Exposure to a Performance Car review of the Lamborghini Countach 5000QV at an impressionable age set Dan Trent on course for a life-long obsession with cars. As editor of PistonHeads.com he’s got direct access to a classifieds repository of over 100,000 such vehicles to browse day in, day out. Temptation is never far away. He’s still some way off that Countach though.
Nothing like a car you can remember being launched being granted classic status to make you realise you’re getting on a bit. Yes, the original Freelander I is now, officially, a Land Rover Heritage vehicle. This means owners can benefit from full factory parts support, equivalent to that Land Rover offers to those keeping Series I, II or III, Ranger Rover classic, P38 and early Discovery models on (or off!) the road.
Now, given the internet widely regards the Freelander I as one of the least reliable cars ever built, a few may be offering a wry smile as a response to this news. Land Rover may be making over 9,000 parts available for the car through its Heritage service. But does it really have enough of them to keep the remaining Freelander I’s running?
In researching this story I came across a thread on PistonHeads titled ‘Mk1 Freelander really as bad as the reviews make out?‘ to which a significant number of people responded simply ‘yes’. But there are advocates. And evidence of why I might be tempted to go against the flow and invest in an early Freelander was presented to me first-hand last year when I did a hill rally in another Land Rover. A proper one, if accepted wisdom is to be believed.
I was driving a Bowler-prepared car in the Defender Challenge, a special class for identically specced Land Rovers to offer privateers a taste of international adventure rallying. It was an eye-opening experience, not least when I tipped mine over in practice. I didn’t feel so bad when three out of the 12 Defenders in my class did the same in the heat of battle but the brutality of even a small event like this was eye opening. Think stage rallying with serious off-road sections thrown in for good measure. And no slowing down for the properly lumpy bits.
Also taking part were a husband-and-wife team in a Freelander I, bought for little over a grand and with the Hardback removed, roll cage installed and rear load bed filled with ratchet-strapped spare wheels and spares. I have to confess it looked brilliant. And went well too – it got round a course I thought was going to pulverise the Defender, proving that, whatever the naysayers think, it’s a Land Rover in more than just name. And, with more car-like handling and a sweet-revving V6 it was, I imagine, rather more fun than the (as proven) top-heavy and agricultural Defender on the forest-road sections of the event too.
Obviously, to most people a big petrol engine just adds incorrigible thirst to the list of reasons to avoid it like the plague, meaning they’re cheap to buy. I found a few between one and two grand, all seemingly ripe for stripping, caging and turning into a bargain off-road fun machine. I even like the way they look, the compact size and sharp design inside and out actually ageing rather well to my eyes. And you don’t need to go mad with the off-road accoutrements to make it look proper either.
Many will think me bonkers. But if a Freelander bought, built and prepared on a shoestring can complete an event like that it would seem to me the very definition of cheap thrills. And tougher than accepted wisdom would have you believe. Splattered in mud or not, the smiles on the faces of the owners said a lot. I’d happily have a piece of that.