Anniversaries are all well and good.
In the car world, they give us the chance to look back, see how far a certain product has evolved from launch and then be reminded about the relative lack of safety/ performance/efficiency versus its modern equivalent. We then swiftly move on, safe in the knowledge that cars today are – objectively, at least – just plain better. But sometimes, reviewing a car’s birth does so much more than give us a convenient yardstick by which to measure its successors’ progress.
When the Land Rover Freelander was launched 25 years ago, it played a pivotal role in the company’s future. It tapped into a market sector that was set for supersonic growth (and one that still holds sway today) and upturned people’s perception of the nearly 50-year-old brand name that appeared on its clamshell bonnet. Technologically, commercially and strategically, the Freelander made a permanent footprint on Land Rover, the effects of which can still be felt in 2022.
That’s why we’re gathered today at Gaydon (albeit outside the British Motor Museum, rather than next door at Jaguar Land Rover’s base) to sample the original Freelander’s legacy. Okay, you could say that the Land Rover Discovery Sport, as it sits next to its Freelander forebears, is an imposter, but to all intents and purposes, it’s Freelander 3 by another name. That’s because JLR is now keen to group its products as either Defender, Discovery or Range Rover. Just as it did in the late 1980s, in fact – although back then, each model line represented essentially one vehicle, not an entire range.
Dick Elsy, who led the original Freelander programme, explains why an all-new model was so important: “It became more obvious that there was a blank space in the Land Rover product plan about three years ahead. So we set ourselves the rather ambitious target of plugging it with the definitive leisure four-wheel-drive vehicle.”