With my Range Rover P38 left behind in Peterborough due to mechanical problems, logistical issues found me behind the wheel of a Rover Metro, driving 350 miles north towards Edinburgh where a Freelander 1 awaited me.
Despite my own reservations, the Metro performed flawlessly, covering the distance on only £27 worth of diesel. Something no Land Rover owner has experienced before, without the AA finishing the journey for them on the flatbed of that heavenly big yellow taxi.
I say flawlessly, but the final leg of the journey - up a farm track - left my skull lodged apart from my spine in an orgy of hydra gas chaos. After my eyes had stopped spinning, I was left face-to-face with my wheels for the next 500 miles - a mechanically sound Freelander 1 Td4. Well, at least I hoped it would be, seeing as my actual Land Rover couldn’t even lumber out of the work car park without breaking down.
It’s actually one of the very final examples of a first generation Freelander to have been crafted in the Solihull factory, resting on an 07-plate with a Td4 lurking under the bonnet. It’s also the ‘Adventurer’ spec, which is Land-Rover-speak for base model. There is bare metal exposed on the doors and a plastic sunroof, which operates like a 1980’s tin opener, but with that trademark Landy diesel growl on the first turn of the key, you forgive it the foibles so many bandwagon jumpers take glee in pointing out.
There is a lot to be said for Freelander ownership, and while they are often overlooked in favour of the big guns when searching for a Land Rover on the used car market, there are huge benefits and great enjoyment to be found. From sporty soft-top three-door V6s to family friendly five-door diesels, the original generation of Freelander had it licked.
A prime and raw argument between Land Rover purists, due to the lack of a low range gearbox and tricky ground clearance when the going gets properly rough, the plucky Freelander 1 suffers from marmite syndrome - you seem to be either Freelander friendly or believe the baby Land Rover is the second coming of Hitler.
Off the beaten track, the affectionately nicknamed ‘Hippo’ will take you places that would leave owners of a Toyota Rav 4, Honda CRV or BMW X3 rocking back and forth in their garage through abject fear. Yet, on road manners aren’t as rigid nor as pre-historic in comparison to granddaddy Defender or the fan favourite Discovery. I firmly believe that the first-generation Freelander is the perfect hybrid of car and off-roader without spending Range Rover money. Which is why I’m delighted to be using one for the challenge my P38 wouldn’t so much as entertain.
Skipping up the farm track en route to the starting line for the 500-mile, one tank task without so much as throwing me out my seat once, I can’t help but grin childishly. This is going to be a sweet trip.
And the Metro? It’s still in Scotland. I’ll go back and retrieve it one day. Maybe.