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April 2018

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Look back at the birth of the original Land Rover | How Land Rover has driven adventure and scientific exploration | GQ Editor Dylan Jones discusses inspiration with Chief Design Officer Gerry McGovern | Exploring the potential impact of electrification and connected vehicles | Tackling the 999 steep steps up to Heaven’s Gate in China


WORLD OF ADVENTURE “I THOUGHT THIS WAS JUST THE MOST FANTASTIC VEHICLE” GAVIN THOMPSON Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, UK in late December 2017 and an early 1971 Range Rover is reunited with its first driver. This, however, is no ordinary Range Rover, and Gavin Thompson is no ordinary driver. VXC 765K was part of the British Trans-Americas Expedition and one of the first two vehicles ever to complete the 19,000-mile Pan-American Highway, including crossing the notorious Darien Gap, between 1971 and 1972. Tall and steely-eyed, full of banter and with a no-nonsense approach, Gavin Thompson was one of the intrepid members. In 1968 Gavin Thompson was serving with the British Army in Germany. Known in his regiment as ”Wheels“ as he had learned to drive already at the age of four, he was tasked with “sorting out“ the regiment‘s motor transport (MT) section. This was to become the start of a long-standing relationship with the Land Rover, the vehicle of choice in the section. It was this combination of his driving skills, access to a brand new Land Rover and a born talent for networking that would lead to a wildcard entry for the 1968 London to Sydney Rally. Despite having its four-wheel drive removed, (which the rally had deemed “unfair”) the Land Rover in Gavin’s hands acquitted itself well. Soon after, in the summer of 1970, the revolutionary new Range Rover was launched to universal acclaim. With a sales pitch worthy of a London west-end play, “The Car for all Reasons” set new standards, and one Gavin Thompson was immediately taken with this truly revolutionary luxury SUV, enthusing: “I thought this was just the most fantastic vehicle.” Above: The expedition's pair of Range Rovers acquitted themselves well throughout the testing 19,000-mile journey, not least in the Darien Gap Right: 45 years later, Gavin Thompson is at home driving VXC 765K once again at Eastnor Castle, the same place the prototype Range Rovers were tested in the late 1960s BEYOND ANY DOUBT Gavin’s networking saw him approached by the British Trans-Americas Expedition Committee led by Army Major John Blashford-Snell who asked him to put a team together to drive from Alaska to Cape Horn. One snag: The Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. Known locally as “El Tapón” or “The Stopper”, the 100-mile Darien Gap was (and is) a largely impassable rain-forested jungle-rich wildlife. No bridges, roads or even tracks – just endless, solid undergrowth. On paper and as it turned out on the ground, the Range Rover had everything it required to do the job. Talking to the then head of British Leyland, Lord Stokes, Gavin explained why he wanted Range Rovers on the expedition, saying they offered “a powerful V8 petrol engine, class-leading long travel coil suspension, unheard-of levels of driver and passenger comfort”, and also that it was “pretty damn quick”. In the jungle, it would also be tested like never before, crucial to prove the new vehicle’s capabilities beyond any doubt. For the expedition two Range Rovers received heavy-duty towing eyes, custom-made bush bars and a petrol tank guard. An engine-driven capstan winch was also fitted to each vehicle. To increase load space, the rear bench was reduced to a single chair. Being a cavalryman, Gavin insisted the vehicles be painted in the regimental blue and white. In December 1971 the two vehicles were flown to Anchorage and the expedition got underway. Averaging 500 miles a day, the Range Rovers made light work of the Alaskan Highway until one vehicle PHOTOGRAPHY: BRITISH MOTOR MUSEUM HERITAGE TRUST (4) 48


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Land Rover Magazine


Land Rover Magazine showcases stories from around the world that celebrate inner strength and the drive to go Above and Beyond.

In this issue, New Defender is put through its paces by two inspirational young adventurers as they prepare for an expedition to the South Pole. We also celebrate 50 years of Range Rover by taking a journey of discovery to Dubai. As well as looking back, we look to future as a group of visionaries explain the technologies that could change the future for all of us.

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