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Wednesday, 20 August 2014 00:00
October 2014 Issue of 4x4 Magazine
It’s always refreshing learning something new about four-wheel drive, especially the technology used to get a vehicle across impossible ground, or through poor weather conditions. This month, I certainly learned something new, albeit something that was actually conceived some 60 plus years ago!
Now we are all getting used to the amazing technology that is fitted to 4x4s these days, plus all that mind-boggling stuff from the wizards in white coats at Jaguar Land Rover. Actually, they probably don’t wear white coats anymore, I’m just showing my age and love of an ancient cliché; these days it’s all designer suits, Google glasses and virtual reality caves… But I digress. This month’s piece of wonderful ‘new’ technology for me was the amazing Elston Skid-Master Sander fitted to the unique 4x4 Dodge woodie station wagon, featured on page 44. I won’t explain what it does here, just read through the feature and see what you think. I guarantee it will make you smile, both at the ingenuity, and sheer barmy, craziness of the whole idea. It’s probably not going to be included on the next Discovery Concept from the guys at Jaguar Land Rover, but you feel learning about it should increase their education on the history of four-wheel drive. Some years ago I was privileged to get to know John Cooper, of Mini and World Championship motor racing fame. John was no mean engineer himself, but he told me a story about how an Italian engineer once said to him, “if you want to learn something new, then go to the museum”. Meaning that you’ll be surprised how many ‘new’ developments have been tried before. Mind you, I’m not sure that the Skid-Master will be making a comeback on the next generation Range Rover!
As far as off-road heroes go, Sergio Marchionne might not be a name you are familiar with. In many respects, however, if you are a 4x4 enthusiast today, he’s probably up there with the Wilks brothers, Spen King and the Indian Tata family; without whom, Land Rover wouldn’t be what it is today. Without Sergio Marchionne, we’d simply be without Jeep. Full stop.
Apparently back in 2009, the weeds around the Jeep factory in Detroit were three feet high as the company shuddered in the shadows of bankruptcy. It wasn’t a great time to be a Jeep dealer anywhere, certainly not in the UK. Fast forward five years to January 2014 and the Italian Fiat SpA company secured full ownership of the Chrysler Group in an eye-watering $4.35 billion agreement, and the man behind the deal (and with it the complete revival of the Jeep brand) is Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Chrysler (Source: www.bloomberg.com).
Do you have a problem when people start moaning that ‘things were better back in the day’? It always seems an odd comment to me, and not something I ever want to get drawn into discussing. You just know that it will get a bit heated. There are, however, lots of examples today where we seem to be ‘looking back’ and reviving things that many had thought had long been discarded. I am a keen vinyl record collector as it happens, but you won’t get me declaring it’s ‘better’ than modern digitised sound. In my view, it’s certainly different, and I enjoy it, but if you want to listen to downloaded music on an MP3 player that’s your call. Personally, I think you are missing out, but it doesn’t bother me that much.
You hear similar when mixing with classic car enthusiasts. Discuss the merits, indeed the incredible technological benefits, of a ‘modern’ vehicle and you are likely to get the cross-fingered, sign of the devil, salute. Get behind me Satan, and leave me mopping up the oil on my driveway from my classic’s leaking sump. It’s similar with 4x4s, of course, and that is never more obvious than when something like the Discovery Concept is announced. It’s a display of technological wizardry that is mind-blowing, and surely for anyone interested in this market, a fascinating subject to learn more about. (Hopefully, we have helped here with our insight piece in this issue). Of course, trouble comes when you hear one of Land Rover’s engineers, or researchers, as they seem to be called today, saying that they are “lowering the need for the driver to do anything.” You can hear the hackles rising, the pints of real ale being spluttered into untrimmed moustaches and Imperial gauge torque wrenches being waved in frustration.
It’s fair to say that each month that I receive the copy and photographs from regular correspondent Robert Pepper, my well of resentment begins to fill. Once again he tells us of loading wife, kids, a few steaks and even some cold beer into his Discovery and just driving off into the Bush. The pictures show the family’s campsite in some wonderful remote location, and you know he’s had a great off-road drive to get there. The only saving grace is that Robert’s an ex-pat, a nice bloke and not a freshly grown Australian; otherwise the resentment might overflow completely. Of course there’s also the email I might get from America asking if I want a story of someone driving their Jeep through the desert, and the excitement of rock-crawling along some National Park trail. Then you learn from somewhere like Portugal that it is completely legal to follow dirt tracks into the mountains without worrying about whether you are actually allowed to be there, because you can…
Here in jam-packed Blighty, any greenlaning trip is best done with a fully qualified High Court barrister on-board to argue the case should you bump into Mr and Mrs We-know-our-rights, out ‘rambling’ with their best friend and spinster of the parish, Ms I-know-even-better who will doubtless expound that you ‘and your massive dirty horrible four-wheel drive machine’ shouldn’t be on this track. Even if legally, you have every right to be there. Let’s face it, off-roading in the UK is not as easy a task as the one that confronts Mr Pepper each weekend!
So there we have it then. You no longer need to be in your 4x4 to go off-roading. Thanks to the boffins at Land Rover, it is going to be possible to remotely control your machine while you stand out of harm’s way. That’s just one of the amazing new technical achievements that was announced this month by JLR at the New York Auto Show, where the Discovery Vision Concept was unveiled. Remote Control Drive ‘enables the driver to manoeuvre the car at low speed while not actually seated inside it.’ Can you truly be described as the driver, if that’s the case? Interesting legal point should your vehicle then run over the neighbour’s cat. Useful though should you need to hitch up a trailer on your own.
At present this is a Discovery Concept, so whether we are going to see all this in a production machine in the near future is still in question, but you get the idea that it won’t be long. Some of it does appear somewhat unnerving, however. Apparently there’s the ‘next generation’ of HMI, which – and I kid you not – is the Human-Machine Interface, which allows video calls between passengers. Talking to each other is obviously so passé. Any grumpy old man mockery from me does cause concern and head scratching when you learn that the Discovery’s Smart Glass has ‘the power of augmented reality’. Emails have been sent to Stephen Hawkings and Brian Cox to check this one out, but my understanding of the English language means that it’s not possible to augment reality. Surely you cannot make something ‘more real’? Perhaps this is due to the company’s new commercial link with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spacecraft project; Land Rover Discovery bravely goes where no off-roader has gone before…