Sand blasting: Saxon Express event report

LRO Editor Neil Watterson takes on the military off-road at Bovington

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Ten miles in an hour. Doesn’t sound much, does it? After all, if Sir Roger Bannister had continued running at the speed he broke the four-minute mile barrier, he’d have covered fifteen miles in sixty minutes. But you try covering ten miles following a specified unmarked route, cross country in an almost featureless landscape, spotting and recording the letters stuck on 100mm squares. Welcome to the world of 4x4 navigation events.

We’re at the driver training area at Bovington, Dorset, home to the British Army’s Armour Centre, where soldiers are taught to drive and maintain armoured fighting vehicles. The terrain needs to be punishing to give the service personnel the skills they need; it’s harsh on tanks and even harsher on light 4x4s like Land Rovers.

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We’re competing in Saxon Express, an event run by the British Army Motorsports Association (BAMA) that will challenge both driver and navigator. And I’d go as far to say that the Bovington site offers the best combination of tricky navigation and driving – vast expanses of similar-looking terrain makes it easy to get disorientated, and the power-sapping sand coupled with very cut-up surface means you can’t go too fast, or too slowly.

Run as military exercises in which civilians can compete, all you need is a 4x4, light recovery kit and a navigator, then away you go. The event is made up of different phases, each designed to test driver and navigator, and for this event there are six.

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We kick off with a scatter. We’re set off at minute intervals and the start marshal hands us a map with twenty locations plotted on it. It’s simple enough, visit as many of the locations in any order in the time allowed and record the letter we find in the appropriate box. Sean, my son who is navigating for me, and I are veterans of this sort of event, so are competing in the Expert class – we have to deduce a couple of the locations from the clues given. Our aim is to record all twenty code boards; Novice and Beginner crews have to reach fewer locations.

We clear it, getting into the time control in time (you pick up one penalty for missing a board, two for each minute late – so it’s often better to cut-and-run if you’re close to your time) and it’s onto the trial sections.

Trials are driving a route determined by pairs of canes – called ‘gates’. The further you get along the section without ceasing forwards motion the lower the penalties you score. The aim is to clear it.

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The sections are set up by members of the Dorset Land Rover Club and are, in my opinion, just the right difficulty. Soft and slushy sand saps power, but go too fast and you’ll understeer into a cane. We clear the first section, but can’t quite get the traction to get through the 1 gate on the second section. The third section starts with a deep watersplash before climbing a steep concrete ramp. Traction isn’t an issue there, but it is when we face the soft, powdery sand towards the end of the section – at least the mound yields when I bash our Defender 90’s bumper into it.

Next up is an orienteering section. The locations have to be visited in sequential order and marshals are positioned to check compliance. You mark the scorecards with the punches, so you can’t note a letter down for later…

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I used to marshal BAMA events in the early 1990s and it would be relentless competition. These days you have to take into account driving hours regulations, so there’s an enforced lunch break. Everyone is back in, except Royal Navy’s Rory and Andrew in their Series IIA Land Rover. They’ve broken down, so we tow them off the area to sort a fix (it turned out to be the distributor had jumped out of engagement).

A gymkhana awaits after lunch – an autotest around cones and into garages, but not against the clock – then the Gunnery phase.

This sort of phase is becoming a mainstay of BAMA navigation events, where the venue is large enough. You’re given a distance and bearing. You have to plot it on the map from the firing position, visit the location, record the board and return for the next one. ‘Targets’ at 1km are worth three points, 750m two and 500m just one point. We opt for the high-scoring ones, but despite double-checking our plotting, we can’t find the first, nor the second target, so we go for a closer one, but can’t find that either. We know we’re in the right place, but we can’t find the boards.

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We decide to try one more but are informed the phase has been cancelled as the targets are in the wrong places. I’ve competed in some motorsports where crews would be haranguing the organisers about this sort of mistake, but that isn’t the case today. In the real world mistakes happen and it’s how we deal with them that shows us as we are. It’s easy for crews to fall out when things don’t go to plan; Sean and I are just happy we hadn’t lost the plot…

The temperature has plummeted. Snow is falling and water that’s thrown up by the wheels is freezing on contact with the Defender’s bodywork, but there’s no let-up for us, or the hardy marshals braving the bitter winds and keeping the event on track.

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We face a multi-format phase. Beginners are given sheets with the routes marked, experts get a variety of instructions, from traces to be marked onto maps to grid co-ordinates and tulip diagrams. Both the driving and navigation are hard and we’re up to the site speed limit of 30mph as much as possible to cover the miles. Speed cameras are used to enforce limits and they could be wielded by personnel wearing ‘crinkly green’, so the first you’d know about a speed trap is when you’re flagged down. And a 10-point penalty would spoil your day if you’re after the win.

We have to cut-and-run the end of the final section and check in at the time control ten seconds within our allocated time. Phew.

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So, how did we do? Well, penalty scores range from 17 points to 85 points, with some of the novice teams doing exceptionally well. As for Sean and I, we've taken first overall/first expert. With crews competing from all over the UK – including a Scottish crew who made the nine-hour drive to the south coast of England the day before – it was a tough competition.

Interested in having a go yourself? The next event is Magnum Spirit at Millbrook Proving Ground, Bedfordshire, on Sunday 3 June 2018, and BAMA runs other similar events throughout the year across the country. See you there!

Changes at the top at Land Rover

Moves in the management at Land Rover suggest change is on its way

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While Geneva’s Cointrin Airport was bustling with winter sports enthusiasts heading for their late season resorts, over the road at the Palexpo venue for the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS18), members of the motoring media were wondering whether Jaguar Land Rover was also heading for a slippery slope, writes Mike Gould.

This followed the re-location of the company’s stand into a desolate corner next to owners, Tata Motors, and a lacklustre press conference debuting the Range Rover SV Coupé and the Jaguar I-PACE electric car.

The event was previewed by the surprise announcement that Felix Bräutigam would become Chief Marketing Officer, effectively absorbing the responsibilities of Andy Goss, who as Sales Operations Director had been presiding over a rapid rise in Jaguar and Land Rover demand. Goss, would be leaving to ‘pursue new challenges in the automotive business’ – shorthand for not wanting to stick around in the new organisation.

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Anyone wondering why the JLR event seemed so downbeat was given another reason for the gloom when, just over a week later, it was reported that Special Vehicle Operations MD, John Edwards, was also on his way to be replaced by Michael van der Sande joining the company from the Renault sports car division, Alpine.

Edwards’ departure marks another step in the demise of former Rover Group and Land Rover staff to be replaced by European car men (Bräutigam is German, van der Sande, Dutch) and poses the question as to who might be next.

There are fears it could be Land Rover’s Chief Design Office, Gerry McGovern. Recently awarded the prestigious Designer of the Year Award at the 33rd Festival Automobile International, Land Rover could be seen as too small a showcase for McGovern’s prodigious talent. Insiders also report that his ambitious design themes for the brand are being tamed by more cautious members of the board. His proposals for the Discovery and Discovery Sport were rumoured to be much more radical than the designs that eventually went into production while the motoring press certainly expected something more of the Range Rover SV Coupé.

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Following the success of the LRX-derived Evoque, motor manufacturers would be queuing up to grab McGovern but he certainly has enough cachet to open his own studio, perhaps taking with him some of Land Rover’s best creative talent.  If these fears are real, they could certainly explain McGovern’s uncharacteristically hesitant performance at Geneva.

All this comes against the background that JLR is, despite a 6.5% increase in sales for 2017, a minnow when compared with other manufacturers. While JLR garnered 621,000 customers in 2017, rival specialist BMW flagged over two million and the Fiat Chrysler group double that. JLR’s biggest weapon in its armoury is its distinctive British design. If that edge is lost, then it’s going to be a world as cold and as hard as the mountains framing Geneva for the UK’s flagship motor manufacturer.

Sport SVR sets Tianmen Road record

Range Rover Sport SVR beats record held by Ferrari for the 11.3km ascent

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We all talked about how un-sporty the first-generation Range Rover Sport was. Supercharged petrol engine aside, the performance was more runabout than hot hatch. But since those early days, the vehicle has become sportier.

Come the second generation L494, though, and things have gone even further, with the SVR versions blurring the lines between sports car and off-roader.

Land Rover’s latest record attempt is on the 11.3km Tianmen Road, China; the road that leads to the steps up to Heaven’s Gate, which a hybrid Sport PHEV successfully climbed.

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The benchmark set by a Ferrari 458 Italia in 2016, was 10 minutes 31 seconds (an average of 40.06mph over the 99-corner road) was smashed by test driver Ho-Pin Tung in the 567BHP/516lb ft SVR, covering the route in 9 minutes 51 seconds, averaging 42.77mph.

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Driver Ho-Pin Tung said: ‘I am used to the high speeds of racing but these 99 turns were something unique. Maintaining concentration was the biggest challenge as the road twists and turns constantly, with huge drop-offs to the side. The consequences of getting it wrong would have been really serious so I focused on establishing a rhythm and the Range Rover Sport SVR made this easy – it may be an SUV but it has the performance and agility of a supercar and can take you to places a supercar can only dream of.’

More info

Range Rover Sport SVR Tech Spec

  • Engine: 5.0-litre V8 supercharged
  • Power: 567BHP
  • Torque: 516lb ft
  • 0-60mph: 4.3 seconds
  • Max speed: 176mph
  • Combined mpg: 22.1mpg

Range Rover SV Coupé revealed

Land Rover launches 2-door SV Coupé at Geneva Motor Show

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Land Rover has introduced its latest model at the Geneva motor show: the Range Rover SV Coupé. The world’s first two-door, full-size luxury SUV is based on a heavily modified L405 Range Rover (the only shared exterior parts are the bonnet, lower tailgate, lights and fuel flap). 

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This four-seater brings the brand into super luxury coupé sector, competing with Rolls-Royce and Bentley – and with a price to reflect that: from £240,000. Only 999 SV Coupés, hand-assembled to customers’ specifications, will be produced next year at the SVO Technical Centre in Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire.

A 565PS and 700Nm 5.0-litre supercharged V8 powers the new two-door Range Rover. Coupled with the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, the Coupé will make the 0-60mph sprint in 5.0sec and have a top speed of 165mph – faster than any standard Range Rover.

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The colour palette extends to 100 shades with finishes in gloss or matt, on top of ‘match to sample’ hues. The Liquesence paint option brings a ‘liquid metal’ finish while the Contour Graphic offers a contrasting tint to the flanks, from the side vents back. New wheel designs are offered in 21, 22 and 23 inches – the latter being a first on a production Range Rover.

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Mega luxury and delicate craftsmanship are evident in the two-tone cabin. The 20-way front and 10-way electrically adjustable rear graduated diamond quilt seats may be specified in different colours. 

There are new wood finishes, such as fused walnut and sycamore or palisander on the steering wheel, door casings, centre console, instrument panel and loadspace floor, reminiscent of the L322 Ultimate Edition Range Rover.

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Bespoke headrest embroidery, door handles and treadplates, engraving and semi-precious metal badging will be offered. The 1700-watt, 23-speaker, sound system features Trifield 3D ‘concert sound’ technology.

Alterations to the chassis include an 8mm lower stance (the suspension automatically lowers by 15mm above 65mph). The Range Rover retains its world-class 900mm maximum wading depth. The Terrain Response 2 is kept, too, along with the Active Locking Rear Differential.

Land Rover offers a five-year Care Package, covering services including brake replacement. Range Rover SV Coupé sale will start in the fourth quarter of 2018. You can register your interest at landrover.com

Range Rover SV Coupé Tech Spec

  • Engine: Supercharged 4999cc V8 petrol
  • Max power: 458bhp
  • Max torque: 516lb ft.
  • 0-60mph: 5.0 seconds
  • Top speed: 165mph
  • Gearbox: 8-speed ZF automatic with 2-speed transfer box
  • Brakes: 380mm front, 365mm rear
  • Length: 5013 mm
  • Width: 2220mm
  • Height: 1794mm
  • Fording depth: 900mm
  • Approach angle at off-road height: 31°
  • Breakover angle at off-road height: 26.5°
  • Departure angle at off- road height: 25°
  • Ground clearance: 263mm
  • Wheels: 21, 22 or 23-inch with new dark grey and silver polished alloys
  • Tyres: 275/45 R21, 275/40 R22 or 275/40 R23
  • Price: from £240,000

Land Rover Explore smartphone launched

£599 rugged Android smartphone that's as tough as a Land Rover

Where would we be without our mobile phones? Even the most tech-unfriendly will have a phone of some kind or other (probably a Nokia 3310…), but most of us now have smartphones. And Land Rover has launched a smartphone with a battery life to rival that of the old Nokia: the Land Rover Explore.

Capable of running for two days of typical use, and able to double that with the Adventure Pack, the £599 Land Rover Explore is a rugged full-HD Android mobile phone with a five-inch screen.

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It’s drop-tested to 1.8 metres and can survive underwater and cope with extreme temperatures, humidity, thermal shock and vibration exposure - watch the video

The screen is bright enough to use in full sunlight and can be controlled with gloves or wet fingers. It’s also fully compatible with all Land Rover in-car apps.

The phone will be available to order from 26 April 2018. For more details and to register an interest, check out the website

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Land Rover Explore outdoor phone specifications

  • Huge battery (4000mAh) plus add-on battery pack
  • IP68 splash, water and dust resistance
  • Drop-proof to 1.8 metres with factory-fitted screen protector
  • Premium grade, detailed off-road topographical mapping options from ViewRanger with Augmented Reality Skyline feature
    • In-box premium off-road mapping voucher, giving a choice of country-wide or custom region topographical maps in many markets.
  • Customisable outdoor dashboard to access to the most important weather information, sensor data, and on-device tools for your activity: eg weather, wind, tides, compass, SOS light
  • Android Nougat OS, with scheduled upgrade to Oreo
  • 4GB RAM and 64GB ROM, expandable via microSD
  • Deca-core 2.6GHz 64 bit MTK Helio X27 chipset with dual SIM functionality
  • 16MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, 4x digital zoom
  • Bright five-inch FHD display, Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protected, optimised for outdoor use
    • Touchscreen can be controlled with gloves on or with wet fingers
    • Night red filter mode reduces screen glare, preserving natural vision in low light and at night
  • LTE Cat 6
  • Curated apps and content catalogue relevant to outdoor pursuits

Adventure Pack specification

  • 3600mAh additional battery
  • 25 x 25mm ceramic patch GPS antenna
  • TPU protective case
  • Stainless steel carabiner with canvas strap
  • IP68 and 1.8-metre drop tested

Bike Pack specification

  • Bike mount and case for both stem and handlebar
  • Tilt to adjust viewing angle or change device orientation

Battery Pack specification

  • Ultimate battery performance, additional 4,370 mAh of battery capacity
  • IP68 and 1.8-metre drop tested

Range Rover Sport PHEV climbs to Heaven’s Gate

As far as publicity stunts go, driving a Range Rover Sport up one of China’s most famous landmarks is quite a feat.

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The showroom-standard Sport, a P400e plug-in hybrid (PHEV), started its run from
the bottom of the legendary seven-mile-long Tianmen Mountain Road – known as the Dragon Road thanks to its twists and turns – in Hunan Province, before attempting the epic final ascent to the Heaven’s Gate natural rock arch.

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Powered by a combination of the 296bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium petrol engine and 85kW electric motor, the Sport effortlessly conquered the phenomenal 999-step, 45º stairway.

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Driver Ho-Pin Tung said: ‘I’ve won at Le Mans, but this was one of the most demanding driving challenges I’ve faced.’   

Range Rover SV Coupé on way

Range Rover SV Coupé set for debut at Geneva Motor Show

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Another limited-edition Land Rover is about to hit the streets, but the company isn't giving much away at the moment.

The Range Rover SV Coupé will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show and 'no more than 999 examples' will be offered worldwide. Each vehicle will be hand-assembled by Special Vehicles Operations at Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwickshire.

It will be a 'celebration of the Range Rover bloodline, with a dramatic two-door silhouette which alludes to its unique heritage, while being thoroughly modern and contemporary.'

Gerry McGovern, Land Rover chief design officer said: 'The Range Rover SV Coupé is a highly compelling design with peerless refinement and uncompromised sophistication from its breathtaking exterior proportions to its sumptuous, beautifully appointed, interior. This is a vehicle that will resonate on an emotional level.'

The SV Coupé will be revealed on 6 March 2018, when full details will be available. If you'd like to register an interest for one of these limited edition models, contact your local dealer - find them here.

New signage guides the way in Slaley Forest

Improved access information will keep everyone on the right track in Slaley Forest, Northumberland.

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Forestry Commission, working in collaboration with Northumbria Police, Northumberland County Council, Green Lane Association, Northumbria Trail Riders Fellowship and the local community, have improved access information so that everyone can enjoy the forest safely.  Slaley forest welcomes a variety of users from walkers, cyclists and horse riders to trail riders and greenlaners. The new signage clearly explains which routes through the forest are legally open to all traffic.

Alex MacLennan, Recreation & Public Affairs Manager for Forestry Commission for the North East has been leading the project and explains:

'Forestry Commission welcomes everyone to the public forest estate. Slaley is a popular location for trail bike riders and 4x4 drivers and part of managing this site with multiple users is to ensure that the public byways are clearly marked so everyone can maximise their enjoyment of this special forest, whilst at the same time staying on the right side of the law.'

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Neighbourhood Inspector Pam Bridges said: 'Northumbria Police is delighted to support this collaborative initiative. Police will continue to work with local agencies and individuals to ensure this area is available for visitors to enjoy.'

Northumbria Trail Riders Fellowship welcomes all responsible trail riders who are looking to learn where they can ride in the area, and have been a key contributor and partner in this project. Greg Villalobos, Chairman Northumbria TRF, said:

'All the riders at Northumbria Trail Riders Fellowship are proud to have been part of this initiative. We value the Green Road network in the north east and understand that Slaley Forest is an important and sensitive part of that. We believe that with a respectful approach all users can use the byways open to all traffic and that having clear signage, that doesn't discriminate against any particular user group, helps send out a positive message about where vehicles can and can't access.'

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An equal contributor to the partnership has been the Green Lane Association (GLASS), who promote the responsible use of public byways. Darren Clark, Northumberland Area rep for GLASS, adds:

'The Green Lane Association (GLASS) is proud to support and work with the Forestry Commission in promoting the responsible use of our public byways. These new signs should make it easier for all users to access the forest legally. We believe everyone has a part to play in preserving this sensitive area of the northeast for all to enjoy.'

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LRO welcomes this great initiative. The new signage makes it clear where it is legal to drive our and it also informs other forest users that there may be vehicles around. Read the signs, stick to the byways and follow the green lane code.

High-performance upgrades from Land Rover Classic

Land Rover Classic to offer high performance upgrades

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A select number of high-performance upgrades inspired by the Defender Works V8 70th Edition will soon be available for owners of more standard Land Rover Defenders to purchase.

The options will include power upgrades for the TDCi engine, together with fast-road suspension and braking kits.

Land Rover was always reluctant to offer Defender owners power upgrades, but relented a little with the Autobiography and Adventure editions, boosting power from the standard 120bhp to 148bhp; a noticeable increase.

More information will be available from Land Rover Classic in due course.

JLR unleashes 400bhp Defender Works V8

400bhp V8 Defender created for Land Rover’s 70th anniversary

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There’s nothing quite like a V8 engine. And there’s nothing quite like a Defender. So, fusing the two together to create a special 70th anniversary edition is the stuff of dreams – and that’s what Land Rover Classic are doing with the 70th Edition.

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These aren’t ‘new’ Defenders, though. Like the company’s Reborn restorations, the Defender Works V8 will be re-engineered vehicles, completely rebuilt and fitted with JLR’s 5.0-litre 400bhp naturally aspirated V8 engine, coupled to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. That'll give a 90 exceptional performance, propelling it from 0-60mph in 5.6 seconds.

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Up to 150 units will be built, and the starting price is a cool £150,000 for 90 models. 110 models will also be available.

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So, what do you get for your money? Well, you’ll get a fully rebuilt and re-engineered Defender with the V8 engine and eight-speed gearbox, complete with pistol shifter. The two-speed transfer box is fitted with a torque-biasing centre differential, while the front and rear diffs are heavy-duty.

Brakes are beefed up too, with 335mm front and 300mm rear discs and four-pot cylinders front and rear. These push the standard wheel size up to 18-inch, and the diamond-turned Sawtooth alloys are shod with 265/85 R18 BF Goodrich All-Terrain KO2 tyres. A handling kit including front and rear anti-roll bars is also fitted.

The exterior is finished off with rear LED stop/tail and indicators, and Nolden LED headlights, as fitted to the Defender Celebration models in 2015.

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Inside, full Windsor Leather interior trim covers the dashboard, door panels, headlining and Recaro Sports seats. In car entertainment is brought to you by Land Rover Classic’s own Classic Infotainment System.

Tim Hannig, Jaguar Land Rover Classic Director, said: ‘It’s fitting that we’ve been able to release the full potential of the iconic Defender, whose much-loved shape remains synonymous with Land Rover, 70 years since it was seen in public for the first time.

‘The idea of reintroducing a V8 Defender was something we were discussing as far back as 2014, when we were still building the Defender in Solihull. We knew the demand was there for a powerful and fast Defender; the Land Rover authenticity is the ultimate finishing touch for discerning clients purchasing these collector’s edition Defenders.’

We’d heard the rumours of the V8 special editions, before the launch of the Celebration Editions, and were a little disappointed not to see a V8 model among them. At least that has now been addressed and the 70th Edition will be available in the UK, and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) markets on a personal import basis. European market availability is also on an individual import basis, subject to rules on importation of vehicle conversions.

Interested? Drop Land Rover Classic a line at: info@classic.landrover.co.uk or visit Land Rover Classic

Land Rover Defender Works V8 – 70th Edition Tech Spec

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  • Engine: 4999cc V8 naturally-aspirated petrol (EU5)
  • Max power: 400bhp@ 6000rpm
  • Max torque: 380lb ft @ 5000rpm
  • 0-60mph: 5.6 seconds (90 station wagon)
  • Top Speed: 106mph (limited)
  • Gearbox: 8-speed ZF automatic, 2-speed transfer box with torque-biasing centre diff
  • Brakes: 335mm front, 300mm rear. 4-piston calipers
  • Wheels: 18-inch diamond-turned Sawtooth alloy
  • Tyres: 265/65 R18 BF Goodrich All-Terrain KO2
  • Price: from £150,000 (Defender 90)
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JLR Classic to restore pre-production Land Rover L07

Pre-production Land Rover L07, shown at Amsterdam launch, set for sympathetic restoration.

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The Land Rover, chassis number L07, was one of three Land Rovers at the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948, when the world got its first sight of the vehicle we all love.

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One of 48 pre-production vehicles, it was presumed lost in the 1980s when research was done to track down the remaining examples – and its fate only came to light in 2016, when a garage owner was told about a couple of old Land Rovers in a garden. They were about to be scrapped, but the garage owner realised what it was and secured both vehicles – you can read the story of how it was found in the Spring 2016 issue of Land Rover Owner International.

The Land Rover was built as a left hand drive model, hence the L prefix in the chassis number, but was subsequently converted to right hand drive and has also been recorded as R07.

Given its significance, Jaguar Land Rover Classic was obviously interested, bought the Land Rover and its experts spent months researching the company archives to unravel its ownership history and confirm its provenance.

JLR Classic will sympathetically restore it at the Classic Works facility in Ryton, Warwickshire as part of the company’s 70th anniversary celebrations.

Tim Hannig, Jaguar Land Rover Classic Director, said: ‘This Land Rover is an irreplaceable piece of world automotive history and is as historically important as ‘Huey’, the first pre-production Land Rover. Beginning its sympathetic restoration here at Classic Works, where we can ensure it’s put back together precisely as it’s meant to be, is a fitting way to start Land Rover’s 70th anniversary year.

‘There is something charming about the fact that exactly 70 years ago this vehicle would have been undergoing its final adjustments before being prepared for the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show launch – where the world first saw the shape that’s now immediately recognised as a Land Rover.’

Previous owners of this historic vehicle are being invited to Jaguar Land Rover’s Classic Works facility to share their experiences and to witness its loving restoration.

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Want to see the restoration progressing? A three hour tour of the Classic Works costs £49 and not only do you get to see the Series Land Rovers being Reborn, you also get to peek into the massive vault where up to 500 classic Land Rovers and Jaguars are stored. For more info, click here.

Mudmaster 2017 event report

Keeping it in the family

LRO editor Neil Watterson competes in Gemm 4x4 Mudmaster 2017

 Gordon and Lisa McCheyne take first place

Gordon and Lisa McCheyne take first place

It was all going so well. We’ve rattled round an orienteering section, picking up all of the code boards well within time and cleared four trial sections before moving onto the fourth venue of the day – and another orienteering section.

Twenty code boards are dotted around the 200 acre site and we have to find them, record them and return to the start with 30 minutes. This is Gemm 4x4 Mudmaster 2017 – an off-road competition that tests both the driver’s and navigator’s skill and we’re in central Scotland.

Now, it’s fortunate that I do quite a few of these events, so I know the format. And Phil, who is behind the wheel, isn’t too shabby when it comes to off-road driving. We won the event a couple of years ago and missed out on the top spot by just one point last year. Could we regain it?

We’re counted down by the start marshal and pick out the first four code boards – 300mm high white letters on black backgrounds – quite easily. I know where the fifth one should be, but we overshoot on the slippery grass and the tyres struggle to find enough grip on the muddy rocks we’re now on. We’ve got to go forward, and down the hill.

A Forces Network cameraman is ready to film us make the descent. Phil selects ‘Drive’ on the Defender’s autobox and we bounce down the steep hill. Only when he goes to drive up the other side do we realise we’ve just made our rather hurried descent in neutral (see footage on Forces Network).

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But we pick a route through the trees, find the next few boards and go back and collect number 5 – which is just out of sight from where we were. We spin round and cross a boggy section, struggle to find 9, before descending again towards the eleventh marker. And there’s a military Wolf 110 sitting spinning its wheels in the mud.

Mudmaster is run jointly by the Scottish Land Rover Owners Club and the British Army Motorsports Association – so although it’s a competition, it’s also a military exercise. And this year the military and civilian motors started in alternating order – so the running order was civilian, military, civilian, military, etc.

We're car 5, but the stuck Wolf is car 12. How it has got ahead of us, we don’t know, but it needed help. Out comes the military tow strap, but there isn't enough give in the rope to jolt the Defender out of its ruts. So we dig out my more stretchy nylon recovery rope instead – and with mud and grass being flung everywhere by the 90’s tyres, the military Land Rover is extracted. It’s cost us five minutes, but we’ve still plenty of time.

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The site is becoming more crowded now and we catch up another couple of Wolfs as we record more letters, eventually reaching the finish after 25 minutes; well within time, and with a completed scorecard. We’re pretty pleased and clear the next trial section easily before disaster strikes.

Phil and I have walked the course, but weren’t paying that much attention to it. So when we drive it, we drop into ruts and the tyres’ sidewalls simply don’t have enough claw into the walls of the ruts to get us out. We’ve scored 7 points and that has almost certainly put us out of the running for the win.

The next driver attempts the section, and doesn’t get out, even on extreme tyres. Maybe we’ll be lucky – but we know were the first to pick up points on that section.

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Slightly despondent, we rejoin the road route, keeping an eye out for any 10cm square letter boards that have been placed along the route and make it to lunch. The top crews all have a clean sheet from the trials. Oh well, that’s us definitely out of the running. Still, at least it means the pressure’s off and we can enjoy it.

Another couple of trial sections are followed by a navigation test along forest tracks, which we nail, then a couple of very boggy trial sections before we reach the final section of the day: 12 minutes to find 12 markers in woodland.

Light is fading, but it’s not dark yet. We plunge down the hill into the wood and get the first board. It’s not a huge site, so it’s tricky to gauge distances. And the low light doesn’t help either. Three tracks run parallel and I’m not sure which one we’re on. I record one board but can’t finds the next, so we spin round and look in the opposite direction and collect it.

We loop round and the tyres scrabble to find grip on the hills, but we’re still going, One-by-one we’re getting closer to the finish and Phil floors the throttle pedal to get us up the hill, the final code board reflecting in the Defender’s main beam. Darkness has fallen – I haven't realised that the boards are reflective until this point. Another clear, and well within time.

We’ve done everything we can, but those seven points have ended it for us and when the overnight scores are handed out at the first section of day two, we’re in eighth place on 11 points. Gordon and Lisa McCheyne lead, having dropped just three points the previous day.

  Gemm 4x4 's George McLay conquers a soft section

Gemm 4x4's George McLay conquers a soft section

We kick off day two with an autotest and watch the first couple of vehicles go round. I’m slightly the worse for wear: we'd been enjoying the craic with the lads from the Highland 4 Wheel Drive Club and some of the Royal Navy crews late into the evening.

So when we arrive at the first cone garage, I struggle to find where we are on the test diagram. Then I tell Phil to drive the wrong side of a cone before realising my mistake and we ‘unwind’ the error. It’s cost us time, but at least we haven’t picked up more points. I need to get myself together.

Phil dispatches three trials sections with ease followed by two at the next site. When we arrive at the final site, Gordon asks whether we’d spotted any code boards on the roads. They hadn’t – and neither had we.

Gordon clears the sections, so, unless they have picked up any unknown penalties – driving standards are checked by observers and speed gun-equipped teams are also out – it’s all over. They haven’t, and it is.

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We recover another stuck Wolf, clear the trials and return to event HQ, 221 (Glasgow) Transport Squadron, 154 (Scottish) Regiment RLC, where the results are tallied.

We’ve retained our position, but a couple of errors has shaken up the top crews. Gordon and Lisa take the win, Martin Duncan and daughter Rhona get second place and Ruari and Louise Treble take third in their Tdi-powered Lightweight. Fourth place goes to Stephen and Anne O’Rourke, meaning the top four crews are family teams.

First military goes to Royal Navy’s Rory Lowther and Andrew Richman, who had driven their winterised 110 up from RNAS Yeovilton, and because you can only win one award, Phil and I get 1st Outlander – which goes to the highest placed non-Scottish crew.

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Last year’s event wasn’t a classic, but this year’s was, with plenty of mud and tricky navigation. As for 2018? Well, Phil and I have decided we’re not going to compete next year – instead we’re going to help marshal and maybe even set some sections. So that means there’s more space for fresh crews to take part.

Next year's event will take place on 27-28 October 2018. See you there!

 

Find out more about 4x4 Navigation events in the December 2017 issue of Land Rover Owner International, on sale now.

Nene Overland vehicle and parts extravaganza at the LRO Show

Nene Overland are holding a vehicle and parts extravaganza at the LRO Show on 16 -17 September

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When you get to the LRO Show, make sure you make a beeline for the Nene Overland stand – they’ve got a wealth of rare and exotic vehicles and parts on display; some for sale on the day, others up for auction on the company’s eBay store.

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Always fancied a Land Rover Defender 90SV? They’ve got one. A Half-Ton (Lightweight) Desert Reconnaissance Vehicle more your thing? Yup – there’s one of those too. How about a 34,000 mile VM Turbo Diesel Range Rover Classic? Oh, yes. There is even a 4.0-litre 50th Anniversary 90.

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The auctions are set to finish on Wednesday 20 September, giving you plenty of time to view them at the show and get your bid in.

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But Nene Overland’s stand isn’t all about the auction. They’re creating a parts maze where they’ll be selling a wide range of take-off parts, from alloy wheels to Defender bodies, TDCi engines to complete interiors, and winches to Penman trailers.

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Make sure you pop in and have a look – there’s bound to be something that takes your fancy!

Plimsoll at the Severn Valley Railway

Mark Saville's Series I, Plimsoll, to drive the Severn Valley Railway on Saturday August 12

You'll undoubtedly know the Series I Land Rover that Mark Saville, LRO assistant editor, drives. Affectionately named Plimsoll (well, its reg number is PSL 193...) it's been Mark's companion for countless adventures in the UK and through Europe. And its latest trick is to drive railways lines.

If you've seen the write-ups in LRO and wished you could see it doing its thing for real, then head along to the Severn Valley Railway on Saturday, August 12.

The plucky little Land Rover will be one of the star attractions at the preserved railway's Steam on the Road event, making the journey from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster and back by rail.

He'll be departing Bridgnorth at 09.10, arriving at Kidderminster at 10.42, then commencing the return journey at 11.35, making stops at various stations along the way, and arriving back at Bridgnorth at 17.48.

'I'm looking forward to the trip,' says Mark, 'especially the turntable at the end - I don't think the gearbox would cope with driving the sixteen mile line in reverse!

'I'll be heading into sidings at stations to let 'real' trains by on the return leg of the journey, so pop along - with other attractions at the stations it should be a great day out.'

As well as Plimsoll on rails, the railway will host a Series I Land Rover gathering at Highley and a steam traction engine 'Play Pen' at the station car park at Kidderminster on the Saturday. Oh, and if you're not driving, the Kidderminster Beer Festival is on from noon until 8pm at the Valley Suite.