Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Star car

Marilyn Monroe in a Land Rover. True. She apparently took the wheel on the set of a Long Island fashion shoot. I wonder what she thought of a car without automatic transmission. A photograph by Sam Shaw, I came across it when I began researching Dove Publishing’s approaching update of its Land Rover book. This digital revision of every Land Rover, Range Rover, Freelander, Defender and Discovery from 1948 will now include Evoque. It might also include Marilyn Monroe.

Land Rover’s photo archive is exemplary. One wishes other manufacturers were as well organised. If it doesn’t have a contemporary picture (and it usually does) Land Rover will recreate one. The vehicles last so long they can lay their hands on pretty well a full set. They did this of a pre-production one driving through Packington Ford, on an original route used by development engineers in 1948. What a wonderful practical no-nonsense machine; strong chassis, aluminium body – what else could you need?

I went on the press launch of the first Range Rover in 1970, co-driving with one of my distinguished predecessors at The Sunday Times, Maxwell Boyd. We might even have driven this blue YVB 253H over Cornish roads, including some Land’s End Trials hills like Beggar’s Roost. What a revelation. Here was a car as much at home on the motorway as on the farm. Scarcely believable. And like the wading 1948 Land Rover the original Range Rover still looks elegant and efficient. The proportions are perfect, the detailing faultless. The late Spen King got things right first time, identifying his market precisely. He just knew his customers would want big door handles you could work without taking your gloves off on a cold day. How exactly right it was for “gentleman farmers” to have a luxury-feel inside a car, which could, if necessary, be hosed-down after a day in the agriculture. This 2010 picture re-created the original brochure shoot of 1970 in Snowdonia, North Wales.

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