It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Land Rover fan; it’s been mentioned in Top Gear magazine before. Indeed, my outlandishly customised, 25-year-old Land Rover 110 – upon which I have lavished enough of my own cash to make my daughters look at it with green-eyed envy as my favoured child – was featured in the mag only a few months ago. It’s not like I’ve got a free one or am secretly on the payroll of the green oval, so I can’t be accused of bias. I am the real deal: a genuine fan.
The big black 110 seen in the mag sits at home next to the younger, fresher and much yellower 110 I bought for my wife to drag her horses along behind, and the two are flanked by a pretty 1959 Series II restored to near perfection and a perfectly un-restored, decrepit old 1957 Series I with more charm than Cornwall. I am, in short, an anorak. And that makes me the worst placed person in the world to review the 60th Anniversary Special Edition of the Defender, the SVX.
Yes, such a thing is probably aimed at a punter like me, with my long-standing love affair with the marque – if anyone’s up for a bit of sentimental Anniversary special edition nonsense, it’s me. But that’s the problem, and it’s one facing several carmakers: they need fans to bolster their image and lend credence and legend to their brand. But what they need then is for those fans to shut up, stop droning on about their preference for the ’78 models over the early ’79-ers and let people with money, and without a string of prejudices, actually buy cars from them. People like me are the curse of Land Rover and other marques accompanied through the oceans of commerce by fleets of fans stuck to their corporate flanks like pilot fish.
"In considering the SVX, I have removed my anorak and remained entirely objective"
Every time Ford hints at a new fast car, or Rolls-Royce announces it would quite like to put a different make of carpet in the boot, or, yes, Land Rover hints it wouldn’t mind knocking out a car with at least its feet in the 21st century, what were once ordinary, level-headed punters turn into rabid, frothing anoraks. How must that feel on the inside of these companies?
They are facing tough, tough times, with changing and restrictive legislation, near-impossible emissions targets looming ever closer and potential customers being constantly badgered into looking at their product as something shat out by the devil to torment dolphins. What they really don’t need on top of all this is a legion of people who consider themselves the ‘real fans’ and won’t allow them to change so much as a petrol cap without bemoaning the way their beloved marque has been mishandled, mismanaged and abused.
Does today’s suited and booted executive know what will happen when the ‘owners club’ hears about the plans he or she has had to concoct just to keep the company going through another year? Does the designer feel the breath of a thousand fans hot on his neck as he sits down to draw a new door mirror? It’s not as though their work is done for the hell of it or out of spite. It’s necessary stuff.
In the case of my own beloved 110, the company had to accept that it had problems many years ago, and employed someone to sit down and redesign the thing when they could no longer deny that you couldn’t actually drive it with both your arms inside the car because it was too narrow and you had to keep the window open and your elbow outside, or face some sort of expensive and compromising operation on your shoulders. Did he feel the angry stares and muttering of a million pub-bores like me tut-tutting with every tap of his keyboard?
I couldn’t really care less. They’re just another faceless corporation. My concern, I’ll freely admit, is for the origins of the brand, the original, driving force behind its inception and the inherent purity of purpose this gave their first products. I like the old shit. And so do most other fans of other marques, if they’re honest.
In considering the SVX then, I have removed my anorak and remained entirely objective. It was built to commemorate Land Rover’s 60th birthday and is generally accepted to be a last gasp for the Land Rover Defender as we know it. I don’t like it. It’s got a van engine, which might be more economical, more flexible, less complicated and more durable than the old Td5 it replaces, but it doesn’t sound as nice. Not as Land Rover-ish. I don’t like the dash; it looks like someone has already customised it, with its raised air vents. I don’t like the new bucket seats – too buckety, and new. And the new bonnet has a bulge in it to better accommodate the new engine. I prefer the old one. It was flatter and better. There, that should do it.