I’ve never been that turned on by cars that were once owned by a famous person. The fact that a chap called Kieron Dyer once owned a BMW that’s up for sale on Auto Trader doesn’t make the car more appealing to me. Quite the reverse in fact. I recently saw that Janet Street-Porter’s old Chrysler PT Cruiser was up for sale. It took all my willpower and strength not to reach for the phone to book a test drive. I also read that I could buy a BMW 5-series once owned by a young lady called Chantelle Houghton. Unfortunately I do not know who Ms Houghton is, so I can’t even judge if her being a previous owner is a good or bad thing. But without any question, it doesn’t make the car more appealing.
But maybe my viewpoint is about to change, for this weekend I have finally taken delivery of a Land Rover 110. It has been a lifelong ambition to own the iconic Defender, but I had no idea it would be so difficult to find the right one. Having started searching for a 110 back in December, I eventually had to wait six months before getting my hands on the keys. First the UK snow caused a mass panic for the purchase of 4x4s, meaning Land Rovers were in short supply. Then it became clear that the good 110s would be snapped up within hours of coming on to the market, whilst the 110s that didn’t sell within 24 hours were actually not worth buying. Patience and restraint are needed in abundance when your start searching for a used Landy.
But when a 1989 110 with just 64k miles on the clock and only two owners from new came on to the market, my eyes pricked up and my ears lit up. At least I think that’s what happened. Anyway, it looked good and furthermore, it transpired that the original owner was none other than Lord Sainsbury, or Sir Sainsbury as he was known then. OK, so Lord Sainsbury doesn’t play football and has, as far as I’m aware, never appeared in a reality TV show, but he has run one of the country’s most successful companies. So there’s a fair chance that a Land Rover that has spent the majority of its life on Sainsbury’s Preston Candover estate won’t have been neglected when it comes to servicing and repairs. A fact backed up the service history and overall condition. So maybe a celebrity owner isn’t such a bad thing?
OK, so like any Land Rover of this age, there are a number of scratches, scrapes and dents. But on a Landy, these tend to come as standard, acting as battle scars rather than anything to be afraid of. I’d probably go as far as saying that unless a Landy has an inch-thick layer of mud and a copious amount of dings and dents, it hasn’t been doing the job it was intended for. These things don’t just ‘go off-road’, they ‘come alive off-road’.
On the road, they are quite literally a notch more comfortable than tying a wooden chair to a wheelbarrow and being pushed through Bruges historic cobbled city centre. In a hailstorm. I’ve seen aircraft carriers turn quicker than the time it takes between pressing the brake pedal and any decrease in speed to occur. The gear change can at best be described as interesting, whilst the steering is, how can I put this, quite vague. And as for the level of equipment – there’s a radio cassette, small heater and some windscreen wipers. Haven’t found anything else yet.
But none of this matters, because as I’ve already found within 48 hours of ownership, these things are simply brilliant off road. It devours green lanes like a Porsche GT3 RS would devour the Green Hell. Pot holes become pockets of entertainment and crevices merely a small hurdle for the 110 to skip over. Splashing through fords, climbing over rocks and turning mountains into molehills. It will take you further up the hills than anything else too, meaning more adventurous hiking and mountain biking can be achieved. And when it is all done, simply climb in the back for hot chocolate and biscuits. These things aren’t just a vehicle, they become part of the family, like a dependable dog, ready, willing and able to deliver when required. Sure, they’ll need love and maintenance along the way, but they’ll be at your side long after everyone else has fallen behind.
Furthermore, having the V8 engine means that the soundtrack to life with the Land Rover is equally impressive. I happen to think that the sound of a V8 is one of life’s great pleasures. It also happens to have bucket loads of torque which is helpful when you’re called into action to rescue a stranded 2.5 ton truck from a stream. With little more than a drop into low ratio and a well placed rope, the van was pulled away from certain peril, with the Landy not even breaking into sweat. I can now confirm that towing a van from a stream is just as exciting and rewarding a blast along the Klausenpass or lap around the ‘Ring. I genuinely did try something new today, but it won’t be the last time, that’s for sure.
Of course, there is one downside of owning a V8. The cost. Fortunately, this V8 comes complete with LPG conversion, so the cost savings mean I don’t quite need to buy a flat above the Shell garage. Not yet anyway.
So I think life with the Sainsbury’s Land Rover is going to taste good. The realisation of an ambition to own an icon and a consistent member of my ever changing fantasy dream garage. If ever you find yourself stuck in a ditch or stranded on the moors, give me a shout. I’ll be there in a flash.