A conundrum I have long since wrestled with is whether people influence their cars or is it the reverse that’s true; that owners are moulded by the vehicles they drive? That’s a bit complicated (for me, anyhow), so I’ll put it in simpler terms and use the example of a Subaru Impreza. Do ordinary chaps turn into brain-out loonies, with ears that stick out, a ridiculous shaven-sides haircut that accentuates them and arms draped across the top of the steering wheel as they crouch towards the windscreen the minute they get into the driver’s seat of a Scoobie? Or is it the sort of car that automatically attracts the aforementioned amoeba-minded divvo?
This syndrome happens with plenty of other cars, of course. Big BMWs tend to be driven by self-made businessmen, with one hand on the wheel, the other clutching a mobile phone and number plates that spell (or attempt to spell) BOSS, JONO, BIL and other words that amply demonstrate their complete lack of any grammatical finesse. You’ll get a similar type of mobile-clutching geezer in a Rolls-Royce. They bought the Roller to let the world know they have arrived, whereas the more-discerning driver, used to having money and with no need to boast about it, will choose the Bentley equivalent. It means he will enjoy the refinement without making a public statement.
And now, for the ultimate in archetypes – the four-wheel drive brigade. There tend to be two types and one is the male species, which errs towards pick-ups with names such as Barbarian, Animal, Warrior and other titles guaranteed to create peace and harmony. This species, typically, wears three-quarter length shorts and a couple of earrings, is covered in nonsensical tattoos (VOLE and THAE on the knuckles – figure it out), has a shiny head and waddles. It’s a fact.
The other is the female species, which tends to drive rather large vehicles, mostly to transport their little darlings to school and back (come on, you can’t expect them to walk 100 yards, can you?) and doesn’t know exactly what four-wheel drive is, but is happy to know it’s there. This species, generally, has blonde hair with the roots dyed black, whose idea of a hard day is when its nail varnish gets cracked attempting to open the door at Harrods and when the husband comes home from work (usually waddling from where the Barbarian is parked) without clutching a fist full of tenners. I am eternally glad that life never finds me in a cynical mood.
I suppose the thing that gets me about these so-called SUVs is that they are – or rather, were – designed to go off-road, if needed, but this part of their character is now mostly lost. The one that started it all was the Range Rover, launched in June, 1970 (although some argue that the Jeep Wagoneer of 1963 was the original Chelsea tractor). It was a quite astonishing vehicle, with plenty of space, exceptional comfort, the ability to tackle tough terrains thanks to its long-travel suspension and brilliant performance, which was to be expected from the highly-respected, ex-Buick V8 lump.
I do remember the launch (well, not the precise second it hit the showrooms, I mean seeing them on the road in 1970). They were quite expensive, at two quid under two grand, and, thus, the preserve of the well-heeled. It wasn’t until the late ‘Seventies that prices fell enough for the Rangie to become a possibility for the likes of the ‘oiks’ I knocked around with. One such oik bought his in, I think, 1978, and even then, it still cost him a fair bit.
It was pretty reliable, but had an annoying habit of ticking over at about 1700rpm – despite all manner of fiddling with the carbs. At the time, I did a great deal of work on cars, mainly to support the local brewery which, I figured, was in dire need of capital, and the bloke asked me to help.
I kind of knew what was wrong before even lifting the bonnet and my suspicions were more or less confirmed when I noticed that the engine had SU carbs. As you probably know, in those pre-injection days, the Rover V8 generally got its daily intake through a pair of Strombergs. They are trouble-free, save for the odd occurrence of a split diaphragm. SUs – occasionally used on the Range Rover – don’t give a lot of bother, either, but at the time, the world was starting to become green-thinking and the SU butterfly valve was, in turn, fitted with a poppet valve. The idea was that it opened on the overrun, allowing a bit of air into the combustion chambers, minimising the amount of unburnt fuel. This was supposed to reduce emissions (a bit of a laugh, really, considering how environmentally antisocial the Rover engine was overall), but these little valves sometimes stuck open, which allowed the tickover to creep up. There were two popular solutions – either to solder it or glue it in place.
I advised him of the situation, but didn’t do the job, not because I was lazy, I simply didn’t like the bloke. Not only that, but I could hardly reach under the bonnet. I’m only a little geezer (height-wise, but I’m nearly as wide as I am tall) and the vehicle is quite lofty.
The original Range Rover is now fetching almost unbelievable sums. I’ve seen several advertised for around the £30,000 mark and heard stories of really good examples fetching considerably more. They are almost in the name-your-price bracket. Nobody could have predicted the effect this vehicle would have on the world. And it would be somewhat unfair to blame the Rangie for spawning a generation of pretentious, irritating dimbos. They were around a long time before 1970.