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.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. The hood is basically just a flat expanse, but this indented, color-contrasted panel provides visual interest.
2. The front corners are beveled to reduce aerodynamic drag, and the headlamp indentation is washed out to reduce turbulence. Superfluous but nice.
3. The grille is more of a base to a scoop leading upward, but with its perforations it has a technical look.
4. Most of the cooling air would actually enter the body through this lower aperture. Note the six perforations below it, a sort of locomotive-tough suggestion.
5. While retaining the traditional Land Rover round-lamp look, there's a battery of technically advanced lighting elements within the unit.
6. Audi-style LED daytime running lamps set off additional air inlets with high-intensity foglamps in the lower outer corners.
7. This kink defines the break from sill to front end, which turns down in a manner very similar to the 1948 design but with vastly greater elegance and smooth surfaces.
8. The wheelhouse opening is made of five nearly straight elements: two verticals, one horizontal, and two diagonals. The body-surface kink is generated by this bend.
9. The body sides are quite similar to the traditional body-side section, apart from this stiffening indent at the bottom of the door.
10. The recessed door handle is protected from snagging by brush or bushes in rugged off-road conditions.
11. The rear body side is quite flat visually but has three-dimensional crowning, unlike the plain, flat-sheet section of the original Land Rover. It is quite subtle and very well done.
12. The rollover structure looks sturdy enough to support a bridge.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
13. The complex arch behind the seats takes up quite a lot of length, making the rear compartment a very restricted cubby.
14. The offset license-plate cove makes for an interesting composition for the rear face of the body.
15. Tow hooks at the corners are part of the technical look to the vehicle yet are nicely integrated into the whole, not just stuck on.
16. A receiver for a trailer hitch is absolutely necessary for any Land Rover, although this sport model is far from a traditional SUV.
17. Repeating the six perforations on the front, this panel gives the impression of being a strong link to the chassis frame...except there's no separate chassis and this is probably a plastic part.
18. Taillights recall classic round Lucas units from the past but are incorporated in a single unit on the beveled rear corners.
19. The stylish aluminum wheels are far less appropriate for off-road work than plain discs with less propensity for picking up mud, snow, and plants in hard going.
20. Massive ironmongery gives the impression of enormous strength, enhanced by visible fasteners. But that's show biz.
21. This supplementary headrest pad suggests that a third passenger might be accommodated, albeit in considerable discomfort...
22. ...perched on this pad on the transmission tunnel.
23. This unrealistic trim piece protects the raw glass edge but would be of no help at all in a rollover.
24. Wipers tucked into a space at the bottom of the windshield are a nice touch, as much appreciated on a rugged vehicle like this as on an aerodynamic supercar.