Old School Top Gear celebrating Land Rover turning 70.

I have been struggling to come up with an idea for this month's blog. In the automotive world right now Ford has been making waves by axing its saloon cars in the U.S.A. The Aston Martin Vantage launched to wide scale acclaim being hailed as a true Porsche 911 rival. And Land Rover turned 70 on the 30th of April 2018. All I seem to do is wax on about British automotive brands but my love for them began in the 1990s with Top Gear on BBC Two and this is relevant to Land Rover's celebrations.

When I talk about Top Gear, I am referring to the show that ran from 1977 to 2001. This is the show my Dad and I would watch every Thursday night at 8:30pm. It was a thirty minute programme and featured a very young Jeremy Clarkson along with a host of other talented presenters. I was a teenager then, moving between secondary school and college. I began driving and I remember the excitement and optimism I felt around cars because of this show. It was the beginning of my dream to carve out a professional career in the industry.

Top Gear was an amazing show with cool production values. I remember Clarkson reviewing the "New Beetle" with Roxette's "Sleeping in my car" playing alongside his dialogue. This was before he became the huge celebrity he is today. There were other hosts that made the show what it was. Quentin Willson was the car buying man. He is a former car salesman but exuded class and integrity. He used to caution buyers about parting with their "wads of cash" for cars and Dad loved that catchphrase. His features were genuinely informative and funny. They were joined by Tiff Needell, a former race car driver who added credibility to the show. The final presenter was Vicki Butler-Henderson, another former race car driver who always reminded me of my Aunt Valerie for some reason. Top Gear taught me about the history of the VW Golf GTI, the then new E46 BMW 3-series along with car buying and selling tips. It showed me the global power of brands and platform sharing, which is why I decided to undertake a degree in marketing, and write my dissertation on the MINI. In short it nurtured a spark in me and this is something I think is missing from the current Top Gear and The Grand Tour car programmes. In my view, they have devolved into little more than adventure shows featuring cars and are more about the presenter's personalities and egos than the cars themselves. The passion for the brands and what they mean to consumers is lacking. Watching this 70th celebration really drove this point home for me.

Land Rover turning 70 is a landmark for the company. As a brand, I respect Land Rover but have never lusted after one like I do the MINI or an Aston Martin. So, imagine my glee when I half-heartedly clicked on the live event that popped up on my YouTube feed and I was greeted by Quentin Willson's voice for the first time in nearly twenty years! He was joined by another presenter Andy Jaye and they were filming live in Land Rover's classic works site in Coventry, close to the company's spiritual home of Solihull. Both men own and run Land Rovers and Wilson's devotion and passion to the brand was clear to see. The event covered the discovery of one of the original "Series 1" vehicles that appeared in the Amsterdam motor show in 1948, along with a feature about the design of the current vehicles and an interview with Vicki Butler-Henderson and a lead engineer Nick Rogers. Willson had less hair than he did in his Top Gear days and Vicki's is now blonde. But seeing them in action again was like coming home to a warm fire with a cup of tea and a few digestive biscuits.

I sat transfixed to my screen for the duration of the programme, all 37 minutes of it. After making a cup of tea, I watched it all over again. When it was over I began to ask myself why I thought it worked so well. I learned some new facts about Land Rover. Having real Land Rover workers and their families along with a few guest speakers relating to the brand worked well too and made the whole thing relatable on a human level. But there was no mention of TATA's ownership of Jaguar Land Rover or any of the reliability issues that some modern Land Rovers are developing a reputation for. I asked myself was this just a "fluff" piece concocted my Land Rover's marketing department? Every car company has warts and deals with reliability issues so I figured I wasn't being fair. No, what it did was highlight the spirit of Land Rover and was a celebration in every sense of the word. By honouring the past and looking to the future with electrification and self-driving technology in clear view, it showed the company strong and vibrant.

It did what Top Gear used to do so well in the day. It turned me into a believer. A believer in Land Rover and its core value of exploration and adventure. I wanted to buy one and travel the world, explore new lands and have adventures outside of my mundane life of work and responsibility. The images of these vehicles literally opening up the world in the post-war era all the way up to today and the promise of go anywhere ability is why Land Rover has become the success it is today. It has something no other SUV maker can match; a legacy. Like MINI and Aston Martin, there is a quintessential "Britishness" about it that imbues these cars with a certain magic, a certain devotion that has seen the brand grow and flourish despite building small front-wheel drive city SUVs (Evoque) and style-conscious sub-brands (Velar). I still wouldn't buy one as a daily driver but if I found myself in a desert or in the Arctic, I'd now demand a Land Rover.

Happy Birthday Land Rover. Thank you for the last seventy years and here is to seventy more.

A huge thank you to the old Top Gear presenters too. Watching you guys in action again took me back to a happy time in life when I thought anything was possible. It was lovely to see some old faces celebrate a British institution and I'm hoping to see more content like this in the future. How about knocking on Aston Martin's door or TVR?

 

You can watch the celebration event on YouTube by clicking here.

The celebration image of Land Rover at 70 is sourced from MOTORVISION TV