dangerous detour in plunging so wholeheartedly into the SUV era. True, as Land Rover insists, the vehicle has served brilliantly in an endless number of scientific and environmental projects, but the marque has become much more closely identified in recent years with the 4×4 plague of Chelsea Tractors. If conspicuous consumption becomes less socially acceptable, it will be fascinating to watch the Land Rover mutate back closer towards its original functions.