Big cats and pachyderms at the Jaguar Land Rover Festival
The Jaguar Land Rover Festival is the opportunity to provide a zoological overview. Everyone knows that Jaguars are both elegant animals and cars. But not everyone is aware that Land Rovers are majestic 4x4s, like mighty elephants, don’t you think? At least that’s what I thought when I was a kid. The image of a big, strong and quiet vehicle (even if some engines are no longer so quiet) that is fearless and doesn’t care about anything, anyone and about what’s around, stayed with me.
So when I was invited to the second edition of the Jaguar Land Rover Festival at the Autodrome de Montlhéry, I felt like I was invited on a safari: a mixture of anxiety and excitement specific to big adventures.
Genesis of Jaguar and Land Rover cars
When I arrive at the 2019 Jaguar Land Rover Festival on Friday, the weather is not really like African savannah. Indeed, the sky is low, the clouds dense and a small fine rain whips my face. A kind of British weather in fact (thanks God it’s better later).
Fortunately, these big cats are not afraid of water (and neither am I). When I pass the Montlhéry speed ring, I discover a row of classic Jaguars which replaces every summer day. It all starts with a beautiful bordeaux Jaguar XK120 and goes very quickly with XK140 and 150. Then the list goes on. I don’t know where else to look: E-Type Series 1, E-Type Series 2, E-Type Series 3, MK2, XJ6, XJS, XJS V12XJ, XKR… well, all the Jaguars for almost 70 years are here. All more beautiful one than the others, from dark blue to creamy white, with dozens of shades of grey and the typical British Racing Green, obviously.
I turn around and fall in love. This magnificent landscape was only missing a few parts. Here they are: a SS Jaguar 3 1/2 Litre Drophead Coupe and a Jaguar XJ220! Why so much joy at the sight of these two cars? The 3 1/2 Litre is a model designed before the war by the very young company SS, which means Swallow Sidecar or Standard Swallow depending on the official version. The brand will change to Jaguar after the war, you can imagine why… But this name was not new, in fact it was the designation of the models produced before the war. On the mechanical side, we have a 3.5L inline-6, classic Jaguar. This is true because the low engine of these SS Jaguars was the basis for the new 3.4 L XK L6 engine developed for the Jaguar XK120 in 1948.
The Jaguar XJ220, is firm from Coventry very first supercar. Totally amazing! Two victories at 1988 and 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans were well worth celebrating, which is why the brand decided to produce a car that exceeded 200 mph (about 320 km/h). Which is obviously completely crazy at the time. To achieve this project, Jaguar announced a 6.2-litre V12 engine featured 500HP. But it was a little early to announce such things… because the V12 was too heavy for the balance of the two-seater coupé with monocoque chassis. Jaguar then opted for a 3.5L V6 bi-turbo. Imagine the disappointment of customers who pre-ordered a V12 supercar… At that point, Jaguar probably thought, « we’ll give them a little more to get through this little last minute change ». And boom!!! The engine powered 549HP instead of 500HP and the car is named XJ220 for 220 mph (nearly 350 km/h) instead of 200! It’s less noble but much more powerful and efficient. Finally, to finish the job, Jaguar engineers designed one of the most beautiful supercar bodies by adding retractable front lights (which made millions of 90s kids like me dream), giant side and hood air intakes, and an intelligently integrated rear spoiler. What’s the best part of all this? Only 277 cars have been produced, no risk of seeing your young neighbour music producer in the same car. So you will understand my surprise and excitement at the sight of this rocket!
A little further on, it’s the Land Rovers which faces the Jaguars. According to the legend, these elegant pachyderms never die. Land Rover Series 1, Series 2, Series 3, military vehicles, emergency vehicles, Defender, Range Rover Classic, Range Rover Discovery, Range Rover Sport, they’re all there at Jaguar Land Rover Festival. I have to say, I have a preference for old good Land Rovers. Indeed, they are for me the quintessence of wisdom. On their scratched, damaged, flaked body, we can read all the wonderful adventures they have gone through, like the thick skin of a wise elephant. It should be remembered that the first Land Rovers were light agricultural vehicles with a similar design to the Jeep Willys. In 1948, the aim was to address two key issues: the population’s needs and the limited resources during the post-war reconstruction years. This explains the rusticity and longevity of these utility models. Besides the Series and Defenders, I still have a little weakness for the Range Rover Classic. You know the history, Land Rovers and Range Rover cars later became more and more bourgeois, adapting to the demands of their customers. Thus the Classic Range have angular shapes and a little outdated pop colors that give them a rather irresistible style. It makes me want to put on my boots, my quilted jacket and sit on the edge of my trunk to hunt pheasants.
In total, a good hundred old vehicles were juste waiting for us.
The adventure according to Jaguar Land Rover
If I’m at the Jaguar Land Rover Festival, it’s not only to tell you the story of these cars and imagine myself as a great British Lord. But it’s also to live experiences that characterize the spirit of these two brands.
It all started at 9am with a zip line over the new Land Rover Defender. Barely enough time to see it and keep my coffee in my stomach, and I cross the sky to hang on to a net. I also understand that the day will be full of surprises.
With Clémence from Les Enjoliveuses and Jean-Baptiste from le Billet Auto, we went for a little boat ride. Well, a little Range Rover Discovery nautical ride. To be honest, I was a little anxious. I drive slowly this big SUV on a slope filled with water. The car completely enters the muddy water, I see it at the bottom of the window and I move slowly following the wave that the car forms. That’s very impressive! A few meters further on, the Discovery emerges from the water as if nothing had happened. This ford crossing is very impressive, I never did that.
As soon as we get out, we head towards the Autodrome de Montlhéry… We’re going to take the wheel, no, we’re going to get driven (for once). In a few seconds, without even realizing what was happening, we embarked on a Range Rover Velar SVA. What a slap! The pilot gives it all, hard drive in a chicane, we take off from our seats, the rock sound of the sport exhaust resonates and bursts under the back seat!! Around 210 km/h on the high-test track of the speedway! What an incredible feeling of being in a sports coupe with the high vision of a 4×4. Are you smiling? Did you think the Velar was a big, comfortable SUV? Not with a 5.0L supercharged V8! Whatever, this SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition is the perfect combination of luxury, refinement and sportiness! It’s funny, I have the impression, since 2000 when Ford and later Tata bought the two brands, that both DNA has gradually mixed. Now all we must do is to test this very Special Velar. All by myself. Next to this furious Velar, you could also taste the flashy Range Rover Sport SVR, the wild Jaguar F-Type SVR, the sensational Jaguar F-Type SVR (which Franck tried for a week and me on track last year) and the very rare Jaguar XE SV Project 8!
A little further, we discover (or rediscover as far as I’m concerned) the Jaguar F-Type Project 7, Project 8 and F-Pace SVR. Anyway, the lastest Jaguar car is also at Jaguar Land Rover Festival : it’s the I-Pace. For many it’s a bit sacrilegious. Indeed the Jaguar I-Pace is the first electric Jaguar, but their opinion changes quickly when they can take the wheel. This is precisely what the Festival offers. To do this, a path made up of doors that light up randomly. The goal? Pass through the doors in order, sneaking in as quickly and accurately as possible. It sounds easy like that, but it’s obviously not. Anyway, the most striking thing is the agility of this family car and its driving pleasure (yep). To find out more, read my test drive about the surprising new Jaguar I-Pace.
Jaguar Land Rover Festival: a vision of the future?
So I couldn’t do all the activities offered during the Jaguar Land Rover Festival, simply because in one day we don’t have time to enjoy what the whole festival has to propose. However, I was able to test the Range Rover Evoque’s off-road capabilities. Yes you read well, the Evoque is a real small franchisor (and I wouldn’t have bet on it).
By the way, I notice an impressive demonstration of motor skills. Range Rovers that climb on steep footbridges, stop in the middle, start to descend and go back up in reverse. A beast over 2 tons that makes stunts like this, you’re not ready. Neither was I.
I finally get closer to the new Range Rover Defender. It seems to be a nice Range Rover Wild, but not necessarily a new Defender (sorry, I didn’t take a picture because barriers ruined the experience a little bit). The Defender was a simple 4×4, angular, rough and cut for adventures which made you tired and dirty. At first glance, I don’t really want to damage the new Defender, it looks so precious, whereas the old one looked like it was made to be damaged. Maybe I’m wrong, the future will tell us.
After a day at the Jaguar Land Rover Festival, I must say that this event was a good surprise. It’s one of the few events dedicated to a manufacturer (two in this case) that manages to bring together history, passion and future of automobile. With a meticulous presentation of rare, sporty and electric models, we can easily imagine what kind of future plan Jaguar Land Rover. I like this sporty, luxury and adventurous viewing that you can share with the whole family for a three days week-end.