As a designer, Gerry McGovern is rather like American muscle cars of yore: neither handles curves too well, but give them a straight line and there's no catching them. His MGF roadster and various Lincoln concepts were less than convincing, but his multiple off-road designs have been outstanding. From the highly successful Land Rover Freelander -- Europe's four-by-four best-seller from 1997 to 2002 -- to the terrific Range Rover Evoque, his Land Rover designs are winners. His grasp of how to modulate the surfaces of a box-shaped mass to make it attractive eludes most designers.
There was never any styling per se on the original Land Rovers. Their bodies were made of aluminum sheet that was bent and riveted without the benefit of compound-curved stampings. The first one was built on a Willys Jeep frame with Rover passenger-car engines and components. Two 80-inch-wheelbase prototypes were shown at the 1948 Amsterdam motor show, and the basic design has been a success ever since, with successive models having longer wheelbases: 86 and 107 inches in 1954, a two-inch increase in 1956, and another two inches for the short one and an inch for the longer model in the 1980s.
Land Rover has been owned by various entities, including Rover (of course), British Leyland, British Aerospace, BMW, Ford, and now Tata, a longtime purveyor of four-by-four cars of even less refinement than the 1948 Land Rover. It's a good match, however, probably much better than any of the previous proprietors. Two DC100 concepts were shown at Frankfurt, one a closed vehicle probably much like what will be built in series production in a few years, the other this Sport version, a fairly silly and impractical pure show car. Two seats only, a rollover structure that takes up far too much interior room, and a nearly frameless windshield top are all frivolous "entertainment" elements. But I'll be surprised if a successor to the Defender were not made available as a completely open model with a properly framed windshield and at least four seats.
I'm struck by the homage to the 1940s Jeep in the DC100's five-sided wheel openings. The original Land Rover had perfectly round wheel arches, and fender tips were a simple quarter circle joining a flat top and a vertical front. McGovern's team has kept the radiused section for the profile, but there's a slight kink derived from the upper corner of the wheelhouse. Whereas the waistline of the original was dead straight and parallel to the ground, on the DC100 it rises from that front kink all the way to the rear, not as much as on the Evoque but enough to retain a family feel. That's a good thing, because Land Rover has as solid a reputation as Jeep in the off-road world outside the United States. Its vehicles have never been properly marketed here, nor have there ever been enough dealers. Perhaps Ratan Tata will change that. He certainly has the right goods.