When Land Rover asked me to attend the Royal Windsor Horse Show in celebration of the Defender and drive a selection of their classic vintage cars through Windsor Park, I jumped at the chance. Memories of learning to drive in one of these sturdy classics meant that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drive such an iconic British car down the famous Long Walk to Windsor Castle.
The concept for the Land Rover Defender was initially developed in 1947, but it has been re-modelled and modernised throughout the years. To celebrate this iconic vehicle, Land Rover has released the Defender Celebration Series, three very different limited edition models (the Heritage, the Adventure and the Autobiography), each celebrating a crucial aspect of the Defender’s DNA. Land Rover was also celebrating the longevity of this hardy 4×4 with a Defender Celebration Drive through Windsor Great Park in a selection cars ranging from their early Series 1 vehicle to current day models.
We started the morning at Guards Polo Club (which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year) with a tour of the vehicles given by Roger Crathorne, who is more commonly known as “Mr. Land Rover,” due to almost four decades of service at the company, specifically in Land Rover Experience. During his tenure with Land Rover, Crathorne has not only instructed members of the general public, but hundreds of celebrities too.
Very few people are given the chance to drive down the Long Walk towards Windsor Castle in a fleet of heritage Defenders and we felt very privileged indeed. Our vehicles included a Series I, Series IIa, Series III, and an exposed aluminium Defender 90 built to commemorate 50 years of Land Rover in 1998. I learnt to drive in a Land Rover, so this really took me back in time using a Double D clutch, and gear sticks which always needed a heavy nudge to get them into position. Whatever their age, Defenders are a real embodiment of British spirit, and this reinforced childhood memories of picnics in the cold, relying on little more than an old heater and blankets to keep warm. Particularly given that our day was full of drizzle and mists, it was very fitting. However, these safe, solid cars are tough in the face of adversity, and that British bulldog spirit of “we must carry on” was only too evident as we drove around in the pouring rain.
At midday, I drove into the Royal Windsor Horse Show with Land Rover’s latest ambassador, farmer and TV personality Adam Henson, who formally handed over a new Discovery Sport to the beneficiary of The Prince’s Countryside Fund Land Rover Bursary – Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA). The purpose of the Fund is to aid farmers and rural communities in greatest need, ensuring a brighter future – both economically and socially – for those who live and work in the countryside. SARA will use the vehicle for their vital search and rescue operations on the Severn Estuary. Henson revealed that he has “great admiration” for the work that SARA undertake. Of his ambassadorial role, he told me that “farming and agriculture has always been my life’s work and if ever there is a vehicle for the countryside, it has to be a Land Rover.” My thoughts exactly!
Following the presentation, we geared up to see the Show. Set against the spectacular backdrop of Windsor Castle, this is the perfect place to witness a prestigious display of equine showmanship. HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, had earlier commented that “the weather is a constant anxiety….I can only hope that the weather will be kind to the Show this year!” Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be, but even the rain couldn’t detract from what was truly a wonderful day. Indeed, I was wearing my Barbour, whose partnership with Land Rover I covered last year (click here), proving that bad weather is certainly no obstacle to style!
The day ended all too soon, and we were able to drive back to Guards in the Defenders for one last time. These iconic vehicles have certainly stood the test of time, and this has got to be worth celebrating if nothing else. Here’s to heritage!