Freelander superstar


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Proud owner Ron Brown says his pre-pro Freelander has proved to be very reliable : credit: © Craig Pusey
Ex-Land Rover and MG Rover manager, Ron Brown, owns a very special pre-pro Freelander and is a leading light in the CVC Register. This is his story…

Blast off for Britain’s brilliant new 4x4’ was the cover headline in Autocar magazine’s 12 November 1997 issue, accompanied by a wonderful photo of an airborne Caledonian Blue five-door Freelander. The magazine compared the new baby Land Rover with Toyota’s RAV4 and the Honda CR-V and concluded that the Freelander was the best of the bunch. ‘A class act’, Autocar wrote,  ‘and no one will be more aware of this right now than Toyota and Honda’. For retired Land Rover and MG Rover manager and Freelander enthusiast Ron Brown, who is now the proud owner of the car, provenance doesn’t get much better than that.

The car in the cover photo and test report is R202 BAC, a very early Freelander press launch vehicle with chassis number 600434, and Ron has owned it since June 2017. The Autocar article went on to deliver its verdict on the new vehicle: the positives were that it was built like a tank, had strong refinement, and excellent cabin design and space, and the criticisms were that it had a poor stereo and wouldn’t go up hills as well as a Land Rover…

Back in the day, that latter point was heard from all directions when the Freelander appeared on the scene, not least from Land Rover enthusiasts themselves. It somehow wasn’t a real Land Rover, they said, because it had less ground clearance and had independent suspension, and was missing the all-important ladder chassis and a low-range transfer case. Happily, the Freelander has been rehabilitated over the past few years and can now hold its head up high in the pantheon of ‘real’ Land Rover vehicles.

The Freelander made a splash when it was launched in 1997, although hardcore Land Rover fans were dismissive of it

“R202 BAC was discovered in Norfolk in 2015,” Ron tells me. “It was one of around half a dozen or so Freelanders that had been acquired in readiness to be exported to South Africa. When the time came to depart, 202 was obviously reluctant to go because it refused to start, and once the others had gone it was put up for sale as a non-runner on eBay. Julian Lamb of the CVC Register found it and although it was carrying a cherished registration number he recognised the black-painted door tops, which are a sure sign of an early vehicle. Only the first 1950 Freelanders had this feature, before it was deleted on cost grounds.

“Julian bought it sight unseen and after replacing the fuel pump all was well, and it was put to good use in teaching Julian’s eldest son to drive. I’d met Julian in 2007 when we were both working at the University of Central England, and I was aware of the CVC Register he’d founded. I left MG Rover in 2005 after 21 years with them and Land Rover, and I’d been thinking for some time about buying a classic vehicle.

“I didn’t want a full-blown restoration job but something in good shape that I could enjoy immediately that had potential for some DIY improvements and fettling over time. Decent Defenders were just too expensive, even in those days, as were classic Range Rovers. Early Discoverys in good condition were hard to find, and I didn’t fancy taking on a P38A. A Freelander seemed to me to be a good entry point, being affordable and reliable, and having heard all about the CVC Register I was very keen to acquire an early company-owned vehicle. Julian and I reached an agreement and R202 BAC was mine. It is an XEi model with the 1.8-litre K-Series petrol engine, built on 20 August 1997 and registered on 11 September.

R202 BAC has survived incredibly intact

Ron’s career followed an interesting path. After studying Mechanical Engineering at Lanchester Polytechnic, in 1979 he joined British Aerospace but left in 1981 to study for an MSc in Mechanical Engineering Design at the University of Aston. Graduating in 1983, he joined Land Rover’s Specialist Design and Development Services team, which performed advanced analysis and computer build of the company’s products, components, and structures.

“I joined as a Graduate Senior Engineer,” he tells me, but I quickly realised that Commercial Graduates who had joined at the same time but on lower grades were getting promoted quicker than I was, and were enjoying the benefits that came with their management roles. This was because progress through the ranks in engineering at that time was dependant on dead men’s shoes, as the saying goes. I’d worked hard to get my engineering qualifications and I wasn’t happy with the slow progress, so I decided to try to transfer into a commercial role.

The profile was a lot less Land Rover back in the day

“In 1988 I joined Land Rover Product Planning as a Vehicle Analysis Co-ordinator. We provided a research and information service to all parts of the business, which required us to keep abreast of what was going on in the industry and what our competitors were doing.

“It was very interesting work with one element having what could be called a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between manufacturers and importers. Within Land Rover, if there was a genuine need that could be justified, the agreement was that I could make a request on behalf of Land Rover to my counterpart at a competitor, and borrow a vehicle for assessment, and vice versa. From these, the team would investigate, evaluate, and make recommendations to the Board regarding possible future vehicle developments.

“Between 1989 and 1992 I was Marketing Product Manager in Land Rover Parts, managing part of a business unit that accounted for over a third of all Land Rover parts revenue. From there I joined the Range Rover Brand Marketing Team as Business and Product Development Manager during what was a very interesting and critical time for the company, as the original range Rover was finally phased out and the new P38A was introduced.

The Freelander was as game-changing for Land Rover as the Discovery had been eight years before

“I was Brand Manager Classic Range Rover for around seven months, formulating the run-out of the first generation and the run-in of the new model, to ensure that we did not lose any goodwill when we ceased production of the much-loved classic, which had been in production for 25 years, and making sure that its successor was well-received.

“We ran an innovative direct marketing campaign called ‘A Country Affair’, which was subsequently copied by others, where we invited existing customers and prospects to various locations around the country to drive Range Rovers, and indulge in some gentle off-roading, something that not all owners had experienced. The focus was on keeping these loyal customers and prospects onside as we launched the P38A.  As part of this I spent a six-week period in Phoenix, Arizona, delivering the New Range Rover dealer training programme to the Land Rover North America
dealer network.

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Beautiful interior still looks stylish and fresh after 26 years

“One of the most poignant moments was driving N901 WHP, the 317,615th and last classic Range Rover, to the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust (now British Motor Museum) at Gaydon on 17 February 1996, where I handed it over to them in an official ceremony for safekeeping.

“Between 1996 and 1998 I was Area Sales Manager for Rover International with responsibility for the Asia Pacific Markets, with responsibility for sales volume, market share and revenues for all Land Rover, Rover cars, Mini and MG products in what was the biggest geographical sales area in the company.

“From there I moved to the car side of the business, initially as Product Marketing Manager for Rover 45 and Rover 25, and from 2001 I was Product Manager Medium Cars for MG Rover Group. My final role was Diagnostic and Publications Manager for MG Rover Group, and I left in 2005.

Freelander was the first  Land Rover to adopt independent suspension

“Since acquiring R202 BAC I’ve done very little other than routine servicing, maintenance and cleaning, and she has proved to be very reliable. I’ve researched her early history and discovered that as well as the Autocar article she also appeared in the Men and Motors TV programme in 1997, where she was driven and commentated on by Ginny Buckley. The film can still be found on YouTube.

“I’ve also become an active member of the CVC Register, which was formed in 2009 with a mission to find and rescue the last remaining P38A Range Rover pre-production and press launch vehicles. These elusive vehicles were usually registered in the series Mxxx CVC, hence the name CVC Register.

“In 2015, we expanded the mission of the CVC Register to include any former factory-owned Land Rovers from 1948 to the present day.  We have a special interest in those former factory vehicles that are often undervalued as classic cars including the Freelander 1, the Discovery 2, the third generation Range Rover and, of course, the P38A Range Rovers. As a result of this expanded remit, we reinterpreted our name to become the Company Vehicles Collection and Register.

Built when Land Rover branding was still a source of pride for the company

“We are an informal social media-based group with around 1400 members who either own or have an interest in company-owned vehicles. Within this we also have a group of around 30 members known as the CVC Displays team, who each pay the £25 per year cost of insurance to allow us to participate in Land Rover and other classic vehicle events and display our vehicles, and we have a full show calendar every year.

“We aim to make our research openly available online and ensure that vehicles in our collection are displayed to the public as often as possible. Our group is also founded upon friendship and support, and our get-togethers are always fun, family-oriented events. We also take great pride in the fact that we have increased the level of awareness of factory-owned and registered Land Rovers and, while not all of them are necessarily prototypes, pre-pros or press vehicles, we know for certain that our efforts have led directly to a number of historically important vehicles being identified and saved for posterity.

“I’ve taken great pleasure in displaying R202 BAC at various events including the BMM Land Rover Show as part of the Twenty Years of Freelander Celebration, and she was the only Freelander 1 to join the fabulous 70th anniversary convoy up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2018.”

Freelander is very car-like: during the design phase, the company couldn’t make up its mind whether it would be launched as a Land Rover or a Rover

Since that first magazine appearance back in 1997, R202 BAC has become a bit of a media superstar as more and more journalists and enthusiasts come to recognise that the Freelander is a highly useable and reliable daily driver. Appearances include the Land Rover Owner website on 12 December 2016, as well as film of her remarkable off-road capability at a photoshoot at Tixover. She appeared in Classic Car Weekly on 11 April 2018 in a major feature on the seven best-value Land Rovers, and in the Daily Telegraph on 9 April 2022 in an article entitled ‘The small Land Rover that helped establish our love affair with SUVs’.

Then things went full circle, and she was back in Autocar on 4 May 2022 in a Freelander 25th anniversary article called ‘The Landie of Opportunity’. And to these Ron can now add this article in LRM!


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