Jaguar Land Rover’s ever-expanding empire has added another interactive experience to its armoury with the launch of a new facility in Solihull which lets Land Rover lovers drive classic vehicles from the car-maker’s 67-year history.
The Land Rover Heritage Driving Experience has joined a similar Jaguar operation at Jaguar Land Rover’s growing customer test facility at the former Prodrive proving ground at Fen End, which Jaguar Land Rover acquired in September last year.
The 200-acre site once saw Prodrive develop performance cars in partnership with manufacturers for many years and was also used by other manufacturers for launches and driving events - including Land Rover, who tested prototypes of the first Range Rover there.
Prior to that it was a military airfield, RAF Honiley, and was used by a range of squadrons defending the Midlands during World War Two.
The Fen End circuit has been used for some months to allow Jaguar enthusiasts the chance to put classic Big Cats like the E-Type through their paces but the arrival of Land Rover brings a whole new dimension.
With 30-acres of the entire site, which comes under the banner of Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Operations division, consisting of off-road driving tracks it offers the perfect place for Land Rover fans to fully experience the rich heritage of vehicles renowned for their 4x4 capabilities.
Enthusiasts can drive anything from the Series I that first got the Land Rover ball rolling in 1948, to famous military vehicles such as the 101 Forward Control transporter and the classic Range Rover.
A variety of packages are available allowing visitors to focus on a particular decade or era, or to journey through Land Rover’s heritage, right up to the present day line-up.
Professional instructors provide direction, interesting facts and anecdotes to ensure visitors have a memorable experience on the circuit or on the new off-road track.
Customers will also have the opportunity to view classic vehicle exhibits and browse a merchandise outlet.
Jaguar Land Rover has built a modern visitor centre on the site, which also has a museum-style area to display heritage vehicles.
The driving facility is nothing new for Land Rover, people have been able to enjoy an off-roading experience at Eastnor Castle and the Solihull plant at Lode Lane for some time, but the Fen End facility offers a specific heritage focus.
David Fairbairn, head of special projects and heritage at Jaguar Land Rover Special Operations, admits he is a recent Land Rover convert, having been a Jaguar enthusiast for many years but said he had come on a journey where he “totally gets” why the brand has such a large global following.
Speaking about the thinking behind the Fen End facility, he said. “With Land Rover we have done this right from the start through the adventure experiences at Eastnor Castle and Solihull.
“This is another part of the jigsaw we want to complete. We want people to be able to drive heritage vehicles and mix them up with the modern cars too - from Series I, II and III Land Rovers, through Range Rover Classics to modern Range Rovers and Defenders - to see how we have progressed from 1948.”
Lorraine Toolan, global head of marketing for Jaguar Land Rover Special Operations, said one of the reasons the firm decided to develop the heritage driving centre was to utilise cars it acquired when it bought the James Hull collection.
In July last year Jaguar Land Rover bought a 543-car collection of British cars, including many Jaguars and Land Rovers, amassed by dentist Dr James Hull.
Britain’s biggest private car collection, it was valued at £100 million, though Jaguar Land Rover did not disclose how much it paid for it.
Ms Toolan said: “Really we wanted to take the opportunity to share our heritage with our customers, particularly with acquiring the James Hull collection last year.
“What we didn’t want was for them to sit in a museum.
“We want customers of the brands to be able to come here and engage with them physically.
“There is great interest in these brands not only in the UK but globally, particularly in emerging markets.
“We have already had people from as far afield as China come to the facility. In some cases people who have never even been to the UK before are visiting the country for the first time just to come here.”
During my visit I had the opportunity to drive a 1967 Series II Land Rover once owned by Spencer Wilkes, who together with his brother Maurice created the original Land Rover. Mr Wilkes acquired it when he retired and it was used on his estate in Scotland. A barn find of sorts, it was discovered in recent years and fully restored by experts at Land Rover.
It offers a somewhat basic and traditional driving experience but is still tremendous fun and demonstrates the incredible off-road capability of a vehicle built almost 50 years ago.
I also got to drive a Range Rover from the early eighties, an altogether more luxurious experience, and the vehicle which will no doubt be on most visitors’ wish list - the 101 Forward Control forward transporter. Once used by armies around the world to move troops it has an impressively commanding driving position right above the front wheels and is an experience not to be missed.
Land Rover packages start at £40 for passenger rides with an expert Land Rover Experience instructor and go up to £250 for the Land Rover - The Collection experience, which allows enthusiasts to drive all the key models in the brand’s history from the 1940s right up to the present day. A range of Jaguar experiences are also available.
To find out more about the new facility and what it offers visit www.heritagedriving.co.uk.