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Versatile Land Rover still manages to pack a punch on Hong Kong roads

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 3:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 July, 2016, 9:17pm

British pilot Mawgan Grace, 41, says he likes old Land Rovers for their simplicity and versatility

“In New Zealand, where my seven-year-old son lives with his mother, I drive a Land Rover Defender 110 TD5. It has an African-style roof tent with double-bed-sized mattress, which we use for camping adventures around the country. The vehicle is very comfortable for long journeys with leather, heated seats, air conditioning and even a snorkel for flooded roads.

However, one day we spotted a 1957 Land Rover Series 1, “Landy” while eating “fush’n’chups” in Devonport, Auckland, and followed it home to talk to the owner. It’s special because every night I read Veronica Lamond’s children’s books about the exploits of Landy and Fender to Finn, my son. The star of the Landy books is an identical, 1957 Series 1, so to find one in such good condition and so original was incredible.

The Land Rover Series 1 is very rare, and I’ve always wanted to have one as to me it represents such an iconic British vehicle. After we followed “Landy” home we talked to her owner, a boat builder and carpenter. Even though he loved Landy, he said everything has a price and after 25 minutes chatting and looking her over we shook hands and made a deal.

Landy is now in Hong Kong, and is especially important to me as I grew up in Cornwall on a small farm in the very southwest of England. I’ve been surrounded by Land Rovers and have been an addict since I can remember. They are an institution, a way of life and indispensable, especially with the British weather.

I love classic cars and fun cars, and I’m shortly joining the Classic Car Club of Hong Kong. The previous vehicle I owned here was an ex-Hong Kong army regiment Land Rover 110. I also own a 1964 Italian Lambretta Li 150, which I found abandoned in my village, Pui O, on Lantau. I pushed it home and restored it in my kitchen over two years. It’s also the only one of its kind in Hong Kong and for sale now if anyone is interested.

The first car I bought when I started working as a pilot was a black classic Saab 900 convertible. Even so, I’m quite nationalistic and think the British car industry produces the very best vehicles in the world, from the Mini to the Morgan, Aston Martin and Bentley, not to mention the Land Rover brand.

Landy is about as simple and basic as you can get, and very versatile. This is why 80 per cent of all Land Rovers still survive, and it’s estimated it was the first vehicle seen by over two-thirds of the world’s population, especially in developing countries. Parts are easily available and I can get them on my trips to Britain. Andy [Duarte] at OnBase engineering maintains most of Hong Kong’s classics, so I know she is in good hands if there are things I can’t fix myself.

I’ve had some good overseas adventures. Last year, I drove with my friend in his Land Rover Defender 90 through Zambia, into Botswana, through the Makgadikgadi salt flats, though the Okavango Delta and through the Chobe National Park. We drove through the eerie silent salt pans where nothing lives and there is not a single noise; crossed through crocodile- and hippo-infested rivers with water coming across the bonnet, and rickety wooden bridges. We were also charged by elephants on two occasions, got broken into by mischievous baboons, had one small electrical fire, and got stopped and searched by anti-poaching police.

Landy has low mileage and has had the bulkhead and chassis restored, which is the Achilles heel of an otherwise all-aluminium vehicle. However, the paintwork was the original 1957 faded paint. Many purists would argue to keep the original patina, but I thought it looked sad and wanted a fresher look for her new home under the bright lights of Asia’s World City. I think she looks far better now.

Landy is the only Land Rover Series 1 in Hong Kong. If anyone wants to use her for classic car shows or promotional work, please contact me. How would I improve her for Hong Kong? My Hong Kong girlfriend is a little concerned that Landy doesn’t have air conditioning. I’m planning to install a powerful fan to help in the summer heat. If that fails, I can always drop the windscreen down. I like this Land Rover’s originality; she’s a time machine.

However, I would consider a Tesla for day-to-day driving in Hong Kong and use Landy for fun. Hong Kong is the perfect environment for electric vehicles. The new Tesla is probably the talk-of-the-town car in Hong Kong at the moment. Electric cars are a natural evolution and perfect for Hong Kong, where people drive short distances and we suffer from air pollution.

Even so, I don’t understand the government’s issue with new diesel cars. For example if you purchase a new Land Rover Discovery Diesel, or similar, you must remove the two rear seats and install a cage across the back seats .... on the petrol engine version you don’t. What is the government trying to achieve here?

Anything I would like to say about driving in Hong Kong? Why don’t people understand how to drive around a roundabout? Hong Kong practise, from my experience, seems to be to drive around the outer lane, cutting everyone up and causing accidents. The traffic rules clearly state only use the outer lane if turning left or going straight across the roundabout. Taxis are one of the worst offenders.

I’m looking forward to many journeys around the New Territories and maybe some off-roading with the Hong Kong Landrover Club.”