Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond on: his Land Rover

I think I confessed recently how I might have accidentally bought another Land Rover. A bit. Well, a lot, actually. It's the X-Tech Special Edition 110 Utility and, while undeniably as pretty as a French peasant girl in a polka dot summer dress, it was staggeringly expensive for what is, after all, a design penned on a fag packet in the Forties and not much further refined since. I am, naturally, besotted with the thing. I can see it now, from my office window, and I'm finding it hard to concentrate on the screen as my Land Rover sits there under the trees, Nara Bronze bodywork glinting richly through a winter cloak of fallen leaves in the low, watery sunlight.

Right, I'm back with you now. Thing is, it's not just glinting, is it? As a Land Rover enthusiast (yup, I used the ‘E' word, right there), I happen to know that it is also rusting. And leaking. The chassis - two thumping great rails of steel running from front bumper to back bumper with the engine, wheels and body all bolted on like a Meccano set - is slowly collecting rainwater to hoard in its innermost recesses and corners where it will, over a surprisingly short time, turn the metal - and with it, my money - into brown dust. And yes, the same winter rain has already shouldered its way past that glinting Nara Bronze paint and into the cabin, where it is pooling in the driver's footwell, the better to effect the speedy rusting of the bulkhead panels.

Don't worry, I'm not sitting here gnawing my fist with the anguish of it. I knew about these problems before my car made its way onto the first stage of the production line, and none of it comes as a surprise now. It's part of what those enthusiasts way too far gone in their Land Rover adulation for sanity to intervene would refer to as the pleasure of ownership. To them, it is a flawed but beautiful creature - a unicorn with acne or a flatulent mermaid - and there are people, probably, who really go for that sort of thing. My point here being, the car is flawed. But it is, in its own simple, rusty steel way, better equipped to deal with life's stresses and strains than we are.

In preparation for filming a scene in the recent TopGear Bond Special which called for me to drive a Lotus into a reservoir just outside Matlock, I had to have a diving medical. I thought this might mean I had to swim about in a big tank with breathing apparatus on and stuff, but, in fact, it just meant a doctor arriving at my house, asking lots of questions and checking that I could breathe not only out, but also in, on demand.

The only really involved part was a general check of my heart and circulatory systems, which the doctor carried out by asking me to repeatedly step up onto and back down off a small plastic footstool that he had brought with him. Cool, I can do that. And I did. I figured I would impress him mightily with my cardiovascular magnificence, and I stepped lustily for 10 minutes before undergoing checks of heart rate and so on. As he did his doctoring stuff, I told him that I regularly check my own heart rate in the gym and while out running, using one of those watches that read your heart rate from a belt thingy you wear around your chest. "Oh yes," I told him, "I see some pretty big numbers on that readout, when I'm running the hills out there" waving an arm manfully at the damp hill outside the window, my bronze Land Rover doing its glistening thing in the foreground. "How big?" the doctor asked.

The doctor was looking worried, and this, in turn, worried me. "Er, 165? Ish. Sort of thing?" Well, here's a surprise: it turns out that you can actually overdo it. Your heart can beat faster and faster, continuing to accelerate until you over-rev yourself, like an engine passing 12,000rpm and keeping on going faster until the camshaft bearings seize solid, the tappets fly out through the bonnet, the main bearings weld themselves into a solid lump and the conrods flail through the block. All of which is bad in a car, but rather worse, I suspect, in a human. I never knew that. And what a stupid design flaw it is.

I looked out at my Land Rover, rusting quietly under the trees. It might be dumb, its chassis might be disintegrating faster than a dunked biscuit, but it's got a rev-limiter, for God's sake. Why haven't we? Yes, it began the process of disintegration the second it rolled out of the door in Solihull but so do we. I'm not too sure how well my own chassis is holding up to the inevitable rot, but combine that with an oversight in our design specification that means any exertion aimed at preventing the spread of that rot could cause an over-rev and a write-off, and suddenly my LR looks like a sophisticated thing. I'm going to go out and look at it again.

 

Richard Hammond, Column

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