I fell in love with the new 2003 Range Rover when I drove it in Scotland in February. It was, and is, the most refined and competent SUV I've ever driven. It utilizes much of the hardware from BMW's X5, but it isn't an X5, nor is it in any way a compromised crossover vehicle.
It is a beautiful, luxurious station wagon that'll climb trees if you're brave enough. With Chicago radio personality Paul Brian as my co-driver, I spent an entire afternoon on a wintry Scottish mountain track. We climbed boulders, forded rivers, churned through knee-deep muck, and slithered across impossible expanses of deep melting snow with wheels spinning and crud flying. It was the most concentrated period of heavy going in my experience. Even the famous Rubicon offers an occasional easy section where the driver can catch his breath.
On the pavement again, as night was falling, we got stuck into a Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by a Scotsman who had no intention of letting a Range Rover pass him, and after being passed by that Range Rover, had no intention of letting it get away. To be able to tackle a near-impassable goat trail and thirty minutes later run a narrow, twisting, loch-side road at sports car speeds was the clincher. I had to have one. Back in the hotel, I called my wife at home and said, "I have just driven our next new car."
I have always wanted a Range Rover, but in years gone by, my enthusiasm was tempered by my certain knowledge that Range Rovers tended to be capricious and unpredictable in daily use. As much as I admired their off-road capabilities and their great personalities, I couldn't risk buying one. But with the introduction of the BMW-based '03 model, all doubts and fears were erased, and all that stood between me and Range Rover ownership was the price.
But wait! I owned a 1961 Jaguar, perhaps the prettiest Jaguar Mark IX in the entire country. Purists might argue that its Dunlop E-type racing wheels and oversize tires made it less graceful, and lowering it that inch or so was another affront, but my heart beat a little faster whenever I pulled the cover off and admired it in the dim light of the warehouse where it lived in the winter months. It had enjoyed a complete frame-off restoration at the hands of Don Law, the man who restores cars for Jaguar's Heritage Trust collection in the United Kingdom, and he had also done all of the tweaking and breathing-upon that gave it that mysterious Midnight Express look of purposeful performance whenever it was hurrying down a deserted country road. My total investment in this lovely green critter was $69,514, not far off the price of a new Range Rover. Was there a deal to be made?
With my heart pounding, I tapped out e-mails to friends at Ford's Premier Automotive Group, testing the water. In addition to my Jaguar, I had a Churchill Premier-Grade XXV shotgun, a 1998 Chevrolet Suburban, a 1965 Steyr-Daimler-Puch Haflinger, and a Lund fishing boat as trading stock. But it was the Jaguar that got their attention. I have always been lucky, and this time my luck held. Jaguar North America had recently decided to create a U.S. counterpart to its Heritage Trust in Great Britain. This would be a broad collection of historic Jaguars to be used in all kinds of promotional events by the company and its dealers. Many Jaguar dealers have agreed to subscribe a percentage of the price of each new Jag they sell to create a war chest for the purchase and maintenance of cars for the collection.
Jaguar itself would, in effect, purchase my Mark IX, making it the first car in the Heritage Trust collection. In payment, I would receive one, count 'em, one, 2003 Range Rover, Epsom green with sand leather and burled walnut trim. The only optional extras would be the winter equipment package, which includes heated seats front and rear, a heated steering wheel, and a ski hatch and baga sort of pass-through from the rear seat to the cargo areaand bi-xenon headlamps, because I worship good headlights. Everything elsesound system, navigation system, scrumptious interior trim, all of itis included in the base price.
My new Range Rover is now awaiting my pleasure at Farmington Hills Land Rover, thirty miles from here, while my former Jaguar is already in the hands of the nice people at the Ford Premier Automotive Group in Orange County, California.
I had breakfast with Mark Fields, the newly appointed head of PAG, and he quizzed me about his portfolio of premium marques. Then we strolled into the PAG showroom, and there was my former Mark IXdetailed to a fare-thee-well and beautifully lit, displayed between a 2003 Range Rover and the new Volvo XC90being admired by PAG employees. I said a few words about my happy relationship with the Heritage Trust in the U.K. and what a great Jaguar they were getting. Fields shook my hand and presented me with a ceremonial set of keys, and the deal of the century was done.