Thursday, May 1, 2008

Happy 60th Birthday Land Rover

Sixty years ago today, one of the great drives of all time -- Land Rover -- made its first public appearance, at a motor show in Amsterdam. A year later, it went to work for the British Army.

It was an early version of the beefy go-anywhere vehicle, then known as a Series 1. The 1948 Land Rover had a canvas roof, held down with cleats and ties, and a reputation for enjoying mud, rock, ice, sand, and blazing forest trails.

The canvas roof is gone now, except for Land Rovers in use in Africa safari tours as wildlife viewing vehicles. But the love of mud, rock, ice, sand and bushwacking through the forest -- that remains.

Land Rover has come a long way in 60 years. Luxury wasn't part of the design back then. Today, it is known for being both luxurious and tough. And it's still blazing trails, with some revolutionary technology.

Land Rover's patented Terrain Response system is a simple -- for the driver -- knob on the console. Turn it to the icon that indicates your specific driving condition, and the onboard computer adjusts the vehicle's traction and acceleration systems to match it.

I've driven Land Rovers over an oxygen-deprived 16,000 foot pass in Argentina, across a muddy track in Vermont, and over a bridge that was no more than four lashed-together logs. Each time I depended on the Terrain Response system to know -- more than me -- just how much torque and how much braking is needed.

And, I've marvelled at Hill Descent Control, basically a half gear below first gear -- that takes the truck safely down a steep hill. Take your foot off the gas, and the Land Rover concentrates on speed and braking, so you -- the driver -- can concentrate on steering. Did I say speed? Wrong word -- I meant crawl.

Land Rover produces more than 200,000, vehicles a year from its factories near Liverpool and Birmingham, England.

Many of those vehicles have seen hard core service saving lives -- Land Rovers are the vehicle of choice for such humanitarian and animal and earth conservation organizations as Born Free Foundation, Biosphere, Earthwatch, the Royal Geographical Society, and the China Exploration and Research Society.

And there's more innovation in the pipeline. Land Rover engineers are working on a diesel hybrid -- the LRX concept vehicle. That's the vehicle in the photo, above. The LRX concept was on display at the 2008 New York Auto Show in March.

Land Rover -- most definitely one of the world's great drives.

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