LR Experience Driving Centres in the US are now offering visitors the opportunity to test their mettle by getting behind the wheel of an older US Model Defender and putting it through its paces off-road. The Defender is arguably one of the most iconic 4x4’s ever built, and its rarity on these shores just adds to its mystique. That has driven the cost of the vehicles up astronomically in the last few years. Even as late as 2009, 15 years after they were built, clean, higher-mileage examples could be had for under $20k. Now, that will get you a roll cage, a (likely salvage) title, a little metal badge with a VIN, a limited edition stamped "Defender" badge from the rear body, and a pile of rusty metal or worse. Simply put, a US Defender 90 in good condition is not something the average person can afford. If you and all your friends are average and didn't buy one 10 years ago, the 'Heritage Drives" are here to offer you a taste.
The US-based Heritage Program driving experiences are similar in concept to those on offer at Experience Centres in the UK. For the meager sum of 1,500 US Greenbacks, you can spend a full day tractoring around in the mud in a variety of older Land Rover vehicles, including the legendary Defender.
Without attending the event to give it a proper review, I will say this. Two years back, a friend and I signed up for a half-day driving experience and factory tour at Land Rover’s Solihull manufacturing facility. That cost us a total of £495, and gave us a full day at the site - a half day for the assembly line tour and Heritage Exhibition, and a half-day off-roading both a 2014 Defender 110 and a 2015 full-size Range Rover.
Currently, Land Rover offers Classic or Heritage driving experiences at its Eastnor Castle property, where the very first Land Rovers were put through trials. At present exchange rates, £495 is less than $700. You could take the extra money and fly to the UK, and if you were traveling to a Land Rover Experience Center in the US, you’re already paying hotel and other costs.
I have driven on the Land Rover trails @ Biltmore, and while they did a good job of showing off the abilities of the LR3 we were in, they were not particularly challenging. Driving them in a Defender would be a total snoozer. If you want to drive off-road in a Classic Land Rover and you’re willing to drop over $1,000 to do so, save a little extra and make the pilgrimage.
Also in the news of late, Britain’s second-favorite billionaire Jim Ratcliffe is now seeking government backing for his much-publicized plan to build a vehicle designed to fill the market niche vacated when Land Rover stopped building Defenders in January of 2016. Ratcliffe indicates that they are honing in on a design, and hope to have them on the market around 2020. Also, the project now has a name, "Project Grenadier". Apparently named after a bar.
Last but not least, visitors to the London Design Festival, currently underway in the UK, are being greeted at the entrance by a rather large sculpture that was designed by Land Rover, one of the major sponsors of the event. The sculpture is apparently designed to embody the lines and aesthetics that define not just the current overall Land Rover “look,” but also the shape of their newest model, the Range Rover Velar.
To me, it looks like what would come out the other end if, a la, “The Fly”, you loaded your time-travel machine with Henry Moore’s “Two-Piece Reclining Figure” sculpture, and accidentally left a vintage, Swingline Model 27 stapler in along with it. Hey, maybe that’s what McGovern is going for. Perhaps he will launch a new line of office products. But, a stapler? I thought we were going paperless. I guess it can be part of the Heritage Program.
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