July 2014 Issue of 4×4 Magazine

july-cover 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!

Hils BlogWith all the latest high tech, and often highly expensive new 4x4s arriving on the market, it’s worth remembering when things were… a little simpler!

Good grief ─ at the moment, if you blink you miss it. There is such a stream of new or updated 4x4s coming out just now that it would be easy to miss something if you took your hands off the wheel for a second. Many of these latest 4x4s hail from the bounteous upmarket SUV class. According to CAP, out of the £50 billion-ish we Brits spent on new cars in 2013, the class of car we spent the most on was the SUV, to the tune of a momentous £10 billion.

No manufacturer can now afford be without an example of the genre. At the extreme, Bentley finally revealed the long-anticipated, but inconclusive, teaser pic of its new SUV in late March (in News, May issue). All we get is a front-end image surrounded by camouflaging smoke effect. It does look, however, like a Bentley and, no doubt, will be huge but rounded off at the edges to create the classic SUV look. As Bentley is owned by VW, expect a rear end of Touareg proportions and ilk. It will be classy, outrageously expensive and powered by a Bentley 6.0-litre W12 engine (with Hybrid and diesels on the cards), and be built right here in the UK at the Bentley Crewe works in Cheshire.

June 2014 Issue of 4×4 Magazine

june cover So there we have it then. You no longer need to be in your 4×4 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…

May 2014 Issue of 4×4 Magazine

may cover Opinions are mixed about the new small 4×4 Renegade from Jeep. The traditional view may be that it’s not a ‘real’ Jeep, that it’s unfit to carry the famous badge. Jeep has, after all, been building 4x4s ‘Since 1941’ as the badging proudly embossed on the new Renegade’s facia confirms. But a vehicle based on an Italian Fiat 500 floorpan, with an on-demand ‘leverless’ 4×4 system is hardly a Willys or a Wrangler, no matter how bright the red paint on the signature tow hooks may shine. However, contemptuous dismissal is not the answer. Perhaps, there is a different way of looking at this, and perhaps, even the most diehard Jeep enthusiast can be persuaded to take a step back, re-evaluate, and concede that the new Jeep Renegade is indeed a very good thing.

Firstly, however, you have to accept that 1941 was a very long time ago. It’s all very well having a heritage to be proud of, but to slavishly refuse to change with the times, the culture, and more importantly, the market is – amongst other things – a recipe for disaster. Turn the clock back only a few years to the height of our recent global recession and the very existence of Jeep as a manufacturer was in doubt. The only place you would find the iconic Jeep badge looked like being at an autojumble, certainly not on a brand new design of new small 4×4 SUV. Things had to change, and with the help of the US government and the drive of the British-born president and CEO of the Jeep brand, Mike Manley, a merger with Fiat was established. Fiat? What on earth does this Italian manufacturer know about 4×4, for heaven’s sake? Well, for one thing, it seems to understand the global value of the Jeep brand, as the excellent newly revised Grand Cherokee, new Cherokee and now the new small 4×4 Renegade clearly demonstrates. And the most important part of that sentence is ‘new small 4×4’.

Hils BlogIt seems that the planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will mean the end of a serious, iconic, and much-admired off-roader

We are now well into 2014 and it will prove a momentous year for UK and US troops, as they finally pull out of Afghanistan before it is over. A recent episode of BBC2’s Top Gear saw James May travel out to Helmand Province to see just what a mammoth logistical task the British forces have in transporting all the Land Rovers, Jackals, Ferrets and other military machines back to the UK. They are worth millions and millions of pounds and cannot be left out there, quite rightly.

For the US troops, however, it is a very different story. And the shame of it is that the pullout also represents a major change in military transportation and the end of a very long and iconic era. It has been suggested that tens of thousands of AM General Humvees probably one of the conflict’s most recognisable combat vehicles, along with our own Jackals and Ferrets are expected to be left behind. And, according to Pat Ware, the author of Haynes’s new AM General Humvee Manual (available from www.haynes.co.uk, priced £25.00), the end of US involvement in Afghanistan will mean the end of the Humvee’s combat role and the beginning of the end of its military career altogether.

Hils BlogThe digital era has much to be admired, but every now and then, a good old piece of paper trumps anything electronic

As I sit and write this, I am looking resignedly out at the rain pouring down in torrents and the wind whipping up round the house. Luckily, I live on a hill and have not been flooded, but I know people locally who live near rivers and who have been inundated with water; and the pictures from the Somerset levels and Worcester, where I also have friends, are just awful. Parts of Surrey and Berkshire and all along the Thames Valley are dreadful, too.

When the deluge finally stops it will still take months, or maybe years, for some to recover from this. I hope that, by the time you are reading this, some form of spring will have arrived and brought more settled weather. During the flood crisis, the emergency services, Environment Agency, AA, RAC, RSPCA and power companies have been working at breaking point, many of them wholly relying on their own 4×4 vehicles and those of volunteers. And those volunteers include the incredible 4×4 Response teams around the country, who have been working around the clock. The official services mentioned above probably couldn’t do without them, and the public owe them a great debt.

April 2014 Issue of 4×4 Magazine

april cover This month’s Oddball feature on the Maruti Gypsy got me reminiscing. A lifetime ago, well it was 1987, I was reporting on the Himalayan Rally in northern India. The main aim of my visit was to report on the exploits of two British female rally drivers competing in a near standard Unipart-sponsored Land Rover 90 (more than a quarter of a century before the recently announced Defender Challenge rally series, please note). At the time, foreigners – like me – were not actually allowed to drive hire cars in India, so we had to have a local driver. Not unsurprisingly, however, this did not go down well with us journos.

The solution involved in us leaving the poor soul with a fistful of Rupees in a hotel somewhere in the foothills of the Himalayas   (I often wonder if he’s still there, awaiting our return). This meant that myself, plus a British photographer, and another two journalists – one British and one Belgian –  could drive the ‘Press’ Maruti Gypsy alone. Our Belgian compatriot had arrived in India with his belongings in a large brown 1930s style suitcase and insisted on carrying it with him at all times. Given that the snapper, the late and great, Hugh Bishop was something of a big lad and that he came complete with a lot of photo gear, things were cosy in the Gypsy.

As you can read on page 92, the Maruti was a Suzuki SJ (then badly) built under licence in India, and we had a particularly grimly constructed and wheezing machine, which flat out, preferably downhill, could manage a top speed of 50kph. Sometimes.

Hils BlogToyota’s RAV4 celebrates 20 years in the business, as does our columnist! And even after two decades, the world of the SUV continues to surprise

So, here we are, now well into 2014. I hope you all had a great Christmas and fun New Year and managed to survive the awful weather that the end of 2013 brought us. In recent years, this has been a busy time of year for 4x4s, dealing with heavy snow brought to our shores from Siberia. This time it’s been high winds and terrible floods bought by weather systems from the northwest. But, once again, 4x4s have been prominent in responding to the floods, and the emergency services, in their Land Rovers and pick-ups, have been invaluable.

We all know, however, that even a traditional 4×4 with a higher air intake than your average saloon car isn’t immune and careless people still manage to kill their vehicles by thinking they can just drive through any deep standing water because they have an ‘SUV’. Even our impressively capable vehicles can be washed away in deep water: it’s a very strong element. You, dear 4×4 readers, would not be so reckless, of course.

March 2014 Issue of 4×4 Magazine

march coverIt’s better to be 70 years young than 40 years old. How appropriate, this month, is that quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Not someone I knew much about, but he seems to have been a leading light in the Supreme Court in the USA in the early part of the 20th Century. He retired at 90 days and 309 days old – which I reckon you can ‘round up’ to be 91 years young.

Why mention him? Well, I reckon old Wendell would have got on well with our contributor Les Carvall. Having finished a successful business career, Les sat back, relaxed but found that the tartan slippers weren’t best suited for his itchy feet. But instead of going fishing or sitting in his shed drinking tea, Les decided to drive around the world in a Suzuki Jimny. Now that’s quite a simple sentence to write, but it’s not an easy thing to do. The physical achievement of all that driving is one thing, the organisation of getting not one, but two Jimnys around the globe through some of the remotest parts of Asia is the bit that really impresses us. You can read the full story this month and if it doesn’t inspire you to actually do that trip you’ve always promised yourself… well then you are certainly getting old.

You need a certain maturity to compete on a rally raid event, and the Dakar in particular. For us mortals, a high-speed off-road event that covers some 5600 miles is pretty unimaginable, especially given the conditions. It’s an iconic event, ‘the Dakar’, and this year it was totally dominated by the Mini All4 Racing machines, with seven finishing in the top ten. Now that’s not a problem if they were battling it out, but sadly three stages from the end, the monstrous ‘team orders’ came into play and the top three Minis trundled across the finish line without breaking into a sweat. Don’t know about you, but that seems to devalue everyone’s efforts when that happens. Didn’t impress the organisers of this year’s event either it seems. What you cannot deny, however, is how impressive the domination of the Mini All4 Racing rally raid cars have been for the last three years.

Hils BlogOur columnist waves goodbye to a couple of true intrepid adventurers, and wishes she could join them…

A few months ago I reported on my latest trip to Iceland, in particular an amazing trip to the Langjökull Icecap in one of the superb Arctic Trucks Toyota Land Cruisers. On that day, we were driven by Antarctica-specialist and all-round off-roading legend Gísli Jónsson. Joining us, and keeping a very low profile, was his partner Felicity Aston.

On that day I found out that Felicity just so happens to come from a small town in Kent – just a few miles from where I live, which was quite a coincidence in itself. But what is far more fascinating is that Felicity is a true legend as well, in her own right. She is the first woman in the world to ski across Antarctica alone, led a team of Commonwealth women to the South Pole on skis, has raced in the Canadian Arctic, led a team of women across Greenland’s inland ice and skied along a frozen river in Siberia, as well as spending three years living and working in Antarctica, where she met Gísli.