After more than half a century working at Britain’s best-known 4x4 manufacturer, the man affectionately known as Mr Land Rover has finally called it a day.
Anything Roger Crathorne doesn’t know about Land Rover probably isn’t worth knowing.
Mr Crathorne’s illustrious career saw him start out as an engineering apprentice in 1963 and he was later part of the team that worked on the original Range Rover project.
The 66-year-old was later tasked with presenting Land Rover’s products around the globe and along the way taught members of the royal family how to drive off-road.
He has also undertaken a sales development role which saw him travelling the world as a Land Rover ambassador and was responsible for creating the Land Rover Experience facility at the Lode Lane plant.
Latterly a member of the global PR team most recently he has been Land Rover’s heritage, enthusiast and technical PR manager.
Born in 1947 at Solihull Hospital, just a stone’s throw from the Land Rover plant, somewhat appropriately Born in Lode Lane became the title of his memoir, published in 2008.
Speaking about some of the highlights, he said: “I was fortunate enough to spend some time with some of the leading royals in a car.
“I took some of them driving off-road for the first time. Although they’d done it as a passenger previously, whoever had taken them hadn’t let them drive.”
Another memorable moment saw an RAF fly-past with a difference.
In 1988 Roger and a motoring journalist were driving a specially-created amphibious Land Rover Defender he had developed in Loch Ness as part of a challenge to travel the length of the Caledonian Canal.
“One of the most interesting things was to build two amphibious vehicles as we were sponsoring Cowes Week,” he said.
“Someone said how do you fancy doing something really special, so we did the full length of the Caledonian Canal – it took us three days.
“We were travelling the full length of Loch Ness when we saw three RAF helicopters going in formation.
“A Chinook diverted and flew over the top of us and a few guys in it started taking pictures.
“They probably thought when they got back to their mess and said ‘you’ll never believe what we saw’ – no one would have believed them.”
Mr Crathorne admitted he has always loved his job, even though he has seen several changes of Land Rover ownership.
“I have never got up for work in the morning and thought ‘oh no I’ve got to go to work’,” he said.
“Whatever presentation you have got to give it has been a wonderful experience and I wouldn’t have changed anything.”
He added: “All the changes have been good, the Ford era was brilliant and before that through the BMW era was too. We were probably used as a bit of a cash cow during the British Aerospace days but the business is always progressing and we can thank all of them for a little bit of what they left behind.”
He feels the firm has a great future to look forward to under current owners Tata.
“It is in very safe hands,” he said. “Our parent company is doing a great job, letting us develop products and Dr Ralf Speth brings inspiration to the whole company. He is doing a fantastic people job as well as an engineering job and is a very personable guy.”
From an engineering perspective Mr Crathorne said working on the original Range Rover was a high point, though he owed his move out of engineering to Land Rover’s head of marketing John Anderson when it became independent in 1978.
“He said why don’t you start presenting our products for a living. That’s when I took over the demonstration team and it has gone from strength to strength.”
Although he is calling it a day, Mr Crathorne is far from severing ties with Land Rover altogether. He still drives an original Series One Land Rover, the car that set the ball rolling back in 1948, and as he retired was planning to pick up two Land Rover ‘barn finds’ he is going to start rebuilding.
He said his decision to call time on his career was prompted by his wife retiring and that he now hoped to fit in more mountain biking and golf.
“I don’t think it will be the last the company see of me walking through the gates,” said. “It is always in your blood, though after 50 years service it will feel strange.
“Several times I have thought about it in the past but people have talked me into staying.
“There will always be something interesting to do around Land Rover products in the future and if I can help JLR out I will.”
One thing that will always stay with him is the look on a customer’s face when they get to take a Land Rover off-road for the first time.
“To be with a customer seeing the satisfaction they get seeing what their purchase is capable of is quite rewarding,” he said.
“They probably don’t realise what they are driving for so long is capable of but to see the smile on their face always gives me a great deal of pleasure.”