The Classicist: Land Rover Celebrates 60 Years at the Top
2008 is the 60th anniversary of storied British SUV manufacturer Land Rover, and to mark the occasion the company has embarked on a "Choice of Experts" tour showcasing its capabilities. The other day we caught up with them at the historic Astor Courts in Rhinebeck, N.Y, designed by Stanford White as a country retreat for John Jacob Astor IV in 1902. It was the perfect setting for a brand that has come to signify rugged elegance and luxurious rusticity, and while there we got the opportunity to drive a new Range Rover Sport on a hazardous off-road course that showed style and comfort needn't sacrifice anything in the way of practical ability.
We've owned both Land Rovers and Range Rovers over the years, and though these days we don't particularly miss pulling up to the gas pump we certainly pine for them whenever the weather turns particularly nasty or we're called upon to do even the slightest bit of off-roading, so it was something of a treat. Land Rover and especially the Range Rover is the automotive embodiment of a distinctly English aesthetic - regular readers of The Classicist will recognize this as a recurring motif - as portrayed in books like Bernhard Roetzel's British Tradition. The luxe Range Rover was first introduced in 1970, expanding upon the utilitarian Land Rover first designed by the Wilks Brothers in 1948.
The Queen of England drives a Range Rover in the country, and Prince Charles is a longtime enthusiast. His 1978 Range Rover was auctioned off on eBay in 2005. While out for sport in inclement weather he is said to have simply opened a special "huntsman" sunroof, stood on the back seat and poked his Asprey shotgun out to shoot from the comfort of the cabin. We can't say we've ever tried that maneuver and we daresay it isn't the sort of thing encouraged by the company these days. In any case there was unfortunately no shooting to be had at Astor Courts, only demonstrations about cooking and decorating and so forth, but such are the depredations of the modern era.
Gallery: Land Rover's 60th Anniversary
Land Rover hasn't abandoned ruggedness altogether, however; in 2003, they launched the G4 Challenge, where teams from 18 countries compete in a grueling, three-week long off-road driving event that "tests their endurance, physical fitness, intelligence and off-road prowess." Closer to home there's the Land Rover Experience Driving School at the Equinox in Manchester, VT (one of our favorite hotels) which we plan to visit to tide us over until such time as we get a new Land Rover of our own. Despite passing through the hands of several foreign owners in recent years - BMW acquired it in 1994 then sold it to Ford in 2000, which just sold it (and Jaguar) in turn to India-based Tata Motors - the company has always stayed true to its roots, and we can only hope it continues to do so moving forward.