Land Rover Range Rover
“I think it’s the best car ever made.”
In late December 2017, a 1971 Range Rover reunited with its first driver at Eastnor Castle in Ledbury, England .
It’s no ordinary Range Rover, of course, and Gavin Thompson is no ordinary driver.
Not only was this Range Rover, registered ‘VXC 765K’, a member of the British Trans-Americas Expedition, it was also the first two vehicles in history to complete the entire length of the Pan-American Highway (19,000 miles) one of the cars.
It crossed the dreaded Darien Gap on this expedition between 1971 and 1972.
Gavin Thompson was part of this intrepid expedition. He was tall, with a determined gaze, and a very witty but always mean-spirited talker.
In 1968, Gavin Thompson’s British Army unit was stationed in Germany. In the army, everyone affectionately called him “Alun (Wheels)” after they knew that he had learned to drive since he was 4 years old.
Because of this, he was assigned to the transportation department of the army. It happened to be a Land Rover used in the department, so the enduring friendship between Gavin and Land Rover began.
Excellent driving skills and the advantages of being able to easily drive a new Land Rover model, coupled with an innate social ability, allowed him to enter the London-Sydney Rally as a wild card in 1968.
At that time, the rally regulations did not allow the use of four-wheel drive systems. However, under the precise control of Gavin, the Land Rover after removing the four-wheel drive system still won praise for its outstanding performance.
Shortly thereafter, in the summer of 1970, the groundbreaking Range Rover was launched to worldwide acclaim.
Its slogan is as touching as a West End opera line – “The Car Of All Reasons” . This sentence also established a new industry benchmark. Gavin bought the one-of-a-kind luxury SUV right away and couldn’t put it down: “I think it’s the best car ever made.”
Later, Gavin socialized into the organizing committee of the British Trans-American Expedition led by Army Major John Blashford-Snell.
The major asked him to help form a team, starting from Alaska (Alaska), driving all the way, and finally arriving at Cape Horn (Cape Horn).
The most difficult part of the journey was Darien Bay, between Panama and Colombia. Stretching for 100 miles, the Darien Bay is often referred to by locals as “the plug” or “the blocker”.
It consists of a large expanse of tropical rainforest, which has maintained the appearance of a primitive jungle from the past to the present. There are no bridges, roads, or even trails, just endless, hard-bodied bushes.
However, both in theory and in practice, Range Rover has all the conditions needed to complete this challenge. Gavin was keen to use a Range Rover for this adventure.
He explained the reason to Lord Stokes, the then boss of the British Leyland Motor Company (British Leyland) said: “The Range Rover has a powerful V8 petrol engine, and it has market-leading spring suspension for long-distance driving. It also provides an unprecedented comfortable driving experience. Of course, it can drive very fast.” In the jungle, a new car will face many situations and troubles that have never been encountered before, so this kind of adventure trip is just right. It can be used as an excellent opportunity to test its performance, so as to dispel doubts about it from the outside world.
For the journey, the expedition fitted both Range Rover vehicles with heavy-duty tow rings, custom-made protection bars to keep out bushes, gas tank guards, and an engine-powered winch for the vehicle.
To increase load space, the rear seats have been reduced to just one. Gavin, who was born in the army, also insisted on painting both cars in the blue and white paint that symbolizes the military.
In December 1971, the two vehicles were flown to Anchorage, and the expedition began. They drove an average of 500 miles a day in two Range Rovers .
The cars were in perfect condition until one day, one of them collided with a broken down truck on the icy asphalt road.
Fortunately, no one was injured. Unfortunately, the wrecked car had to be towed to Vancouver for repairs. By mid-January 1972, they had reached Panama City, proclaiming the entire expedition a success. However, Gavin casually called it “an ordinary self-driving” .
driving through the jungle
Thorough preparation is one of the basic elements of an expedition.
Based on the inference of the geographical environment of Darien Bay, the expedition team installed special swamp tires on both vehicles.
Although they had also found someone to explore the terrain in the jungle beforehand, for some reason, this information was not sent to Gavin and the expedition team in the end.
By the time they finally entered the jungle, the expedition had grown to 64 people, including a contingent of the Royal Engineers and several scientists.
Torrential rain made the already harsh environment even worse, and the swamp tires were practically useless at all. All this made the expedition into trouble.
Land Rover engineer Geof Miller was called to the scene to see if the adventure could go ahead.
However, after flying to the jungle, he found that all the problems could be solved by simply changing the swamp tires to ordinary off-road tires.
After going deep into the jungle for 100 days, the expedition finally reached the south of the jungle.
However, the expedition team members were exhausted, exhausted physically and mentally, and the attack of malaria and high fever made them live in a hell on earth.
At the same time, the speed of the expedition also slowed down, almost only 1 mile per day. However, everyone is still full of confidence.
Gavin said: “I took instant photos of everything that was worn out. Even in those days when the temperature in the car was as high as 60 degrees Celsius, I still had no doubts that we would succeed.”
Once out of the jungle, the Royal Engineers and scientists left the team, while Land Rover engineer Roger Crathorne followed the expedition until it reached the Colombian capital, Bogotá.
From there, the convoy was back on track at 60 mph, a stark contrast to the predicament of the jungle.
On June 9, 1972, the expedition team arrived at Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina in a Range Rover, and a new legend was born.
Since then, adventure enthusiasts around the world have begun to drive Land Rover Range Rover more and more for adventure activities and expedition trips, and Land Rover Range Rover has also begun to conquer one after another difficult and dangerous places around the world.
In 1979 a Range Rover won its class at the grueling Paris-Dakar Rally, and in 1981 it won the overall title.
After more than two decades, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, which has become a best-selling car, participated in the “Ancient Silk Road” expedition organized by Land Rover in 2013.
This is the first time a Range Rover Evoque has participated in a long-distance expedition. They traveled more than 10,000 miles from Berlin in 50 days along one of the world’s oldest trade routes, passing through 11 countries before arriving in Mumbai.
For the participants, this is by no means a leisurely trip, but a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
In recent years, the Range Rover Sport of the Land Rover family has participated in a series of extreme challenges. For example, it participated in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2013; challenged the ski downhill track in 2016; completed the Tianmen Mountain challenge in 2017 (see page 80 for details).
Now, back at Eastnor Castle, where the original Range Rover was tested 50 years ago, Gavin Thompson is back in the Range Rover that accompanied him on his expedition in 1971. As the V8 engine roared and sang excitedly in his ears, Gavin said only one sentence: “I seem to smell the smell from that damn jungle again.”
Text: PAUL ENTWISTLE
PHOTO: ALEX HOWE