I am not sure how to put this but I think I have started an affair. You see I went off today to drive some of the heritage Land Rovers at the newly reopened Fen End site and sort of, well, wholeheartedly fell in love, but you see, I am already in love with Big Red, my 1964 Land Rover Series 2a and now I am in a quite some predicament.
I must admit it is not a full-blown affair just yet, but I think it might grow into one. Just let me explain everything: Fen End is where Norman Dewis tested brakes and tyres for Dunlop and Girling, it was actually the testing centre for this ground breaking company, (today you might have to allow me some puns as I guide my way through guilt, passion and pure adultery).
"At 146 miles per hour" Norman told me, "I would release the metal fork hiding amongst the chassis, onto the tyre and cause a well prepared crash".
I continued my tea time chat with Norman as he explained how the tyre is one of the most important elements of the car, it is after all, the first contact with the road surface and if you get that wrong then there is little all else you can do to make it better.
We ought to be thankful for people like Norman, who pioneered the development of brakes and along with Sir Stirling Moss, who together, developed the disc brake for the C Type and Le Mans winning D Type Jaguars.
And it is here where I need to calm my breath and revert back to talking about why I actually had the pleasure of driving some of the heritage fleet at Fen End, the company's customer test facility in the West Midlands. Here, you and I can experience Land Rover's rich heritage through driving vehicles from the Series I (that started the legend in 1948), to famous military vehicles such as the 101 Forward Control and the iconic classic Range Rover, with a variety of day adventures, from off road with the Land Rovers to on circuit with the Jaguars. There is also the chance to compare old and new through driving tasks, whilst an instructor takes you through all that you need to know to fully get the best out of these very capable machines and it is here, where I started my affair... with a D Type Jaguar.
Having never driven a racing car of this calibre before, I was quite expecting something to be moved in my heart, but never did I think that from the moment I started the engine would I be quite so in love. I am pleased I vouched to actually drive rather than be a passenger (both available as an experience at Fen End) and luckily I bagged the fin edged beauty of a monster as the afternoon was growing old and perhaps I would have only been able to drive the E Type, C Type or Mark2 Jaguars, all of course equally enthralling for a first time ride. The day for me was about learning how to use my own Land Rover Series 2a, "as slow as possible, as fast as necessary" being the moto all day...(all morning rather, for when I sat in the D Type, I think all sayings flew up in to the wind as I put my foot down somewhat).
Learning how to utilise the clutch and throttle without the brake pedal on a series 1 takes quite a bit of practice whilst you trundle through the water and off piste in the green lanes, hill decent on a modern 4 x 4 is a button to push but with these old gems, it might include having to get out and turn the freewheeling wheel hubs, or pulling the red low range stick towards you...
Rather different from my new romance, which without any hesitation I knew I would be in love. I have seen this car race around the streets of Monaco, Le Mans and on the circuits of Goodwood and Silverstone, I often looked on with admiration at how the driver could handle such a beast, then I had the chance to drive this thoroughbred and see for myself. Admittedly 110 mph around the Fen End test circuit might not be as fast as she can fly, but for me this was heaven. I couldn't reach the race clutch properly so bunny hopped her in third out of the paddock and onto the circuit, with this race horse chomping at the bit we flew.
I was the first person out in her for the afternoon, so warming up the tyres was welcomed equally so I could learn the track but the second lap round, I had to remember we were not racing and oh my goodness me, 5 seconds into getting on the towards the next lap I am in love and I didn't and still don't, know what to do about it. Surrounded by a curvaceous metal body I felt the car glide along the Warwickshire ground, heading for the corner to slow and slide round it, with a slight shift across the tarmac, I could feel the grip beneath me with the tyres that I had learnt about just moments before, I was in utter adoration of the feel and strength but above all, the roar of the engine. My confidence developed into an urge to reach the next apex and glide her round to the straight allowing the steering wheel to flow naturally between my little hands.
As I started my way back into the paddock I already felt heartbroken. I didn't know what to say. As we turned off the engine I remember people talking to me, I mean I could see them moving their lips towards mine. I could feel people asking if I enjoyed that.
Do you see now why I felt utterly adulterous? I had diverted my love elsewhere, to the D Type. To appease my guilt I opted to go back in the Series 1, "for photographs" I reluctantly admitted.
You know when you kiss someone for the first time and you smile inwardly three days? Today is that day. Yes I'm having an affair I don't know what to do about it. You too can have a big grin for days at the Fen End site with Land Rover Heritage and start an affair of your own.
(Photos by Land Rover and Lara Platman)