Motoring: It's on: the hunt for Land Rover enthusiasts

James Ruppert reports on a publicity campaign with a difference
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Have you heard the one about the Rolls-Royce-powered Land Rover? Born of an Army project, the only surviving prototype is the fastest Land Rover ever built, painstakingly restored to its 1950 glory by Graham Merricot.

Then there is the 1955 model with no paint, just polished aluminium panels; it gets used every day by its owner, Harold Lowe.

These are just two of thousands of Land Rover stories that show that these vehicles are more than simply transport. They are a way of life that attracts more than its fair share of lovably eccentric owners.

So last Thursday Land Rover UK launched "In Search of a Legend", a nationwide hunt for Land Rovers with inspirational histories. It is all part of Land Rover's 50th anniversary celebrations. Land Rover says it is looking for "Defenders, Range Rovers and Discoverys which embody the spirit of this world famous brand - freedom, adventure, individualism, authenticity, supremacy and guts". And Sir Ranulph Fiennes fronted the launch.

The search is scheduled to run from May to August, with 130 Land Rover dealers across the UK tracking down their own local legend. Dealership winners will go on to compete in one of nine regional competitions. The UK legend will be chosen in September at a national final.

No one understands the attraction of these vehicles better than Carl Rodgerson, editor of Land Rover Owner International, the monthly bible of drivers and owners world-wide. He says: "I am very pleased Land Rover are doing this. What they are doing is recognising that the image of the Land Rover as an icon is due in large measure to the people who keep them on the road.

"Although technically plenty has changed from the earliest 1948 Series One to the latest 1998 Defender, you can see the connection. A Defender is clearly a direct descendant of the brilliant original which has the same virtues of unrivalled off-road ability, adaptability and ingenuity. Their Britishness is important as well; although you can be critical of some features, overall you have to admire the overall concept.

"When it comes to the owners, there is a distinction between the classic car contingent, who are constantly cleaning and polishing their pride and joy, and Land Rover owners, who will almost go out of their way to make their vehicles dirty, such as the Reverend Andrew Stevens," adds Carl Rodgerson.

"I don't actively seek mud, but then again, they are not meant to be executive paperweights. I believe in using my Land Rovers as they were intended." That is the Gospel according to the Rev Stevens, who has been a Land Rover enthusiast since his teens.

"For me they are an utter joy to drive. First of all you sit high up and can see the traffic well ahead, and as result drive much more safely and responsibly. It is also a strong, simple and durable structure. The fact that it is old-fashioned I also find reassuring; it requires you to be actively involved in driving it, rather than sitting back and being cosseted. Also, depreciation isn't an issue.

"My 1955 station wagon, which I use every day, has never dropped in value, while parts and servicing are cheap. Ecologically I think that a well-looked-after Land Rover is a pretty sound way to go motoring, rather than chopping and changing cars every few years."

The Rev Andrew Stevens certainly knows how to look after his Land Rovers, and enjoys wielding his socket set. "I owned a Meccano set as a small boy, which must have helped. It really is a simple vehicle to work on. Getting underneath isn't a problem;the ground clearance is so high there is no need for a ramp.

"I have a 1948 model which I restored 10 years ago. It has aged nicely and has become my recreational vehicle. My everyday 1955 station wagon was ex-RAF and had 12 previous owners; I estimated that it had covered 200,000 miles.

He adds: "Yet when I came to restore it, very few bolts sheared off. The quality of the original construction and the basic level of technology made it easy to restore. In fact restoration is something I've done twice since 1975, so it should last for the rest of my motoring career."

And would the Reverend ever consider trading up or down to anything else?

"Well, I suppose if my Premium Bond number came up I might be able to persuade my wife to part-exchange her old Metro for a new Freelander. I rather like the look of those, and the reviews have been very good."

If Andrew Stevens is a typical Land Rover owner, the company won't have to search too hard to find themselves a legend.